This past December, my fiance and I discovered we’d have to embark on a long distance relationship when I was accepted to attend California State University, Monterey Bay (CSUMB). There was a dense mixture of feelings, mainly bouncing between excitement and fear, but we were both excited about my starting of a new chapter.
From that point, we’d been a couple that did literally everything together. And when I say everything, I mean literally everything except go to the bathroom together, since that’s just gross. I had grown accustomed to having him be my right hand man from the get-go, and had never been away from him for more than two days at a time.
From my side of the coin, I hated going places or doing anything without anyone with me. I was fearful, and consistently denied myself the ability to enjoy what (or who) was around me by constantly worrying when I’d be able to go home to be with him. He had confirmed he’d felt the same way.
On the flip side, he struggled (and continues to struggle) with severe social anxiety and would have negative physical reactions at the idea of running errands or talking to strangers without backup. It’s a fight he’s had with himself since he could remember. I felt like I had to “take care” of him. I did everything I could to alleviate his suffering. In my head, I was being a good partner by helping him.
For the past three and a half years, I’d been his social shelter per-se, by allowing him to succumb to his anxiety while I did the talking and the driving. We knew that my being away meant that he’d have to either over come this in himself or he’d crumble beneath the weight of it.
It wasn’t until I left that I realized I was not helping him overcome his issues, but enabling them. We’d become codependent on each other for survival. Don’t get me wrong, we had common interests, goals, and aspirations – but most of our relationship was just enabling each other’s habits.
It came in the form of feeling like the other was understood, which isn’t incorrect by any means, but it kept us from encouraging the other to come out of our shells. We’d created an environment for each other where our crutches were the focus: how would we find the loopholes through our solvable problems today? What could we do for the other to allow the other person to be incapacitated by their issues?
Being away, we were forced out of that. Naturally, I experienced a lot of anxiety my first couple nights alone. I began to second-guess my decision to live so far and for so long. I wondered if my relationship would survive the blown-up scenario conjured up by my anxiety-fueled imagination.
Then it hit me. We needed the distance to survive. We needed to learn to be independent and to have a life outside of the other person. Our lives were so wrapped up in keeping each other’s heads above water, we spent no time establishing who we were and what we could contribute to the relationship in the long term. I had to push myself into the unknown to learn the skills to pursue scary things and he had to learn how to be independent.
While it’s only been about a month, our bond has become so much closer. Instead of keeping the other pinned to their fears, we began to push each other. We helped the other form and stick to goals, and have become noticeably more confident people.
Through our newly discovered independence and self-awareness, we’ve become more effective as communicators, as well as better listeners. This change brought us the opportunity to realize that we’d been wrong about who we were. We realized we’re more than our anxiety. We’re more than our fears and we’re the only ones who can break free from them.
They say distance makes the heart grow fonder; and while that’s true, I’d argue it made our hearts grow smarter.