Against All Odds: How Distance Only Strengthened My Relationship

by Shannon Ullman

Thirteen months was how long I went without seeing my boyfriend.

I saw him on a screen every day, but not once during that time did I get to hold his hand or wedge my face into that cozy space between his jaw and shoulder.

Leaving Josh wasn’t easy.

We met in high school, fell in love and had been together ever since.

Josh and I were the sickly cute couple, building gingerbread houses for Christmas and carving pumpkins on Halloween.

We took road trips around America, tie-dyed T-shirts on weekends and left love notes on each other’s cars.

We got our first apartment together, adopted two kittens and backpacked around Europe as a duo.

Our lives were deeply intertwined, and after nine years together, I left him to follow my dreams.

Teaching English abroad was one of those ideas I’d read about and couldn’t get off my mind.

As I spent my nights waitressing and being yelled at for not bringing ketchup fast enough, the idea seemed more and more appealing.

Traveling the world was my dream, and actually living abroad felt like a sure way to make it happen.

I did some research, worked on a teaching certification online and started to apply for jobs.

Aside from anxiously waiting for replies, I spent my days staring at maps, fantasizing about weekends spent on the Great Wall of China and vacations to South Korea and Japan.

The day I received the email was one I’m unlikely to forget.

“Congratulations, we would like to offer you a teaching position.”

I didn’t even finish reading it, and I nearly threw my laptop on the floor.

I screamed and ran around the house, followed by one of those heavy ass-shaking victory dances.

“I got it!” I squealed.

I looked to Josh to celebrate my victory.

His face sported a supportive grin, but his eyes showed disappointment and pain.

It was happening, and I was leaving him behind to pursue my career and travel dreams.

During the six months leading up to my move, we thought about what was coming and were happy about the change.

Some days, however, we wrapped ourselves under the blanket in bed and swore we would never leave.

Plans were made, and we never questioned the fact we would stay together, doing long-distance until Josh came out to China when my contract finished.

He decided to uproot his life, too.

He planned to take our cats and some of his friends to Colorado to live, work and snowboard for the year.

I arranged my visa, and Josh searched online for apartments.

We disassembled our apartment and eventually took a road trip across the country to Colorado.

I helped him move into his new apartment.

I had to see what it looked like so I could picture him there when we spoke on the phone.

Those last few days in Colorado were the worst.

Everything we did, I couldn’t help but wonder if it would be the last time.

I lost it during our last breakfast that morning in Denver.

The waiter must of thought something was up.

The crying didn't stop during the ride to the airport, during our final hug by the terminal and during the five times I turned around just to look at his face one last time.

Okay, enough with the sob story.

Leaving each other was hard, but our emotions leveled out once we become more comfortable with our new lives.

There was plenty to talk about at the end of every day, and we loved hearing about each other’s adventures.

Some days were plagued by sadness and loneliness, but most weren’t.

Life was just how I imagined it would be.

I loved my job, and everything I encountered seemed interesting.

I made friends with people from all over the world and learned to speak some Chinese.

I transformed myself from waitress and bartender to teacher and freelance tutor.

I visited every single city I said I would and figured out how to socialize alone.

Josh eventually bought a one-way ticket to Fuzhou, and we started a countdown until his arrival.

The months flew by, and suddenly, I found myself digging through my closet, trying to find the perfect outfit to wear for our reunion.

I fiddled with my hair, redid my makeup a few times and couldn’t believe how nervous I felt to see someone I had been dating for a huge majority of my life.

This upcoming moment was a scene I had imagined every day for over a year.

I pictured a romantic reunion, meeting each other’s eyes as he walked into view, crying, hugging and (tactfully) making out.

While it was in fact a grand reunion, it was none of the things I thought it would be.

I got on the bus far too late, and I left Josh stranded at the gate.

As I approached him, I was a sweaty mess, and I was too out of breath from running to give him a proper kiss.

Life got back to normal pretty quickly.

Josh met my friends, joined us for day trips to the countryside and binge-drank at our favorite bars.

He worked from his computer in my apartment, while I taught during the day.

We met up for dinner and drinks when we finished.

Our relationship was recovering quite nicely, almost like we never were apart.

Looking back on my decision to leave, I wouldn’t change a thing.

It made us better partners because it fostered trust and appreciation.

To be honest, our relationship has flourished because of the time spent apart, and it continues to reflect that to this day, nearly a year since we reunited.

I went after my dreams, and my boyfriend loved me harder for it.

Anyone who is willing to sacrifice his own desires so I can better my life can have my heart any day.

He deserves it.