The initial idea behind the love letters was simple — it was an elimination of technology. We would delete each other from Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram, and communicate purely through the hand-written word. It was a way to keep in touch, without the torture of having to see each other constantly on social media. There would be no need for jealousy, no need to be agonized if the other person looked like they were out having a good time. I thought it was the perfect plan: it was romantic as hell — who wrote love letters these days? It was thoughtful — with a letter you could actually spend the time thinking about what you wanted to say. And it was the perfect amount of space — a way to maintain a connection with one another, while still maintaining some distance. We would write each other love letters and those four months would fly by.
You see, I was in a funny predicament, one I keep finding myself in, I had fallen in love with a wonderful man, and in a few months I would leave him for a semester abroad in New Zealand. I had been down this road before, only two years earlier I left my first boyfriend to travel the world. I made many tragic mistakes in that first relationship, which led to a lot of pain, and I was determined not to make those mistakes again. I figured my best bet was to sever ties with this new man temporarily and hope for the best.
My friends seemed to have a similar reaction: “well you’re gonna break up with him, right?” It seemed that from most people’s point of view studying abroad was about not only experiencing a new place, but also having the freedom to do what, and who, you wanted to do.
I had all sorts of worries. We hadn’t been together for very long and that made me nervous: if we did stay together, would our relationship be strong enough to stand the test of time? Would we be able to keep growing as a couple, when we wouldn’t even be in the same room? Plus, I didn’t want to miss out on anything. I didn’t want to be the odd one out – the one girl who was tied-down in a group of single people, all looking for new experiences.
But I also didn’t want to be single again, I didn’t have the urge to go and hook-up with a bunch of random people. I had someone who cared about me and how was I supposed to just let that go? I knew two things for certain: I loved him and I wanted to be with him when I got back. But everything else was a mess of conflicting thoughts and confusing words.
I once wrote:
“If you are planning a world trip and you are in a relationship, be sure of where your heart stands before you go. If you decide that you love this person, that a month, six months, or a year, is not enough time apart to break your relationship, then stick with them and never question it.
If you are unsure, if you think you don’t want to miss out on the attractive foreigners and late nights of drinking in exciting new places, then break it off. Maybe you will be together when you return but for the time being, cut off communication and focus on what you hope to achieve from your travels.”
Easier said than done. I knew that this advice I had given was valid, but I couldn’t get my heart to commit to one path or the other. I decided I wouldn’t really decide; I would cheat my own system. I would break things off with him, but by writing letters to each other we would still be able to maintain some of our relationship. And, hopefully, since we wouldn’t be addled by the jealousy that can be brought on by social media, our relationship would stay enough in tact to pick things up again when I got home.
He went along with it, almost up until the day of my departure. He wanted to support me, and if that’s what I felt like I needed to do, then that’s what we would do. But, one night, not too far before I was set to leave, as we went over how our relationship would function while I was away, he asked me one very simple question: “Why?” Why did I feel like I had to end things with him? Why was I so certain that this was the best solution and why was I so sure we couldn’t make it work?
I wanted to believe that I didn’t think we could make things work because it didn’t make logical sense. We had only been together for a matter of months, how did it make sense to stay together when we’d be apart for as long as we’d been together? But deep down I knew that wasn’t the real reason. I knew that the love that had grown between us would be strong enough to last if we wanted it to. But I was afraid. I was terrified actually. Terrified of reliving my past; terrified about leaving another relationship only to have it end in pain and misery. I didn’t want to fight and argue. I didn’t want there to be jealousy and doubt. I didn’t want distance to ruin our beautiful relationship, as it had done before. I was afraid that things wouldn’t work out and that I would spend my time worrying about my relationship, instead of enjoying my time abroad. I was afraid my past was going to creep into my present, and I couldn’t let that happen.
And as I argued, and fought, and cried about my decision, I realized that I had it all wrong. I wasn’t avoiding my past, I was leading myself right into the same fate. I was about to leave another relationship in limbo, and as I’ve said before, a relationship isn’t meant to be in a liminal state for too long.
And so I made a decision, a decision, that for me, was the tougher one to make. I pushed my fears out of my mind and I told him that I wanted to try to make our relationship work. As soon as I made that commitment to him it was as if a huge shadow, a literal weight was lifted off of my soul. I could breathe again and suddenly everything felt like it made sense.
When I told my sister about my choice to stay with him, she looked at me and smiled.
“Good,” she said, as she raised her glass of wine to me. “It looks like you’ve learned your lesson.”
I still had some worries of course, but as soon as I got to New Zealand they began to disappear. I wasn’t the odd one out, far from it. Instantly I met one girl who had a boyfriend, and then another, and then another, and then another, and then another! By the sixth girl who was making long distance work I knew I had made the right choice.
It has almost been four months since I said goodbye to the man I love and an amazing thing has happened since then – I love him even more. These months away from each other have certainly been challenging at times, but as we’ve been forced to talk, and communicate, and work through anything that might come up from 7,500 miles away, we have grown as a couple in so many new ways. We have been there to support each other in these months apart, even if it hasn’t been in a physical way.
It has strengthened us. Being apart has allowed us to enter into a new dimension of our relationship, we are more than just boyfriend and girlfriend, we are best friends. He has been my rock. A person who I talk to everyday. A person I share all my stories with. Someone I laugh with and waste time with. Someone who has comforted me through the loss of two very important loved ones and who can always make me feel better. He’s been there for me in ways I never thought imaginable, and in ways I might not have ever discovered if we hadn’t spent this time apart, together.
We still write each other love letters. It takes them about two weeks to make the journey across the world, but each time I get one, my heart beats with excitement. There is something special about love letters. Something exhilarating about tearing them open and unfolding the message tucked inside. There is something personal about seeing your loved one’s handwriting on the page, as if you can actually hear their voice in your head; hear them saying the words, much clearer than you can when they are digital words on a screen. And yes, we still text and FaceTime and Facebook. We still tag each other on Instagram posts and send each other silly Snapchats, but there is just something about love letters. Something about the journey they’ve taken, and the time they took to create, that when you open them, you feel like you have all the love you need, right in the palm of your hand.