Compendium | Dear Abby (or Roland Barthes)

Love struggles meets structuralism

Dear Reanimated Corpse of Roland Barthes,
I’m graduating soon, and my girlfriend and I won’t be in the same place for quite some time. Is a long distance relationship a good idea?

—Duly Depart(ing)

Long Dis-tance

(n). desire pushed to its absolute limits

The lover experiences true desire, not the sham by which the lover lives usually of false desire cycles, and finds it detestable.

• Ah, yes, I have returned from this summer newly refreshed, revived, as if after some sort of sommeil profond. Having crossed from death to life, summer to fall is a trifle. The tan fades.

• I’ve written much about separation and love (have you not read my Lover’s Discourse, Duly?), though perhaps the new technology of this age requires an update, of a sort. It was not the same in “my” times (oh, the pernicious possessive!).

• Let us first tell the story of two very intelligent people, dear friends, who at one time were in a long-distance relationship. It is a common enough thing. They are dead now – oh, how I miss them, on the other side (and how we say other, as if life and death were different things!) – so I can say, it was Jean Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir. Jean Paul and Simone – that fox, Simone – were more of what we today call “an open relationship” – friends with benefits (and now we imagine that film, with Ashton Kutcher and Mila Kunis, but instead with Sartre and Simone!) – yet they privately confided to me, in letters, their intense desires to be reunited – quite graphically! When he made such a show of not accepting the Nobel Prize; and fled to Helene de Beauvoir’s? That sly dog.

• Anyway, I digress. The lover, the true lover, is always separated, or always wishes to be. Attraction is rooted in the desire for what is not there; the desire for the desire itself. Tautology, of course, you know. When we are together in the same place, the same here-ness, the desire can be fulfilled regularly, can be completed, reset for the next cycle. Desire; communion; separation; desire. Repeat.

• Long distance creates a desire for that which we truly cannot have. “But we have biweekly Skype calls!” says the desperate lover. Ah, yes, when one can worship the image of the other, can connect their voice and image and deepen desire. That person might as well be in the room! Might as well; and now the realization: not there.

• No, long distance only takes the same desire and takes it to its end point. The separation will be longer, and yes, there will be reunions, planned for, yearned for, and they will be shorter. More desire, less completion. The longdistance lover as the glutton from the film Matilda: too much chocolate cake (too much desire).

• A long distance relationship could work, providing that there is a set end date; there must be an end to the lover’s impossible desire. Though, of course, you may find things changed once again when you return; it is as Goethe’s Werther says: “But alas! when we have attained our object, when the distant ‘there’ becomes the present ‘here,’ all is changed; we are as poor and circumscribed as ever, and our souls still languish for unattainable happiness.”

• So, I venture, it depends, ça dépend. It could work; it most likely will be terrible. It may just be the elongation – till some untenable point – of your break-up (yes, it is inevitable). Ça depend. If you came to this text expecting a clear answer – there is nothing to be done with you, Duly.