making it work
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A strange but compelling love story
I got married last year after being in a ten-year long-distance relationship. People regularly express wonder at the length of our time living apart, and everyone asks the same question: how?
For the last 9 months I’ve been shrugging off the question because, you know, we just DID it. It was just the way things worked out for that time frame, and we dealt with it. But today I was asked again, and it finally dawned on me (because I’m quick like that) that people really want to know what it is about our relationship that made it last through ten years of being about 3,000 miles apart.
Some reasons we have lasted:
- Trust. That seems obvious, perhaps. You HAVE to trust that you’re not one of a long line of people on booty-call speed dial, right? But how do you trust that when you can’t see what the other person’s up to except when you visit once a year? Well, I have to ask why anyone would be in a relationship where this is even a question. If you can’t trust the person you want to be with, look at yourself. Are you trustworthy? Are you asking that question because you know you’re out cattin’ around? Of course, there’s insecurity. I’m human, and I’m pudgy. I worried that he saw a tall, beautiful, slender blonde woman in town who would suit him far better than I did. There were times when I was convinced that I wasn’t beautiful enough, and I realized after a long time that this was my issue, and only mine, but I arrived at there because of …next point:
- Grace. A crap-ton of it. And for a while, much of it was one-sided. Not me! Tom. I am awed by how much I have learned about what love is from this man. I can be a horrid, grudge-holding woman over dumb things. Heck, we had an 8-month break-up because of my stubbornness. He wrote me a letter during the break-up that I did not answer, and when I finally, miraculously, relented and wrote him, he answered immediately. (All of which makes you wonder, uh, why does he love her? Answer: When I’m not being horrid, I’m awesome.) But grace: it is undeserved. Forgiving. Sometimes baffling. And it usually ends in…next point:
- Humor. Not a day passes that we don’t laugh. There’ve probably been days of arguing over the years that we couldn’t laugh, but they’re outnumbered by the laughing days. And the secret here is that we’re able to laugh at ourselves. We both know we can be childish and unreasonable, and we’re safe with each other so we can say, “Oh, wow. I suck, and I’m sorry.” Tom says part of my awesomeness is that I own it when I’m wrong, even if it’s not right away.
- We believe the best of each other. If Tom says something that hurts my feelings, I’ve learned to step back and consider his words in the light of his love for me. I had to wear bracelets for a while to remind myself of this, but the lesson did take.
I get it now.
- Refusal to give up. Tom says I’m relentless. I say I’m determined. Whatever. We’re both thankful. And really, he’s one to talk. It’s he who showed me how to love when it was hard. It’s he who taught me that I was loveable by doing everything he could to make me laugh so I would get over my self-consciousness about my loud laugh. It’s he who called me every day, even when I was mad at him.
- Communication. We talked almost every night. I think we probably talked more than most couples did who lived together. In fact, I’d bet we know each other far better than most people who’ve been married longer. We learned to listen to tones in each other’s voices. And we have a rule: no hang-ups. Hanging up in the middle of a fight is the worst kind of storming off. So we’d have these long pauses when we could not speak because we were so mad and had nothing friendly to say, but we couldn’t hang up so we were forced to work it through till we reached some kind of resolution.
- Commitment to the relationship. We both wanted it to work. This means you have to dump pride to the side, and you have to be able to give and receive grace.
- And now: God. We recognize that God was there all along, but we weren’t paying attention to that at first.
3,000 miles can exist within the same house between two people. Physical distance doesn’t break a relationship; emotional chasms do. Tom and I learned to bridge them while we lived so far apart, and now we are discovering how much we enjoy being together in the same house with no chasms to cross. It’s pretty amazing.