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Absence Makes the Heart Impatient

This post is the fifth in “Feminist, Orthodox and Engaged,” a series by Simi Lampert on love, sex and betrothal in the life of a Modern Orthodox woman.

Soon after my fiancé Jeremy and I got engaged, he spent three weeks backpacking through the Amazon and Machu Picchu in Peru to celebrate graduating from college, and another three weeks in charge of a special-needs program at a summer camp in Pennsylvania. Some of my friends were horrified. “Doesn’t he know you’re engaged?” they asked. “How could you let him go for so long?” (Not surprisingly, Jeremy didn’t take too kindly to the phrase “let him.”) Other friends, especially those who had experienced long-distance relationships across states and countries, were less stunned. But all of them were sympathetic, texting me to see how I was holding up, and coming over to hang out (and keep me from homicidal loneliness). I understood and supported Jeremy’s decision to travel and work, but I dreaded the time we’d be apart.

As an Orthodox couple, living together before our wedding is not an option. If Jeremy and I want to see each other every day, we take turns staying at our parents’ houses and traveling to each others’ schools for evening dates. Waking up together and coming home to each other — that has to wait until November, when we’re (finally!) married. Spending nights apart was something we understood; weeks apart was more difficult to get used to.

Jeremy and I had been away from each other before. I traveled to Israel and Italy in January while he went to Israel for Pesach, but this six-week period was certainly our longest. But he was the perfect fiancé, calling and texting and even cutting his Peru trip down from five weeks to three. He talked with me on the phone for hours as I blubbered over missing him, and he reciprocated the feelings (with marginally less blubbering). Still, nothing could make up for his absence in my daily life.

Each couple is different, but Jeremy and I are more or less attached at the hip. We even have a calendar app on our iPhones that allows us to schedule our lives around each other. My therapist is still working with me on whether or not that’s healthy, so please, suspend your judgment for now. But I quickly discovered a silver lining to Jeremy being away: I had more time to spend with my friends. The moment he leaves, I immediately line up lunches and dinners and sleepovers. One of my friends is so used to this schedule that when she heard Jeremy was out of town, she asked why I hadn’t called her for a play date.

Aside from ensuring that I don’t altogether lose my friends when I’m married (and simultaneously raising the question of how I would keep up these friendships once I am married), Jeremy’s absences reinforced my anticipation for our life together.

With our wedding comes the exciting prospect of having a home together, cooking meals and watching TV and reading in bed, and all sorts of other homey-coupley things that people do. No longer will I drag a duffel bag to work with me every day, en route to or from his parents’ house for the night, and I certainly won’t be staying up late just so I can talk to him on the phone from a different time zone.

Marriage is all about spending the rest of your life with someone. Our time apart has given me an unexpected gift: the chance to realize the beauty of every day we get to spend together.

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