Long-distance relationships can work. They really actually can. When they do, it can be so wonderful and rewarding. I mean, you will be with the person who makes your heart flutter even when the distance is against you. When I was doing the LDR thing, all the odds were against us. We were incredibly young (18 and 21) with an ocean between us. The time difference was seven hours which made speaking regularly very difficult. We did the LDR in the age of no free messaging services or Facetime. We used calling cards. We had to sit at our desktop computer and use Skype. We wrote hand written letters to each other and burned CDs. We saw each other once or twice a year. It was miserable. It was hard. It almost failed. The cherry on top was that we had known each other only three days in person before he left for Spain. Enough times to be embarrassing, I would call him from my dorm room at 3 a.m. after a night out with friends, crying my eyes out and asking why he couldn’t just be there with me.
Eventually, a question has to be answered: Who is going to move?
We met when I was in my second year of college, he was in his third year and still had two to go, so we were about equal. Though, we quickly realized it would be easier for me to move there. That choice was made for me when I received a letter that my student loans ran out and unless I had an extra $5000, I wouldn’t be able to study the next semester. It was a blow to my plans as I was on track to graduate early, everything was planned out. Alas, you know the saying about what happens when you make plans. Luckily, I could not have had a better Plan B than to run off to Spain for six months. I sold my car, closed my bank accounts, moved all my things into my aunt and uncle’s garage and bought a ticket to Dublin. Joan was studying there at the time so the plan was to stay there with him while he finished his Erasmus studies. It was December 2007 and it was the beginning of a new chapter that I had no idea was unfolding before me.
It would have been nice to know that getting a work visa was nearly impossible. Though, maybe I wouldn’t have taken the leap if I had known how tough it would be. It was also an extremely lonely time. I had just made a group of friends at college, my sorority sisters, and just like that-I had left them. I had no friends in Spain and the language barrier was deafening. For the first few weeks I would lay on the sofa and watch American television box sets and cry while Joan was at work. I was twenty years old, away from home, made mute and deaf by way of not understanding the languages around me and had no idea what I was going to do. In the end, it made me stronger and resilient and I overcame so much, but at the time I just wanted to crawl under a rock and never come back up. I have Joan to thank for my “rebirth” as well as his lovely parents. They were really wonderful about it all and when we got around to understanding each other, literally, I could not imagine living my life without them.
In the beginning, we were oh so broke. We managed to get a beautiful, though old, flat on the mountain overlooking the town and the sea. It was an incredible view we would have never been able to afford had it not been for friends of his mother who owned the place. It was also a five floor walk-up so my ass had never looked better, ha! Joan graduated and began working. He wasn’t making much and I wasn’t making anything. Joan’s mother, Maribel, took me to IKEA one day and completely furnished our place. It was a godsend and I began to feel like I could call that piso home. I remember wanting to do something on a Friday night and we debated over having enough money to rent a movie at the video store down the road. That’s how tight things were. Eventually, it got better. Joan made more money, I began working too and things were looking up. We moved from the coastal town of Lloret de Mar to the bigger city of Girona where I met my own friends and I began to get myself back.
When you move to another place, especially another country where you don’t speak the language, you lose yourself. You can’t be funny in another language if you don’t know how to, you can’t express yourself. I am sure all of Joan’s friends found me to be so dull. I didn’t have a personality because I couldn’t respond to conversation. Once I could understand the language and once I made English speaking friends, it was like a big breath of fresh air blew through me and I could relax again.Then there was a moment. I cannot tell you when it happened, but one day it clicked. One day the outside matched my inside and I felt like I belonged.
Any relationship is tough, be it with your significant other, friend or family member. It doubles when you are far apart and trying to make it work. Then add a new culture to the mix and it seems impossible. As you read, our story certainly wasn’t an easy one but it was so worth the effort.
Looking back, I can’t help but wonder how we made it. In the end, my life in Spain was the best time of my life and if I had given up I would have missed out on so much. The same with throwing in the towel too early on a relationship just because of convenience. Everyone’s situation is different and I of course, cannot speak to that, but I just want to stress how wanderful my experience turned out to be even though in the beginning I may have thought I had gotten into something I wasn’t ready for. I may have lost things but I gained the world.
This message could ring true of anything in your life. I’ve learned through experience that it is sometimes best to take the leap before overthinking it and I am most definitely an over-thinker. Truth is, you won’t ever really know how something will turn out until you do it (most of the time) and when a decision is incredibly hard….maybe you just go with your gut, with the best information you have at the time, and roll with it. I did that with Spain and when I switched careers and I’m sure I will continue many more times in my life. Maybe it is age but these days I am throwing caution to the wind and going with my instinct more than ever before.