Our secrets for staying together for nearly 9 years, through long distance and youthful stupidity

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Wow, this is a blog post I’ve been eager to write for a while now. As some of you might know, I’ve been dating my longtime boyfriend for almost a decade. No, we’re not married, not because we don’t want to be, but because I’ve always had a phobia of it. (Seriously, my parents are both divorced and to avoid that issue altogether, I swore off marriage.) I can’t tell you how many late night conversations I’ve had with my girlfriends about relationships… why they last, why they don’t and it’s all been so confusing to keep track of, for everyone. Whether you’re single, engaged, or somewhere in the middle, I hope you can pull something from this blog to make your relationships even stronger. In order to give you guys some hope, explanation, and ACTUAL deep insight into the pre-married, long-time dating life, here you go.

Before I begin, a little disclaimer: I was never the girl who slept around, (no judgment if you were), nor was I one to fall for anyone I met. It took me a long time to establish what I liked and didn’t like about a person and before I started dating, I set up standards that to this day I still stand by. I am by no means saying that I know your struggles or the intimate details of why you’re single or with your person, but I am offering up some unique insight into how I’ve lasted almost nine years with my guy, through all the crap life has to offer. So before you read more, know that this is where I’m coming from and you should take everything I say with a grain of salt because no couple or individual relationship is the same.

I’m going to start with the not-so-good stuff. If I wrote this blog and wrote “it’s all good if you communicate,” or “just don’t be rude to each other” this wouldn’t even be worth writing. It’s so much more complicated than that. You should also know that my amazing boyfriend Tanner and I took a year and a half-ish break when I studied abroad in college, which I highly recommend if you’re starting out young. Going back to when I was 18, I met Tanner at the gym, (I was a gym rat and he worked there.) He toured me around the gym on my actual birthday, with my sister by my side, and that was the last we spoke for over a year. He came off a little sales-y and a little cocky if I’m honest. Still, I always gawked at him from the hamstring machine. He had (and has) huge amazing shoulders that I loved to stare at. But after a year passed, nothing happened. I remember he looked at me from across the gym all the time but he never talked to me. I dated other people during this time, not really thinking anything about the guy.

One day in January of 2011, while running on the treadmill, I realized I hadn’t seen him in a few months. I asked another employee from the gym if he got fired, genuinely interested in the drama. He hadn’t been fired, but just moved jobs. I was kinda bummed.

A few weeks later he randomly shows back up at the gym. Not before long, he walks over to me on the quad machine and starts a conversation. I can’t really remember what he said, but we ended up talking for 25 minutes about nonsense, clearly making plans in our heads to hang out. Little did he know I was 18 (he was 21 at the time).

Once he found out how old I was, he walked away and I thought that was it. To my surprise, the next day he friend requested me on Facebook, we met up at a Subway near the gym, and the rest is history. I should mention though that our first date was horrible. He took me to sushi (which I hated at the time,) we saw the movie True Grit (which is slow, uneventful, depressing and long as hell,) and he tried to kiss me on my doorstep way before I was ready! (I actually jolted backward because I wasn’t ready yet.) We laugh about that still!

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One of the first photos we took together. Month 1, from Photobooth on a Mac. #newtechlol

So that’s how it started. The first year was bliss, which I joke about now because it’s usually bliss for every new couple. I swear we didn’t have a fight for the first two years. Thinking back to the first two years makes me laugh, but also makes me understand how much we’ve actually changed as people. I can’t express how important it was that we both grew up. I was emotional and selfish (as all teens are usually) and he was aloof and not the best at communicating how he was feeling… normal young man stuff. I do want to highlight though, what I initially loved about Tanner and what keeps me fighting for us to this day. He was as sweet and kind as pecan pie. Listen, taking relationship advice from even the top relationship experts in the world won’t serve you if you’re dating a douchebag.

Tan is one of those people who are always kind, no matter who he’s speaking to. He could greet a homeless man on the street and show him the same respect as he would a boss at work. He is truly patient, generous, and doesn’t boast about anything whatsoever. He’s never been the one to put himself into the spotlight, demand attention or recognition, and has always tried to make me feel good. He’s come from almost nothing, spent some of his teen years living out of his car and is the type who would keep on living with a smile on his face, even if he was struggling. He’s worked for every penny he’s earned after the age of 16 and doesn’t require anyone to know about it. He is resilient in spirit, which is why he has the ability to carry someone else in a relationship, should they need it.

 

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Family cruise to the Caribbean December of our first year. Best trip ever, can’t you see the honeymoon phase literally swirling around us?

The day I went off to college was pretty rough. I was madly in love with this guy and he was with me. I had no intention of staying in-state for college and he wasn’t sure what he wanted to do career-wise yet, so he was staying in Seattle. Because we couldn’t imagine being apart, we decided to do long distance. Most people wouldn’t do this, but breaking up wasn’t an option for us. Needless to say, it was terrible. I was trying not to see myself dating other people and he was desperate for connection, though I was often too distracted to give him what he needed. We wrote love letters to each other, I’d visit home a lot, but it was really, really hard. It often felt like we were hanging on by a thread, but then we’d see each other and feel so strongly that we’d keep it up. I wouldn’t recommend long distance to anyone unless you’re already married.

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In the car, on the day we talked about doing long distance for real. My eyes were still wet from the cryin’. (May 2011)

The year and a half break came as we both expected. I was going to Paris for 6 months and the thought of taking our horrible long-distance experience overseas was too much to bear. He reluctantly agreed to take a break and that was it. What’s funny is I tried to “date” other people in Paris, but truthfully his kind heart and handsome face were literally all I could think about. We’d Skype, talk all the time and he even visited me! Yes, it was weird because we didn’t know what we were labeled as exactly, but it was the best time ever. We got a small Airbnb in the 10th arrondissement and it felt like something out of Eat, Pray, Love.

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Literally still in love with him can’t you tell!
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#neverforget the special Airbnb!

After Paris ended, we decided to hold off on getting back together. I didn’t want to dive headfirst into my senior year of college without knowing where my career would take me and feel obligated to consider a boyfriend in the discovery process. We had talked the entire time in Paris, so I was nervous that we didn’t do the break the way it was meant. This was when the REALLY hard part started. That brief time after Paris was filled with me trying to find a replacement Tanner and he was doing the same. These lonely times were what shaped my focus on our relationship and I realized exactly what I had and that I wanted to keep it.

I have to say though that most of the success in our relationship isn’t because of me. That is one of the biggest points I have for you in this blog, is that your person has to be incredible. (Don’t roll your eyes at me, single ladies, you’ll find him/her you just have to wait it out.)

Find someone who will go to bat for you and fight for you endlessly even if they might make mistakes along the way (everyone does.) The bottom line is that the person you pick is honestly what will make or break your relationship. You can’t get someone to like you if they don’t or make someone be kind if they aren’t. You have to decide what your standards are and wait for it to find you. Whether that happens on Bumble or Tinder or at a gym, don’t settle for someone because you want a body there. Spend time with yourself, put yourself out there and give someone a chance even if they don’t look like someone you’d normally date. I know it’s not 2011 anymore and the dating scene seems impossible, but it’s NOT impossible if you get off the couch and go on solo adventures. Talk to people.

Okay – back to the story. One night I was watching the show New Girl, not sure if you know it. I was watching an episode when Nick and Jess (two characters in the show) got back together after being apart for a while and trying to date other people. It seems stupid I know, but there was something about that episode that made me realize that I found my Nick a long time ago. People used to try and talk me out of dating him, tried to tell me not to be with him, that I was too type A and he was too type B. I listened to them the whole time. They’d say that because he didn’t do the traditional college path, that he wasn’t good enough for me. They’d say that long distance never works, give up. But they weren’t there when my mom got cancer, Tanner was. They weren’t there when I fought with my dad, Tanner was. They weren’t there every time I looked in the mirror and hated how my jeans fit, Tanner was, telling me the same thing he’s told me for 9 years: that I’m the most beautiful girl he’s ever seen. I mean come on – if your man tells you that once, great, maybe he’s having a good day. But if he tells you every week for nearly 9 years, you know he’s a keeper. Just a little perspective if the guy or girl you’re with does kind things, but you still seem to find something wrong with them. Look for the best in them before you forego the relationship completely.

The moment I stopped listening to what everyone else thought about my relationship, something shifted. I no longer cared what anyone else thought and my mind flashed back years and years of his consistent behavior, kindness, passion for me and his heart. He’s got a darn good heart, ya’ll. At that moment I realized that the years we put in, the crap we dealt with, was worth it. So, I called him after about 3 months of being single my senior year, out of the blue, bawling my eyes out and told him we need to get back together. Let’s just say he was confused, annoyed and shocked I was calling. (We hadn’t talked for about three months.)

As you can see up until this point, the fun title of “secrets for staying together” isn’t meant to give people hope that the fairytale romance exists, it’s to show you how it’s actually done. What you go through with your partner shouldn’t ever be violent, aggressive or harmful, so I say this with that in mind: you’re going to go through hell and back with your person and if you’re alive on the other side and don’t hate each other, you made it. 

As you can imagine, we got back together and he moved to L.A. for me so I could work in television. L.A. was fine, we drank a lot, went out a lot and Processed with VSCO with g3 presetdid the whole L.A. thing. We weren’t truly happy there though, not because of our amazing friends but because of the smog, superficial energy we felt and honestly because it’s just a tough place to live. Visiting is fine, but living there can be tough if you’re used to clean air, nature and forests. (Not hating on L.A., just being honest.) Pro tip – live in a place you both love. 

Soon enough I got my dream job, but it was traveling the country for six months. I kid you not, the thought of me leaving and us doing long distance again was a nightmare, no matter how cool my new gig was. Tanner was not happy, but he supported me anyway and we decided to keep pushing forward. If you remember that things will happen in life, job changes, mistakes, issues, illnesses, but you don’t treat them as “make or break” situations in your relationship, you’re doing the darn thing.

So as you can imagine I took the dream job. My travels made Tanner feel a bit depressed and alone, and I started to think about living somewhere new after that gig ended. We never wanted to break up, but it wasn’t easy guys. We had to specifically make time for Skype sessions, calls, and visits. (He would visit me on tour.)  That’s just how we did it. It really sucked but you make a choice. That’s a huge point I should make right now, your relationship is a constant flow of choices. Nothing “happens” to your relationship and breaks it up. YOU break it up. (Again if you’re dating a douchebag, BREAK IT UP.)

Tanner and I had some really tough years after I got back and we moved home to Seattle. Some bad decisions made years ago bubbled to the surface on both ends of the relationship and we had to make a choice: are we staying together through this hell or do we end it for good. It took us both making a firm decision, but when we did, it was final. No, we didn’t get engaged, but we decided that we still pick each other, despite all the crap. Tanner rose to the occasion and really stepped up. He almost became a new person and he truly changed. I hate when you hear that people can’t change. In my experience, they actually can because I’ve seen it. It didn’t happen in a month, but it happened over YEARS. So if there is some personality trait that bothers you about your person, know that in time they will change and you’ll learn to love and appreciate them for even trying.

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Summer at my family’s cabin, 2015

Speaking of change, in any relationship it’s vital that each person can grow. You have to grow with your partner. But – they also have to grow with you. For a few years when Tanner wasn’t sure what he wanted to do with his life, I was concerned we weren’t on the same page. But because I was patient and supported him in his journey to find what he loved doing most, he found it. He found a passion for hospitality and decided he wanted to own and operate luxury hotels. Now, he’s living his best life alongside me, where I can watch on the sidelines and cheer him on.

One thing you never hear about in relationships is building awareness. I’m not talking about awareness of what they do day to day, I’m talking awareness of their needs, personality traits, likes/dislikes (down to what pillows they prefer), and awareness about why they are the way they are. This includes factors from their upbringing, their relationship with their mother and father, what their biggest fear is (not externally like spiders, but internally like failure,) and what makes them super angry. If you try to understand your partner rather than judge them, you’ll understand the reasons behind the decisions they make. Not just good decisions either, but good and bad decisions. You instead come from a place of compassion, rather than a place of hate or frustration. Get to know your partner but do it in time. Don’t rush this process, let circumstances and situations show you who they are and let them share with you organically. Sometimes putting someone on the spot and asking, “what makes you, you?” can be really hard for them to articulate. This is when the years or months of dating pre-marriage are so helpful. For instance, I learned that Tan and I don’t do well with the feeling of abandonment. We were both “abandoned” by family as kids in a sense, which makes us needier for reassurance on a constant basis. Because of our years of commitment to each other, we are both so aware of this that we have grown to use it as a tool for communication.

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He grew to love dancing… it took A WHILE. BFF’s wedding, 2017

Another important tip: give yourself a break with the “attraction” thing. We are all human and because we are all human, you’re going to find other people attractive now and then. It doesn’t make you a bad person, it doesn’t make you a cheater, it makes you a human. This was something I fought with, especially during college. I found people attractive all the time (I mean, it’s college), so I would drown in overthinking and talk myself out of the relationship I was happily in. I’ve had chats with my friends about them struggling in their relationships because they found some guy who walked by them at the bar, hot. Well guess what, that’s fine. What’s NOT fine, is taking an action to talk to them, get their number, text them randomly and start building a relationship. That isn’t okay. But don’t beat yourself up or overthink that you’re with the wrong person because you found someone at the bar attractive. If you recognize the difference between finding someone attractive and finding someone attractive and pursuing them, then you’ll be okay!

I saw this interesting quote the other day that actually sparked my urge to write this blog. It was a quote on Pinterest or Instagram or something that read, “the coolest partner is the one who doesn’t give you crap for wanting to spend time by yourself.”

Let me tell you, I read this and felt so dumb. I am the opposite of that quote. I get my energy from others, Tanner gets his from being alone. I usually hate being alone but if I have to do it, I’d rather go to a coffee shop and be “alone” while surrounded by people. It’s very odd, I know. So for the past say, five years, every time Tanner wanted to do something on his own, I’d throw a (tiny) fit. Not because I was worried about him doing something bad, but because if we have the opportunity to be together, why would we waste it? By the way, he works two separate types of workdays, from 7-4pm or from 2pm – 11pm. NOT IDEAL.

So me, and my selfish self always wanted to do something with him if he was off work. This is something we are working through…Well – I am working to not be a pain in his ass about his alone time. He likes to be with me of course, but this is something that took me a long time to learn. Know what reenergizes your partner: alone time or social time. If you’re not sure where you fall on this spectrum, evaluate when you feel the happiest and when you feel the worst. There ya go. It’s also fun to do the Enneagram test. This is a DEEP personality test that is so accurate, that the billionaire founder of Dropbox, Drew Houston, recommends it. It gives you an inside look at your subconscious that I guarantee will blow your mind.

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Photos help us remember what we’re doing it all for. Chelan, 2018

Another point: don’t walk away in a fight. I have to say that this one isn’t something I cared to share because I am the culprit. If I didn’t share this with you all, Tanner would likely bring it up the night I post this darn blog. When you’re fighting, if you have the tendency to walk away, “escape,” prove yourself “more important” by leaving your partner sitting there dumbfounded, or say things like “maybe this just isn’t working out,” STOP IT. Yeah, stop it. (I’m half talking to myself right now.) This is the one thing we learned in 9 years: we fight differently. Tanner gets calmer, sits down, asks me to sit with him and tries to work through logistics. I want to be right, want to make him feel worried he’ll lose me, want him to instantly apologize even if the whole fight is my fault for being overly reactive, OR – I want him to chase after me and tell me he can’t live without me. So stupid, right? I’m sure some of you know exactly what I am talking about. We have had to analyze our fighting habits to make sure that we know what to do when an argument arises. Notice I said when an argument arises, not if. Now that we know how we fight, our fights aren’t really “fights” anymore, they are unhappy-ish discussions. Get yourself to have unhappy discussions rather than fights and you’ll be on track for a lifetime of livin’ and lovin’.

So let’s talk about today now. You all know the history of our relationship, but let’s talk about why it’s worked NOW. First, of all, Tanner is not the man I met 8 1/2 years ago. Not even close. His soul has the same essence, but the way he acts, his choices, his focus, and his determination, are completely different. (Imagine if I dumped him 4 years ago because I thought he wasn’t “motivated enough” for me? Seriously…) The time we put into this relationship is exactly what we got out of it. He made the active decision to keep loving me despite my incessant need for activities, my constant job offers, and shifts, my really bad days when my emotions are all over the place and when honestly, I just needed attention. Attention, affection, a date night, a movie night… he would make it happen for us. As you can see if you’ve read this whole blog, it’s not just what you do in the relationship, it’s what your partner does also. 50/50. 

Remember my comment about Tanner’s kindness. Go for someone who treats you well, no matter what kind of day they (or you) are having. If the person you’re dating now criticizes you, belittles you, makes you feel inferior, blames you for everything, puts you down or gives you any flicker of constant pain, get THE F*** OUT. There are billions of humans on this planet, don’t let yourself get wrapped up in someone who doesn’t respect you or want the best for you. This also goes for the men or women you pursue. Don’t go for someone because they’re hot… looks honestly become irrelevant once you see someone for who they are. I know it sounds cliché but it’s true. The giddy feeling you have when you watch romance movies IS NOT REAL. That doesn’t exist, so don’t chase that feeling. Give up on that hope for Prince Charming and realize that the emotional expectation you have for “falling in love” is not what you’ll actually feel when you find it. You might feel that for a moment (which is lust, BTW), but it goes away immediately. “Loving someone” is a series of choices, not some feeling you get when you watch a rom-com.

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He’s flown around the world for me… and I’d do the same for him. Miami, 2016

If you’re reading this as a single person and hoping to read tips on how to get a boyfriend/girlfriend, my biggest recommendation is, keep your pants on. Sleeping around with anyone that comes along will NOT bring you fulfillment, at least you’ll soon realize that. No judgment of course to those who love that lifestyle, you do you. But make the damn guy or girl WORK FOR IT. Wear clothing. Look classy. Don’t send naked photos. What you DON’T show, is far sexier than what you do show. Don’t forget that.

If you read this far, I’m so glad you stayed with me. Writing this has taken quite a long time, but I hope you found even one nugget of information useful. If you want more information and more details, I’m going to be writing sub-blogs on our relationship to share things we go through that might relate to you even further. So keep an eye out for that!

Can’t wait to hear your thoughts, love you all.

T.

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