Lessons Learned From A Long Distance Relationship

“If you love someone… let them go.”

Words I’ve come to live by. If you love someone, you have to realize you can never own them. They must be able to commit their free will, and you will stand behind them despite that.

This post has been a long time coming. With Mike being the writer between the two of us, I usually leave it up to him to say what needs to be said. But I realized how important it is that I express what impact this person has made on my life so far.

My boyfriend Mike has been living in rural Ethiopia for the past two years and two months. He returns home for good in one week, and no words can express how proud I am of his accomplishments and also how excited I am to be able to hug him whenever I want. I wanted to tell our story, and hopefully to inspire other couples that they can do it too.

I’ve gotten a ton of responses from friends and people regarding our choice to stick it out and stay together; to really be a long distance couple:

“Are you crazy?”

“Doesn’t he get jealous?”

“What if he comes back with an African child?”

The last one is actually just my wish. I have come to really love Ethiopian babies and it may or may not be a dream of mine to be the next Brangelina. That’s another story altogether ;]

Anyway, to me, our relationship has come to appear pretty normal. We talk nearly everyday. We update each other with our newest insights, accomplishments, and friends we’ve made. We have remained extremely close. It’s a choice we’ve made.

Sometimes I really think of Mike as an angel. A handsome, goofy, beautiful angel on the inside and out. And I wonder sometimes how and why he’s ever made it into my life.

When we first began  our relationship, he was cautious. He really didn’t want a serious relationship; he was pursuing his lifelong dream of serving the Peace Corps after college. If he were to make it in, he had to go. I was proud of him for being so driven and for following his dreams. I accepted that about him, so that was that. We were just having fun, enjoying each other, enjoying this moment in our life, hoping it’d never end. Life was a bed of roses to say the least.

We hung out with his best friends (now my best friends too) in the college slums that is Ashby apartments with the best crew I could’ve asked for. We hiked, we cooked, we had crazy adventures in the snow. We all became a family, and then he graduated and we ran off to Europe for a month of traveling and enjoying ourselves. So imagine a honeymoon phase of a relationship on steroids… we were unstoppable.

In the midst of all of this, we realized how much we needed each other. We had a connection. Beyond friends, beyond lovers… a true soul connection. I know, I know.. sappy stuff. But it’s weird to sometimes analyze the types of people who make it into your life at certain times. This was no mistake. In retrospect, it all happened pretty fast, yet it felt as if it were unfolding like a book. All of this was meant to be.

Mike got his acceptance letter and he suddenly realized it didn’t matter if he made it into the Peace Corps—he was staying. He couldn’t let go of what we had. Of us. I urged him to reconsider; I told him if it is meant to be, then everything will fall into place. We can make it through.

Reality hit us when he began his ‘big boy job’ as a marketing salesman for a firm in Maryland. It was well paid. It had promises of big rewards. I saw my fun boyfriend become a man with a business suit and a briefcase.. and then I saw his spirit dissipate before my eyes. He finally said a sentence I’ll always remember: “If this job is what I have to look forward to for the rest of my life… I have to leave.”

So it was settled.

I remember quelling my nerves about his departure thinking to myself that he wouldn’t last long. He had to beat the odds; barely anyone who entered the Peace Corps who was in a serious relationship did not last long. People in his group had bets against him. I also knew he loved me enough to not be able to be apart from me that long. Looking back on that girl reminds me how much I’ve grown. How we’ve grown.

I held on to that sliver of hope on his departure date. ‘It won’t be that long,’ I told myself. I dropped him off at the airport, and after a tearful goodbye I rushed home and was enveloped with open loving arms from my 6 other roommates (thank GOD for girlfriends…Love you OB)

Sitting on my front porch hearing the fear in his voice on his first night in Ethiopia made my heart ache. He was in a completely different environment with no comforts of home. He slept in a dirt hut with a family who didn’t speak a stitch of English. He was definitely in for the challenge of a lifetime. I sat with him on the phone, feeling helpless, listening to his exhaustive efforts trying to make this foreign land his new home. Through his countless bus breakdowns. Through the grievings of his close friends who have tragically died. Through his bout of typhoid fever and typhus and countless illnesses that living in the third world brings. Through his struggles of working with his community and trying to build a foundation for a school to provide a better future for Bonga’s youth.

As the months wore on, I realized how intent he was at overcoming these challenges. He slowly opened up to the world around him, and truly embraced it. It was beautiful to hear and see the impact he was having on his community already. I loved hearing the stories about his encounters with hippos and hyenas. I loved how passionate he was about teaching his first grade class a song about national pride. He also taught them how to sing me happy birthday… this video still warms my heart so much. See now why it’s so easy to fall in love with Ethiopians?! :]

His community loved him immediately, and I knew there was no coming back. So instead of the hope of his return, it was now focused on when I was going to see him next. We scheduled our first trip… and I left for the capital of Ethiopia to spend one month with him on April 18, 2011.

Mike and I were just describing how funny and interesting it is to be able to describe some moments so vividly despite them happening long ago. The moment I saw his beaming face for the first time in 7 months made me blush. He was so handsome; and he stuck out like a bright blinding light—not just because of his radiant smile and his (obviously) white skin against a sea of black… but his energy. I could feel it from where I stood beyond the security gate. I was so excited to get to him and melt into his arms.

The few days after our initial meeting were like a dream. He had molded into a new person before my eyes. He was already impressing me with his (nearly) fluent Amharic (the language in Ethiopia) and his knowledge of how to get about town. He introduced me into the culture, making me feel right at home. This boy I dated in college had truly become a man.

Looking back on ourselves then and now are two different people. But most importantly, we grew together despite being apart. He was there for me when I started my business.. when I knew nothing at all and lacked confidence. He was the voice saying ‘yes you can’ and ‘look how far you’ve come already!’ He was the constant source of love that was plugged in at all times. He would pick up my phone call in the middle of (his night) to calm my nerves about… anything. Despite the obstacles he was facing in rebuilding a school in rural Ethiopia, he took on my problems as his own. And he made me feel like the most beautiful and talented person on this earth.

We’ve learned so much about each other during our time apart. He encouraged me to explore new places and ideas. He’s shown me that you must love and respect yourself first before you can give that to another (betcha haven’t heard that one before

;)

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He’s introduced me to a whole new side of myself that was waiting to be discovered. I was now unveiling my own power— and I felt infinite. Most of all, Mike showed me that true love conquers all.

To get to know Mike a little more, read his most-famous blog post regarding how life really is in the Peace Corps: click me.

 

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Emma Rae - Its so nice to read posts like this when there can be so many nay-sayers in our lives! Thank you!

AyJaye - Thank you for this…My boyfriend just left for the Peace Corps.Your story has brought a lot of hope and peace.

James - You have some really good ideas in this article. I am glad I read this. I agree with much of what you state in this article. Your information is thought-provoking, interesting and well-written.

Shalen - My boyfriend and I are in a long distance relationship. I , in NY; he, in LA. And I may go back to China after getting Master degree. However, he will stay in USA for another three years to finish PHD. Your story is inspiring. As you said, if you love someone, let him free, I think freedom, respect and support will breed true love.

kelleyrafton - I remembered when my man and I lived in a one year distance relationship. It was hard but that makes our love even stronger and after 20 years of marriage we still going strong :).

leftstateside - You and Mike continue to give Arthur and I so much inspiration and encouragement. I'm so happy for the both of you!

Michelle - This just brought tears to my eyes. My husband and I did distance for over 5 years and he still has a job that takes him away. I am so happy for you to be getting your man back full time, but more than that happy for your life so far together. The understanding, the love, the respect of eachother's dreams is just beautiful. Thank you for sharing!

Anne - Just Beautiful, Carly!

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