Last August, I made my first transatlantic flight to meet the woman of my dreams. It was a nonstop eight hour flight from Boston to Munich, followed by an hour-long hop into Poznan, Poland.
I didn’t consider the magnitude (or the outright insanity) of my trip until I was over the northern tip of Scotland at daybreak, watching the clouds scatter below me and replaying the events of the past five months in my head.
In March, I’d met her on a penpal site due to virtual wanderlust, and it wasn’t long until I fell head over heels for her. She had an easy way about her. The way she smiled, the way she crafted a homemade birthday card with foam lettering and Game of Thrones references, the way she was so sincere and guarded about her own feelings. Being the naïve and headstrong American sort, it wasn’t long until I’d made flight reservations and started living in daydreams of a Polish summer. I tried – and failed – to learn some useful Polish phrases, and I spent my evenings writing page after page of good morning messages, always with an EDM song attached as a sort of personalized alarm clock.
When I finally met her at the airport, it was as lovely as any romance movie would have you believe. Love at first sight, fireworks… you name it.
And after a year of togetherness, another foray into the unknown countryside of Polska, and plans for her to visit America this summer, I have no regrets about the distance, or the adrenaline-fueled leaping-before-looking approach. In fact, I’m grateful for it.
Being distant from somebody is more affected by mindset than by actual miles. There’s camaraderie to be shared among long-distance veterans, whether the distance is a state border or an entire ocean. There’s a certain sacrifice in knowing that you can’t spontaneously attend an upcoming concert with your significant other, or that you’ll have to make virtual plans for holidays and anniversaries. But within these drawbacks, there are life and love lessons to be learned.
So much time spent apart, in many ways, forces you to distill the nature of your relationship. What makes you want to stay? Is it the convenience, the fling mentality, or something else? There’s nothing wrong with these things, of course, but there’s something beautiful about being attracted to a person’s energy. About being drawn to them for a shared vision of a future, and the instant memories you form by simply being near them. Nights spent apart tend to crystallize and preserve whatever time you do spend holding them, kissing them, or making oddly-shaped pancakes with them.
Creativity, too, always finds a way to bubble up in these relationships. Find a video game that you both enjoy (and weep as you’re repeatedly demolished). Set up your webcams and try to cook something together. Make each other weird Snapchat drawings with aliens and fire-breathing dragonflies.
Just do something fun. Do something that resonates in both of you.
When you’re away from the one you love, you also learn a sort of self-reliance. You learn resilience in all aspects of life, from work to school to problem-solving. You have time to pursue your own passions and interests, and your partner will (and should) be there to encourage you. Make use of your time-zone divides, too: while my girlfriend is asleep six hours away, I have time to write fiction, and I can show her something more productive than my recently-watched Netflix list. In an ideal relationship, you build one another to new heights and take pride in achievements, whether shared or individual. When you’re able to share a long-term life together, you’ll have already mastered the skills you need to balance your time with your partner’s. You’ll already be in the mindset of washing your own dishes, ironing your own clothes, and fixing your own flat tires (hopefully).
Most of all, be grateful for the distance because it’s possible. Even twenty years ago, these types of relationships – where you’re sure you’ve located your one-and-only, but were separated by miles and miles – were next to impossible. Social media might force a groan from some people, but I can’t complain. It allowed me to translate feelings into bizarre emoticons and texts carried on the backs of virtual carrier pigeons, and it coordinated the best day of my life, even if it was 4,000 miles from home.
Lose yourself to your feelings, no matter how impossible or distant they seem. You’ll know it’s worth it if the time spent apart is unbearable, but living without them is unthinkable.