Ask any woman in athletics and they’ll tell you: Dating while working in athletics stinks.
The long hours, the grind, it’s surprisingly not conducive for a romantic life. You probably work with a lot of men but dating someone you work with can be difficult, and maybe you’ve met a bevy of “eligible bachelors” who, when you say you work in sports, give you test after test to prove your knowledge (and like the badass you are, I’m sure you “passed” them all). So when I moved to San Diego and met Andy five months later, connecting on OKCupid over our shared love of puns, it was a shock.
When we met, I was sure I hit the jackpot, and I still feel that way. He is kind and generous and funny and we have a lot of common interests. Yet, there’s always a ‘but’ when you find your dreamboat, isn’t there? Andy’s ‘but’ is that he’s a pilot in the Marine Corps.
Growing up, I was a huge fan of the show Army Wives. The way Military life is portrayed in media, it’s almost idyllic. The war hero comes home from battle as his doting partner runs to greet him. You don’t see any of the tough stuff. You don’t hear about the months she spent alone, about how they’ve been together for nearly two years but have spent almost a year of that apart. You don’t hear the couple have “The Talk”, where you discuss what happens in a worst-case scenario.
Bottom line: It can really suck.
But to be as sappy as humanly possible, true love withstands anything. Being in this type of relationship has made us stronger. We’ve become masters of the art of communication. We relish the little things, like buying our first couch together, or having a list of “our restaurants”, or taking the dog on a walk.
After 23 months, lots of tears, and laughs, and glasses of wine, here are my tips for being in a long distance relationship:
Find a Tribe. Find someone, or a small group, who understands what you’re going through and are willing to come when you call. I had friendships fade because they didn’t know how to deal with the “military thing” and the fact that, on occasion, I was sad. Well, their loss. I was able to develop insanely strong friendships by finding out who “showed up” for me when I needed them. Andy’s best friend’s wife, Terri, became my deployment spouse. When our partners deployed around the same time, we relied on each other. Terri, their daughter, Leah, and I became a trio. When I went days without hearing from Andy, Terri was the one I turned to, to tell me everything was okay and ply me with good food and laughs. I am confident without her and a small group of friends I relied on for support, the deployment (and, really, my foray into this military life) would’ve been so much worse.
Stay busy. When you and your partner are separated, you’ll want to fill up your days as much as possible. Because we work in athletics, this isn’t hard to do. But there are still some weekends when we’re off, and nights spent alone. Try as you might to relish those. Read those books you’ve been putting off. Start journaling. Fill the empty spaces.
Use the time apart to work on yourself. After women’s basketball season ended, Andy still had another two months left of the deployment so I enrolled in a mindful self-compassion course. I learned more about myself than I could have any other time. I was able to 100 percent focus on myself and do a lot of self exploration that really aided in my long-term growth.
Know that there is no such thing as a normal relationship. At the ripe old age of 27, Andy is my first serious boyfriend. I spent a lot of time dreaming up the perfect relationship, thinking about the trips we’d take and the dates we’d go on and the adventures we’d have. But with our careers, that isn’t possible. It took me a while but I came to this realization that there is no normal relationship. There’s a saying in the Marine Corps, “Semper Gumby”: always flexible. Your life can change in an instant. You can never make plans. And that is okay. Yes, some people can plan months out to go on vacations and you can’t. Oh, well. Your relationship has unique perks, too. Be uncomfortable in the unknown, and view this time as an adventure.
Know that this stage of your relationship may be fleeting. Andy won’t be in the Marine Corps forever. One day, we’ll be able to take a long vacation out of the country, or buy concert tickets without fear of him not being in town. Until that day comes, when I get down, I just remind myself that this is just a stage and one day, we’ll look back on it and smile that we made it through.
Do what works for you. Plenty of friends told me that dating a Marine wasn’t worth it; that it was too hard or too much work or “he carries a gun sometimes and that isn’t okay.” When we first started dating, I even questioned whether it was worth it. But as time went on, I saw how he made me a better person. He has taught me to be a little more selfish, and to care a little less about what others think. He has become my rock, my best friend, the person who knows me best. Andy is in the Marines. So what? We will make it work because what we have is worth it. Maybe you and your partner live on opposite sides of the country. Maybe each of you has no plans to leave your city, but you still want to be together. If you’re happy and satisfied, if it works for you, poo poo on everyone else’s opinions. At the end of the day, you have to look out for you.
Long distance relationships are never easy. But what relationship is easy? You do you, girlfriend, and know that we’re here to support you any way we can.