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TAKE YOUR ROMANTIC THOUGHTS OUT OF AFRICA

Q: I met someone nine months ago when living in Africa and am trying to continue the relationship even though I'm in the United States and he's still there. We've been apart about six months. The problem is he doesn't try to contact me as much as I would like. He says it's expensive to call. I counter that he could text or e-mail from work. He'll do it for a while when I put up a fuss, but then stop.

Basically, I'm frustrated that I feel I'm putting more into the relationship than he is. Since we are not physically together, if he doesn't make an effort to talk, I figure what's the point in this relationship? Since I've brought this up a few times with no results, should I just give up and tell myself he really isn't too into me, or is there something I can do to show him how much this bothers me?

A: You mean, shave your head, write it in blood, stage a musical number?

There's a two-word, one-expletive answer to this: "three (stinkin') months."

However, you ask a question rhetorically that I'd like to see you answer. What is the point of this relationship?

Will you share a location eventually? Is there a date for that? If not, are you trying to figure that out? Together? Or is this arrangement enough to satisfy you both, provided you work out the kinks?

Capital-L Love may make the world go round by lending purpose, inspiration, hope and selflessness to a species rather inclined to lying around on the couch. But Love's engine is love in the lower case, the day-to-day companionship, the intimacy, the countless small rewards for countless small sacrifices.

Without it, Love loses its connection to reality, and becomes wistful memory, wishful thought or, worst case, a delusion.

People in Love can do without love for very long stretches of time. Couples do better if they're deprived of each other by forced separation - as with deployments, detentions, expired visas - than if the day-to-day closeness just dries up. But either way, the strain of doing without is notorious, and relationships often succumb to that strain even when they're built on years of shared happiness.

You knew him for three months, of . . . probably not even Love. . . and you've asked it to carry you through double that time. That he's been in touch at all means he probably does care. But it's hard to ask anyone to value your companionship without your companionship, not indefinitely, not unless you have a concrete commitment, or substantial history, or genuine promise thereof.

Which teases out my next question: Why are you into him? I think people drag around these phantom relationships because they remain attached to the idea, long after the person is gone. But ideas won't ask how your day went, or, apparently, send even one weekly e-mail from work.

Washington Post Writers Group

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