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Does Absence Make The Heart Grow Fonder Or Does It Make You Forget?

We all love finding peace in old, familiar adages.

Although sayings like “the early bird catches the worm,” “two wrongs don't make a right,” and “don't count your chickens before they hatch” might sound too cliché for comfort, they calm us down during those moments in which we might feel confused about something in our lives.

They reassure us that someone else out there has already figured out the right thing to do — and, most importantly, they've already created a convenient saying for it — so we should just listen.

Regardless of how right or wrong the adages are, we repeat them to ourselves over and over again, as if repetition will somehow confirm their truth.

But what happens when two common adages completely contradict each other?

What happens when you can't respond to one of the most confusing moments of your entire life with one adage all neatly tied up in a bow, but with two? 

Which one, then, is the truth?

“Absence makes the heart grow fonder” and “out of sight, out of mind” are two common sayings we associate with romance that has been forced apart by distance.

Maybe you're about to embark on a long distance relationship with your significant other or your military husband or wife is about to get deployed.

Maybe you and your ex broke up because one of you was moving too far away.

Or maybe you had a magical yet fleeting night with someone while on vacation, or at a random work conference or on a trip abroad.

Whatever it is, placing distance (even temporary distance) in between two souls creates confusion and raises the question: Will absence make the heart grow fonder or does out of sight really mean out of mind?

Depending on the situation, you might actually prefer one over the other.

In a long distance relationship or in times of war, you certainly hope that distance cultivates fondness, and after a breakup or separation, you certainly hope that distance cultivates forgetfulness.

But it's difficult to control our emotions. It's difficult to predict exactly how distance will make us feel, exactly how it will manipulate our perspective in a romantic situation.

We've all seen relationships become broken down by distance, and we've all seen ex-lovers become strengthened by it.

When it comes to romance, we've all experienced the unexpected. Love is impossible to predict.

It's true that not knowing which saying will be true is terrifying.

Not knowing whether you will spend the majority of your days missing the other person or the majority of your days forgetting the other person is what makes distance, in any sense of the word, so goddamn scary.

Some days, you might find yourself pining for the other person's touch.

You might find yourself crying, venting to anyone who will listen and clutching memories of good times in your head like they're the only things you have left of that person.

His or her texts might make your heart skip several beats, causing you to ignore everything around you, if only to squeeze in a little bit of conversation.

And if you haven't texted in awhile, you might be hyperaware of every second that passes during which you are not speaking with that person.

Other days, you might find yourself flirting with someone else. You might find yourself dancing at a club without regard, laughing carelessly with friends and having trouble recalling details about your time together.

You might go a full day, or two, or five without texting, and you won't even notice how much time has gone by since you spoke with that person. You might find yourself getting caught up in your own life.

Consistency might become impossible, which is frightening.

Thanks to social media, it's easier than ever to feel like we're close to someone, regardless of how physically far apart we are. Still, however, physical proximity is important in romance because it's the only way to achieve real intimacy.

Distance means it's impossible to touch, smell, listen to or simply be in the presence of the other person whenever you want — all of which are ways human beings show affection.

What happens when you can't see that person in person? What happens when you forget what they smell like? What happens when you forget what they feel like, or sound like or taste like?

You can't help but wonder if your bond is strong enough to even last the distance if it doesn't have that physical proximity.

On those days when you crave the other person's physical closeness, you'll feel the importance of physical proximity the most.

Your libido will be spiked so high that not even a Skype-sex session or watching your favorite porno will do the trick.

You'll press your nose into this person's old T-shirt so forcibly that your face will disappear into the fabric.

You'll reply recorded video chat conversations and call them a million times just to hear the sound of his or her voice.

But on those days when you don't crave the physical closeness, you'll wonder how you ever needed it at all.

Your libido will be so low that you'll actually find yourself shying away from even listening to your sex playlist on Spotify.

You'll see his or her old T-shirt as just another pajama shirt, and you'll be able to get through the day with just a short text message or a viewing of your favorite romantic comedy.

Once again, consistency might become impossible.

The worst part of all of this is you will also have no idea how the other person will feel.

Because in addition to feeling anxiety about what will happen to your feelings, you'll also have anxiety about someone else's feelings.

Is that person spending his or her time pining over you or letting you fade away? Is that person yearning for your touch, your voice, your scent or forgetting why he or she even needed it in the first place?

Is the other person's heart growing fonder or is your removal from his or her sight removing you from his or her mind?

Most importantly, are both of your feelings aligning? Are you pining while he or she is letting you fade? Or vice versa?

This situation might feel impossible. How can there be two widely accepted ideas about distance: that it both cultivates and diminishes feelings?

It's tempting to listen to accepted ways of dealing with problems, especially ones like these that have no real psychological backing.

It's tempting to hope that whatever situation you're in will follow a perfect trajectory of either “fondness” or “forgetfulness.”

We want easy solutions to complex problems. We want to know we will be okay.

But romance is not black and white, so in order to figure out if you'll be okay, you'll have to focus on the details of the situation — all of the shades and colors with which the situation will be clouded.

Forget the adages. Throw away the clichés. Don't listen to what anybody — not even anonymous wordsmiths of the era during which these sayings were created — tells you about how your life should unfold.

It's okay if stuff is messy. Love doesn't have to be perfect. Just worth it.

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Alexia LaFata

Digital Editor

Alexia LaFata is a Senior Editor. She's a proud New Jersey native and Boston College graduate. When she's not writing, she's watching documentaries, practicing her Cher impression, or eating pasta. Stalk her at alexialafata.com.
Alexia LaFata is a Senior Editor. She's a proud New Jersey native and Boston College graduate. When she's not writing, she's watching documentaries, practicing her Cher impression, or eating pasta. Stalk her at alexialafata.com.

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