What the Peace Corps Means To Our Relationship

The Peace Corps has always been a part of our relationship.  When my boyfriend and I first started becoming friends (before we started dating) he was beginning to think about finally putting in his application for the Peace Corps.  Due to my personal family background with the Peace Corps, I encouraged him to apply as I would any friend, as it was something I had loosely considered also.  So my boyfriend submitted his application around the same time we began dating.  We dated for about eight months before he actually left for his Peace Corps  assignment, and almost every day there was something to discuss or do that was Peace Corps related (ie. the medical application, logistics, etc.).  We enjoyed the process together, and even discussed our options as a couple in the Peace Corps and ultimately realized that it was not for us.  I also remember my boyfriend pulling up the family and friends pamphlet half jokingly to give us ideas on how to cope, which did not amuse me as I was so scared of him leaving and didn’t think advice on sending packages would make me feel much better about what we were about to face.

Due to the timing of our relationship, my boyfriend also did not fill out a Peace Corps Relationship Form.  We had only seriously started dating long after it normally would have been required, and we both felt like the hassle of the form and calling attention to our relationship might impede on my boyfriend’s application process.  It’s at least honest of the Peace Corps to put the risks in writing. I suppose the “Relationship Form” makes you think more seriously about your decision.  That said, I’m glad we weren’t at that point in the relationship where my boyfriend had to fill one out—in an odd way, it almost seems like a lot of pressure for the relationship, the declaration and acceptance of the liability, instead of just weighing the risks yourself without the paperwork.

At this time two years ago, I was helping my boyfriend pack up his apartment in preparation of leaving for the Peace Corps.  I was sad, I was scared but I tried to be brave.  I needed some faith, I needed faith in myself and in my boyfriend.  I meditated on it, and looked for answers where there wasn’t anything solid, and ultimately threw myself into the preparation of his departure process so I wouldn’t have to think too much about the days and months ahead of us.  One day, before my boyfriend left, I remember looking at myself in the mirror and reminding myself that he was worth the wait, we were worth with the wait, and if this was our trial, then we would find the strength because our relationship was something too rare and precious for either of us to give up on it without a fight. And so we packed him up, made calls to close accounts, said goodbye to the people in his life and I watched as he boarded a plane to his new life–and I cried.  I cried thinking about him away, life without him around and the impending loneliness that was surely to follow.

Two years later, I’m now preparing for him to come home, worrying a little about life during his upcoming transition, his adjustment to life in America and how we will function without as much independent space and how we will deal with him in a regular working environment again.  My boyfriend’s time as a Peace Corps volunteer definitely brought out a more relaxed him, someone without the anxieties and burdens of a regular American life and it has been pretty great.  It’s not to say that everything was constantly positive during his Peace Corps experience—there are a lot of unexpected feelings I experienced about non-profit work and what helps and what doesn’t in Africa; I now have really mixed feelings after hearing my boyfriend’s day to day experiences, and seeing and reading so much about it myself (more on this topic during a later post). We also each had some personal funks during our long-distance relationship, where we felt down about different situations (not each other) but thankfully found strength in each other and built a friendship and relationship that can’t even come close to the ones I’ve had in the past.  We have grown incredibly strong through all of this as a couple, to the point where I really wonder if we would be this connected if he had stayed.  Sustaining a long-distance relationship for two years depends almost exclusively on communication, friendship and honesty, which you don’t always need as much of if you can see each other every day when you have the option to fill your time together with activities in lieu of conversation.

Now that my boyfriend’s service in the Peace Corps is coming to an end, I also think about how strange it is that our relationship, for the first time, will not involve anything actively with the Peace Corps.  That said, I also realize the Peace Corps will always be part of our story and our lives.  It was there when we first started dating, started falling in love, when we grew together as a couple and our stories in Africa will be amazing adventures and memories for us to reflect on for the rest of our lives.

I am thankful to the Peace Corps in a lot of ways—I am thankful for all the stories I heard about it while I was growing up and how it shaped my world view, and am now thankful to have experienced it from an unique perspective which is still influencing my perception of the world.  I’m thankful also that it facilitated so much travel for me to Africa. Mostly though, I am thankful the Peace Corps brought my boyfriend and I closer and stronger as a couple.