Navigating my long-distance relationship with my brother

Physical distance can bring loved ones closer

With the academic year starting, everyone has had to say goodbye to someone they love.
Supplied by Claudia Rupnik
When students returned to Queen’s for the new school year, everyone fell back into familiar Kingston routines. But while they did so, it’s certain everyone also entered into some kind of long-distance relationship. 
With friends studying at post-secondary institutions scattered across the globe and family members staying at home, everyone has had to say goodbye to someone they love when they headed to school for the semester—including me. 
While not often framed as such, any type of relationship—between friends, siblings, or partners—can become long distance. When you reach a certain age, it’s inevitable to find friends and family members packing their bags for different time zones. Long-distance relationships are a normal part of life.
For me, the last weekend of August marks the start of the annual separation between me and my older brother. For the last four years, he’s been studying in the U.S.
There’s something charming about having a sibling who lives in a different country—the notion brings to mind whirlwind getaways to foreign cities, warm embraces in the airport, and enthusiastic video calls. But there’s nothing charming about the heartbreak you’re bound to experience when you’re separated from someone you love. 
I was devastated when my brother left for school. After moving him into his residence, I said goodbye and drove back to Canada with my parents. I was alone in the backseat of the car for the first time in my life. 
Despite being surrounded by my closest friends and family at home, there wasn’t a single person who could fill the gap he left in my daily life when he moved away. I felt abandoned, and I was lonely in a way I’d never experienced before.
Constantly aware of how disconnected I’d become from his existence, a quick scroll through social media triggered irrational jealousy of anyone who shared in his new life. For months, I hopelessly tried to understand how any relationship could survive such a vast separation. It felt impossible it would ever resemble anything close to what it was before he left.
A sibling moving away for school might seem mundane, but it taught me a critical truth about long-distance relationships: distance breeds insecurity among the closest companions because it guarantees things will change between them. 
In the years since he moved away, our lives carried on in each other’s absence. I graduated high school and started university, and he finished his undergrad and started his master’s degree. We both continued to grow as individuals. 
As he establishes more permanent roots abroad, I’ve accepted distance as our new normal (although I still resent it on occasion). 
I’ve spent numerous afternoons on layover in Chicago O’Hare, paid premium prices for international postage, and cursed every weak Wi-Fi connection across Kingston. When a friend casually mentioned meeting his sister for sushi earlier this year, I remembered that’s not an option I have with my brother. 
In spite of the challenges, I can also see that it’s made our relationship stronger than it was before. We don’t take each other for granted, and we support each other through all of the special moments and disappointments we experience along the way. 
While university life keeps us busy, we make sure to send quick updates on any major life events: breakups, birthdays, or new jobs. At the end of every phone call, we remember to tell one another how much we love each other. 
Personally, I’ve learned long-distance relationships offer their own suite of unique benefits. I don’t think proximity should determine who we surround ourselves with, as relationships of convenience often lack the complexity of those that withstand obstacles, like distance. There’s something special about a bond that isn’t determined by a shared class or a shift at work, but an intangible and less circumstantial fondness. 
Whether you’re the one who has left someone behind, or the one waiting around for someone who’s moved away, long-distance relationships are difficult. When I asked my brother—via WhatsApp—how he felt about them, he succinctly said, “They suck, and they rock.” 
That’s to say the negative parts of long-distance relationships need to be accepted for what they are so you can enjoy all of the positives.
Relationships naturally become long distance when both parties choose to chase their independent dreams and ambitions, fearlessly following their own paths wherever they might lead. When my brother and I are apart, it means we’re both pursuing our ideal lives. 
This semester, I’m on exchange in Paris, suddenly living a life seven hours ahead of his. There’s an impossible balance in understanding I won’t see him until the winter holidays at the earliest, but also that I’m lucky enough to live in France until that time. 
It’s uncomfortable to grow alongside someone when you’re physically removed from their life. I’m always trying to understand who my brother is becoming, without ever really knowing the minute details of his life. That’s a task which requires me to be a patient, empathetic, and supportive person, even when I don’t feel like it. 
As well, I’m always trying to tell him about who I’m becoming while we’re apart, and expect him to take the same interest in the vague rendering of my day I’m able to provide over the phone.
In spite of the inconvenient flights and sporadic calls, the right relationships continue to exist from a distance. Not by some force of magic, but as a result of the small and large efforts you’re willing to put in because it keeps you close to someone you love and who loves you in return. 
Maybe it’s been a few weeks since you’ve seen your best friend from home, or spoken to the younger sibling you couldn’t stop fighting with all summer long, and you’re missing them in between all the good times you’re having at school. That’s a normal response to being physically separated from someone you love, and you’re not alone in feeling that way. 
Today, I drank a beer in Brussels and thought about how much  my brother would love to be sitting across from me in the bar, putting back a few pints and laughing about something unimportant. A long-distance relationship doesn’t have to be with a romantic partner to be emotionally difficult. Regardless of who you’re missing, it’s not easy territory to navigate. Every day, I’m reminded of the distance between me and my loved ones, and simultaneously, the support I get from this network of people across the globe.
For now, my brother and I have been pulled in different directions—and it both sucks and rocks. Before we know it, school will be on break, and I’ll be waiting in arrivals at Pearson Airport holding up a handwritten sign with his name on it. 
Long distance has changed a lot of things about how we interact with each other, but he’s still my best friend. Soon enough, we’ll be back to fighting over the food in the fridge or the keys  to the car, like we’ve never been apart.

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