How long distance is making me a more thoughtful lover, writer and creator.
I fell in love with a girl in Denver, Colorado.
It wasn’t at all expected. I’m not sure love is ever expected. But, it happened. It’s a bit of a mess; a lovely mess. One I have not the slightest intention of ever cleaning up.
If you’re not one for sappy “how’d you two meet” stories, save yourself the nausea and jump to the next section titled… “I’d never recommend long-distance to anyone (but I’d never argue against it)”… where I share what my long distance relationship has taught me in regards to loving, writing and creating.
But, for the romantics in the audience, here’s how I met her…
For the long story, keep reading.
It was years ago. More than a decade, actually.
I first laid eyes on her at a church camp, of all places. I remember when my fifteen-year-old self spotted her, I thought she was just the prettiest thing and terribly charming –– she was the girl that made everyone smile and I was certainly not immune to this charm.
One day, I asked her out. I imagine over text, unfortunately.
We had a three maybe four-week long relationship that was exactly how high school relationships should be –– electric, short-lived and filled with beautiful lessons packaged in the form of a nice healthy dose of heartbreak –– the kind that keeps you up at night with a dull ache in your chest.
When she cut things off with me, I remember feeling my heart drop –– like when the plane hits a patch of unexpected turbulence whilst jetting 500 miles per hour and you become wildly aware of how human you really are.
Anyhow, after the two of us parted ways, we both did a lot of living and growing and experiencing, apart.
We didn’t cross paths.
We didn’t speak.
We lived in the same town, but might as well have existed on two totally different planets.
While I would be lying if I said I never thought about her, I was staying pretty distracted with basketball and studies and later alcohol, the occasional drug, girls, writing, reading, traveling and building my writing shop, Honey Copy.
But, most importantly, I think both she and I were doing the very thing we as people are supposed to do –– we were spending each day growing into the people we were born to be –– in so many ways we still are.
However, about ten months ago or ten years after our first go-around, something unexpected happened –– she sent me a note on Instagram.
When I saw it, it made my heart drop (or jump rather) in a different kind of way, in a good kind of way, a way I wanted to experience over and over again.
She was living in Denver. And, at the time, I was living in Nashville, Tennessee.
She was excited and wonderfully encouraging; she said she thought the world needed to read the things I was writing. She still does.
Over the next few months, I began writing each piece and sharing them to Instagram. The pieces began building momentum as people took notice.
And, every once in a great while, she would read one and she would message me and she would tell me how pretty it was. Each time she would do so, I would feel my heart drop and jump and sputter. Again, like turbulence. But this time, the good kind of turbulence; like roller coaster turbulence.
Anyway, one day, after she and I had been messaging back and forth for a month or so… I decided I had to see her.
The two of us had always joked that we had a pending coffee date, if we ever happened to be in the same city and after waking up one too many days missing this girl who I hadn’t seen in years, I decided I didn’t want to wait any longer for our coffee date.
So, I texted her.
I asked her what she was doing that Sunday morning.
She said she had a hair appointment.
I asked her if I could fly into Denver and take her to coffee.
There was a very long pause.
She didn’t text back for a good while.
(She would later tell me she threw her phone on her bed in complete shock).
Eventually, however, she said yes.
And, two days later, I found myself standing outside a quaint little coffee shop in Denver’s LoHi district staring at an angel in a pair of doc martens with a smile that made me feel like I was a fifteen year old kid at church camp trying like hell to keep quiet his turbulent heart.
While I can’t say if it was love at first sight –– after all I had seen her years before –– what I can say is what was supposed to be a two-day trip turned into something more like a week. I postponed my flight back due to “bad weather”.
And, now, months and months later, I’m writing this 10,000 miles in the air with a heart that is still quite turbulent, flying home from seeing her for the dozenth time.
I’d never recommend long distance to anyone (but I’d never argue against it).
When people ask me about long-distance, I generally repeat something I once wrote in One Minute, Please?
If I ever have a son that falls in love with a girl a half dozen states over, I will tell him to be wildly careful falling in love with pretty girls in far away places… as I race him to the airport to catch his flight.
Perhaps that’s a long answer but we are talking long distance –– it’s rather fitting, isn’t it?
Now, I have no intention of this essay of sorts being a listicle, she is much too pretty to be the centerpiece of some listicle.
But, for the sake of brevity, I have organized the remainder of this piece into pretty little sections, each of which highlight a broader lesson learned from long distance on loving, writing and creating…
Kill snakes the moment you see them; and don’t play with dead snakes.
My mentor and friend, Christopher Lochhead, once gave me a beautiful piece of advice in regards to relationships.
He said that unlike so many couples, he and his wife settle their issues as soon as they come up. And, once they’ve come to a conclusion, they have a rule where they can’t revisit the issue. He punctually summed all of this up with a beautiful line… Kill snakes the moment you see them; and don’t play with dead snakes.
Being that I only get to see her once every couple weeks (and that’s if I am lucky), the two of us are forced to make the most out of the time we have together.
However, this isn’t always simple.
We aren’t at all immune to the arguments so many relationships experience. And, our unique situation makes these arguments daunting –– if we have an argument right before she or I jump on a plane, and it’s not settled, we can’t meet up after work the next day to talk it through and makeup with our clothes off to something pretty on the speaker –– instead we have to hash things out a thousand miles apart.
So, to get the most out of our time together, we can’t let a small disagreement ruin an entire day, nor linger, because many times we only have two to three days we can spend together.
We’ve tried to really adopt Christopher’s advice.
The moment something comes up, we discuss it, we work through it, we kill the snake–– then we don’t play with the snake once it is dead.
This lesson has made me a better lover in all facets of my life –– as a partner and as a brother, son and friend. When I have an issue with someone, I make the person I have an issue with aware of it, I work through it and after it’s settled I do my best to never hold grudges… I’m still learning, though.
Hardwood grows slowly.
Once upon a time, I read a quote by the wonderful singer-songwriter Jewel… hardwood grows slowly.
While growing up in Alaska, Jewel spent plenty of time in the forest and one day noticed how hardwood trees, like maple and oak and spruce, take years and years to grow just a few feet.
But, softwood trees on the other hand, like vines, would sprout out of the ground and grow to towering heights in the matter of a season.
Jewel took note of the two types of woods after the brutal weather of Alaska began to set in. While the wind and snow and wet would rot and destroy the softwood by the end of the year, the hardwood would always remain standing.
And, not just standing, but eventually towering for decades to come.
This a beautiful metaphor for relationships, as well as building a career as a writer and creator.
There are many times in my relationship with her where I wish we could move faster –– move to the same city, spend less money on plane tickets, etc –– but I think to build a strong, long-lasting relationship, you have to understand that hardwood grows slowly.
Or, in other words, that growing, building and cultivating something lovely takes times; massive amounts of time.
I’m trying desperately to be more patient.
With work, this metaphor applies wonderfully well, too. There is no such thing as an overnight success. With Honey Copy, my creative writing shop, I didn’t start making “oh shit” money until a couple years into the business after thousands of hours of work.
I think many times, we are attracted to the get rich quick schemes or the idea of the overnight success –– which always seem to turn into a one-hit-wonder.
However, I think it’s vital we practice patience with our crafts. We take our time, we understand that we aren’t building a shooting star but rather an entire planet… and building an entire planet takes time; thoughtful and deliberate time.
One day, I want to be the greatest creative writer alive. That’s not something that happens over night or even over the course of a season, it happens over years and decades.
Like hardwood, cultivating lovely relationships and honing your skills as a creative, happens slowly. Slow is good.
Write to just one person.
It might sound crazy, but 90% of One Minute, Please? was written to her. The pieces in the book… which is a collection of poems, short stories and creative musings… haven’t always been about her but so many of them have been written to her; she is to me what Stephen King would call your ideal reader.
Or, the one human you write everything too. For King, it is his wife, it has been for the past five decades.
While I think this would certainly have been the case if we lived in the same city, the distance in a way forced me to communicate with her from afar through my work; I think I did this subconsciously.
It wasn’t until I was a good chunk of the way through my book when I realized… I’m creating for her and to her.
One Minute, Please? has done a little over $1,500 in pre-sales. It officially launches in September. So much of its modest success (and so much of the success it might see in the future) can be attributed to her. She has lovely taste.
When writing or creating, don’t create for everyone. Instead, create for someone, just one someone. And, if you can, create for someone with great taste. Naturally, your art will be prettier.
Pick up the damn phone.
Communication doesn’t kill relationships, resentment does.
Unfortunately, since the things we don’t communicate lead to resentment, communication has to happen, constantly.
A good friend of mine once told me something along the lines of… choosing not to have the uncomfortable conversation will almost always result in resentment.
He was right. He still is.
While communication must be present in all relationships, I think it is the life-blood of long-distance. In so many ways, it’s the only thing two people have during the weeks (and in some cases months) they aren’t seeing each other.
When communication becomes stale, or worst yet non-existent, its absence leaves room for silly stories we make up in our heads, the building of walls and resentment.
In moments where I find myself growing distant from her, telling myself fictional narratives of how she is no longer interested in me or even feeling resentment… it almost always means that I have been picking up the damn phone to call her.
But, picking up the phone takes leaving one’s ego at the door… which we will cover in the next section.
Long distance has challenged me to communicate better in all facets of my life, especially when running my freelance writing business.
The other day I lost $2,500 on a small deal because my client and I didn’t communicate the scope of the project effectively. I ate the costs because that’s what professionals do.
But, it killed me. That’s 5-7 plane tickets.
Leave your ego at the door.
I have a great big ego. At times, it can get in the way of things.
If you are reading this right now, please know that you probably have a big ego, too. It doesn’t mean you’re an arrogant, pretentious asshole. It just means you’re human.
Unfortunately, our egos have a nasty habit of getting in the way of us being our most authentic selves, which negatively impacts our relationships and our work.
It’s really really difficult to do long distance with an ego. Long distance is messy and sticky… and messy sticky things have a way of giving our pride a good stomping.
I think this is true for relationships in general, too.
When you love another human and love how they make you feel, you give them an immense amount of power over you.
When she says something that might be the slightest bit threatening to my beautiful delicate ego, I shatter.
Her words have more power over me than my words have over my readers.
But, since she always wants the best for me, when she says something that might be challenging to hear, it’s almost always something I need to hear.
She is one of the few people in my life brave enough to tell me I didn’t hang the moon. But, she is also one of my greatest supporters, too.
When people in relationships can’t stand to leave their egos at the door, they aren’t living and loving authentically.
And, I think its important to remember that living and loving authentically isn’t always pretty. It can be ugly at times, too.
This is applicable to creating and writing, too. Since both are such intimate personal experiences, it’s nearly impossible for the creator and the writer to separate himself from his work.
When constructive criticism begins to rain in, the creator becomes protective and at times desperately violent like a lioness protecting her cub.
I think as a creator or a lover or a writer it’s worthwhile to objectively look at the human giving you constructive criticism. Do they have your best interest in mind? If you can say yes, leave your ego at the door and let them shred you to pieces.
You’ll be better because of it.
Leave her better than you found her.
For now, this is my last lesson for the day. I’m sure there will be more before too long.
Philosopher Immanuel Kant said that human beings should be treated as an end in themselves and not as a means to something else.
This can be summed up with the following line… leave people better than you found them.
Long distance is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. In so many ways, I feel forced to fit what should be weeks and months of experiences into a matter of days.
When I see her, be it in Denver or Chicago or some city we decide to rendezvous in for a weekend, I’m trying desperately to not only be present but to shower her with as much love as I can in the small handful of time that we have.
During the 72 hours, we spend together, I try to leave her better than I find her –– calmer, happier, more confident, more comfortable and more certain.
I try to do this with people and clients and readers in general, but most so with her. And, while I wish I had more time, I think this scarcity has allowed me to be more intentional with Kant’s philosophy.
I would say all of us, be it with the girl in the mountains or the stranger in the convenience store, should leave the people we run into better than we find them.
But, I digress.
By Cole Schafer.
You gotta check this out -- Sticky Notes is my email list reserved strictly for entrepreneurs and creatives looking to sell like a Florida Snow Cone Vendor on the hottest day of the year.