I’m no "love expert" but if there's anything I've learned in the past three years of long distance dating it's that falling in love is easy; staying in love is the hard part.
Our idea of a "date" (when we’re together) is packing a lunch and grabbing our bikes or hiking shoes and hitting the trails. Our idea of "fun" is playing soccer in the street in the pouring rain. Our typical “date nights” consist of Skyping over dinner and trying to synch up the same movie on different devices worlds apart.
It was easy to fall in love with a man like Sean. A man who is kind and compassionate, motivated and determined to reach his goals and dreams, outgoing and energetic, faithful and desiring of a relationship with God, easy-going and funny, athletic and well-built, dreamy blue eyes and a smile that makes me weak – you get the picture. He’s quite the catch. (Sorry, ladies…). Pair all that with the fact that he will go out of his way to make anyone’s day and does this on a regular basis. He’s a family guy and supports me through it all.
We met our sophomore year of high school through mutual friends (thanks, Brian Leimkuhler!) and really hit it off but were dating other people and slowly our communication faded away. It wasn’t until four years later that we got back in touch and started talking again with no real idea of what that Starbucks trip and 4 hour conversation would lead to. It wasn’t before long that we couldn’t get enough time with each other. He biked to my house, we painted my parent’s shutters, went on long walks, I taught him how to eat a whole apple, and he eventually asked my parents’ permission to date me and things became official.
Almost three years later and our little fling has been through our fair share of challenges. From different undergrads to different countries to different states and graduate programs, we have experienced the highs, the lows, and the plateaus.
“Love” is all over the media – Taylor Swift spits out lyrics to songs about it every other week; reality TV shows tell us that you can fall in love with a person you just met by picking them out of a group of eligible bachelors (or bachelorettes); Nicholas Sparks’ novels promise romantic, head-over-heels passion and well, sparks; magazine cover pages reel us in with the promise of “15 ways to his heart.”
The word love is thrown around too much – “I love Chipotle!” “I love my mom!” “I love going to the beach” “I love that color on you,” etc. Thanks to ancient Greek philosophers, love can be described in four ways: eros (intimate, physical passion), philia (brotherly friendship), storge (empathetic affection like between family), and agape. In the words of St. Thomas Aquinas agape is “to will the good of another.” In other words, agape describes a love in which you care about someone so much that you would rather see them shine, achieve, succeed, feel better than you yourself. You love someone so much that you are willing to make sacrifices for them.
Sean has a form of ADHD. And is energetic. Like All. The. Time. And sometimes he acts like a six year old. Coming home after a day of being cheery and energetic for my 100 students is often draining and sometimes all I feel like doing is laying down and being quiet. But no. Talk and talk, question after question. It really is an endearing quality of his. However, when I’m stressed and overwhelmed by the amount of work I have or just had a really bad day, Sean urges me to think positively. When I have made a mistake or feel like I have failed, Sean tells me to get back up and keep going. Annoying right?! Can’t I just wallow in my self-pity like we all want to do sometimes?
I'll admit there are times (Sean could tell you) when I don't want be kind or patient. When I am jealous. When I do seek my own glory. When I am rude. When I do dwell on past faults and mistakes. When I feel like throwing in the towel. But amidst it all, as St. Paul writes, love never fails.
One of the most endearing things Sean has ever said to me is "I love you...even when you annoy the crap out of me.” Although we were in the midst of one of our "old-Married couple" disputes, I had to stop a smile. This sentiment also reminds me of God’s love for us, His creation- I love you...even when you annoy the crap out of me, even when you stray from the path AGAIN, even when you ignore every opportunity I have created, even when you push me away, even when you are lost, even when I'm crying out your name over and over”…. God’s love for us is agape – it’s the self-sacrificing, totally giving love that requires us to put aside jealousy, anger, hurt, pride, lust, short-temperedness, etc. in order to look out for the needs of the other.
In the past three years of dating, we’ve had our high points – those moments of bliss and pure happiness when we feel completely in love and things are going great. We’ve certainly had our share of lows as well – challenges, arguments, lack of communication, pain, distance, etc. that we’ve relied on the other to work through. But we’ve also had our plateaus – those times when things are just at a normal level. The regular, old, sometimes mundane daily experiences of life. With busy schedules, jobs, Masters programs, and living in different states, it can be easy to get “comfortable.” To forget to put forth the effort.
Love doesn't necessarily require us to catch a grenade for the other as Bruno Mars puts it (especially if the other won't do the same). Love doesn’t always require us to stop traffic in New York City as we chase down a taxi cab so we can tell a person we love them so they don’t move across the country. Love isn’t always these dramatic events we see in chick flicks or hear in songs.
Love requires work, effort, intentionality, communication. It requires you to make the constant effort. To see your partner (and to let them see you) at your best – and your worst – and all those times in between. To continue to put the other person before you and model after the love that God has for His people and Christ for His Church.
People always comment “Wow 3 years of long distance! I don’t know how you do it. I couldn’t do that.” In the words of the greatest man alive, who sometimes acts like a 6-year-old, “well if you love someone enough you make it work.”