The Dueling Worlds of Absence

Absence makes the heart grow fonder, but in some scenarios it makes it grow fainter.


What would not I give to wander

Where my old companions dwell?

Absence makes the heart grow fonder:

Isle of Beauty, fare thee well!


These words were jotted down by English writer Thomas Haynes Bayly as part of a celebrated 1844 poem. Reportedly a gent named Francis Davison first introduced the world to the notion that “Absence makes the heart grow fonder.” Bayly, though, made it stick.

Since then, the phrasing has come to be an ode to long-distance romance. Some scientists have sought to research the truthfulness of distance strengthening love.

I have my own thoughts on the notion.

My inkling is that there are times when it’s very much the case and others when absence just, well, isolates and separates two people in anything but a positive way.


When it works

The bonds have to be there and fully formed. Two people have to feel attraction and connection already. At that point being away from each other only demonstrates to them how much they care, how much they need to be around each other to be entirely happy and complete.

I had this experience several years ago. A man and I started dating after being friends and being in each other’s lives for years. Perhaps that’s why early on we fell hard and fast for each other. Time spent together was easy and intense at the same time. Then a few months into our courtship I had to leave on a month-long Europe trip that had been in the works for longer than we were a “we.”

It’s safe to say that we missed each other. There was longing and anticipation about being reunited. Messages were exchanged and kind words batted back and forth. Then I returned. The time away solidified our feelings and made our budding relationship a bit more “budded,” if you will.

I can only imagine the world of good and appreciation for a much more well-established couple. Decades together, and sometimes it’s not a bad thing to miss your mate, to not see them and then love when they’re back.

Heck, the Census even has a category now called “Living apart together” to describe couples that have taken this concept to its extreme by residing at separate residences (and sometimes separate locales) in order to live their own lives and then come together when able. I’m sure in that instance the time apart improves the time together.


When it doesn’t work

Early on, when just getting to know someone, this is probably the time to spend time with them. Not to go separate ways.

A few weeks ago I went on a brunch date that went reasonably well. Conversation was far from awful, and he didn’t make a single rude remark all day. The meal was even delicious and followed up by a visit to a Smithsonian museum that showed he had intelligence and interest in art and culture. 

I wondered whether I’d hear from the guy again. Then, silence. Six days passed until I heard back. At around day five, more or less, he was out of my immediate mind since it had been a busy week and other thoughts preoccupied me. The text at day six proposed a day—a few days after that one—when we should meet up. I couldn’t. I let him know alternate days that following weekend. Then I didn’t hear back until after those proposed dates had passed. “I’m so sorry. I must have missed this message in my phone. I don’t know what happened,” he wrote me.

I wasn’t mad, it’s just that suddenly we were back to square one, trying to find a date for date two. By this time, though, a few weeks had passed since our first get-together. I think, but am not entirely sure, that I could pick the dude out of a lineup in a jailhouse.

The point is that if things don’t develop in a hurry and if too much time passes after first becoming acquainted with someone, it’s not good. Absence is the killer, not the star.

Absence, I guess, sometimes makes the heart grow fainter rather than fonder.