I thought love was about safety--but now I know that if safety was the goal, I would have never gotten anything worth having and never made anything worth sharing.
This Thanksgiving, I'm not sure whether I'm more excited to see my boyfriend for the first time in two months, or to be able to blast Christmas music without feeling shamed (just kidding. mostly).
My partner and I have been dating for four years, and we've been long distance for three. He's a PhD candidate studying Chemistry in SoCal---I'm an artist living in New York (when his program started, I was in London training at RADA: an eight-hour time difference). For a long time, we've started noticing the similarities between our work: he spends most of his hours alone in a lab; I in a practice room, sound booth or library. We both run experiments daily; his in a Nuclear Magnetic Resonance instrument and mine in the audition room. Most of the time, despite our best efforts, those experiments don't go our way. We both attend conferences to present our ideas and discoveries; his take the form of papers and posters, and mine are educational workshops. Every time we take the floor, we're tasked with sharing our ideas and proving their efficacy by forming a cohesive narrative. To share what we know, we have to tell a compelling story.
Although we spend more than three hundred days out of the year apart, we've also explored seven countries, eight states (including Hawaii), and countless cities together (all on the budget of an artist and a student). Five days out of the week we're able to talk on the phone for at least thirty minutes, and once a week we have "date night" over Facetime, where we sit down, watch a movie and drink wine together. And although many of my closest friends are dudes and onstage intimacy is a thing, we've been unscathed by jealousy almost entirely.
That's everything I usually tell people when my long-distance relationship comes up.
What I don't often tell them about is the numbing loneliness. How Christmas lights make me sad. The exhaustion of knowing that every time he picks me up (literally) at the airport, we're off to the races to cram months of intimacy into days, hours, minutes. How tired I often am on our visits, because I'm paranoid that every moment I'm asleep is a moment lost. How during our first year of separation, I spent every other night crying and subsequently blowing out my voice, oftentimes making auditions, rehearsals and performances the following day questionable.
I've dated before; people have made exits from my life, both graceful and not so much. But no one has broken my heart like the love of my life---much in the same way being an artist makes me feel the most alive and also sucks the life out of me like nothing else. Learning and accepting that these realities are both true and go hand-in-hand has informed the type of artist I am, and also the way I hustle.
When I was younger, I thought that "the one" was supposed to keep you safe from the world, using their broad shoulders to shield you from life's spray. In much the same way, I thought that just getting the role, just joining the union, just signing with the agent, just getting the check, just getting would make the loneliness and insecurity of freelancing for a living go away. What I didn't know was that in order to get all those things I wanted, they would cost me things I didn't know I had and didn't know I'd miss.
I thought love was about safety---but now I know that if safety was the goal, I would have never gotten anything worth having and never made anything worth sharing. Love for another and love for your craft doesn't make you safe, it makes you strong. Because the act of choosing that thing above all others every day builds you into a fuller and more resilient human than you were the day before. And eventually, you become big and strong enough to be your own shield and make your own waves.