Does absence make the heart grow fonder?

ONG-distance relationships are nothing new for South Africans.

ONG-distance relationships are nothing new for South Africans.

History shows that for years, husbands would leave their wives and family to seek employment in the "big city" or on one of the many mines that dot our landscape.

For 11 months of the year they would toil away - often for very little reward - so they could support their loved ones back home.

During that time, contact would consist of the odd letter or a phone call now and then. Mostly, the people involved would survive on memories.

Days would be consumed with work. Evenings would be spent thinking of the good times spent together, the good times awaiting them when reunited with their loved ones.

But the time spent apart would also place a great deal of strain on even the best relationships. People grow apart, mature without their partner; the temptation of having an affair lurking menacingly.

Modern-day South Africa is no different.

With the recession drastically cutting job growth, today's professionals are often having to follow in their elder's footsteps and chase work away from home.

A Sowetan colleague is a typical example.

With a diploma in media studies neatly tucked under his arm, he returned home to Rustenburg in the hope of securing a job.

"There was nothing. After applying to every media outlet in the region - and being turned down - I ended up working underground on one of the mines just outside Rustenburg.

"The work sucked but at least I was working," he explains.

Scouring every newspaper for a job in the media industry, he struck luck when a position was advertised for a journalist in Johannesburg.

Though it would mean leaving his long-term girlfriend and family back home in Rustenburg, he was determined to take the plunge and move to the City of Gold.

"After a series of interviews and eventually being short-listed, I got the position.

"It was only then that it struck me that I would be living away from those close to me," he says.

"A lot of emotions ran through my mind. How often would I get to visit my mother? Would I be happy living in a strange city? Most importantly, though, would my relationship with my girlfriend survive?"

Now two years into life away from home, things are better, if only slightly.

He manages to return home at every available opportunity, but the weeks between visits often feel like months.

"I worry about my mother a great deal. Life is not easy in the rural areas and she is getting old now and being the last born, I feel a certain responsibility towards her, especially since my father passed away years ago.

"She is kept busy looking after my two nieces. In a way, though, I feel I am missing out on some family life," he says.

"My relationship with my girlfriend is not so simple. We are both young and ambitious and have certain goals we want to achieve. Whether our union survives, I'm not too sure, but for now we are getting by."

A long-distance relationship with family is one thing, with a wife it's another.

If children are involved it can be even worse.

A woman will often feel she is having to fulfil the role of both parents.

For the modern-day woman it will often consist of getting the children off to school on time after preparing them breakfast and a lunch-box.

This will be followed by putting in an eight-hour day in a stressful work environment before picking up the kids from aftercare, bathing them and cooking supper.

The stresses of running a household on your own are immense and sooner or later questions will be raised on the practicality of the husband working away from home.

A friend of mine found herself in this position.

With her husband recently renewing his contract as a project manager on a construction site in Dar es Salaam, she was faced with a dilemma ... soldier on by herself in Johannesburg or join him in Tanzania.

"I've been married for nearly 20 years now and we have often lived outside South Africa due to his work commitments.

"We have had stints in Zambia and Botswana. They have been enjoyable times, but when he renewed his contact for another two years in Tanzania I decided, as a family, it's best we join him.

"The company provides us with a flat and two vehicles plus we get a return flight to South Africa every four months so it works out well.

"For my husband to be away by himself in a foreign country is not an ideal situation and one to which many women would battle to adjust.

"Fortunately we have a very strong marriage and with the economy the way it is, we are just grateful that at our age we can still find work paying us in US dollars."