It’s a Saturday and like most folks in my line of work I’m a few hours into a 10 hour day. I have fluffed dresses, giggled with the wedding party, and now the show begins. There they are standing in front of family and friends pledging to support each other until the end of time. I’m hidden behind a camera fighting back tears because I’m a sap. I’m sure you’ve done it too; weddings do that to you. It’s a day filled with love and the absolute best of everything; it’s hard not to get caught up in it and root hard for the start of a new life between two people. By the end of the night, I’m on this cloud basking in all this beauty with a tiny tinge of sadness because when I get home, instead of snuggling up on the couch with my other half, I'll be on FaceTime sharing all about my day. It's been like this for the past six years because I've been in a long distance relationship.
When I get home, instead of snuggling up on the couch with my other half, I'll be on FaceTime sharing all about my day.
If you were to ask me to write a love story, it would probably look a lot like the ones that we’ve all seen. Two people meet, fall in love, and after about two years of movie dates, meeting the parents and being grilled by each other’s best friends, they either move in with one another or decide to give this whole marriage thing a shot. Ya know, the typical. If I were to write it for movies and TV shows, things would be far more dramatic. They meet, there’s some uphill obstacle, then some overly romantic gesture, and then it’s all happily ever after. Oh! And it usually happens by the time you are 25 because after that you’re liable to be an old maid. Also don’t forget that generally you look gorgeous all the time and everything you do is picture perfect. That would be the story, but my story — our story — is not like that in the slightest.
When I allowed myself to think about dating and the like as a teenager, I was convinced it would be this super obvious, super easy, super quick courtship. I did not dare let my mind wander too often because in the back of my head I thought that girls like me were more the best friend-type and less the best partner-type. So it was more a pipe dream than an eventual reality. I never did the prom thing, and I didn’t go on my first real date until I was 18. Coincidentally, I had a quasi-relationship with that person for almost a year. Truth be told, he liked me, so I thought that I needed to like him. He was a good fella, just not my fella. From the time that ended until I was 34, I was super single. Saying super single makes it sound like I had some sort of cape and super power, which is not too far off; I do love a good cape. In reality, what I mean is that I did not date nor have more than just crushes on men for about 16 years.
I had a lot of best guy friends, and my crushes remained pretty much unrequited. I did struggle with my singleness, especially being part of the church, because it feels like if you are single past the age of 22, life has passed you by, and you should probably start your cat collection and learn to knit because it’s not happening. For me 22 came and went, and I doubted myself a great deal, but even so I still pursued myself. I still traveled and had adventures because I decided that regardless of my relationship status, this life was still mine to live and live to the fullest. There were a couple more "will they won’t they" pairings and some less than positive situations before a chance encounter changed things.
Andrew, the wonderful human I get to do this relationship with, lives in Toronto, Ontario, and yours truly lives in Richmond, Virginia. If you do the math, we live about 600 miles from one another, and the first nine months of our relationship we lived closer to two thousand miles from one another because Andrew lived in Edmonton, Alberta. It was not what either of us planned for our lives, but something about what we saw in one another clicked with each of us. We were both kind of oblivious and not on the hunt for a partner, but things switched quickly, and now we can’t get rid of each other. Despite the distance, we’re like most other couples; it’s just that our quality time is spent through texts and FaceTime as opposed to movies and nights on the couch.
When people find out that I am in a relationship I get the general smiles and questions about Andrew, and I answer them with a big smile and heart eyes. When people find out that we are distance, I sometimes sense the air leave the room. The giddiness is replaced with sympathy eyes and a lot of affirmational words followed by the inevitable question, “So when are you getting married?” It’s interesting when that question is asked because it started basically day one when we went public and has not stopped all these years later. During wedding season, you can imagine how often I'm asked. When I am asked, I have an answer that is succinct and truthful: “It’ll happen, soon enough.”
The question is asked as if the distance is a thorn, and you want to remove it as quickly as possible. No one sets out to have a partner that is in another state, another time zone, or another country. Distance does not fit the narrative we’re told. Being apart has not been our favorite aspect of the relationship, but I think it’s been the thing that has caused us to grow in ways that neither of us anticipated.
Getting into a distance relationship is not for the faint of heart, so many couples do not survive the loneliness or the stress that comes with being apart more than you are together. I have spoken with people who ask me for tips and tricks to make it last, and many scoff at the idea of being apart for longer than a year. I think since we started seeing one another, I have seen as many couples end as years Andrew and I have been by each other’s sides. When I follow up with folks, many tell me the same thing: that this distance thing is too hard.
Distance does not fit the narrative we’re told. Being apart has not been our favorite aspect of the relationship, but I think it’s been the thing that has caused us to grow in ways that neither of us anticipated.
They are right, it’s really hard; it’s hard because the other part of your life and your heart are away more than they are close. It’s super hard to not have the luxury of having someone just in the next room or just 10 minutes away. It’s super difficult to go through the rough patches and bad days when all you have to keep you company are words or a face on a screen. It’s hard to have households in two separate places and to know that when you see your person, in the flesh, the clock starts counting down until you have to be away from them yet again. It’s hard because there is a constant state of missing someone deep in your heart no matter what you do. These things are hard, but they’re not insurmountable. It just takes a whole lot of work.
Andrew and myself knew from day one that this could downright suck, and we decided to deal with it head on. We talked about how we wanted to handle just about everything and what we needed to make the relationship work. We decided that would look like talking every day in some fashion, making sure to say “goodnight” whenever we can. Visits are a priority, and Andrew and I try to be as consistent as possible, making sure no more than 3-4 months pass between actual space-sharing time. The biggest thing is that we try to not let issues fester, and that can sometimes lead to multiple days of hashing things out, which can be exhausting but it brings us closer together. All of that is hard, and it takes commitment, but you need that with any relationship, distance or not.
In a long distance relationship, the together is the important part. We've had to redefine what together looks like and how we handle the day to day. Thanks to Facebook Messenger, I think we've sent hundreds of thousands of messages and photos back and forth through our time together. It lets us feel emotionally closer even though we are not physically in the same space. I cannot tell you how many silly face selfies we have sent, photos of our meals, or how many times we have taken the other shopping. It’s all about interaction, and even those small things make a huge difference in how we grow.
In every way we choose the other person because we want to make this last, and really that’s what all couples do. You both put in 110% to ensure that you both are growing and thriving and that the relationship is doing the same. The distance adds a new wrinkle, but I think a lot of the lessons you learn when you join your life with another person are all the same. We’re just doing ours miles away.
Andrew and I are not the traditional couple in many ways. We did not meet in the traditional way, our courtship has not been what everyone else has done, and our story was written in a way neither of us expected, but we're making a new story. We're writing one that is uniquely ours, filled with pages about two geeky and weird folks who happened to find each other later than some do, and they fell in love. It’s not the story I would have written, but I would not trade it because I got a really great Andrew. So there will be another wedding day, and I’ll get all choked up like I do, and float home...like I do. I’ll immediately hop on FaceTime and share every bit of it like we’re sitting on the couch cuddled up at the end of the day.
Jaime Patterson is the photographer behind Hidden Exposure Photography: Hi, my name's Jaime and I'm a body-positive lifestyle, family, boudoir, wedding, and portrait photographer based out of Richmond Va. I believe everyone has a unique story to tell, and I want to be on hand to hear it, capture it, and share it with the world! I love those moments that you may miss — that shy smile from your partner when you think they're not looking, how your hand rests on your belly when your baby kicks, the way your eyes sparkle when you see your person walk down the aisle, and the way you embrace your whole self when wearing your best outfit and truly looking as sexy as you feel. I think every body, every relationship, and every family deserves to be seen.