Absence really DOES make the heart grow fonder.
"It's never going to work," everyone said about my long-distance relationship.
Thirteen years ago, I threw myself head first into a committed relationship with a man who lived in San Francisco. I lived in Florida. We were separated by more than three thousand miles, strict work schedules, financial limitations, and expensive, five hour, cross-country flights. But we didn't let that stop us, regardless of what our friends and family had to say about it.
Neither of us planned to have a long-distance relationship. In fact, until it happened to us, we probably would've advised against it. I mean, how can you possibly cultivate an intimate, romantic relationship with someone who isn't even in your same time zone?
When you love someone, you make it work, and we did for almost three years. That's when the man of my dreams packed up, moved to Florida, and married me. Suddenly, we weren't long-distance anymore, and that first year of living in the same city and the same apartment, took a lot of getting used to.
We had a few awkward moments and a little frustration but overall, being together every single day felt like a miracle. Because we had been apart so much, we were thrilled to finally be together. But at the same time, I also realized why my husband and I had been so well suited for a long-distance relationship.
Turns out that he and I are both really independent, quirky spirits who prefer a lot of alone time to pursue our creative, spiritual and intellectual goals. The best part of our marriage is that since we are alike in this way, we understand each other's need for space and are able to give it freely.
Ten years of marriage later, my husband and I often share what could be considered a "long-distance marriage" and I absolutely love the freedom we have. We usually spend several months apart every year, and I realize that for a lot of couples this would seem very strange and unsettling.
For us, that alone time is just what we need and the separation strengthens our bond.
I've had possessive boyfriends in the past — guys who called me constantly and placed what I felt were unreasonable demands on my time. I once dated a man who got so mad at me because I wanted to take an overseas vacation with my family that he threatened to break up with me over it.
Another boyfriend huffed and pouted if I spent too much time with my girlfriends. My ex-fiancé even partly blamed his infidelity on the fact that I worked too much (I loved my jobs!) and spent too much time by myself writing and painting instead of partying with him. We were just really different people.
That's why I knew my husband was so special. He completely accepted who I was, including my need to be by myself. The weekend we met, I was on my way to London and he was on his way to Brazil. We both happened to be traveling alone, which I took as a sign from the Universe that he and I were kindred spirits. I still read the amazing love letters we sent to one another from internet cafés continents apart.
A couple of years into our marriage, I got the opportunity to spend a summer studying at the University of Iowa. It was a dream come true but I'd be away from home for a long time and I'd even have to get an apartment, essentially living in Iowa City for an extended period of time.
My husband couldn't go with me because he had to work at his job in Florida. I wanted to go more than anything in the whole world but I struggled with the decision because leaving for that long seemed weird and wrong. It made me question our marriage. Was this normal? I wondered. Was it OK? Did it mean that something was wrong with us?
My husband assured me that it was fine, and I was able to go away and spend an entire summer alone writing. I never regretted leaving for a minute, and while I was away he even sent me care packages of homemade cookies.
Our daughter was born in 2010. That was also the same year my husband started working at a fantastic job that required him to work for weeks at a time in New York City. Again, I questioned if this was normal or OK, and again everything turned out just fine. Spending time apart forced us to find creative ways to nurture our relationship. It made us appreciate the time we did spend together so much more.
That baby is now almost six years old and every summer my daughter and I have gone away for extended periods of time. Last summer we were gone from my husband for two and a half months, and while this may be different from the way most typical families operate, we like it.
We want our daughter to travel, see different parts of the world, and interact with diverse groups of people. She can't have that in the same way if we're homebodies. Sure, it would be great if my husband's work allowed for a little more flexibility but when I think about it, I'm not even sure that all three of us being together constantly would be our ideal situation.
The truth is that two moody introverts who really value their independence need a significant amount of alone time to recharge, to feel comfortable in a relationship, and to not feel stifled by the institution of marriage. Marriage isn't one size fits all, and it shouldn't be.
The qualities that made my grandparents' marriage successful aren't the same as what keeps my best friend together with her husband, or what makes my in-laws 40-year relationship stable and secure.
Each couple needs to define their relationship on their own terms, regardless of what is "normal."