Why I’m Thankful for Long Distance Love

Greetings today from Minneapolis! It’s my first time here and I’m liking it so far. Friendly people, good food, and even a Lilly Pulitzer store so it’s off to a great start. I’ve had some free time in my hotel room today and I finally wanted to write about something that’s been on my mind recently.

With May around the corner, my life is about to take a dramatic shift. I normally keep my relationship status private but I think my experience may offer encouragement to others in a similar situation. For the past three years, I have been in a long distance relationship. From Los Angeles to New York, my boyfriend and I have lived on opposite coasts. In May, he will move to my coast after he graduates from law school. Many people think that long distance relationships are too impossible to manage, but in my case, it has been the best thing that could have ever happened to me.

Greg and I met on my 19th birthday at UCLA’s Dance Marathon. It was an instant connection and I knew the moment that I met him how truly special he was. I was a freshman and he was a sophomore. We would continue dating throughout undergrad but in all honesty, our relationship was more fun than serious. We would go on dates and dances together but there was never a heavy emphasis on the future.

Our first formal at UCLA.

Our first formal at UCLA.

Then he decided he wanted to go to law school. I was proud of him for making the decision and I had told myself we would likely break up when he moved away. After all, he was applying to schools all over the country…what were the chances that he would stay in Los Angeles and even if he did, how would he ever have time for our relationship as a 1L?

Now I should note that Greg is the most humble person I have ever met. This is one of the things that I love most about him. He wouldn’t tell you about any of his accomplishments…but I might have to share just a little for the sake of our story. When it came down to the final decision of where to go, Greg was choosing between a full ride to UCLA or Columbia University…in New York…in the frigid cold. Yeah, this California girl was not ready. (And this is why New Yorkers hate LA natives for the babies that we are).

I remember seeing Greg’s list of pros and cons. But something was missing…me. The fact that I lived in LA did not even make the list! He didn’t consider my whereabouts as a factor at all. AND I AM SO GLAD. While I felt a twinge of hurt at first, I realized that Greg was making such a personal decision for his life. I could never resent him for it. He needed to make this choice on his own. Greg showed how important it is to be independent, especially at that time in our lives, and it was a perfect model for me. His choice did not mean that he didn’t love me. It just meant that he cared about his future.

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We spent an incredible summer together before he left for New York. We were in the moment. We weren’t counting down the days until his departure. We just loved each other with the time we had. Then it was time for him to go. I cried. (I still cry every time we part). But as we said goodbye, we didn’t know what would happen. We would see how it went.

Always happy at Disneyland.

Always happy at Disneyland.

The biggest mistake we made and the best idea we had was waiting two months before seeing each other for the first time. At that point in my life, it was only the second time I had flown alone and I remember boarding the red eye flight feeling so much nervousness and anticipation. Greg and I missed each other. BADLY. I think it surprised us both how much we wanted to be together. Our time in college had been fun and games. Suddenly, things got real. We appreciated each other in a new and profound way. We realized how much we loved each other.

Exploring New York City for the first time.

Exploring New York City for the first time.

I’ll never forget what it was like seeing Greg in New York for the first time. He was waiting in the lobby of the W Hotel and he had a huge grin on his face. I blushed, so nervous and awkward. I have never been and will never be one of those girls that make the 100-yard dash and then gibbon-jumps into her man’s arms. I don’t feel like putting on such a show for everyone. To me, being reunited is so much more personal and private. I’m shy at first and it takes me time to get comfortable.

That reunion was the beginning of planes, taxis, and hotels for the next three years. In between, there have been thousands of calls, texts, and care packages (not thousands of those—Chipotle would be in stock heaven if that were true). After two months apart, Greg and I decided that we would commit to seeing each other once a month instead. We’ve held true to that commitment and eight trips to New York, two trips to DC, and one trip to Disney World later, we still see each other often. We have made it work.

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Greg took me to the ballet at the Kennedy Center.

Greg took me to the ballet at the Kennedy Center.

Exploring Epcot for my birthday and Valentine's Day.

Exploring Epcot for my birthday and Valentine’s Day.

The reason why I wanted to share our story is for this reason: our long distance relationship has been the best thing that could have ever happened to me. During college I was a homebody. I would visit my house on the weekends and went for comfort instead of hard earned growth. It was not until Greg left that I finally got the kick that I needed. He was not holding himself back for our relationship. Why should I? I know if Greg stayed, so would I. I realize as a woman in the 21st century, admitting any traditional homemaker tendencies is shameful, but hey, I’m owning it.

Now I am a changed person. I travel every weekend to a different state and I have made my dream of becoming a speaker and author come to life. I visited 25 universities this past year for my beloved sorority, Chi Omega, and I went to Europe with a dear friend. I don’t mind being alone anymore and if I want to go to a restaurant, movie, or a local site, I do not sit at home because I don’t have someone to go with me. I am independent, FIERCE—I don’t need anyone to hold my hand anymore.

Holding a baby alligator in Louisiana.

Holding a baby alligator in Louisiana.

I wish I could tell you that this happened organically and without Greg’s influence. I am so thankful that I have my autonomy and inner strength now—regardless of where it came from. I feel like I can give so much more to my relationships now because I am no longer needy for companionship to feel secure in myself.

So three years later, Greg is about to graduate. He will be working for a firm in downtown LA and we will be not just on the same coast, but in the same city once more. It will be a BIG adjustment. We have gotten used to our own schedules and ways of living but I am looking forward to growing together. Even so, I want to make sure any choices that I make for my future are not based on a man in the picture. At 24 years old, I still have so much to see and do and I still want to explore my options, just like Greg did.

If you are in the midst of a long distance relationship, or are about to start one, take heart. The resilience and confidence that emerges are invaluable. Yes, there have been days when it feels impossible but with dedication, trust, and commitment, it can be done. I give thanks every day for our long distance love because not only did we grow stronger as individuals, so did our love. It confirmed that we want this; we CHOOSE this, every day.

Happy graduation to Greg and all of the Class of 2015. I commend your hard work, your enduring effort, and your courage. It was worth it.

Now off to Sandals this August to celebrate!

Keep shining,

The Sunny Girl, Lauren Cook

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Comments

  1. Lacey Myers says:

    Lauren, this was beyond inspirational! Thank you for sharing your experience to encourage others like us. You certainly put the right words to everything I’ve been feeling, and it’s nice to know that you found contentment and confidence in the midst of a huge challenge. Love and miss you so much!

    Posted on 4.12.15 | Reply
  2. Stephanie Gary says:

    Lauren, I have known your parents since before you were even a thought to them! You mother and I had worked together for years, and I can honestly say that knowing her is a priviledge. Reading your blog has brought tears to my eyes, because I am so proud of what you have become – a beautiful, balanced, independent woman. Your positive attitude is Marila, and one of the reasons she is so loved. I am praising Marila, Jeff, and God for what you now are. Continued happiness to you! Stephanie

    Posted on 4.12.15 | Reply

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