It could be said that my wife and I have a long distance relationship. We love to collect the miles and memories that pass beneath us on our journey. We enjoy the hours together traveling down the road always searching out new places. Some of the views are spectacular, some soothingly mundane, all of them seen together. There are times of knowing silence and then there are the moments, sometimes long, filled with conversation and discussion about our road, about life, about the path of our children.
During our most recent exploration of this great country's byways, and having a teenage daughter giddy with socials and semi-formals, some of our 4000 miles became dedicated to the new dating rituals of the young and the new meaning of a long distance relationship. My original view of this sort of thing had its foundation in the realm of one or both people going off to college, the military, or perhaps a job assignment. This was assuming the participants of the relationship had at least some experience with love or like or somewhere in between, that they have had time to form opinions on the subject of matters of the heart. The couple would be faced with what would seem to be some of the most important decisions of young adulthood, whether their convictions and resolve could weather the storm of emotions and the crippling distance...and the honesty or lack there of.
Oh how wrong I could be. My wife bewildered me with tales of pubescent "love" found on the Internet, relationships built on Smartphones and little screens on tablets. She baffled me with stories of connections made without ever physically seeing a person, of a world inside a touchscreen that was all too real. I was truly taken aback not just that this alternate relationship reality existed but that some parents not only allowed their children to indulge it but supported, even aided, the fantasy.
Are we as a society truly shortchanging our children this way? I can understand adults, even young ones, twenty-something's especially, embracing the new technology of dating. But these are adults that have experienced the trials and tribulations of the first feelings for another person. They have learned from the dramas of high school, from the new found independence of college, from the harshness of beginning their own lives, and have felt both the joy and sadness of love. To rob our children of their high school lives, their proms and decorated lockers and graffitied notebooks, seems so wrong. To be distracted by a little screen by a questionably real person should be criminal.
And what of the physicality of it all? Are we that apt to give up the presence of a hand, the warmth of a stolen breath, the wisp of a passing hair, the brush of an eyelash, the softness of the lips? Should we replace the captivating scent of perfume or the squeeze of a hug with a router and wifi? Can a caress be felt through a touchscreen? Can we truly feel fulfilled through radio waves?
Perhaps I am "old-fashioned" by today's standards, but I am not ready to give up on some of the rites of passage into adulthood and the journey to get there. Perhaps this new age way of meeting and forming and growing relationships works for some people. I am not yet ready to blur the lines between outside and inside this little electrical box, between what I can touch and feel and my touchscreen. I do not want to rob my children of their teenage angst and the life lessons that will grow strong adults and of all their glorious memories of high school milestones. And, besides, I have many more miles to go in my own long distance relationship and I do not wish to travel them without my hand on my wife's knee and her hand scratching my neck, discussing the ways of the world, however strange they may be.