How My LDR Forced Me Into the Fresh Start My Career Desperately Needed

A long-distance relationship may seem like the end of a romance, but it ended up being the start of an incredible adventure for me and my boyfriend. About two years ago, he called and told me he got offered a job in Muramvya. Cue, me: shaking as I switched him to speakerphone so I could nervously yet frantically Google where that even was.

Turns out it’s in the East African country of Burundi, which is quite the jaunt from New York City, where we both recently settled after surviving most of college spent apart. We met when he was a senior and I was a freshman at Wake Forest University, but it wasn’t until after he graduated that we became official and took on the distance. During most of undergrad, I would fly or embark on a 12-hour bus ride to see him as much as possible, so you can imagine why the news of him moving across the world would send tears flowing down my face. Looking back now though, it's clear to me that even if he relocated somewhere way less far-flung, like say, Chicago, my reaction would have been the same. After all, we'd just finished a long-distance stint and were finally living in the same city—the city—as we had discussed for so long. Suddenly, I felt like I was running a never-ending race—and I was exhausted.

But in reality, we couldn't have been more miserable dragging our feet to jobs we absolutely hated. He was at a start-up where he saw no future, while I was working unbearable hours through the weekend at what I thought was my dream magazine job. The truth was that work was absorbing my whole life and ultimately compromised any time I could spend with my boyfriend, family, and friends. Both of us were exhausted and wanted change—his just came first.

Spoiler: He took the job, and we had three weeks together before his plane to Africa took off. We both went into this new normal with a positive attitude. (We were seasoned vets at this whole long-distance thing, after all!) But, of course, life got in the way.

This time around, there were new, really tough elements of the LDR to contend with—namely, the seven-hour time difference. He would wake up at the crack of dawn, hours before he had to go to work and I would stay up until 2 or 3 a.m., just so we could catch each other up on our day. Furthermore, the small rural village where he lived had a terrible connection, and during rainy season, the electricity would often go out. There were plenty of times when I'd drive myself crazy, calling him literally 67 times only to find out later that he simply didn’t have power or a cell signal. It was exasperating, to say the least.

Since I now had plenty of time to myself, I noticed the things in my life that weren’t working.

For a while, I was so angry at him for leaving me that we talked less and less. It got to the point that we were simply saying hi and hanging up. But there was a silver lining: Since I now had plenty of time to myself, I noticed the things in my life that weren’t working. And as much as I wish I didn’t, I even resented him for loving his new job. He was being challenged, learning a ton, and doing work that felt meaningful and fulfilling to him.

After about a month, his positive energy inspired me to leave my overwhelming magazine gig and become a full-time freelance writer. I finally got the clean slate I was looking for and I felt like I could breathe again.

Once I got into the swing of things, I was able to scale my hustle to be way more lucrative than I ever thought the publishing industry could be—both in terms of finances and experience. In fact, my career move even afforded me the opportunity to attend press trips I wouldn’t have been able to experience otherwise. I’ve traveled to 27 countries in the two years I’ve been freelancing, and I’ve had the flexibility to meet up with my boyfriend in places like Cape Town, Dubai, Amsterdam. (I have to admit, having a date at the UAE’s over-the-top indoor ski resort beats grabbing brunch yet again in the East Village.)

Ultimately though, international rendezvous only satisfied so much. "As a general rule, long-distance relationships that exceed more than 6 to 12 months can be detrimental," relationship psychotherapist Kathryn Smerling, PhD, LCSW, says. And she's right—at least for my case; I was done with inconvenient phone calls and video chats.

When my NYC lease came to an end, I didn't renew it and instead booked a flight to Burundi. My friends and family were understandably skeptical at first, but I knew that making Muramvya my home base was the right move for me and my relationship. Not only was I excited to explore a part of the world I never dreamed of visiting—let alone settling in—but it strangely made practical sense. In Muramvya, the cost of living was hands-down lower than Manhattan, and being away from the Big Apple hardly slowed down my career. If anything, the move led to commissions for additional international projects.

Once I got into the swing of things, I was able to scale my hustle to be way more lucrative than I ever thought the publishing industry could be—both in terms of finances and experience.

Since my boyfriend has fulfilled his contract requirement of two years, we can move back stateside at any time—but we’re not sure if that’s even what we want. Moving back once we’re ready to get married, have kids, and settle down is definitely an end goal, but we agree there’s no rush. Our current situation has afforded us so much flexibility and opportunity—not to mention, it ultimately brought us way closer together—to distill our personal and collective goals. Who knew so much good could come from a seemingly terrible, life-changing phone call a couple years ago? (Not me, obviously.)

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