I stretch out my hand to pat Brian who sits one seat away on the airplane. Somehow his strategy to sit in the back of the plane has afforded us an empty seat on both legs of our trip to Costa Rica. Instead of sitting cozily together, he enjoys his aisle seat and I press my forehead against the airplane window for 70% of the flight. The other 30% is filled with typing copy for a new LinkedIn group I’m forming, reading Tranny the memoir by Laura Jane Grace, and sippy my complimentary cran-apple juice. I always get cran-apple juice when I fly. It feels like my special flying treat. Not quite soda and better for my dehydrated body that coffee, tea, or alcohol. It also balances out the salty snacks we’re offered 20 minutes into the flight.

I sometimes wonder to myself if the flight attendants or our neighboring passengers can tell that Brian and I are a couple. We are relatively independent people which can present as an unconventional marriage. I do not think we are unconventional, but I can see how we don’t fit the norm. After traveling to conferences for 5 days on four different occasions over the past year, I have observed other women calling, texting, and face-timing their spouses and children multiple times a day. Brian and I may text once or twice a day. I generally try to send him a pic of myself that I think he’ll find sexy, pretty, or funny. He’ll then respond with an appropriate “damn,” “wow,” or “ha.” It feels normal and good. I can enjoy the rhythm of my time away when I don’t feel tethered to the world I left behind. We’ve always honored those spaces. Brian even more than me. If I ever match his level of detachment, however, I’ll get a text (never a call) asking if I arrived safely or if I’m having a good time.

I love our understanding. We established our expectations pretty early on. While dating in Maryland, we accidentally (super intentionally) fell in love. We had a whirlwind summer romance that included late, late nights, leisurely 11am wake-up times, and daily shifts waiting tables at Romano’s Macaroni Grill. We were both servers who shared a similar disposition and work ethic. Two characteristics that should be priorities for any couple hoping to make it in a long-term relationship. I had bottomless respect for how he cared for his tables and radiated kindness to everyone he met. I was effusive in my interactions with clients. They would ask me enthusiastic questions and I would give them enthusiastic answers. We would get to know one another and talk and laugh. Brian was able to make those same connections with 10% of the talking and our tips always nearly matched. If I had to guess, his tips were probably higher than mine more often than tied.

Our summer love story had a twist. I had already made plans to leave Maryland for California by the end of the August. No part of me wanted to change my plans. I wasn’t the type of girl who derailed her life for a guy. I also knew if I tried to be that girl, I would resent Brian immediately. So I left. We talked about it first (basically I told him I had to go), but I left just the same.

I started classes at the University of California-Northridge in the fall of 1998. I moved there with one of my closest friends, who was also a Los Angeles native. She and I did not play around with our classes or studying since we were determined to maintain our high GPAs. We still had fun and over the course of five months, we managed to explore Hollywood, San Diego, San Francisco, Venice Beach and even bonded further over simultaneous nose piercing on the boardwalk. Our pinnacle adventure included taking her dad’s truck across the border into Mexico, buying marble chess boards, eating fish tacos, and riding horses on the beach. We drove back in complete darkness when we realized we were in another country with no place to stay and minimal Spanish capabilities. We weren’t too nervous because we both had our passports on hand from studying abroad the year before, but I distinctly remember a ripple of fear race through me when the sun when down and we were on light-less back roads. On either side of us were hills with small houses spaced out; their interior lights like earth-bound stars in the pitch black landscape. I tried to stay in a mindset of adventure and excitement, but I couldn’t help thinking that no one knew we were in Mexico. Before cell phones and GPS, we were simply going in the general direction we had come. I said a prayer and took a breath.

Soon enough, we connected with a larger road that fed us back to the boarder checkpoint. Lights everywhere. Busy even at 8pm. We, two white American girls with passports got through without incident. Hypothetical crisis avoided.

Living in CA was everything I had imagined: different. My expectation is always for a new, semi-uncomfortable existence. Some place that stretches me while I grow and learn. I never hope for a new home, a new identity, or a new relationship. I only want a new experience. LA was nowhere I’d like to live permanently, but it was a fun place to try as a college student. Studying by day with local students, rooming with girls from Long Island, volunteering at local high schools, attending Mass at the campus Newman Center and befriending the coolest nun every, eating Mexican food on a daily basis in the cafeteria, and riding my used bike back and forth across the flat expanse of campus, was pure bliss for me.

Early on I realized that Brian and I needed a routine so that we could stay connected and high vibe in our relationship. Everyone assumed, even without asking, that we would break-up when I left. That never occurred to either of us. We didn’t necessarily want to be apart, but we sensed that our relationship was meant to last much longer than one semester.

I asked if we could talk once a week by phone. There was very little pressure to email way back in 1998, and texting had yet to be invented. He agreed to the weekly call and we proceeded to live our lives separately, with contentment, six days of the week. It wasn’t that I didn’t think about Brian, but I didn’t feel tied to communicate with him. So many of my friends who were in relationships would fret over unanswered or unreturned calls. They would breed suspicion and create anxiety around a situation that didn’t demand such angst. I saw how their relationship drama created a cloud over their time in a new city and impacted how engaged they were. That being said, I looked forward to my weekly Wednesday night calls with Brian. I would pedal my bike as hard as I could back to my on-campus apartment after my evening class. Once I was cozy in my dorm room bed, we would invariably talk for at least three hours straight.

…to be continued (in the memoir “Be Love” I’m writing)