Every couple and family that we work with has
a story many, many stories. There are happy ones and sad ones, long ones and short ones, stories that make us double over in laughter, and stories that let us see depths of despair. We love learning the story of each of our couples and families — it’s one of our favorite parts about our work. But we are not storytellers. We are story-documenters.
When we realized this, we knew that we should document ours as well. The Radian Story is the story of us, Radhika and Ian. From the day we were born to where we stand now, this is our story from babies to bride & groom.
Part 6: A Rude Awakening (Or What a Long-Distance Engagement Is Like)
So till now, everything has been pretty great. Except for that little blip of a summer when we were apart, we had one of those honeymoon relationships and loved each other a whole lot and knew we were getting married. Well, we all know that can’t last, right? Ironically, our relationship was never truly tested until after we were engaged. Read on to see what happened when we stopped being polite and started getting real.
From Ian’s perspective
Going to grad school at Penn was like starting college all over again. New people, new classes, and lots and lots of socializing. I had come straight from my undergrad time at UNC, but most of my classmates were back in school after a few years in the real world, so they were very eager to meet new people and have all the fun they could with them. Suddenly I was in a new and exciting city, with new friends and meanwhile, Radhika was starting what would be the hardest experience of her life. Needless to say, we had our challenges as a couple.
The hardest thing, I think, to come to terms with in a long-term relationship is that you are now at least partially responsible for the feelings of another person. Your decisions are no longer your own because you’ve committed to sharing your life with someone, and they’ve taken the chance to commit their life to you. For us, this responsibility was highlighted by the incredible gap between our experiences and needs during our time apart. All I wanted to do after being in class was spend time exploring this new exciting city with my new friends. I wanted to go to all the happy hours and potlucks and poker nights. Meanwhile my fiancee just wanted to survive.
Radhika was working long hours every day, including weekends, just to get by as a teacher. She couldn’t think about new friends or fun social events because she just didn’t have the time or the emotional energy. She just needed me to be there for her. She needed me to listen to the horrible day she just had or to empathize with how tired she was waking up at 5 am or just be on the phone or on Skype, providing whatever semblance of presence that I could while I was 400 miles away.
That time turned out to be some of the most valuable that we spent in our relationship. During our time apart I learned what it really meant to choose Radhika first. I learned what it meant to act like she was the most important person in my life, because she was (and she still is). I learned not only how to communicate my needs, but also how to really listen to hers. I learned what it really meant to go through life as her partner. Living apart prepared us better than anything else for our life together.
From Radhika’s perspective
Teaching was hard. I truly believe that, in this country, teachers have one of the hardest jobs. I didn’t know what had happened to my life: all of a sudden, I had a mortgage, three cats, couldn’t bear to move after sitting down on my couch at the end of the day, woke up at 5 am and went to bed at 9 pm every day, and couldn’t stop my brain. So much of my life was consumed by work. And when I wasn’t lesson planning or grading or, you know, actually teaching, I was thinking about my kids or the 10,000 things I needed to do to get better. I had to learn to adjust to take care of all of the other things I had to do in life on top of my job: cooking, cleaning, trying to have fun and hang out with friends and maybe read a book once in a while. And on top of it all was the always, always missing Ian. I don’t love ruminating on ‘what ifs’ but I couldn’t help but think how much easier things would have been if Ian had chosen to attend UNC than UPenn for grad school. But relationships involve sacrifice, and this was the time in our relationship when we both had to give a lot: time, tears, money, and love.
Because Southwest Airlines used to have a fairly affordable flight between Durham and Philadelphia at that time, we often got to see each other twice a month. But in between all of those times, just like having to adjust to my “new normal” work schedule, I had to learn to adjust to my “new normal” relationship. We had spent almost every free minute of our junior and senior years in college together (something I’m now convinced was not healthy), so being apart was a shock. Here’s how we made it work:
1. Every morning when driving to work at 6:30 am, I called Ian. He was sleeping, but he always answered and talked me through my tired tears until they eventually turned into mild excitement about the work I was doing with my kids.
2. Most evenings, we would spend at least an hour or two “hanging out.” Sometimes we would watch a TV show together or we would cook the same meal and eat it together through Skype. I know these things might seem ridiculous, but when you’re in a LDR (long-distance relationship), you don’t get to do all of the “boring” normal life things that can be more enjoyable with someone else. There’s no going to the grocery store or just deciding to spontaneously take a walk in the park together. Everything has to be planned ahead of time, and these are some of the things we did to make our two years apart seem more normal!
3. Every night, at 9 pm sharp, Ian would read me to sleep — sometimes poems, sometimes short stories, sometimes longer books that he wanted to read. I haven’t met a couple that can talk for hours and hours on end every single day (we’re not like that, at any rate), so we found routines like this that helped us feel connected, but didn’t involve the “So how was your day?” conversations…those had already happened hours before!
4. We visited each other often and planned fun things to do together. Sometimes, they were fun day trips to nearby cities like Bethlehem in Pennsylvania or camping in the mountains of North Carolina. But more often, we committed to living a normal life when visiting each other. I went to the farmer’s market with Ian on Saturday mornings, like he usually did, and hung out with his friends. When he visited me, we would spend Sundays working together at local coffeeshops.
5. One of the most stressful AND fun things we did while apart was planning our wedding! We’ll talk more about this next week, but having a two-year engagement allowed us plenty of space and time to make decisions and plan the wedding when Ian visited North Carolina. In the photos above, we used a camping trip to write our vows together!
Sometimes when I tell friends the things we did while we were long-distance, they’re shocked about how crazy it all seems. It was crazy! It’s really hard to both be going through the tough after-college transition apart and figuring out how to grow as a couple at the same time. I’m so thankful that we had technology that allowed us to stay so connected and chose to learn how to make it work.
Three years later when we did the long-distance thing again (only for 6 months while Ian finished up his coursework at Penn while I moved back to Durham from Philadelphia), it felt easier. Because through our time apart, we not only learned how to be stronger individually, but we became a much, much stronger couple.