Earlier this year, I spent a few months living apart from my domestic partner. We’d been apart many times before, as he’s always traveled quite a bit for work. A week here, a week there.
Occasionally a month. Like the time he went to South Africa, challenging because of the difference in time zones. He was always six hours ahead. And because we both worked long hours, this meant that it wasn’t often that we could find a time that we were both awake and not working to talk. Really only on the weekends. But he was usually busy sightseeing then or putting in extra hours for the client, so the slices of time were still thin.
And as we spoke on WhatsApp, there was often a delay of a few seconds. Enough to be a bit emotionally unsettling and underscore the distance between us.
But we made it through the absence.
And he came home to me.
Living in a Showroom, Phone Suggesting”I Miss You” and “How’s Work?”
That was five years ago. It’s funny how much things are changing and how quickly.
This time around, we were apart for months. And even though it was only 1000 miles and I was only a single hour ahead of him, it was grueling being away from him. Extraordinarily painful.
Part of it I can attribute to how empty the house was. After he left with the pets, after I packed up all our belongings and repainted the walls, it didn’t seem like home anymore.
The kitchen looked beautiful with its new flooring, new appliances. But as I walked through the house in stocking feet (no more shoes allowed in the house after it had been detail cleaned), grabbing a frozen TV dinner to nuke in the microwave, carefully covering my tracks and leaving no trace, I felt as though I were living in a model show room.
In some ways technology was helpful. I could text him readily, talk to him whenever we both had a minute. But there were countless times when I’d look at my phone, trying to think of what to text him next, and the auto-text prompts would make me furious.
Because they were the same over and over. The greatest hit was “I miss you.” Seriously. It was there most of the time as a suggestion. “I miss you.”
Like I needed to be reminded every time I thought about him. Like I needed to tell him every five minutes.
It wasn’t a thing that needed to be spoken. Because it was so plainly obvious that I was in physical pain from it some days, from missing him.
And every time I’d pick up my phone, combing my mind, attempting to say something charming, witty, or uplifting — something worthy of how I felt about him, I’d see that damn auto-suggestion. “I miss you.”
Or occasionally, “How’s work?”
How Robots Must See Long-Distance Relationships
Machine learning is a curious thing. I’m learning a lot about what it means to be human from what algorithms predict we’re going to say next.
And in those long lonely months, it hit me over and over again: Even the robots know I miss you.
I imagine that’s how they see long-distance relationships: Organic lifeforms saying “How’s work?” and “I miss you” over and over again to one another until the heat death of the universe.