My Pre-Trip Traditional Buying Frenzy

Each time before I visit my boyfriend, I go on a big shopping spree to bring him supplies.  It’s kind of  a fun trip for me but here’s the thing…when I go on these shopping trips I feel like a bad mom.  You see, when I go shopping, I buy a ton of soda (Dr. Pepper that he can’t get in Kenya), tortilla chips and Cheetos (the most common kind of chip there is potato) and candy (different kinds that can only be purchased here)–that thrown into a cart with a ton of school supplies (coloring books, flash cards, pens, etc.) makes mothers stare me down.  I can hear them wondering what kind of mom I am to buy such bad food for my children, yet still try to feed their education with learning activities.

The part of the shopping expedition that is the most painful is when I am checking out.  The moms behind me and the cashier, seem exhausted by my loot and appalled at the junk I will surely be feeding my children that evening.  So it’s at this point where I offer up something like, “I just love all the school supplies that you have here–they are so reasonably priced.” “Yeah, it’s a great deal,” replies the cashier.  And then I delve further, “Yeah, my boyfriend lives in Kenya and teaches at a school and so all of this stuff will be great for him.” The cashier and people immediately seem to change their positions of judgement to adoration (yes, I realize this may all be in my head), so at this point I hastily continue, “Can you believe they don’t have Dr. Pepper in Kenya? Or tortilla chips?!”

Last time I went on this shopping excursion, the cashier was from Nigeria.  We talked a little about Africa, and then I saw my opening, so I commiserated with her about how tortilla chips are not readily available over there.  She agreed, and I felt relieved to have met someone who could verify my story.

Part of me feels a little guilty for playing the “my boyfriend lives in Kenya” card when I am buying stuff for his school–my real intent is not to be praised for being a do-gooder, or having a selfless boyfriend. Honestly, the bottom line is I just don’t want to be judged and written off as a would-be horrible mother.  So I guess that’s kind of selfish of me, but it’s a good example of when it comes in handy to say, “My boyfriend lives in Kenya.”

My Boyfriend Just Left for the Peace Corps

One of the most difficult times of being in a long-distance relationship with a Peace Corps volunteer is at the very beginning.  It is difficult to be the one left behind, the one who is not going off to a new place on a new adventure.  It is also sad to adjust to life without your partner around.  The beginning is tough–it is full of uncertainty, insecurity and without your partner around to discuss all these feelings it is only made tougher.  When my boyfriend joined the Peace Corps, I promised myself that I was going to get through the two years, that I could do it–that each couple faces a test or trial of some sort and this was ours.  I knew I had it in me, but I was still nervous, was our relationship strong enough to get through the time apart, would either of us meet someone else?  So, in the beginning, it was really tough–really tough.

Something that really helped me when my boyfriend left for the Peace Corps, was knowing that his leaving had nothing to do with me. I had been on the other end of this kind of situation years before, so it was easier for me to understand that his leaving was all about what he needed to do for himself, not that he didn’t love me. Sometimes being the one left behind makes you sad or hurt that they chose the place over you, but really it doesn’t have much to do with you–it’s really just a life experience someone wants/needs to fulfill. It’s important to remember that this new adventure is not a way of leaving you, but a way of satisfying something in the other person that you simply cannot provide–so if you want to be with that person, you must commit to supporting the adventure also.

I also think it’s incredibly important to understand that even though your boyfriend or girlfriend may not be with you physically in the same place, you are still living your lives together.  It took me a couple of weeks to realize that, especially with him away, and without much communication.  I kept thinking to myself, “when we have a life together,” but then I realized we already had a life together, it might not be conventional, but we are living our lives together in our hearts and thoughts, just in separate places.  Once I realized this, I felt stronger in our relationship, and in the time we were going to spend apart.

So even though there were all those things I told myself to feel better and not as alone, I still cried hard on day 3 when it finally hit me that he was gone, and so I did the one thing that has always helped me in tough situations, I wrote in my journal. For this post I went back to my journal from the first month he was gone and truly the writing really helped me.  I wrote to him in my journal as though he were right here with me-I told him about my daily life at work, with friends and however I was feeling. It was like a security blanket.  I also wrote emails that seemed to disappear into thin air because my boyfriend didn’t have any connectivity. Throughout this entire time apart, I have written letters that have stayed with me in a journal. During some months (particularly the beginning) it has helped me feel connected and as though my message on paper would reach his thoughts.  It also has been a wonderful tool of going back to from time to time to remember how I felt, or even what was going on in our lives.  I’ve even thought about continuing it when he gets home.

I also talked about this in a previous post, but in looking at the time apart, at the beginning I really wanted a way to measure time that would seem manageable to me.  I thought about looking at it in terms of weeks, or months instead of days–but the funny thing is, that for the first nine months that he was away, I actually would put the # of days he had been away next to the date of my entry, but after nine months it stopped.  I think it was only then that I really got into more of a routine, and felt more comfortable with the distance. The marking of the number of days stopped around the time of my second trip to see him, and the second trip was really cool because we were more in a rhythm with things and knew what to expect with each other.  The only real exception was about a month ago when I was feeling really alone–I felt the distance and so I pulled out the calendar and counted the days left so I could see the exact number of days and percentage of his time left in Kenya.  For me, it helped a little to look at time in percentages.  I would suggest a similar method to any couples in a Peace Corps Long-Distance Relationship–figure out what makes it okay for you (ie. you only have one more birthday to go before your boyfriend/girlfriend is back). Just find a different way of measuring time that doesn’t seem as daunting as the number of days.

Training time is extremely rough (in my case it was two months, but most typically three).  The reason the training period is so difficult is because during the training, Peace Corps Volunteers are sent to live with a family which means they have little or no privacy, so phone calls may be short or not as in depth as you would like–don’t take it personally.  Your Peace Corps volunteer is still thinking about you.  Also, at that time your Peace Corps Volunteer is making new friends with the volunteers in his group, and adding new people to his life.  We made it an effort to talk/email about all the people in my boyfriend’s Peace Corps Volunteer training group–I figured if these people were going to be around in my boyfriend’s life for the next 2+ years (at the very least, since lifelong friends are developed in the Peace Corps), it was important I knew who he was spending his days with, so he could feel comfortable in talking with me about them, and so I could be familiar with who he mentioned in conversations.  Think about it like starting a new job–if you start a new job, you would tell your partner everyone you met on your first day, the same is true with Peace Corps.  By knowing the people surrounding your boyfriend/girlfriend in the Peace Corps, it will also help you be more involved in their daily life, and make for good conversations later.

Also, as soon as possible, make sure your Peace Corps Volunteer gets a phone, and make sure you get a calling card plan.  After shopping around, the best plan for me was Nobel.  We would talk a lot his mornings (my evenings) on his hour walk to his daily classes.  He would walk behind the rest of the volunteers and we could chat a bit about our lives.  This also helped connect us, and even though it was a much abbreviated amount of time together than when we had physically been in the same place, it was a big help.  For any other time I needed, I again used the letter writing to fill in gaps.

The main thing to remember when you are in a long-distance relationship with a Peace Corps volunteer is to keep yourselves connected.  Be really aware of how you feel, and find ways to keep your boyfriend or girlfriend at the top of your mind–if you commit to having this boyfriend or girlfriend, don’t let the long distance make the relationship less real.  You are in a real relationship, those feelings are there, even if you are separated by oceans–you are carrying each other around in your minds and hearts, so be respectful of the relationship in the same way you would if you were in the same place.

ME Time in A Long-Distance Relationship

When my boyfriend decided to join the Peace Corps, and we concluded it would be better if I stayed, I tried to look at the positive.  I told him I wanted to make a list of things to do when we were back together to look forward to–he suggested I make a list of things I wanted to accomplish while he was away.  I never really made either list, maybe just mentally have taken some notes, but as his time in the Peace Corps is wrapping up (he is five months away from his official end date), it has made me wonder if I have accomplished all I wanted.

When you are in the Peace Corps and you hit this wrap up time , you wonder if you’ve done everything you wanted, if there is still more you can do in this time left and I’m having the same thoughts/reflections.  It’s interesting, I’m not sure what I really expected my time to look like with him in a different country–maybe more girlfriend time?  While I definitely have made more of an effort to have more friend time, work and extra interests have kept me really busy–which honestly would have probably been tough if he had actually been here.

The weekends are always the most challenging and maybe most unexpected time.  I guess I thought I would get more girl time on the weekends, but I haven’t really been too interested in girl time at bars/clubs; it’s not really my thing and because I have a boyfriend, the idea of drinking and being picked up on by men has zero appeal to me.  I have, however, enjoyed movie nights with my friends, going to see plays or bands or the rare bar night out.

What this time apart has given me the most of is ME time, especially on the weekends.  A regular occurrence for me has been a Friday night with a massage at the spa after work and take home sushi, so I can go home enjoy a glass of wine and a trashy TV show.  Not super glamorous, but really good indulgent me time. When I reflect on different periods in my life (ie. college, the summer where I went to the movies every Saturday morning by myself), I smile thinking about how I will look back at this time in my life when I am even more grown up and wistfully recall the time of Friday spa and sushi nights. So maybe I have not gone to the classes I hoped to attend while my boyfriend is away (there is still time!), but I also have carved out a really nice period of my life where I have been incredibly indulgent in myself and the luxuries around me. Do I know I’m spoiled? Yes! Do I appreciate it? Definitely, yes! But I also have to say I feel so incredibly lucky to have had this time to spoil myself, to focus on me.

When you’re single, your time alone has a different feel–you miss having a partner, you do things to meet “the one”, or maybe even do things to make yourself more interesting, or distract yourself.  When you are in a long-distance relationship and alone, the things you do with your time are more focused on what really interests you, which is such a gift.  Don’t get me wrong, I really cannot wait to have my boyfriend back in the same city, and share kisses and conversation in person, but since I try to stay positive in my life, I look at our time apart as the period in my life where it was all about ME.