Somewhere around Hartford, my heart began to sink.
I looked out the window into the gloomy November landscape and saw an endless line of cars, telling me we would be going nowhere, fast. My puffy winter coat began to feel claustrophobic and I inhaled a nauseating smell. One of the many people crammed into the top level of the bus had chosen this moment to… fart.
We had met at a Labor Day weekend wedding fourteen months prior, both of us on the brink of thirty.
I was what you might have called a self-excluding romantic — someone who loved love stories about everyone except myself. This feeling was rooted in the uncertainty that I would ever feel the right kind of thing for the right kind of person. Yet there was something about him.
He was at the wedding with his family. In addition to us exchanging a few words and jokes, dancing and running up to the D.J. to request songs together, receiving a kiss on the forehead from him, I had also observed him twirling his Mom around the dance floor. But all of that couldn’t even explain it. There was just something I liked about him. The problem was, he was from New York and I lived in Boston. We didn’t exchange numbers when we were leaving but instead “rock-paper-scissored” for where our first meet up for karaoke (a shared interest) might be. We non-explicitly flirted, the way you can only do before you are actually intimate with someone.
The next day, as I traveled back to Boston, I Instagram “direct messaged” him a video of us dancing at the wedding along with my telephone number and sure enough, a few minutes later an unknown number popped up on my phone.
This was the start of an evolving relationship that developed, at first, exclusively through electronic mediums. We called, texted, face-timed, Facebook messaged and Google chatted as we both continued to try to find more location-appropriate people to date. Yet, as we know, the universe doesn’t usually care about practical factors like location. We soon found ourselves talking regularly, then more frequently, then basically all the time. Another guy who lived a 10-minute walk from me with whom I had gone on a few casual dates stopped texting. I felt relieved. It wasn’t like I had other great options, I would say to more skeptical friends who raised their eyebrows when I told them about my budding long-distance romance.
After two meet ups and a four-day visit in November, we decided to give long-distance, exclusive dating a try. At the time, it seemed reasonable. Have an ongoing conversation with someone for eight weeks and you know them, right? Looking back, it seemed overly ambitious; silly even. We had been face-to-face with each other for a whopping seven days.
To take the pressure off of constantly thinking through if our relationship was working, we gave “exclusive dating” a drop-dead date. We would date until February and then reassess. Was this working? Were we happy?
Due to family events and life circumstances, not that many visits occurred during our “trial” period. February came faster than expected, and we extended our deadline in an unspoken fashion, this time indefinitely. There were times when the distance seemed boundless and I felt like the relationship was just going to fade away. We would have an off-day where the conversation would wane and I would be left wondering, on one side of the phone: what are we even doing?
Then, in April, something changed. Our attitudes improved, our doubt and speculation about what we had entered into began to shed. Basically, we had done what most people do in reverse. We had formally entered into an exclusive relationship and then spent the first few months getting to know each other. We were starting to fall in love. We had made it through winter figuratively and literally. For better or worse, we continued to build our relationship.
We showed up for each other and started putting one another first, fighting against our previously selfish (and guarded) single selves. We met each other’s friends and spent time with each other’s families. We attended weddings together and went to church and hosted dinner parties and stayed at each other’s family vacation homes. We spent afternoons walking through museums and sitting at coffee shops, reading side by side and enjoying the pleasures of having someone to just “be” with. We talked about our future, and eventually started to discuss our future family, how many children we would have and what we would name them. We became each other’s emotional backbones, discovering a shared sense of humor that left us laughing even when we had been fighting moments earlier. We worked through our issues, and though many of them didn’t resolve instantly, or ever, we indulged each other the luxury of having unresolved issues and still being loved. We cried and yelled and fought and laughed and hugged and kissed and told secrets and talked about our dreams and did all of the things couples do when they are coupling.
However, most days, we remained 200 miles away from each other. Sometimes we would see each other three to four times a month, other times we would go three to four weeks or longer without seeing each other. As much as we grew to love and depend on each other, a year of dating still failed to motivate us to leave our cities and the life we had worked so hard to build prior to meeting each other.
And so, a year almost to the day of us making it official, I was making a routine trip from Boston to New York on the Megabus.
The bus, which always promised to be a quick four hours and never was, was stuck in traffic. My back was uncomfortable and I was hungry, grumpy, claustrophobic and crammed against a window. The air stunk and noticing the girl beside me peacefully sleeping made me even more agitated. I was on the verge of a bus-induced mental breakdown and I frantically tried one guided meditation podcast after another, willing one of them to transform me into a calm, cool and collected version of myself. As the bus jolted forward at what felt like one mile an hour, I contemplated what it would be like to be in a relationship that didn’t require me having to take this bus regularly.
Was this relationship worth it? Even if we weren’t sure what was going to happen? Even if we were completely investing ourselves emotionally in something that may not last? Even if, however committed to each other we were, neither of us had made a commitment to leave our present lives for the sake of the other person?
Like busses and relationships always do, we finally arrived at our destination.
I climbed down the bus stairs and out into the chilly New York November night air. He stood there, holding a much-needed coffee out for me and engulfed me into his arms, our puffy winter coats deflating into each other. If I had not been a self-excluding romantic, I would have said it felt like coming home.
We had never shared a roof for longer than eight consecutive nights. Other than phone calls and text messages, our day-to-day lives did not include each other. As much love that we had for each other, both of us would be hesitant to bet if this would last another three months, three years, or forever.
Sometimes the end does justify the means. You get on a bus and know exactly what your end destination is. Falling into his arms and kissing him made my bus ride worth it.
Sometimes, though, we begin a trip without knowing where we’re going and how we’re going to get there, if at all.
When we don’t know what our intended destination is, we take a gamble. We board a bus and start a journey and end up fully committed without knowing where we’ll end up or how long it will take to arrive. Did I know if this relationship would end favorably for us? No. Was it worth it?
I smiled at him.
“Hello darling,” he said.