I won’t lie to you: being in a long-distance relationship sucks.
About 2 weeks ago, my boyfriend and I celebrated our 8 year anniversary. These last 8 years have been filled with laughter, adventures, and love. But, please believe me when I say this: it most certainly hasn’t always been easy. Over that last 8 years, our relationship has experienced hardships and even a bit of heartbreak. We’ve been through our fair share of challenges, and haven’t always escaped completed unscathed. But by far, the most difficult of these challenges was our 4 years spent apart during college. We are long-distance survivors.
I use the term survivor because that is truly how it feels. There were many times during those 4 (ridiculously long) years that I thought we might not make it, that our relationship wouldn’t survive. But we did, and it did. We were (somehow) stronger than the distance.
My boyfriend and I both grew up in Seattle; and when we were 18, managed to choose schools that were on opposite sides of the country. I went to the University of Washington (in Seattle, Washington) and my boyfriend went to Cornell University (in Ithaca, New York). Just in case you were wondering: that’s a 3 hour time difference, 3,000 miles, and a 6+ hour plane ride.
I would never wish a long-distance relationship on anyone; but in our journey apart, I learned things about myself that I never would have otherwise. In that heartache, I discovered who I really am. Here are some of the invaluable lessons I learned about myself during my long-distance relationship.
You’re stronger than you think.
Even at 18, I knew deep in my gut that this high school boyfriend was my “forever-person.” Crazy, right? But it was the truth: I loved him and I wanted him to always be mine. There were (many) times during our time apart when it just felt too hard, that giving up would just be easier. But in these times, we would thankfully remember our love for each other and continue to fight on another day.
In the worst of times, I had to constantly remind myself that I was strong enough to keep trudging forward. Truthfully, I was heartbroken most of the time; there were many sleepless nights and tearful phone calls. But the knowledge that I was strong enough to fight to make it work became my battle cry. I could do it, and we could make it. Surviving those years took more personal strength than I ever knew I had. Now, faced with emotional challenges I often think back to my tearful 18-year-old self, missing her “forever-person”, and know that I can get keep going to fight another day.
We didn’t make it with just luck or good fortune. We worked hard to make our relationship work. Phone calls, texts, FaceTime, Skype, hand-written letters, and emails – you name it, we did it. While we couldn’t have physical contact, we made up for it in constant communication. We talked all day, every day. At times it was amazing, others it was frustrating and exhausting.
It was hard work. But it really taught me that anything worthwhile will take work, effort, and maybe some struggle. I walk into challenges with this mentality – and it is has helped me in my personal connections and my professional career.
Romantic love is amazing, but not the only love that’s important.
During those 4 years apart, I gained the time and space needed to focus fully on the other relationships in my life. During this time, I cultivated female friendships that have been/always will be some of the most meaningful and fulfilling relationships of my life. Without my boyfriend readily available, my friends became my first-line-of-defense for emotional support. In the emotional void of my boyfriend, I leaned on my friends in ways that I knew I wouldn’t have completely done otherwise. I can tend to be a private person, but with these women, I allowed myself to open up completely. For the first time in my life, these women knew me better than my boyfriend. It was scary, new and kind of wonderful.
I soon realized that the support and love I received from these friends would always be different than that my boyfriend had ever/would ever be. It opened my eyes, making me understand the value in these relationships is equal to that of my romantic one. Romantic love is truly a wonderful thing, but certainly not the only kind of love that a person needs in their life.
Being alone is scary and amazing
Let’s face it: without my boyfriend around, I had a lot more time on my hands. When we would have been on dates, at the movies or on adventures – I suddenly had time to fill. He had always been my partner-in-crime; and because he was so easy-going, he allowed me to drag him to just about anything (movies, lectures, poetry readings – you name it). Without him, I had to do things alone – and it terrified me. The thought of going places alone made me feel vulnerable. What if people think I’m weird for sitting alone? What if I embarrass myself and have no social safety net? What if I’m lonely?
I just grew tired of missing out on the adventures I loved.
But soon, I just grew tired of missing out on the adventures I loved. If my friends were busy or not interested, it shouldn’t mean that I have to miss out! I started my solo adventures slowly, easing into being alone. When I went to the movies or for a long walk, I was shocked when I realized how much I loved being alone. It’s true, when alone I was more emotionally vulnerable, but this vulnerability was kind of magical. I had to challenge myself with each activity, growing more intimate with understanding my fears, my likes and my insecurities. Being alone forced me inside my own head, where I got to know myself on levels that I had never explored before.
Eventually I began to crave alone time, and now I need it. Learning this about myself is perhaps the most important self-discovery I made during college. It is a huge part of who I am as a person, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything!