A couple months ago, my girlfriend Maddie moved from NYC back to her hometown, Boston. She had applied for a selective national service program that pairs college students and graduates with inner-city schools. The goal of the program is to both teach the selected applicants the value of being active members of their communities, and, on a larger scale, to help students feel more engaged and achieve beyond their circumstances. The teachers end up learning just as much about themselves as the students.
If you had asked me a year ago if I could handle a long-distance relationship, I would have give you a hard and egoistic “No.” I felt confident in what a relationship meant, what it required, and what my needs were. I would have assumed that a long-distance relationship wouldn’t properly cater to my needs. I was thinking about myself and what I needed and wanted, rather than understanding what love requires.
I’ve grown alongside Maddie at a critical juncture in our lives. I’ve learned that love isn’t about fantasy or playing power games, but is its own force. It’s universal, almost divine in nature. I’ve learned that love, once it manifests in a compassionate and mindful way, knows what it wants. My ego used to think it understood what love meant. I wondered why love was so painful. Now that I’ve tried to push my ego aside just enough to see Maddie for who she is, I know what love really means. I know who my partner really is— a smart, sensitive, beautiful person who is just as vulnerable as I am. She helps me bring out the best in myself, and vice-versa. We aren’t co-dependent, but co-existent. We thrive together.
To love means to feel connected to someone on a level beyond time, distance, or vanity. It is a saving force that can bring us back from the depths of sadness, self-involvement, and delusion. Once it comes into its proper form, it can be a real kick in the ass. It jogs us away from our long-held beliefs about how life works, and reminds us that wisdom comes from experience rather than assumption. It comes from resigning your ego to the pull of your heart.
In opening yourself up to another person, you make yourself vulnerable and your ego has no choice but to peel itself away until your true self is revealed. Maddie and I have both learned how to do this, and have learned how to trust, how to be honest, and how to confront one another without being destructive. We continue to move together towards the next juncture in our lives. Instead of feeling like dueling forces, I feel like we’re part of a team. We help one another stay in check, even if it’s difficult at times. We remind one another of who we truly are, and remind our egos that they aren’t in control.
I feel like an entirely different person now than I did when I would have said no to a long-distance relationship. I feel more in tune with my actual needs, rather than those that my ego had conditioned me to believe were true. Maddie and I feel more equipped to play the cards we’re dealt rather than trying to play one another.