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Dec 17 / Elliot Darvick

Closer: Amber & David

Welcome to the latest post in our Closer series — a look at how technology brings couples, family, and close friends closer. Amber and David are a married couple in their twenties living together in London. Prior to getting married, Amber and David spent three years in a intercontinental long-distance relationship that started with a chance meeting on the dating site OkCupid in 2009.

Unbucket: What technology brought you closer together while living apart?

Amber: Mostly Skype. I’d say we lived on Skype.

David: Pretty much.

Amber: It started off with emails, then Gmail chat and Skype chat, and then up to video. I think what’s really unique about what Skype allows people do to; because it is free, and because you have audio and a visual, you are able to occupy the same space while still going about your life. With a phone call, you are on the phone, you are engaged with the conversation, and you are actively talking to that person. But when you have someone on video chat, it’s as if they are in the room with you.

I think our longest call was over 24 hours. David would be doing his thing, I’d be doing my thing, and we wouldn’t necessarily be talking the same time, we’d just be occupying the same space.

Unbucket: Wow, that’s incredible.

Amber: I think something that David and I did together that makes us unique is that we actually slept together on Skype. We kept –

David: You need to phrase that carefully! (Both laugh)

Amber: We slept through the night together on Skype. I would leave a light on and he would leave a light on. Now, he went to bed five hours earlier than me because of the time difference, but I would just leave my computer running, go do my evening activities, come home, and he would be asleep on my computer. I would put my computer next to my bed and I would see him sleeping, and he would sleep next to me on my computer. When he would wake up in the morning and look at his computer, I would be asleep next to him.

David: It’s just kind of the way it worked out, we were in the habit of it.

Amber: Skype gives an illusion of closeness when the physical closeness isn’t there. But the emotional closeness, the visual closeness, and just the sharing of experiences, it’s all right there.

We also did other things together using technology. There’s things couples do together in person, like going to see movies or going to the park and stuff that you can miss out on in a long distance relationship, but we managed to do some of those things together using technology.

Unbucket: For instance?

David: We would both get the same movie and hit play at the same time with headphones on. It gets a little tricky –

Amber: It helps to have two screens.

David: Yeah, you can see the person while you watch, talk about the movie, and kind of experience it together.

Amber: We also would play games. We played the game Nutsy Bolts, which is essentially Apples to Apples. We played other board game things together like cooperative games. The biggest one we did was playing World of Warcraft together. I’d been playing World of Warcraft for years and got David into it so we could interact together in the game setting.

Yes, we were on a computer, but we were doing all kinds of different activities, lots of which are the same activities that couple who are together in the same physical location do. Couples play video games together at home, couples watch movies together at home — and we would do the same things, we would just do them with Skype.

Unbucket: Any limitations to the systems and habits you developed?

Amber: He did struggle at first to eat on Skype.

David: True.

Amber: He felt he would make a mess of himself in front of the camera so we would also turn the camera off when he would eat. He’d usually be eating dinner around the time when I was eating lunch, so eventually on occasion we would actually eat together.

Unbucket: Were there any other forms of communication you explored to remain close?

David: I’ll tell you what else, actually. Shortly after I met Amber and we decided to have a romantic relationship, I went out and bought a smart phone for the first time. I’d had an old-fashioned phone before, and I went out and got one that would do email and do Skype so that I could send Amber an email in the morning when I was on the train. With the smart phone I could stay in contact with her when I wasn’t at home with my laptop.

Amber: Skype also allows you to make phone calls long distance between countries for much cheaper than a cell phone company does.

Unbucket: So even with a smart phone, it all comes down to Skype.

Amber: My poor computer is almost dead now because it ran Skype for three years without stopping. I don’t think we could have done this without Skype.

David: We wouldn’t be here now without Skype or some other type of video connect.

Unbucket: How have things changed now that you’re living under the same roof?

Amber: He is much less pixilated now. (Both laugh) I don’t play WoW (World of Warcraft) anymore. I don’t play the other online games anymore.

David: But that’s mostly because you don’t have a computer with your own individual space.

Amber: Shut up! (Laughs) I want points for not playing WoW anymore. Sometimes we’ll look at each other and we’ll be like, “We need to go out and do something in the world.” We’ve spent so much time on the computer together that we feel the need to make up for that lost time by going and doing real world activities. We still spend time on our computers together. He’ll be on his computer doing his thing, playing a game, and I’ll be on my computer doing Facebook.

David: It definitely makes that kind of thing easier. It is easier to be doing different things and then still be physically together or just in each other’s presence.

Amber: We still use in technology in our relationship. While we don’t actually have a television, you can probably see our DVD collection behind me. We’ll have a show that we’re watching, like Dr. Who or Deep Space Nine, and we’ll watch an episode together on the computer while we’re eating dinner.

David: On that note, being together does broaden our choice of media. The problem we always had when we were apart was finding movies that we both had access too. Even on the download sites — you can get Netflix in the UK now — the selection is much smaller than in America.

Amber: And what’s available in the UK isn’t available there.

David: I actually found a lot of them time I could actually buy old DVDs cheaper than I could rent them or download them. We get them imported cheap from Europe in this country.

Unbucket: Any other changes?

Amber: Oh! I text him a lot more now.

David: True, true.

Amber: I never texted him before because I couldn’t text him without it costing money on Skype. I would just email him instead. We now text more and email less.

Unbucket: How do you think others perceived your somewhat non-traditional relationship over the three years you lived apart?

Amber: A lot of people, especially older people not as familiar with technology, are very skeptical of how real a relationship can be when you haven’t spent time together. I know my grandparents, and I think David’s parents, and even my parents expressed concerns like, “I can’t believe you guys are getting married when you haven’t even lived in the same country together. That’s crazy!” or, “You haven’t really spent enough time together…” – I think that’s folly because we spent an enormous amount of time together before getting married, we just didn’t spend most physically in each other’s presence. I actually think it is a benefit to our relationship because we had to talk so much. That was all we had, all we had was our communication and sharing our worlds with each other by talking and listening.

David: Both of us are sharing people. We like to share the experiences we have in our lives and the details of our daily experiences which I think helps as well.

Amber: Yeah, I think if you can survive through something like three years of an experience with someone else where you have a five hour time difference, cultural differences, monetary concerns like, “When am I going to be able to afford the next airplane ticket?” – if you can get through all of that, then the actual being together part is super easy.

David: True.

Amber: When it comes down to it, I don’t think our relationship has ever been stronger. I don’t think either of us have ever regretted the time we that we put into the long-distance relationship, and I don’t think either of us have doubted in our minds this is a lifelong, committed, healthy relationship.