Quick update! I love my girlfriend Gertie. She moved to Austin last fall to pursue her MBA, while I hung back in Boston. We’ve been doing long-distance ever since. Did I mention that she’s always late to everything?
This is how my follow-up – updating you on the realities of my long-distance relationship - could have started:
Have you ever missed someone so much that you preferred not to talk to her? So much that you felt as if every conversation was just reminding you that you weren’t with her?
There’s a scene in Gertie’s favorite movie, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, where Jim Carrey mutters angrily to his eager girlfriend Clementine, “Constantly talking isn’t necessarily communicating.” Such is the plight of many a long-distance relationship. But then there’s always the other option – sitting on the couch, wearing only boxers, and watching Alias on Megavideo (by the way, 74 MINUTES OF FREE VIEWING DOES NOT HELP ME!).
RECORD SCREEEEECH. Hold the phone. That’s not our story.
Yes, the long distance thing is still going on. Yes, it is definitely difficult. But Gertrude and I are going on nine months of being separated by 2,000 miles, and things are actually going…well, better than they would be if the above paragraph were the real intro.
Getting to the good place where we are now was a process – and not a very easy one.
I was initially putting up a strong face. Six weeks between visits? That’s fine! We’ll talk all the time. (Not as true as I had anticipated.) Plus, we’re each other’s best friend; we’ve always been so proud at how we can just pick right up where we left off. But I quickly learned that being able to pick up where you left off when you kiss someone goodbye in the morning and then see them for dinner is…different.
I can’t even tell you (but I have to, I guess – thanks, blog) how awkward my second visit was. Gertie picked me up [20 minutes late] in a [stupid, terrifying] SmartCar. The awkwardness in the car was palpable. Gertrude rushed to attack it with nervously charged chatter that just kept making the elephant in the car bigger and bigger. And if you’ve ever seen a SmartCar, then you know all too well that there is no room for an elephant.
It felt as if I was riding with a stranger (which I remember my mother explicitly saying NOT to do). What made it more uncomfortable was realizing that Gertie felt the same way. The ride was tense and disheartening – and it was not just because I was a grown man cruising along in a Barbie PowerWheels.
We got to her apartment and were putting away groceries when she looked at me and said, “So how are you doing?” For six weeks straight, we had been having superficial How was your day? How’s work? How are you feeling? conversations. But I couldn’t be strong anymore. I broke. So we stood there holding each other for a while, with tears streaming down our faces, getting re-acclimated to holding and being held.
We’ve always been very conscious in our relationship of the old adage, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” Something needed to change.
Our first bold step in working our way out of the funk: remember that we live in the 21st century! And SHOW…don’t TELL.
Having nightly conversations where Gertie entertained me with all of her blonde moments of the day was important. But I truly started to feel connected when she sent me real-time pictures of her TV stand that was 5-feet wide to hold her 11-inch flat screen. Now, every time I consumed dessert (m’lady has quite a sweet tooth), I would email her a picture of it to let her know that I was thinking about her. And even Texas felt a little less foreign when she started sending pictures of all the ridiculous signs she would see on her trips to the supermarket (apparently leaving your ammo in the car is bad?).
But technology alone is just a maintenance vehicle. What really made our long-distance connection meaningful was finding ways to support each other in our separate endeavors.
If I had to pick one area where Gertie shines, it’s that she knows how to ask for help. And Gertie needs help. Often.
Moving quickly up the ranks, I graduated from being her pivot tables tutor to her PowerPoint guru to her mock interviewer. (I’m up for a raise in August! Fingers crossed!) Over the past few months, I’ve literally felt like I was going to business school. too. Gertie, in turn, troubleshooted my work problems, scripted my negotiations with my boss and sent me articles (hopefully HBS publications is NOT reading this) that might be pertinent to my job.
A fly on the wall might have gotten a headache during our “collaborating” sessions where we debated vigorously the appropriate clip art for her presentation. But I realized that we didn’t have to have two separate buckets: “real world” life and “talking to each other on the phone” life.
These interactions – coupled with more frequent visits – have kept us from finding ourselves in cars with elephants.
Admittedly, what distance did do to us is screw up our beer pong chemistry. Gertie and I were an epic team last summer. But this year, we showed up at a Christmastime beer pong tournament and were laughed out of it by a girl throwing underhand. Ugh, I don’t want to talk about it.
The final piece to our puzzle was put in place just before Christmas. I once wrote that I had not yet expressed my love in the traditional ways of cut, color, clarity, or carat. I decided that it was high time to do that.
Did you know, by the way, that Wal-Mart has engagement rings?
And to save you the suspense…she said yes.
What being affianced has allowed us to do is work toward a shared vision. Sure, we have our own work/school lives. But now we can also come together at the end of a long day and register for that egg separator we always wanted.
Would I do this again? It’s tough to say. Can we get through it? Yes, we can. Was it actually good for our relationship? Undoubtedly.
If nothing else, our time as a long-distance couple has made us stronger. It has forced us to find new ways to connect, and it has deepened our mutual commitment to our relationship.
And while we may have had to sacrifice our beer pong careers, I will tell our children that it was indeed worth it.
Bryan is a heterosexual male in Texas and he is planning his wedding. Everything from the menus, dress lengths, and flower colors to the music, invitation ink type, and seating arrangements rests in his (debateably) capable hands. He lives in Austin with his fiancée and enjoys mineral water.
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