It Happened to Me: I'm in an International Long Distance Relationship

My brain thinks my heart is a total asshole and vice versa.

Mar 29, 2012 at 3:00pm | Leave a comment

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My brain thinks my heart is a total asshole and vice versa.

Everyone says you should live in New York in your twenties and everyone is right. But dating in New York in your twenties is a whole other (traumatic, embarrassing, depressing) story.

Eventually, though, I found a rhythm and excelled. I’d like to say it was because I didn’t play by the rules or because I fell into a giant vat of emotionally available, stable men with nice hair, but I can’t. I was good at dating because I was good at playing games. Self-taught the art of perfect text message craftization, schooled in “patience is a virtue” response timing, and trained as a master juggler extraordinaire, I was in peak condition, but exhausted.

Like “Why the hell did I think it was a good idea to invite two guys I’ve been quasi-seriously dating to my birthday party?” exhausted. I was ready for a change. And then the next day I moved to Germany.

Well, I mean, there was more to it than that, but all of a sudden I found myself having this crazy new life in Berlin. Before I left, everyone and their mother -- and obviously my mother because she has lots of opinions about my dating life -- told me that I was going to fall in love while I was there.

“Hell no, “ I said. The purpose for my five-month stint abroad was work. Clearly I was going to make the most of it, what am I a robot? But I had zero desire for anything serious. It would only end up a logistical nightmare.

So it was no surprise that I felt a spark with the first guy I met. His name was Spiros. He was Greek. He worked down the hall. I couldn’t tell if his intense gaze meant something special or if he just had a Euro Christian Bale thing going on, but whatever it was, I liked it.

After a few interactions in our mutual corridor territory, he suggested we go to lunch. My heart did flip flops. My brain reminded me to act professional. I tried to look pretty.

Instead of sitting amongst hundreds of our colleagues in the very German corporate cafeteria, Spiros suggested a little place nearby along one of the many canals in the city. As we walked along the dusty, tree-lined path, we made small talk until all of a sudden he said, “If I hadn’t called off my engagement, I would be getting married this month.” Um, come again?

It was approximately as awkward as the time my Peter Pan commitment-phobic ex announced out of nowhere, “Our kids would have to be raised Jewish.” What the what? We can’t date for more than three months without breaking up, can we please just finish our pork ribs in silence?

Anyway, I was immediately thrown by what Spiros had said. Why was he telling me this? I could sense he regretted being so upfront with me, but it proved my initial suspicions were right: There was definitely something there.

The clarity I gained about my feelings was short lived. Having dated a string of serial monogamists who swapped serious girlfriends like cell phone upgrades, I didn’t have any interest in going down that road. I am no rebound. Plus we worked together, and I mean, I am nothing if not a consummate professional (wink wink).

Neither of us made another effort.

Eventually, I was moved to an office on the floor below, and his occasional stop-ins on the way to the printer ceased to exist completely. (Recently he told me he’d never printed so much stuff in his life just so he could walk by my desk. I feel bad the trees had to die for our love!)

I figured it was all for the best. Instead I traveled around Europe, made new friends, even dated someone else for a little while. But the best thing that those months afforded me was the kind of introspective analysis that you get when you step away from your normal perspective. I’m a firm believer that you need to be “in that place” when you meet someone -- happy with yourself, emotionally available at a full capacity -- and by the end of my assignment, I knew I was prepared for the next chapter in my life. I was finally ready to stop acting like a complete selfish asshole 24/7. (Some of the time is still okay, right?)

And this is how I felt, two weeks before I was set to leave, when I had dinner with the woman for whom I’d been working.

“You should have given Spiros a chance,” she said out of nowhere.

Apparently he was caught smirking whenever my name was mentioned. While those previous, unspoken butterflies made a reappearance, my stupid kill-joy brain was all, “I’m headed home! USA, USA!”

But when he emailed me a few days later, my heart gave its upstairs neighbor a one-finger salute. I responded immediately. I figured that if a professional colleague sends you an email suggesting Saturday night drinks, it translates in any language to, “My tongue wants to be inside of your mouth. Best regards, Rachel,” but apparently Spiros didn’t have any idea what kind of situation he might find. Aww.

I met him at a dimly lit bar in the Brooklyn-esque neighborhood of Friedrichshain. Seven hours later I was drunk. And so, so smitten.

Everything my brain feared would happen had come true. He was just as great as I’d expected, if not more so. I mean, he even agreed to go with me to the aquarium the next day, a random item number on my bucket list. What I thought was nothing more than a sauced-up “Oh yeah, totally…” turned into another perfect date amongst fish, children and more children.

The rest of the week I saw him every day. We both knew it was detrimental to our respective emotional well-beings, but we didn’t care.

A month after he escorted me to the Berlin airport for my flight home, he came to see me in New York while he was there for meetings. As the connection grew, the battle royale between two of my most important organs continued. What was I getting myself into? No seriously? But at the same time, here was a genuinely caring, insightful guy more than willing to make an effort to spend time with me. Swoooon.

So when he said he wanted to visit me while I was taking a winter sabbatical in Colorado, what was I going to say?

“No, I’d rather not hear how wonderful you think I am. Please don’t come Pretty Woman me in another swanky hotel -- I’m just not that into room service!”

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Even though everything had been great up until then, we still both had our concerns about the trip. He was worried he was intruding on my life; I was worried about spending so much time with someone I barely knew. (Or, more accurately, I can be a real bitch to anyone after five days together, much less 10.)

Except that once he showed up, none of it mattered. It was good. Real good. “I love you” good. “I want to be with you” good.

Luckily we have a few trips coming up to look forward to -- like, um, him meeting my family when he comes to Austin in April, eek -- because without these beacons of hope on the horizon, I would freak out.

Up until now, I’ve always thought that long-distance relationships were total crap. My biggest issue with the arrangement is that you waste so much effort wishing to speed up time so you can only spend, typically, an all-too-brief trip together. The emotional attachment to the future, which causes resentment of the present, has just never seemed appealing.

Plus there’s the fact that, so far, our relationship has been like an episode of The Bachelorette (where every other guy has already chosen to leave on his own regard). Great dates, fantastic locations, me always sometimes making an effort to look pretty. Then Chris Harrison shows up whenever I need to talk out my feelings. (Seriously, I wish. He is like the white, male Oprah.)

Now I’m at the point where I can’t help worrying about what’s going to happen. How will our docile, lovey-dovey holiday romance tolerate the blaring noise of the real world? Hopefully it will be possible for us to get on the same side of the Atlantic sooner rather than later so we can find out.

Although my brain still has to wrap around the words, “My Greek boyfriend who lives in Berlin,” every time they slide out of my mouth, I’m betting on my heart with this one and so is he. And, hey, if it works out, you’re all invited to my big fat destination Greek wedding.