I was born and raised in paradise: a small island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, the most magical place in the world in my opinion, but I may be biased.
As much as I love my home, my wanderlust and curiosity always took me away from it. And through these travels, came three relationships in which I had to make three decisions about loving and losing, letting go and holding on.
The terribly true fact of life is, the world is huge, and we can't pack each and every one of our loved ones up in our suitcases and bring them wherever our dreams take us. Because of this fact, I've learned three valuable lessons from three long distance relationships:
Lesson One: Forgiveness is liberating.
This lesson comes courtesy of my high school sweetheart. He was older than me, and left me behind when he graduated and joined the military. I happily danced into my first long-distance relationship.
I became a pro at decorating care packages with his favorite things, and I was all too used to waking up in the middle of the night to talk to him for a snippet of time that was always way too short. Because of him, I have so much respect for military wives and husbands who have turned missing someone into a lifestyle.
Long story short: He ended up hurting me while we were thousands of miles apart. Almost every woman has had one person do something that has forced her to learn how to be tough and hard. He was this person for me.
As much as my logical brain tried to push the feeling away, I first felt “not good enough” compared to another girl during the end of our relationship. I hardly knew her, but thoughts of self-doubt raced around my head. She must be prettier, funnier, more intelligent. He must enjoy talking to her more. During the long periods of silence between us, he must be chatting with her. It's amazing how one instance of insecurity can have such an effect on someone for relationships to come.
We met, ironically, at the airport a year or two ago, as I was boarding a flight that would take me back to one of the other men I'll mention in this article, and he apologized. Instead of it being a big “haha!” moment for me, it was one of peaceful closure. I forgave him for being the first person to make a mark on me like that, and I felt free. I was done with the grudge I held against him for so long, and was free to let down walls and be vulnerable again.
Forgiveness is liberating.
Lesson Two: People change, and that's OK.
The second lesson comes courtesy of someone who I'm still so thankful to have known and been in a relationship with. We were together for four years during college, and he saved me from huge bouts of homesickness and was always my trusted confidant.
After graduating from college, I decided to spend some gap years doing public health work in Kenya, about as far away from home as I could get. We didn't even need to agree to have a long distance relationship at that point. It all just felt so secure that it was something that was a given.
Our relationship ended, however. Feelings faded, and daily emails became few and far between. We realized that maybe we were together because it was so comfortable and expected, and that we were better off friends than lovers. Instead of feeling the kind of love where someone makes you want to pull your hairs out and hug them at the same time, it was more meh.
It wasn't anyone's fault. We had changed, and we weren't as compatible as the two wide-eyed, just-graduated-from-high-school kids we were years ago. Though some things – like his love for the ocean and midnight snacks – remain unchanged, if I were to scroll through his Facebook feed today, I know that I would hardly recognize how he talks, the things he's interested in and his new group of friends. I'm sure he'd realize the same things about me.
I still know that this person would stick up for me if the going got tough, and we may have both changed in so many ways, but our friendship and my respect for him still stands strong.
People change. Sometimes they change and become even more compatible with and crazy for each other. Sometimes change pushes them apart. That's OK too.
Lesson Three: Trust in life's timing.
Finally, courtesy of the man who has made me think about life in so many new, different and exciting ways, comes my third and final lesson: to have faith in fate.
I fell in love with this man unexpectedly, deeply, crazily, genuinely and whole-heartedly. I admire so many of his qualities: his work ethic, intelligence, loyalty to his family and the most passionate ambition I've ever seen in another person. We could talk for hours about things from racism and inequality to crazy start-up ideas and aliens. I saw in his eyes the spark of curiosity about the world that I've always felt in my heart.
We drove each other crazy. We'd disagree, we'd argue and fight and there were tears. We knew just what to say to cut each other down, and everyone knows that only the people you love most are capable of doing this. This was the relationship that made me want to kiss him and kick him at the exact same time.
We moved in together. He had to put up with my hair all over our apartment, and I did my best to turn a blind eye to the clothes he just left lying around. We shared a life together. It wasn't just love between us, I think. It was also sincere respect and admiration.
Unfortunately, this lesson is far more uncertain than my first two because it's still so fresh. Life has recently pulled me far away though, and I left Kenya to go to medical school. I sit here, exactly 10,620 miles away from the home we built together, sorely missing him.
Our dreams are bigger than both us, and those dreams and distance ultimately forced us apart.
While this last relationship isn't the classic long-distance relationship, he's taught me what might be the most important lesson on this list. Falling in love at the wrong time will almost always end in sadness, but if we trust in life's timing, things will always end up how they should.
It's a small scrap of hope to hold onto, but at this moment in time, it's all I -- and anyone else who's had distance teach them to let go -- have.