Long-distance mjolo chronicles 1/2: Love Lives (T)Here

It’s valentine’s season!! I am sure many of us are seeing stars, living high high up in our clouds of love and enjoying the company of, and gifts from our significant others. Before we go any further, I just wanted to remind you all that this whole thing is a commercial ploy. February is a month that has been commercialised around love to make us all spend money on things that supposedly demonstrate how much we love our partners. It isn’t that we choose to demonstrate our love, so much as it is that we are slaves to the capitalist machinery. Cogs in the market wheel, that we cannot opt-out of, without some social pressures that try to pull us back into the rut. Okay, capitalism rant done… (narrator: she was in fact, partly cynical because of her situation – a painful 1.5-year long-distance relationship).  

On the next couple of blogs, I want to explore love. I want to focus less on the conventional love conversations that we normally have, but to look at some other lived experiences of people in the church. This series will be a set of interviews, first with my partner and our friends who are also in a long-distance relationship, then with some friends who are bordering 30 and have been single pretty much through their 20’s and still want to get married. Finally, I will have a fascinating chat with a friend who has no desire to marry.  Hopefully, these will give us different perspectives of our brothers and sisters who are in various situations, and help build our empathy on how to come alongside them in our various church communities. Also, lots of young Christians have these chats I am about to have, we just do it in our tiny communities. These issues are complex and some of the answers people need aren’t neat or easy. They require that we don’t give them our tired “trust the Lord” tropes. Of course they know to trust the Lord! Sure, a reminder doesn’t hurt but it’s annoying when it’s all they hear from EVERYONE. Maybe let’s think a bit about how to ukukhaphana (I wrote about this earlier in the year for some reflections on what that could look like). Let’s think a bit about how to be sacrificial and intentional, practical and thoughtful in loving these brothers and sisters – side note: I am these “brothers and sisters”. It is I that requires your empathy and thoughtfulness!

1. Welcome to the interview for my blog friends (laughs nervously). You guys are making me nervous! Bolt and Ayay tell us, how did you meet your partners?

Bolt: We met at a wedding in 2019, on the 25th of May. I had caught a lift with them to the reception, since I knew the directions and they had a car. Kiki had a crush at the time, and when we got to the wedding, she left us! Gone! She went to sit with her crush, haha. The crush, well he didn’t shoot his shot even after Kiki had made the first move. Maybe he didn’t like her, who knows.

Kiki: Well, we will never know.

Bolt: We should ask him!

Siwe: Do you guys know the crush. Do you know him like that?!

Bolt and Kiki: Yes! We’re friends with him

Siwe: And what was the impression of the other? Kiki, did you have any impression of Bolt? Was it just like, meh (shrug), this guy who knows the directions to the venue…And the same for you Bolt?

Kiki: On that night, no particular impression. He did make fun of me though, for going to Miracle Life

Siwe: That’s very on brand for Bolt!

Bolt: Well, I didn’t technically make fun of her, I was just shocked. She was like, “oh I used to go to a reformed church and now I am in a charismatic one”. It was so upside down, I didn’t understand.

Siwe: Babe, how did we meet?

Ayay: So, we met at a party in the Czech Republic. It was called Africa night, for all the students who were either coming from Africa or of African origin.

Bolt: So, it was for black people?

Ayay and Siwe: Basically. Black and brown people, but yes.

Ayay: So anyway, I get to the party. And as I enter, I see Siwe with another girl that I knew called Monde. I greeted both of them and then continued on to the dance floor. Dancing and enjoying myself. Then it got to a point where I was a bit bored, so I walked back to the table where they were because I hadn’t greeted Siwe properly.

Siwe: Because all the Africans were like “ooh, new African”

Ayay: Yes, there weren’t that many of us. So it’s like, who is this girl? Let me find out more about her. And she was sitting in the corner, minding her business. She seemed like she didn’t want to talk to anybody.

Siwe: It was a party; I didn’t know what to do at parties! I think I am generally better with my friends. I mean, I had just met Monde and my only friend was a guy I’d gone with to the party who is also South African. He is a lot! Him and I party differently. Funny enough, this was at a point where I would say I was wild in my Christian walk. Pretty wild actually.

Bolt: Ha, that’s an understatement

Ayay: I was also in a similar place…

Siwe: We were not living as Christians. We were just not. But even in that place, partying wasn’t my scene. I was just like, I don’t know what to do here, but I am here. I just felt out of place.

Ayay: That’s how I saw it! I saw it as someone who was either shy or just anti-social. Whereas in reality, I am more that type of person than her. Anyway, I just thought let me start a conversation so we got talking. And then we talked, and we talked and continued talking… And then it was just like, she is really, really cool. No need to go back to the dance floor, I am happy here!

Ayay and Siwe: The rest is history, haha! No need to include details to expose ourselves any further.

Siwe: I will say this though, if I met that version of Ayay now, I wouldn’t even look twice. Just like, if he met that version of me today that he met that day, he would be like “woah, okay no no”. It was easy to entertain each other at the time because we were both in pretty bad places in our walks.

Ayay: Get this, the next time we saw each other was at church that following Sunday! So, I knew that Siwe was a Christian because at the end of the night, she was having a whole conversation about where she is with God. So, I was like, okay she is a Christian. She might just happen to turn up at church.

Siwe: Our school town Olomouc has only one English church so we were bound to bump into each other if we were both still attending church. Uhm, I think for me also, just because the first meeting was just…interesting, I was thinking, okay, now what? I remember, we didn’t even exchange numbers. I don’t think we exchanged numbers

Ayay: Didn’t exchange numbers. I had forgotten your name

Siwe: I remembered yours because I had a pep talk with Monde the next day. I was asking her, what am I going to do? I’m going to just see this person at church and it will be so awkward. And she was like, “what you’re gonna do is, you’re gonna act cool. Just don’t make it a big deal, just be cool and act like it’s whatever. And if he’s all too cool for school, then you be too cool for school as well”. So I was like, okay that’s my strategy. That’s what I am gonna do.

Ayay: So, you remembered my name because of Monde?

Siwe: Yeah!

Bolt: What a pep talk. Ayay, did it work?

Ayay: Did it work? I mean, I was the awkward one really. At the party, I wasn’t who I am normally. Yes, I can be quite outgoing and charismatic or whatever, but that’s not me all the time. That’s not me at church. So now she’s seeing a more reserved side to me and probably thinking this person is awkward.

Siwe: Yeah, I was thinking, I don’t know why this guy’s making this thing awkward. Like cool, we met at a party or whatever, big deal!

2. When and why did you decide to start dating? Was the distance a factor at all in your decision?

Kiki: So 5 months after we met. We met in May and starting dating in August

Bolt: *Violently shakes head*. You can’t count! June, July, August…

Kiki: Haha, yeah 3 months after we met. Why? I don’t know., because we were both Christian and we were single, so yeah.

Siwe: So single Christians should just get together? I know Bolt technically used to say that he would date anybody, as long as they’re Christian…

Bolt: That’s true

Kiki: Haha, yes! We definitely discussed distance and how we were going to navigate it but we didn’t think it was a problem then. We were adamant we’d make it work.

Bolt: The reason I asked her out, despite her attending Miracle Life – because that was a serious stumbling block for me – is because I thought she was cool. I liked her, and was ready to ask her out 2 weeks after we’d started talking but this church situation was what held me back. Talking through the Miracle Life situation with her sort of convinced me to pursue the relationship. I didn’t think distance would be a factor at the time.

Siwe: What did you like specifically about Kiki, Bolt? Besides the fact that she’s so gorgeous!

Bolt: Initially, she seemingly had an interest in photography which I thought was interesting. She had a camera at the wedding and was taking pictures the whole time. I thought it was so cool, but she sold me dreams! Little did I know that she was the opposite of that. After that, talking to her just showed me that she was interesting and I liked her.

Ayay: We also started dating in August 2019

Siwe: Yah, we beat these guys by a few days

Ayay: Well, even though it was 3 years after we initially met. Distance was definitely a factor when we first met in 2016. We were considering dating at the time, for me it was about how I was planning on going back to the UK after I finish my course in Czech. I was thinking, she’s leaving in under a year and she’s going back to South Africa with no plans of leaving the continent. I also had no plans of leaving the UK for the continent in the near future. So it’s like, there’s no point in doing this. The way we saw it, there was no point of us being together for a few months and then she leaves in the summer and all these feelings are here. We thought we may as well just end it then.

Siwe: Okay so let me interject. I did think that to some extent, but I was more in a place where I didn’t really care. I was like, let’s see where this goes. Let’s go where the wind blows, we’ll figure it out. Maybe we won’t, but either way, it’s whatever.  Ayay was like, “nah bro, I am not here for some winter romance”. And I am thinking, well this is awkward but okay. So, he, more than me was very decisive and definitive about ending our whirlwind romance. He was more like “then what?”. And I was more like, it doesn’t matter. If it ends when I leave, we would’ve had a fling then, it is what it is, you know.  Interestingly, his whole demeanor towards that situation actually made me respect him more as a person to be honest, especially when I was no longer whylin.

Ayay: I think also, I was sort of on my way out of my crazy place at the time, whereas you were like deep in it. And I had been in a similar situation the year before, and I didn’t communicate well and I wasn’t intentional. So now it was like, no, let me be open and honest and not send any mixed signals. So that’s why it was easier to be as clear.

So nothing happened . She went back August 2017. I went back to the UK November 2017. And then we were just friends until 2019.

Bolt: Haha, friends?!

Siwe: We were friends. He was a terrible friend though!

Ayay: To Siwe, I was a bad friend apparently. We didn’t know at the time that we friendship differently. Fast forward to July 2019, I was going to counselling at the time. So, she calls me after my session and was talking about how she was considering counselling. After that, we just kept talking. I thought I should be a better friend and yeah, we kept talking from there. It got a point where we were talking a bit too much and I could tell that feelings were still there, on my side anyway. Yeah, I guess she had set a standard that other girls hadn’t been able to meet. To me, she was the standard.

We had also spoken about how she was open to leaving the continent a few months before, so that was no longer a barrier. She figured she could do the work that she wants to do in helping the continent outside of it.

Siwe: I mean, this was around the period of heightening femicide and GBV cases and chats in South Africa so I was like new me, now I am okay with leaving!

Ayay: I communicated how I felt. I was thinking, if we really really like each other, then we will figure out a way to make this work. Surely, long distance can’t be that hard?!

Bolt: So, at this point, distance was no longer a factor?

Ayay: I mean, distance was no longer a factor in making the decision. Distance was definitely still a factor. Case in point, we didn’t see each other until December, and we saw each other for two weeks and haven’t seen each other since.

Siwe: I think both of us at that point were less rigid about location. Because Ayay before was also Mr “I am from England and I am going to stay in England”. And now he was suddenly like, “you know, I will go where life takes me”. I think it clarified a lot in the other person’s mind before we had the conversation about liking each other. Because I think I would’ve still struggled with it, if I was more open to moving and he wasn’t. I wouldn’t want to be trapped in that rain-soaked island he calls home.

3. What’s been the hardest thing about being in a long-distance relationship thus far?

Kiki: The hardest part about being in a long-distance relationship, other than the fact that I miss him and I can’t see him, would be, yeah, just like this uncertainty of when it’s going to end.

Siwe: Well…whose fault is it that it’s uncertain? I joke!

Bolt: Not being able to share in experiences. Like, not being able to go places together, to see people together, I’d say grow together. Right now, a lot of it is like, of course you’re sort of privy to, but it’s very different when it’s being done from a distance. You know about it, but I think you’re just growing in whichever way and haven’t figured out how the other fits into the other person’s life. When you get married, it’s starting from scratch, with having that.

Ayay: I think not knowing when it’s going to end is quite tough. Because it’s difficult to try and figure out both our timelines and try to align it in a way where it’s like, okay, this is when we’ll be together. And when there are life changes that end up shifting the timeline, that’s very difficult. Similar to Bolt’s point, not being able to do things together, not being able to grow together and have shared experiences. I mean, even communication. There are some things and conversations that are easier when said in person. So over video calls and WhatsApp, there is just room for misunderstanding. Also, poor connection…on both sides!

Siwe: Wait, can I ask though on the point about timelines, to what extent can guys really say, “the uncertainty of timelines”?

Ayay: I think not having a clear picture of my own timeline. So, when life happens and timelines shift because of life events. I mean, we can agree on a timeline, but life happens. So it’s dealing with: this is the time that we thought this would happen and it hasn’t happened for instance. Covid for example, has affected us not being able to see each other. When I am talking about timelines, I mean mainly in terms of us being in the same place. I think in terms of marriage then, yeah, I think that is more on me. It’s more on me in terms of saving up the money for lobola for example. I think it’s generally more on the guy even though you plan together.

Bolt: Well, so there are different types of randomness, right? There is the random variable where you have no idea, right. Then there is obviously some where you have some kind of control depending on a number of things. My point is, like for example with me, if you asked me in December 2019 when I had just started dating, where this relationship would be in February 2021? I would have said we will either be married or have broken up. This was not part of my plan or timeline. I think, just a lot of complications like not having a job, and all the uncertainty especially when Covid came. I think Covid really messed up a lot of things, since all the things that could have been possible were sort of now restricted. So in my mind, like I thought we would definitely marry last year. Even now, I still imagine that sometime this year we will get married. As the Psalmist says, man makes his plan, and God has the last word. I think that’s been my biggest take away from this situation. Experiencing in real-time the planning of man and God essentially doing what he pleases has been such a lesson, even though I knew it theoretically before.

Kiki: The goal has definitely always been marriage. I feel like if it were up to us, to some extent, we would have got married by like last year, but yeah, I guess stuff got in the way. COVID, employment. Yeah, so it’s not as random. There are external factors affecting this.

Siwe: And I think for us, it was a thing for me that we first be in the same city. So I was always telling him, you know what, before we even marry, I’d rather, we just like be in the same city. And then we see what it’s like when we’re in the same place. And I guess that was convenient for him because you know, it gives you time between that and lobola and studies, but then it’s like life happens and we have to adapt differently to uncertainty. Suddenly the things that were priority for me about being in the same place aren’t as much priority anymore. And so that’s a different kind of conversation and pressure, I suppose. New rules of engagement, haha.

4. So, how have you ensured that you’re able to observe the Christian traits/ virtues that we should be looking for in a partner?

Ayay: I mean, I got to know you quite well whilst we were in Czech. While you’re not that exact same person, there are still elements of your character that are the same. Things like patience, how you act in certain scenarios, I got to see that over a span of a year while we were in Czech. Yeah, that knowledge informed my decision of us being in a relationship. I do think that it’s been hard because of the distance, because you can only really tell from what the other person is telling you. I can only tell from you telling me about your day and experiences, since I am not with you. Yeah, so it’s difficult to really analyse how you are doing unless I ask specific questions, which maybe I should do more. Distance definitely makes it difficult.

Kiki: I think I definitely agree with Ayay. It’s easier when you’re the same place, uhm, because you get to see how they act with other people in the same community. Just like with how they respond to this, how they react to that. Yeah, and when you’re apart, like Ayay said, then you can only go based on what they’re telling you.

Siwe: I mean, I can put on a show for you for a week when I visit…

Kiki: You know? Haha!

Yeah, it’s like I have to ask these questions, but sometimes I don’t even know what to ask to find out certain traits. Uhm, so it can be difficult. I have learnt to just remember that it’s just questions really. And if you tell me about your day, and how you responded to this situation impatiently, now I have to figure out maybe were you angry at something? I guess that’s how I could know. But it’s definitely a lot harder.

Siwe: Yeah, I also definitely think it’s difficult. I think one way I’ve tried to do it, it’s not perfect, but uhm, one of the ways that I have tried is actually is to expose Ayay to my communities. So like to see what he is like, even if it’s virtual obviously, but to see what he is like when he is in my community

Ayay: When you say expose me to your community?

Siwe: Like in real-time. If I am with my friends and you call, then it’s “yo, say hello to this person”. Just to expose you and see what that’s like. And it’s people that I would have told him stuff about. Where it’s like, you know what I think of my friend Bolt, now talk to him. Let’s see what happens there, haha!

I think that’s one way that I’ve tried to do it, but also to observe him when he does the same with his community. So, like how the interactions are between him and his friends that I am privy to. Between him and his siblings even. When it’s like a normal day, in the mundane. When we’re chatting and he’s helping his brother with his homework or something. Watching how he reacts when they annoy and frustrate him, how he can be loving and patient with them. Listening to the things he says when we chat about things that are concerning him. Another thing that Ayay and I do is to try maybe listen to sermons together or attend his bible studies together. Guys, I am quite impatient with the fact that they start late for instance, haha. Literally guys, every week they do it!

Ayay: It’s not that bad…we start 10 min late

Siwe: Yeah yeah…Anyway, I think the onus is also on you as the party that is being observed to be as transparent as possible, because my biggest thing is always that I am worried about putting on a show and then when we are together, he’s like “but girl who are you?” Or now I have to still put on a show for the rest of my life – now you think I am going to disavow my feminism or anti-capitalism or something!

Ayay: I got excited there for a bit…

Siwe: Impossible! I think that’s been a big thing for me personally, and I’m cognisant of trying to be as transparent to the other party as possible.

Bolt: Let me start with this: I think this is really one of the areas that you are at a disadvantage with being in a long-distance relationship, because I think one of the key ways that we see all of these traits, how someone truly is, in the context of community. Whether it’s at a bible study, or going to church together and that sort of thing, I think that exposes you to the other person. I also think that in those scenarios, like when you’re not alone in the relationship, you get to have feedback from people that know you and are not blinded by love. Yeah, I think long-distance relationships are at a serious disadvantage in this area.

Since a lot of things have now moved online, I think you can expose them in that sense. It doesn’t even really represent like the whole picture but yeah, that’s what you have. You can gage what impression they give to other people, because people will give feedback. Also observing your social media and statuses, that type of thing is a good indicator.

Ayay: Yeah, like your blogs

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