I’ve always put space between myself and other people. I don’t like crowds, and I don’t like being touched. Even when I was a little girl, I could tell the difference between someone touching me out of obligation (she’s crying, and I’m her mother, so I’m supposed to hug her now or something), and someone touching me from a real place of love. Now, I don’t hug my parents, or my brother, or most of my friends. I don’t like feeling that ‘I’m supposed to’ feeling I get from that contact instead of ‘I want to.’ I almost never initiate physical contact. I do with my son, because I want him to know I want to hug and hold and kiss him. I want him to know I love him, and I’m serious about comforting him when he’s sick or sad or frustrated. I want him to know I WANT to be there for him, and I’m not just going through motions because I have to so it looks ‘normal’ to other people. And I’ll initiate with J. I want J’s hands on me. I want to be close enough for him to hold me. I want to breathe him in. I want to hear his heart beating, feel him breathing. I can’t get close enough to J. Right against him still feels like too far away. Of the millions of touches I’ve shared with J, I’ve never once gotten a hint of ‘I’m supposed to.’ It’s always been ‘I want to,’ from the first time he held my hand. And I hate it when he’s away. We’ve never spent any kind of major time apart since we met. The longest separation from our first date has been 12 days without his physical presence. That was 3 years ago, and it was torture for me. So I have an amazing amount of admiration for people who make long distance relationships work. Don’t get me wrong, if I had to make one work with J, I would be all in for doing it. But damn…that pain from separation. Just 12 days makes me hurt. Longer I only imagine would hurt worse.
I put emotional space between myself and other people, too, not just physical space. I don’t like revealing my thoughts and feelings and needs and fears to people. It takes years of deep, unwavering, proven kindness and discretion for me to share any personal details with a person. There are people I’ve known for over 25 years, that I have daily access to contact on social media, that don’t know I broke my leg in the spring of 2016…that don’t know my son ever had pneumonia…that don’t know I met my best friend at Disneyland this past summer…that don’t know who I vote for or what my top ten favorite books or movies are. Part of that is my wariness to trust, but the other part is how uncomfortable I am with burdening other people. Help, support, attention, and kindness directed my way still regularly make me feel guilty. I spent my life before J completely conditioned to believe asking for help or attention or connection was weak, and never being offered any, even when I became desperate enough to ask for some. “Just grow up,” and, “You don’t know how good you have it,” and the classic, sarcastic, “I know. I’m a terrible person for not babying you when *you think* you’re having a bad day,” are the responses I was accustomed to getting whenever I asked for support. My parents didn’t want to hear about me struggling, so I assumed no one else wanted to hear about it either. It’s not that way with J. He actually SEEKS to know why I’m upset and immediately starts working on how to remedy it. “Why are you crying?…I’ll make it better,” followed up almost immediately by a step-by-step list of what he thinks we ought to do. After many years together, these are still his words and actions on bad days. The only difference is, sometimes he doesn’t need to ask why I’m crying. He just knows. And of course, when I’m happy and excited about something, he is too. Even when he doesn’t even know what the hell I’m happy and excited about. ‘You worked out that plot hole finally? That’s great, Jen?’ <J’s internal monologue: What the hell is a plot hole?> His happiness for me is sincere, though. I imagine it’s similar to my shared happiness with him when he’s gotten some machine back into working order. It all sounds like a foreign language to me, but I know HE feels happy and accomplished, so that’s enough for me to share it.
That has never stopped feeling magical to me…the emotional closeness I have with J. The desire for emotional comfort and desire for physical closeness with him. I’m still surprised every time J walks into the fire to extinguish it. I spent so much time with so many other people, waiting to stop burning, sometimes with them tossing in extra kindling and accelerants. That’s why I tend to create distance…to keep other people insulated from the flames, and to keep other people from increasing the damage, even when they’re trying to help. Some people throw water on grease fires, you know? There’s no distance with J, though. He’s not afraid of fires, and he always knows (or at least figures out) how to properly help me put them out. And I still can’t believe that all he needs to share my happiness is to know I’m happy. He doesn’t even have to ‘get it.’ There is no other person who never triggers an urge to distance myself. I only ever want to be closer to J.
So when I wrote Josh and Angie in Community, and their relationship fraught with distance…expected, but still painful…a lot of their connection was inspired by my connection to J. Distance never really bothered me before J, and it still doesn’t bother me with most other people. I prefer distance with most other people. But it’s murder with him. Josh and Angie recognized and accepted that their distance was necessary and at least somewhat beyond their control, and instead of bailing out, they worked through it to maintain that connection…that rare emotional closeness they had with each other…until they could close the physical distance and end the time apart. And once they conquered the enforced physical distance…they couldn’t get enough physical closeness too. Part of the love expression I wrote into their relationship was sending songs back and forth to each other and the most meaningful two for them for me were these:
Josh to Angie–When You Come Back Down by Nickel Creek
I wrote Josh to never demand Angie give up on her commitments, even when he didn’t understand or agree with them…even when they weren’t what he wanted for her personally, or fitting into his general life philosophy. He unquestioningly supports HER. As is. He refuses to let that physical distance and even some philosophical difference create emotional distance.
Angie to Josh–Time After Time by Cyndi Lauper
I tried to write Angie’s worry about the physical separation leading to emotional separation with realism, even though I’ve never actually experienced that long-term. And I wrote her pledging faithfulness in separation with this song, because she IS always faithful to Josh. She acknowledges the toll physical distance can take and is grateful that they made it through theirs.
I love the lyrics of both of these songs, and I hope readers can see why I chose them for Josh and Angie. They both worked together to reduce the anxiety and hardship distance creates. Distance couldn’t kill their commitment.