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Long Distance

Jennifer and Erik

Phoenix, AZ

When I set my preferences to “anywhere in the world”, I had no idea I would fall in love with someone on the other side of the world. Erik was literally as far away from me on the planet as he could be. When we were matched in September of 2006, I was living in California, and his profile said he was in Boise. Little did I know, he had just moved to Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates for his latest Air Force assignment?  The U.A. E. is 8,000 miles, 12 time zones and a 24-hour flight away from San Francisco. When he told me about his move, I was crushed and a little miffed – I contemplated closing out the match. I was busy with school and a new career in teaching; I didn’t have time for men who couldn’t bother to update their profiles. But I gave him a chance. 

As the sun was setting in California, it was rising in Abu Dhabi. I wrote to him in the evening, he responded during his evening (my morning), and his emails would be waiting for me when I got home. His emails were charming, intelligent, and funny. I found myself rushing home every day to my computer, excited to read his words but also to write my own, to let him into my world.  Eventually, we were each penning several pages a night. We discovered how much we had in common—our faith, our families, our interest in music and foreign languages. We enjoyed learning about the differences, too—he grew up hunting, I was a vegetarian; he flies F-16’s, I didn’t know an F-16 from a Cessna. He became very real to me, and the distance mattered less and less. 

We worked out a phone schedule, but the cost was astronomical. We decided we would have to meet to know if what we were feeling was real.  He planned to visit just after Christmas. I was apprehensive: he wasn’t the first man to travel to see me, and past experiences had gone so horribly wrong. What if all the chemistry we’d experienced so far proved to be imagined…or not enough? Will the round-the-world trek create an awkward or forced situation? And if all miraculously went well, did I really want to become part of the military life?

His flight was scheduled to arrive around noon. I spent the morning pacing and changing outfits.  Then he called to say he’d missed his connection in Amsterdam and wouldn’t arrive until midnight. Another 12 hours to wait and worry! I shook all the way to the airport and paced in the waiting area, too. I eventually had to prop myself against a wall to steady myself. Should I put my hands in my pockets or cross my arms? I scanned the crowds and wasn’t sure I would recognize him. The throng passed, and he was nowhere in sight. I waited. I fidgeted. Passengers stopped coming out. His flight had landed 45 minutes ago. Did he change his mind, miss another flight? Then I spotted him from 50 yards away. "Look relaxed," I told myself. His smile, his gait, his posture—they shouldn’t have been familiar to me, but they were. I willed myself to stop fidgeting. It’s a strange thing, knowing someone without ever having seen him before. "Smile," I reminded myself, "Do not blush." After his 36-hour journey, he walked past security, dropped his backpack and stooped his 6’3” frame to hug me. “Finally,” I said out loud.

He kept his arm around my shoulders while we waited for his bag. It was as though he was saying, “Stop fretting. You’re my girl.” He had dark circles, but he was cleanly shaved and smelled great. He was late because he had stopped in the restroom to clean up. I was keenly aware of blushing, but he didn’t act like he noticed. In the airport parking lot, I couldn’t find my car. We went to two different levels before we found it. He was patient, grinned, and told me I was adorable. He held my hand for the entire drive to his hotel. San Francisco is definitely a town that calls for two-handed driving, but I didn’t dare let go.

There was nothing awkward about this first visit. We hiked and went out to eat, got used to each other’s faces, mannerisms, expressions. We behaved like a normal couple.  He didn’t have any weird tics, thank goodness. There were absolutely no red flags. It was easy. We sat on my couch—the same place I’d written and read so many emails. He visited twice more in the next year, met my family and friends, and won them all over, all while dreadfully jet-lagged.

Erik finished his year in the U.A.E. and moved to his new assignment in Phoenix. We were able to conduct a more “normal” long-distance relationship with only a two-hour flight between our cities. He got to know my family better, and I met his family, too. I joined him on a road-trip from Boise to Phoenix – 10 days was the longest we’d ever spent together, and we enjoyed every minute. On his 34th birthday, he asked my parents for permission to marry me. They gave him their blessing, and Mom told him to hurry up and propose.

Erik proposed on a Monday evening – President’s weekend – 2008. We’d spent a lovely weekend together visiting several scenic spots in Arizona, including the Grand Canyon, but he wasn’t able to find the right moment alone with me. He knew me well enough to understand I wouldn’t want to share such a private moment with strangers. A few hours before he had to take me to the airport to go home, he suggested we go for a walk around his neighborhood. We found a small, empty park and sat on a bench under a tree. He made me take off my sunglasses. He asked me if I’d still love him when he was old and wrinkled and ugly. Oblivious to these signals, I started to get up to leave—it was time to go to dinner. He showed me his hand. It was shaking. He told me he was nervous, and I realized why. With his shaking hand, he reached in his coat pocket, took out a ring box and kneeled in front of me. I don’t recall what was said, but there was crying, and when it was over, I was wearing his ring.

We married six months later at Domaine Chandon winery in Napa Valley. It was a gorgeous evening ceremony followed by an amazing dinner in the winery’s restaurant. We honeymooned in Kauai, one of my favorite places on Earth. I was thrilled to share this paradise with my new husband. At the end of it, we realized that we’d just broken our record of consecutive days spent together. The long-distance courtship was over and a lifetime together was just beginning.  We returned to California, packed up my house and my two sedated cats, and drove the U-Haul to Phoenix.

Sometimes I can’t believe how we met, that we met at all. I feel so blessed to be the one he comes home to every evening, the one who gets to scratch his back and hear his laugh and plan a future with him. I know we are fortunate - from across the world, as far apart as two people can be, we found each other.

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