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Lessons Learned

June 21, 2009

If you’ve read this blog a few times you may have heard me mention that my sweetheart/partner/boyfriend/spousal equivalent Anthony is out of town for work, and that I’ve been missing him like crazy. He left 10 weeks and 4 days ago, but should be home in about ten days; making his total time away from home 12 weeks.

We started out as a long distance relationship more than two and a half years ago. I met him when he came down to visit mutual friends in the mountains of North Carolina. By the second full day of his trip we were already off taking hiking trips without our friends, and by the third full day, well, let’s just say we realized we had a romantic connection. He extended his trip from one full week to two; he was and is self-employed and had that option. In fact, his extending his trip meant he was around for Thanksgiving, which happened to fall on my 27th birthday that year. I was amazed that he was able to pick out such perfect birthday gifts for me, considering he’d only known me for 12 days!

When he left I felt torn: I’d had a great time with him, but come on, he had an established business in New York; him giving it up and moving to North Carolina seemed like a stretch. He told me he’d call me that night when he landed in New York, though, and he was true to his word. He called me every single day we were apart, and was back in North Carolina for a four-week trip in January, this time staying at my home with me instead of at our friend’s place. While he was there, the rental home he lived in up in New York caught on fire. Some of his things were destroyed, but the damage wasn’t too terrible.

That fire ended up being a blessing in one big way: He was let out of his lease, which was supposed to go all the way until October of that year, and within days of going back to New York asked me if I missed him and if I was still interested in having him move in with me, which we’d discussed on his trip. My answer to both questions was a big yes! He had work to finish up, though, and didn’t end up officially moving to North Carolina until July 20th, over seven months after we started dating. Being apart from him then was very, very hard. I missed him so much, but I was also still getting to know him, so trying to maintain a love connection over the phone was at times challenging.

Our cohabitation went off without a hitch, though. He ended up, over the course of a few months, painting the entire outside of the house, both bedrooms, and the living room. (And since then he’s painted the bathroom and, most incredibly, the entire kitchen including the cabinets.) He helped me rearrange the house and make it a real home. He bought us a new computer and filled the house with jazz music and even more art than I already had. He was always the one to suggest it was time to deep clean the house, and he always did more cleaning than me. (But I always cook!) It went off even better than I had hoped.

By the time he decided to go back “home” for a big job in New York this year, though, I felt that him being away for a while would be good for us. I was getting very deeply sucked in to my coaching practice and writing, and thought the time to myself would be helpful. And, truth be told, sometimes a break is good for a relationship. Sometimes it gives you the answers to questions you didn’t even know you had.

Yesterday night he finally left Amagansett, the place where he was working, to head “up island” to the area on Long Island where he grew up. He is doing some work for family and friends for a little bit, but he definitely feels free from “work” now, and I finally feel like he’s almost home.

Since he’s been gone I have learned some huge lessons about relationships and myself, and this seems as good a place as any to share them.

1. Stop relying on movies and media to formulate your idea of a great relationship. For some reason I never thought romantic movies and all those TV shows about the perfect proposal/engagement/wedding effected me in any way. Apparently, I was wrong. I remember seeing the final episode of The Bachelor this year (a show that I don’t normally watch because I think the whole concept is ridiculous) and being jealous (yes, I’m admitting this out loud) of the gorgeous tear-filled proposal Melissa received from the Bachelor. And then I was stunned when the whole thing was called off and the Bachelor himself changed his mind. Man I felt stupid! Romantic proposals and tears don’t mean a damn thing if they’re not delivered with a real, genuine connection with someone.

Seeing this, though, still didn’t completely cure me of my affliction. I still was harboring some ideas that what I saw on TV should be reflected in my own reality.

Anthony being gone, though, somehow changed that for me. He left me with complete control of his business and personal bank accounts so I could take care of his bills for him. He continued to pay half of all of our joint bills, even though he wasn’t even here to enjoy the cable, Internet, electricity, water, or house. He still called me every day, just to say good morning, good night, or talk about his progress. That’s way more than the Bachelor ever gave to the woman he proposed to on national TV.

Anthony’s not ever going to get down on one knee to propose and announce to the world how being without my love would ruin him, how he can’t imagine a future without me, how he’s dreamed of finding the perfect woman since he was a boy. And I really, truly love that about him. He’s genuine and loves me in a way that is perfectly, authentically, Anthony. He gives me much more than what is reflected on that damn silver screen.

2. You can’t pour love from an empty pitcher. Okay, that line is kind of lame, but it’s true. I tell my clients this all the time when we discuss relationship stuff: If you don’t fill yourself up with love and joy, you will not have anything genuine to share with anyone else, and you’re going to try to suck love and joy from other people. Romantic relationships are the most susceptible to this kind of thing.

You may think your clingy-ness or deep need to be with your partner 24/7 is proof of love, but it’s not. Real love is the love that you give yourself, and your gift to your partner should be your own personal love, growth, and strength. Anthony has been a patient teacher to me about this lesson, but parts of it never fully clicked for me until now.

Since the beginning of our relationship he’s showed me that just because I can’t control everything he does (which I have tried, and failed, to do in past relationships) does not mean he doesn’t love me. Just because one of us chooses to fill ourselves up by hanging out with someone other than our partner doesn’t mean we’re any less in love than a couple I see walking down the street. Just because we deal with our own personal troubles in completely different ways doesn’t mean we’re not compatible.

He’s always wanted nothing more from me than for me to keep growing, to keep learning, and to be the happiest I can be. That and he likes it when I bake cookies. If I’m full of love for myself, I’m full of love for him.

3. Relationships are the best place for personal growth. Last night when we were talking I was expressing how much I had learned and how happy I was, and he was beyond thrilled that I had “used” the relationship to grow. He said some people find that idea offensive; that we would “use” the relationship for our own benefit. Of course, we’re all in relationships for our own personal benefit one way or another: we want someone to keep us company, to tell us we’re pretty or loved, or because we want a family and we need a partner to get that done.

And how else are we supposed to grow emotionally? Think of a time when you had very few relationships, especially no romantic relationship. I bet your own personal demons were not as active as when you’re exposing your true self to someone you care about. Interacting with other people is a great teacher for us. The pain our egos suffer when things don’t go our way in relationships, the hurt we feel when we don’t aren’t loved the way we want to be, the loss of control we experience when things go in a different direction than we planned: these are beautiful gifts meant to teach us important lessons. Take advantage of them. Learn what makes you feel crappy and why. Figure out how to improve yourself and your relationship. Think of every fight as a way to get to know yourself and your partner better.

What else is there to do in this life than interact with others and learn to feel as good about ourselves as possible? Use everything you can to your advantage!

4. Be grateful for your partner as often as you possibly can. I’m writing this lesson down specifically for ME. I know because Anthony has been gone for so long it’s easy for me to say this. And I know before he left I wasn’t spending much time being grateful for him.

I don’t want to forget this feeling; the feeling of love that fills me up now that I’ve had to spend three months apart from him (aside from that one four and a half day visit). Although I am doling out the advice, I don’t even know how to keep this one up consistently. I already write down my daily gratitude each day; perhaps if I start to specifically acknowledge at least one wonderful thing about Anthony each day I’ll remember not to take him for granted. I guess coming back and rereading this post will be helpful, too?

I know the advice is sound, I’m just not completely sure how to be consistent with it!

Well, that’s it! I’ve ended up being very glad Anthony went away for three months. I learned more about me than I thought I would, and I wouldn’t change this experience one bit. But I hope I never have to go through it again!

Be Joyful!

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. June 21, 2009 6:40 pm

    Great advice! My husband travels a lot for work and I’m just finally getting to see that time as an opportunity for “me time.”

  2. July 15, 2009 10:38 pm

    love this article! its all so true for couples in long distance relationships and local relationships.

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  1. Relationship Ideas - Realizing simple things « Happy Long Distance Relationships: Advice from other LDRs

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