The majority of people who are in a long-distance relationship want to know the ultimate secrets of how to survive the distance. You come across many blog posts and YouTube videos from long-distance couples giving advice on how to make a long-distance relationship work. We all work toward the same goal: to get rid of the distance. However, no one ever discusses what happens after you conquer long distance. Is it truly happily ever after?
I was in a long-distance relationship with my now-wife between the UK and Hawaii for four years. For four years we endured months apart, months of endless texts, phone calls, emails and Skype sessions. We had fights and tears during our time apart and rejoiced at being reunited, only to be shortly ripped apart. We always kept in mind that ultimately it would all be worth it, as one day we would no longer have to endure the miles apart. We first attempted to end the distance in 2011, when we applied for a visa for Whitney to join me in the UK. To our great dismay, her visa was denied! Our dreams of finally living together were dashed. Whitney moved away from Hawaii to South Carolina, and I returned to the UK after my three-month visitor visa to America had expired. Not giving up, a year later we reapplied (this time with a solicitor), and we got the best news we had been waiting for: Whitney's visa had been successful!
We said "good riddance" to long distance, to plane rides and having to accept a mere few weeks together. Now we wouldn't have to sleep alone or not hear from one another due to the time difference. This time, when Whitney came to the UK, she would not be leaving. For once we got to be together for the amazing and mundane moments of life: both our birthdays, Christmas and Valentine's Day, even attending the Olympics. We have experienced an amazing year together, what with moving in together and making our house a home (aka Wegan Manor), having our civil partnership, graduating, passing car tests, gaining employment, traveling on a plane together and back to Portugal and America, and most recently choosing our first addition to our family: a kitten.
Life has truly never been better, but that is not to say that it is a seamless transition from the torture of long distance to forever-happy days. While we couldn't wait to see the end of the distance, there are things we didn't even realize we were going to miss: the ability to leave your life as you know it and fly to one another's country and be submersed in a different culture; the longing for one another and the butterflies leading up to the days of finally being together, a feeling like no other; the excitement in the hours leading up to being reunited, like nothing else. You can say goodbye to Skype and finally touch for the first time in ages. Every holiday we could take, we would spend it visiting one another. We made the most of our days, lying on a beach in Hawaii, sipping cocktails with the sunset behind us, going to see the Eiffel Tower or seeing Big Ben from the London Eye. Trips to the movies and dinner were once-in-a-lifetime experiences with the love of your life by your side.
What has shocked both of us is the culture shock and homesickness that Whitney has experienced, despite having visited the UK many times. Making me a priority in her life has meant that she's had to leave America behind her and adjust to the British way of life. Previously these visits would be so precious and exciting; she never truly took in the differences that our cultures can bring. They have become more apparent than ever before, and it has had its days when it strains the relationship. There have been times when it has been amusing, such as Whitney's utter surprise over why only one mattress was delivered, not two. There have been other times when everything takes its toll, and even the different road signs, the small roads and no drive-through Starbucks can cause her to spiral into a great homesickness. There has been great disappointment at KFC not having mashed potatoes and green beans, and there's nothing I can do about it. What seem to be minor differences can have a major impact. In putting our love first, Whitney has had to move away from her family and life as she knew it. Being together is what we both want more in life; however, there is always one who will suffer more. In conquering our own long-distance relationship, she now has one with her family and best friends. It hurts to see the one you love the most so sad to be away from all she knew, and there is a gut-wrenching feeling of guilt. Now that the laws have finally changed in America for same-sex immigration rights, I too may have to face the same dilemma. We do hope that one day we can figure out a life where we get to live in both the UK and the U.S.
There are a million things you do not miss about long distance. There is not a feeling in the world like the heartbreaking (stamping and wrenching) goodbyes at airports. There would be tears for days leading up to the event, which would mean that our time together was tainted by the impending departure. We both wished we could be knocked unconscious on the days of goodbye, without having to kiss one last time at the airport and walk through security looking back and not being able to touch anymore. The plane journey that, a mere two weeks earlier, was the most exciting feeling in the world is now the worst. You're surrounded by people who are happy to be on their travels while you are trying not to cry while sitting next to a complete stranger. Being together 24/7 reverts to doing life alone. And so the countdown to the day that you would be together again would begin. Being in a long-distance relationship, you never felt like life truly existed. You would have to get on with school, work, seeing family and friends, but a big part of your life was always missing. The few weeks you got to share out of the whole year became the real weeks of your life. It took four years, but we finally got to live in the real world together.
Finally embarking on our lives together was a completely surreal feeling! Having only been used to the feeling of time running out, we couldn't shake the feeling that her time here was precious, that it wouldn't be forever. Doing long distance has made us appreciate all the little things in life, from grocery shopping and cooking together, to waking up next to one another in bed. Yet it still felt like this was too good to be true, that we couldn't just live a life like every other couple. As a result of only being used to having a small amount of time together, we pretty much never want to be apart. No longer having to say, "She is only here for two weeks," we cannot go a day without being by each other's side. In fact, since Whitney moved over in June 2012, we have not had a single day or night apart! Sometimes we feel like we are being selfish by wanting to always spend time together. Do we end up neglecting friends and family? It's hard to know if it's due to the experience of long distance or if this is just the way we are as a couple.
One thing we know for sure is that it was all worth it. We no longer have to count down our time apart -- unless you count the hours at work, which, yes, we do. It's perfectly normal for culture shock to occur when one world is given up for another. What is important is that we make it through together. We wouldn't swap anything in the world for our lives right now. We get to make each other get out of bed at the crack of dawn for work, I make her breakfast as we get ready, and I get to kiss her goodbye before the start of my day. There isn't a better feeling than knowing that we will be going home together after a day at work. We relish the small, mundane activities that every couple gets to partake in. We love nothing more than cooking dinner together, followed by TV in bed with a good cup of tea. We plan to grow old together and to never be apart again. This is the life we all dream of. This is the happily ever after.