Separate, together.

Noma Ntshingila
3 min readJan 2, 2021

A short reflection on the measure of love and intimacy.

What is it that makes one connection more true than the next? The existence of physical touch and evidence of time spent face to face?
We tend to measure the weight of platonic or romantic relationships by proximity and the amount of time poured into them, but I often wonder how accurate a time and touch based scale can be.

Reflecting on 2020 and some of the brighter moments that the shambolic year brought my way, I remember a lover that came to meet me in the depth of all the uncertainty. We interacted for only a couple of weeks on Twitter before we exchanged contact details to speak directly. While I was certain that we hadn’t met before, she felt like a familiar soul by the way she spoke and moved me with her intention. We quickly grew very in love with each other and swiftly made the decision to begin a relationship behind the safety of our devices- daily calls, texts, song recommendations, discovering each other and sharing parts of ourselves without reservation. In fact, one of our first phone calls was for the purpose of ironing out a hugely violent and traumatic event from her past- an event that saw her as the perpetrator. We both understood that this wasn’t to give her a platform to excuse her behaviour, but more for the sake of identifying the root issue informing her abuse of power in that particular event, being accountable for herself, and identifying how she could move differently going forward. That conversation set the tone for our overall honesty and deep intention to support each other while growing from our past.

Due to tight lockdown restrictions and my own fears about exposing myself to the outside world, the lover and I only met once before we decided to part ways a few weeks afterwards, but I’m always captured by how genuine that relationship was, even though most of it took place digitally- sexual intimacy included. The fact that it was more real than some of the real life encounters before- that was all the evidence I needed to know that the heart doesn’t speak in the language of time. Another event that led me to this perspective was death and how time seldom heals a wound that deep. Over 10 years later, I still experience moments where the death of a parent leaves me as floored as I was on the day the news first broke.

Personally, 2020 was a year that uprooted most of the “real-life”, long-term friendships I had, replacing them with souls I’ve come to love or care for at the least, in just a matter of weeks, without meeting beyond video calls, voice notes and tweets.
While nothing can quite replace the beauty of physical presence and touch, I do think we need to give ourselves permission to experience these digital connections as genuine and full of real love, too.



Noma Ntshingila

Writer, photographer and coffee enthusiast, weaving worlds into existence, one story at a time |