“So, you have my number. Text me.” I wink and turn to walk out the door with my friends into the humid Boston night. I can't keep the grin off my face. I have a good feeling about this guy, and I just know this is going to be something.
I've lost count of how many times that scene played out for me. In my group of friends, I was always the one looking for a relationship. I wanted more than casual dating or a fling. I wanted the Holy Grail: unconditional love. Whether I met a guy in a bar, on the street, online, or through friends, I always thought it was going to become something. But it never did. From the time I was 18 until the time I was 28, none of these interactions never ended up leading to the great love that I was endlessly searching for.
When I finally found it, I thought my whole world was going to explode in hearts and rainbows and flowers, and for a time, it did. But I never expected that searching for love would be the easy part. It turned out keeping the love was more difficult than I ever expected.
My fiancé Greg and I met on Tinder when he was volunteering two years ago at the Boston marathon. We were attracted to each other right away, and after exchanging numbers, we began talking every day.
I soon learned that he didn't live in Boston. In fact, he didn't even live in Massachusetts. He actually lived in Manchester, Connecticut, about 15 minutes from Hartford. Well, I thought to myself. Nothing's going to happen with a guy who lives an hour and a half away from me, so I might as well just enjoy it for now.
About a month after we began talking, I was headed to New York for a friend's engagement party. At that point, I knew from our texting that we had a true connection, as our conversations had been getting progressively more substantial over the course of the month. I thought, Now's my chance to meet Greg and see if there's anything there. And he's halfway between Massachusetts and New York, so I can take a break from driving! (Yes, a large part of why I visited was because he was on the way to somewhere I was already going.) So, I went down to visit him.
Ever since, Greg and I have taken turns to visit each other every weekend. We never discussed this arrangement. We both just seemed to operate under the assumption that we would visit each other every weekend until one of us was no longer interested. That never happened. It sounds like a lie, but it really was that easy.
Greg and I are getting married next summer, and by that time, we will have been long-distance for more than three years. But even getting married won't guarantee that we can live together, as school and work tie us to our respective states for the foreseeable future. I work full-time in higher education and am also getting a Master's degree in Boston. Greg works full-time in healthcare and is pursuing a Ph.D in Connecticut. I won't finish my degree until December of 2017, and Greg won't finish his until December 2018. So, we're both essentially stuck for the foreseeable future.
Our arrangement is by no means easy, and the thrill of finally getting to see Greg after a long week is oftentimes quickly stamped out by sitting in traffic on the Mass Pike. After more than two hours in traffic, I'm grumpy, tired, and hungry.
“I'm not driving anywhere for the rest of the weekend!” I declare angrily.
“Was traffic really that bad?” Greg asks.
“Yes.” I say curtly. “I'm so sick of sitting in traffic. I wanted to be here for dinner and obviously that didn't happen.” I glare at the clock on the microwave, which reads 8:37 in the glowing green light.
Greg wraps me in a hug and eventually my anger begins to melt away.
I never imagined that I would be in a long-distance relationship. I knew from others how difficult they were (my friend was doing a cross-continental relationship with her now-husband when I met Greg), and living in such a populated area like Boston always made me foolishly believe that there were so many options I was bound to find someone on my back doorstep.
But being in one has shown me how difficult it really is.
On a good weekend, Greg and I get a full 48 hours together. But the majority of that time is spent doing homework. We first got together before either of us was in school, so we happily planned trips, excursions, and events every weekend. And because we weren't as busy and had more free time and energy, we were always up for a new adventure. Now, I don't plan trips or events anymore, and going out can be a huge production. We have to schedule every hour, every minute, and every second of our time together.
Such a demanding schedule isn't necessarily conducive to love. We can't connect as easily as other couples who live together or have similar schedules can. Many semesters when we've been apart, work and our classes have overlapped in such a way that we don't connect from 8 am until 10 pm. I can't make Greg dinner on Wednesday night when he's worked late, and Greg can't take me out to a movie on a Thursday. Our schedules leave us drained, and between work, school, and traveling to each other, at the end of every week, all we want to do is rest.
Because we can't rely on the things that couples who live together can do every day, Greg and I have to work that much harder to keep our love alive. We rely on texts, phone calls, emails, and spontaneous gifts to show that the love is there and stronger than ever, and that we're always here for each other, no matter what. But being apart with ever-changing schedules and limited access to each other means that we have to plan everything, including every gift. And even the best planning oftentimes goes awry.
However, planning our displays of love has added another layer to our relationship. We can't do anything without thinking it through, and because we're not always together, we have plenty of time to determine how best to display our love. As a result, our displays are more thoughtful, meaningful, and unique than they would be if we could see each other more often.
While it would be wonderful to be able to do smaller displays of love more regularly (i.e. doing laundry or going grocery shopping for Greg), ours are special, because they can't be done every day.
Five months into our relationship, I became very sick. I was having severe stomach problems, and it was a struggle for me to get through the day. I was diagnosed with Gastroparesis and limited intestinal function. Gastroparesis means that my stomach digests much slower than normal, so I get full very easily. Limited intestinal function means things move very slowly through my intestines. Both issues cause bloating, cramping, constipation, and severe pain and discomfort on a regular basis. Due to this diagnosis, I dropped almost ten pounds in less than a month, and I basically stopped eating.
One late afternoon on Saturday in November, during one of my visits to Greg, I was finishing up my homework on the couch and Greg was beside me. He'd just gotten a text from his friend and seemed to hesitate before turning to me.
“So… my friend and his girlfriend want us to hang out tonight.” The hope on Greg's face was evident.
“I just don't feel well enough, and I don't want to explain to people why I'm not eating.”
Greg's face fell, and I hated myself for taking away what could have been a fun evening for both of us if I was feeling better. It'd been like this a lot since I'd gotten sick. Greg wanting to do things and me not being able to.
“You can go without me,” I said. “Just tell them I don't feel well. You can still have fun.”
Greg cuddled me close, careful not to squash my already upset stomach. “No, no, no. I just worry about you and want you to be OK. I'm happy to stay home with you. And we'll have a good night in.”
I'd never expected to be such a mess so early on in our relationship, but instead of running or pulling away, Greg jumped in with both feet to take care of me. We couldn't do much, but Greg always told me he was just happy to be with me, and he loved me regardless of my illness.
Even more importantly than saying it, Greg showed me he loved me every day. When I couldn't eat solid food, he went out and bought me Ensure. My eating three bites of solid food was cause for celebration, and Greg would yell and clap enthusiastically to spur me on. He was constantly checking in on me, always asking what he could do to help, and putting aside his own needs to cater to mine.
My illness definitely made our relationship even more challenging, especially when we were apart. Oftentimes I would get debilitating pain, and would not even be able to sit up. Greg always wanted to know what was going on, but I hated telling him the truth because he worried so much, and there was nothing he could do to help me from so far away.
During those times of extreme pain, both Greg and I cursed the distance, not only because we both would have felt better going through things together, but because in the event that something serious happened to me, I was alone. Recently, I was so bad that I was uncontrollably shaking, couldn't stand up straight, and had to leave work. I had to tell Greg, and it wasn't like he would be home soon to take care of me. He was an hour and a half away with a full day of meetings and patients.
Long-distance means he can't be right there when something happens, and we both struggle every day with the fear of having something go terribly wrong when we're apart.
Throughout all of these issues, though, Greg and I never forget what's important: our love for each other. There have been so many times when distance, our schedules, and illness have made our lives difficult, and have made it easy to want to give up on our love, but Greg and I both know that what we have is worth it.
After years of dating, I always thought that all I had to do was find love. Now, I know better. Finding love is only the beginning; keeping that love is where the true work begins.