How I Took My Long-Term Relationship Beyond College
I vowed when I was thirteen that I would never follow a man anywhere. I vowed when I was fifteen that I wouldn’t date anyone seriously until after my career was well underway. So it was with a sinking feeling that I realized when I was seventeen that I’d met the love of my life. Now, it’s five years later, and I’m faced with the exact conundrum I tried to warn myself about. How do I stay in a committed relationship while launching a brand-new career across the country?
I had my life’s trajectory mapped out by my senior year of high school. I would graduate college and live around the world for a few years, unattached, in New York and Paris and Reykjavik and Dubai. And yet, by the time I was in my second year of college, I was wondering if getting married young would really be so bad.
I put a pin in that dilemma, but when I graduated college, I had a decision to make. I could follow the man of my dreams, or I could pursue my own. It was while considering this that I realized how backward the expectations I held for myself were. I assumed that if we stayed together, I would have to follow him. I assumed that I would have to choose between starting the career I wanted and keeping my relationship.
This isn’t a breakup story, and I didn’t give up on my dreams. I’m living in New York City. He’s living in Michigan. I just finished a graduate program at NYU. He’s applying to grad schools, none of which are in New York. We’re together, but we’re apart. We’re happy.
When I talk to my friends, so many of them are worried about the now-cliché problem that fueled my recent dilemma: how to “have it all.” Women who are nowhere near ready to have children are stressing about how to balance daycare schedules with the demands of jobs they don’t even have yet, all because society tells us that’s what we need to worry about. It’s that same pressure that made me try to schedule my future love life at age fifteen.
Choosing a long-distance relationship led me to a simple conclusion: The entire concept of “having it all” should just be thrown out. Stop talking about it. Stop thinking about it. Start thinking about what you need instead. This is the year that I stopped having a plan, and it’s been the most liberating year of my life. I chose to pursue my passion, and I chose to stay in love while doing so. I chose to stop worrying about whether I was setting myself up to have it all, and just did what I needed to do.
This is not to say that maintaining a long-distance relationship while figuring out a fledgling career in a strange city isn’t hard. Every day I remind myself of what matters. I remind myself of his smile, his eyes, all the little gestures and unspoken communications I’m looking forward to when we’re together again. I send postcards sometimes, but more often I send videos on Snapchat of pigeons that scare me in the park. When something about my day goes wrong—when my computer fails right before a deadline, or my train gets delayed by an hour—I still fall asleep with the knowledge that he’s out there, thinking about me.
That’s when I know I made the right choice. I can have a meaningful long-distance relationship and an exciting career and no defined plan for how it’s all going to work out, and that’s okay. What matters is that I am happy, here and now. It isn’t important that he and I took this leap without knowing what’s at the bottom—what matters is that we jumped together.
Feature art by Meagan Guild