Disclaimer: This is not true for every relationship, let alone every military relationship. What you are about to read is my personal thoughts and feelings of my relationship.
Sitting in the cafeteria, surrounded by an abundance of college couples, I patiently wait for my phone to “ding!” Let me give you a little background information, on my relationship with my best friend. We went to the same high school for our junior and senior year, but we never pictured dating each other. The summer came and we started to spend more time together. We both realized how much we had in common, but really we both wanted to be key people in each other’s lives to motivate and encourage one another.
Days before I had to move three and half hours away, he asked me to be his girlfriend. Distance has been an obstacle since the beginning of the relationship. The first weekend after classes, he drove up to visit me. We had planned to attend the Jefferson County fair because with the deficit of thinking that the fair would be off the chain…some of those rides were a little too off the chain as in sketchy. After quickly deciding that the fair did not have everything we desired, we decided to search for the Morristown Mall. Driving for hours, completely lost, we ended up back in Jefferson City at Zaxby’s for dinner. As we ate some delicious chicken, I told him how much I had missed home and I just wanted to hang out with him. For about an hour we contemplated taking me home for the weekend, but I did not want to prove my parents right in their theory that I already missed home. We called them and convinced them that my man needed someone to keep him awake for the drive home. At the time we did not think the entire plan through because I was not sure how I was going to get back to school on Monday. Luckily his gracious father allowed us to borrow his Mustang, so that I could get back to pursuing a college degree. After this weekend experience, I came home roughly about every other weekend until November.
In November, my then seaman recruit traveled to Great Lakes for his Naval Boot Camp. He spent all of the major holidays like Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s away from home. In January, the first week of spring classes, he graduated from boot camp and was sent to Pensacola, FL, for training. My parents did not think it would be wise for me to drive to the Great Lakes area in the winter, and I agreed. Also, I was not family so it would have been difficult for me to be there. I had the bright idea to travel to Pensacola, FL, and surprise him at the airport. Well, I am awful at surprises, so he knew I was coming. I took two of my wonderful friends and met his grandma at the airport. We waited anxiously, and then I saw him. His hair was buzzed off, he looked nervous, and an instant smile filled his face. We were not sure the protocol so we just awkwardly hugged really fast, and he got back in line. I followed the line of new sailors to the luggage area. He then snuck in another hug, and we talked for about five minutes. Then he was sent on a bus to the training school. I drove seven hours to see him for five minutes. The reality became real. I could not visit him every weekend. That thought did not stop me from coming home to Smyrna the next weekend, picking my sister up, and traveling to Pensacola to see him. When they are at A-School, they have to complete different phases. Well he was only allowed a limited amount of hours off base, and he had to remain in his Peanut Butters (that is the uniform name). That Saturday morning, I traveled to see him, I intended to leave earlier than planned but I made it to him. We spent a few hours together at the mall and the beach, then Sunday we ate lunch with his bunkmate and his grandmother. I then traveled back home to drop my sister off, and then from Smyrna back to Jefferson City. From there, we had to plan monthly trips. I visited him one weekend in February. There are only so many hours in one weekend.
In March he was stationed to a new location that became eight hours away from my school, and close to twelve hours away from home. Due to multiple underways, we were not able to each other in March. My parents decided to meet me at school on their anniversary weekend, picked me up, and we traveled to see my sailor in April for the weekend. He was granted ten days of leave at the end of May/ beginning of June due to his upcoming deployment. I drove up to pick him up, so he could surprise his mom. It was a twelve-hour trip. I met him in the parking lot of the NEX. After one of the best hugs to ever receive, we explored the NEX and he gave me a tour of his ship. We then hit the road. Remember how I said the trip was twelve hours before, well somehow we managed to make that into a fourteen-hour trip. The nine remaining days he was home, we spent as much time together as possible. I started my summer job the week he was home. He drove me to work most days he was home, and brought me lunch. He would pick me up for work, open the car door, and we would go get ready for that night’s date. The days came to an end too fast. The morning he was leaving, I packed his sea bag with all of his clean clothes, and I drove him to the airport. My brother and sister were with me when I took him to the airport, so things went quickly. We checked him in, then we hugged and kissed each other goodbye for the last time until I get to see him next. Letting him go that time was harder than it has ever been.
Now after I gave you a novel of explanation, I can tell you what it felt like.
As a sophomore in college, you are striving to finish your general courses and place your foot in the program of your choice. For me, I am balancing a full student load, working, and being available for a rare yet prized phone call that can come at any given moment. You are stressed out because you feel like you cannot truly communicate with the one you love because your time is limited. You miss being with the person who is miles away. You worry that the unthinkable could happen, and you fear for their safety. You feel lonely. You have to have patience because his schedule is completely different than yours. You are scared. You also have multiple exams, due dates, work schedules, extracurricular activities, and a social life to balance on top of writing letters, sending care packages, and encouraging him every chance you get.
Now don’t you think for a moment that I am complaining because this experience thus far, which I am currently encountering, has taught me more than I could ever imagine.
First, I have learned that it is completely okay to miss him and cry about it. As I stroll through old pictures, conversations, videos, and letters my eyes tend to unknowingly swell with tears that I cannot control. Some days are worse than others, but I cannot stay in that state. It is not healthy for me or for him. Plus, my friends will eventually get tired of me crying in their dorm room floor while eating gelato. As many of you have heard before, missing someone reminds you how precious they are to you. He is worth the missing because every day I miss him is one more day closer to seeing him. After all, we share the same stars in the sky at night. We might be miles apart, but we are closer than I think most of the time.
Second, since our relationship has been long distance from the beginning we have learned to build a strong sense of trust. We are both growing independently, yet growing together in our relationship simultaneously. I have confidence in him, and the decisions he makes. People ask me all of the time how I just “know” that things are okay and that he is being loyal. It is easy to trust him when he has been truthful with me. We both have messed up, and we communicated that to each other. Since we had that strong communication, we tell each other everything. I have had to learn to tell him everything. I would try to keep my stress on the down low and other conflicts because I did not want to distract him from his missions. He always finds out anyways, so I have learned to be real with him. He does not want me to sugar-coat things, and hold back how I feel. While at sea, he wants to know what is really going on because lying to him that life is rainbows and sunshine does not offer a real life connection. I pray constantly throughout the day for us. We trust each other, and this deployment has taught us to trust each other even more.
Third, I have learned to focus on my work. Seems like a given, right? Well, there are many times during the day where I am not messaging or facetiming my boyfriend like I did in the spring. I have taken this as an opportunity to get involved on campus, exercise, and really study my material. I also work. Now this is challenging at times because when he will randomly message me on Facebook, I will be in class or in a meeting. I have only missed one phone call so far, and a few times I have missed his messages. I thought that would be the end of the world, but life has gone on. He understands that I am working hard over here with school, and he heavily supports that. He would rather me be working for my degree and socializing then soaking in tears over him being away. I have also learned the more alone time I provide for myself, the more emotional sessions of crying, guilt, fear, and what not move in. This deployment has taught me to enjoy my college life because it will be over soon. We both are on our own independent paths, but those paths line up side by side to each other heading in the same direction. I have learned that my education is important just as his career is important.
Fourth, I have learned how much I need God during this time. Yes, we both need each other so much during this time. He needs someone constant, encouraging, and strong. Well, I could provide the constant and barely the encouragement, but I do not have the strength on my own. I depend on God to carry both of us through this difficult time. Also, through daily meditation on the Word and reading various devotions, I have been able to provide my sailor with the encouragement he needs while away. There have been many times where I look at my life and how I have written or said something, and I know I would have never come up with those words on my very own. My sailor encourages me and supports me when he can, but I know that he is inspired by the work of God. The situation is too heavy to handle. I have learned that I can do anything with the help of God. I am stronger than I thought I was. Through it all, I have had to draw close to God and find peace.
Lastly, I have learned how much I love my sailor. This time apart has given me a stronger appreciation for the limited time we have together. I have had time to reflect on memories, and decipher what I love about him. That could be a whole another article post, so I will spare you. However, this time apart has taught me how much I appreciate little things like a Facebook message or a five-minute phone call. Our love is stronger than distance, and as a couple, I am confident in saying that we can get through anything. I realized how many little things he would say or do for me that would go unnoticed. Even though we are thousands of miles apart and time difference is ridiculous, our love is strong and it always feels like we are together. Little things like his smile and his laugh are constant reminders of why I love him so much. I am so thankful for him. He will never really comprehend how much I love his dedication, motivation, optimism, heart, and mind.
Of course, I wish I could see him, but this experience has taught us both so much. Do not think for a moment that I regret falling in love with a sailor because that could not be further from the truth. He has established a pride in himself and what he is doing. I am so proud of him. I wish there were stronger phrases for “I am proud of you” and “I love you” because I am at loss of words for the praise he deserves.
I did not write this article to receive reinforcement for how “strong” I am. I wrote this to encourage people who are in my place and can relate. You can do it. You are not alone. I know you feel like no one truly understand your situation, but in under a year, I have been along a journey of boot camp, training school, assignment to a ship, and deployment. You will be okay. Cry it out, go to the gym, and write him a letter. I promise you that you will feel better and he will treasure having a piece of mail.
To my sailor, thank you for loving me and choosing me to be the one to embark this journey with you. I am honored. I will see you soon. Much love, A. <3