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.