The Beautiful Pain of a Long-Distance Relationship
Lessons learned while loving someone from afar.
It’s a typical Monday morning in DC and I’m moving slowly, waking up at your place. I look at my phone and see that I have about an hour to get ready for work. Then, I realize—my “work shoes” are back at my place, about a 15-minute bus ride up North Capitol Street, or a 20-minute trip by the subway.
“Damnitttt,” I sigh, groaning to you that I have to leave your apartment earlier than anticipated so I can pick up my shoes before heading to work downtown. The look on your face cuts deep, a look that says, we’ve done this too many times — saying goodbye; I love you too; I’ll text you when I make it home. But even this look on your face, this pain, is better than the excruciating absence of you. It sure beats not seeing your face at all for weeks, even months at a time.
On this groggy Monday morning, we are both reassured, knowing that we’ll see each other in another half-rotation of the earth. It wasn’t always this way.
For the first time in years, we’re living in the same city, and I feel like the universe is pulling a prank on me, as if one morning, you’ll open your closet and Ashton Kutcher will pop out with a camera crew: “Ha! You thought you’d have a normal relationship again!” But Ashton Kutcher is busy investing in tech somewhere, and that pop-culture reference has been used too many times.
Our weekends are now spent in a shared dream, going for walks, eating out, eating in, curled up together watching addictive shows about people figuring out their lives, like New Girl and This Is Us. Before we both landed in DC together—back when I was studying in Syracuse, hundreds of miles away from you—I would spend most Friday nights rolled up in a ball on my bed with a bowl of leftover spaghetti. I’d feast my eyes on The Office and get way too invested in the characters’ lives. When the show would cut to the credits, I’d stare at myself in the laptop reflection and think, “You sure you have a girlfriend?”
Asking myself this question at times felt rhetorical. Of course I knew you were out there somewhere. But if I couldn’t feel you next to me, were you real? Were you just an idea of love I stored up in my heart to put my mind at ease? Were you just a memory? Would you still love me the next time we met up?
When we talked on the phone or FaceTimed, those questions would disappear. I’d hear your sweet laugh on the other side of the phone and immediately remember the reason we did this thing in the first place.
But when we’d say our goodnights and our I love you mores, usually much too late for a school/work night, my world would go dark again. We did this for a nonconsecutive two-and-a-half years in total — more than half of the nearly five years we’ve been a couple. My brain and heart were out of sync, like one was preparing for a sprint while the other was training for a marathon.
There were good parts about the distance. I learned to be friends with myself. I learned to go to networking events without you and make awkward small talk with other scared young people. I learned to make plans without you. I had more time to pursue things I’d put off for months, like visiting the local recording studio and actually finishing the songs I’d written.
My brain and heart were out of sync, like one was preparing for a sprint while the other was training for a marathon.
Oddly, we grew together while we were apart. We built a seemingly invincible sense of trust. We became more committed—we had to consciously keep our relationship going in the face of distance, doubters, and our own insecurities. We also learned the power of prayer and hope. We constantly prayed for each other and placed our hope in God’s plan for our lives, saying things like, “If it’s meant to be, it’ll be,” phrases typically reserved for Top-10 pop hits. They sure did get us through some tough times.
To be clear, I wouldn’t wish a long-distance relationship on any couple. It took a long time to be in the same city, just 15–20 minutes away from each other, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. Finally, we are here.
The key, now, is to take what we learned from being apart and combine it with the high of being together. I don’t want to lose the self-awareness I gained in the time we spent apart. I don’t want to lose the independence. I don’t want to forget the beautiful pain. But, more important than any of that, I don’t want to lose you.