Long Commutes: a Slow Poison for Modern Relationship

7 min read 

It was already ten o’clock in the evening and Samy was still waiting for her boyfriend to come home.


Samy and her boyfriend live two hours away from work by subway. He seldom texts her during commute because the train is always too crowded.

It usually doesn’t take this long for him to get home. During workdays, usually at around 9:10p.m., she would turn on the TV and lay out their home-cooked (or takeout) late night dinner on the table, making everything more homely for his return.

Is his ex calling again? Or has someone from work asked him to go out for a drink?

She hated these moments, moments of a simmering unease when her brain begins to wonder by itself about undesirable speculations. And every time it does this, the thought gets stuck in her brain, making it harder for her to just forget about it.

Ten minutes later, her colleague called, asking her to send a file via WeChat. She responded absent-mindedly yet mechanically.

She began to pace up and down the room, like a starving cat. After all it was a bad idea to move away from their previously rented apartment in the North Third ring in the first place. It only happened after having countless discussions with their parents. In the end, they finally decided on purchasing a small apartment of their own, but it made commuting ever more difficult. What’s worse, the exhaustion brought by the long commute has begun to take a toll on them. This was especially true for couples in general. She vaguely recalls having read somewhere that long commutes elevate divorce rate by an alarming 40 percent. When you have to get up at six in the morning to catch the bus and arrive home at around nine, you would hardly have much energy left for some cozy family time. She felt that she haven’t had a proper conversation in weeks with her boyfriend. This is just not right.

It seems as though every couple would eventually embark on the same path in life at some point. They move in together, rent a place, meet each others’ parents, get married, and last but not least, “buy an apartment”. In Beijing, however, the only affordable option when hunting for apartments is outside the fifth ring. For Samy, just getting the down payment out of the way required her parents to sell one of their old flats back in her hometown.

It was 10:30 now, and the two episodes of her favourite TV shows were already over. She needed to find some other distractions. She poured a glass of wine and lit up the lavender aromatherapy, which was said to be soothing.

Did he have an accident? Was he cheating on her? She remembered her best friend telling her, “Panicking won’t help when your man don’t come back on time.” Her friend must be an expert in family issues. No wonder she’s still single.

She had to make sure. After calling for three times, he finally picked up the phone.

“Where the hell are you?” She couldn’t help but started yelling.
“At the police office inside the subway station..” He murmured embarassingly.

“Police? I’ll come and get you.”
“I’m sorry”
“Don’t be.. just tell me what happened.”

It turns out that he was caught up in a fight with an old lady. The 60-year old forced him to offer his seat, but he was too tired to make a move. Then the fight escalated from a verbal dispute to a physical brawl, which ultimately led to the police intervening.

Samy knew of his character better than anyone. When the quiet and tender young man loses his temper, it’s usually an indication of a situation that has crossed the line by a landslide. The lady must have gone too far, Samy thought to herself.

The young couple was silent on their way back. She remembered another time, two years ago in the United States, when she had to bail out her ex-boyfriend in the middle of the night all because of some foolish act of driving over the speed limit in a remote highway outside their campus. She used to be so furious but at the same time thought there was a dark sense of humor in it, having all the twists and turns. Gosh, that felt like a lifetime ago.

But this was totally different. Physically injuring an old lady was not an ice breaker one would boast about at an evening gathering. If someone took a video and uploaded on the Internet, it would go viral in no time.

“Of course I didn’t hit her. She was being unreasonable.” He looked like a flat tire, which aroused her mother instinct. It’s not about the old lady, it’s about his mental state. Staying too long in an uncomfortable situation really does bring about harm to people.

“I believe you.” She said, “I was thinking, maybe we shouldn’t have moved here. I don’t feel any happier ever since we moved here.”

Long commutes were like a chronical disease, like diabetes or tuberculosis. It won’t kill you, but it torments your body and soul in an erosive way, slowly and steadily.

“It’s not like we have a choice. Maybe we should consider buying a car.”
She paused for a second. “I agree. I’ll ask my mom.”
“Please not your mom this time, not again”

Then there was the problem with traffic jams. A 40-minute ride on the subway is equivalent to about an hour’s drive during rush hour. But at least they could listen to music or podcasts to mitigate the anxiety of traffic congestions instead of suffocating in a “tuna can”.

Then the next day, Samy brought several car magazines with her to work. As she leafed through them, phrases like 0-100 km/h acceleration excited her, even if she didn’t understand exactly what the words meant.

During lunch breaks, she casually announced the car-purchasing news to her colleagues. There was Amy, who is single, independent, and born into a wealthy family. And Alice, a married local who already had two cars. Both of them were not in a perfect situation to share her excitement.

“There is a car exhibition at the convention center next weekend. Shall we go?” She texted him. “Got work to do” He responded ten minutes later, an expected answer that bore no consideration behind.

Four words and no excuses. What a hotshot!

Whatever, I’ll go check it out myself.

However, in the end they chose to stay in. Both were deeply immersed and obsessed with their phones on each side of the sofa. She tuned in for some new entertainment shows, while he indulged himself in short video platforms. That was what weekends are for—doing nothing at all.

Back when they had just begun to date, they used to spend 40 minutes on the subway to a cinema and talk non-stop during the whole trip. Maybe it’s not about long commutes. Maybe he just doesn’t care that much any more. She thought to herself.

She suggested that they could go to a nearby cinema in the afternoon. “Maybe we should get a projector in the living room, to solve the problem once and for all,” he says.
“Watching movies is not a problem to be solved. Maybe you should really get your ass up for some exercise.”

Again she remembered what her friend said: at least he’s right in front of your eyes. At least he isn’t having dinner with some random skank from the office. You should be pleased with what you have, right?

After grabbing the takeout from a deliveryman downstairs, she came back to the apartment and heard a familiar, rhythmic snore. Her boyfriend was sound asleep, like a big baby, with his phone still in his hands. It was half past 11 before noon.

He was so very tired. She gazed at him in silence.

How she loves the man.

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