Hi and welcome to my newest blogpost.
For those who do not know me, my name is Eric G. Carnaje and I am currently at the University of Vermont pursuing my Master’s degree in Higher Education and Student Affairs Administration. I am an ENFJ; an activist, scholar, and practitioner; a “Blue” in Leadership Colors; an artist and poet; a food enthusiast; Brown; queer; Pilipino American; a Strategic Achiever in Strengths Quest Themes; a California native; and so much more.
I am also in a longterm, long distance relationship with my partner Mark. He’s currently back in California and I’m here in Vermont. Say hi.
We started dating when we were in college (#gobears). He asked me out one evening and the following week we had our first date over movies and hotdogs. Yes, hot dogs. And well, we’ve been together for the past six years. Today, Saturday, February 13th, marks our anniversary. It is also the day before Valentine’s Day, and seeing that we won’t be with each other to celebrate this weekend, I thought I’d dedicate this post to him — to us.
Because of this “momentous occasion”, this post is a critical reflection on what I have experienced being in a longterm long distance relationship. And it’s about time I share what these kinds of relationships can be like. This is my opportunity to not only celebrate love and the man I love, but to also illuminate how queerness, graduate studies, student affairs, and racial identities play a role in this Asian American relationship.
Also, this was our 2nd Valentine’s Day together 5 years ago (see below).
Longterm long distance relationships (LTLDRs) are an investment. They are also exhausting. Since working in higher education and student affairs, I like to equate these kinds of relationships to taking 4-6 academic credits. For some colleges and universities, that means you’re a part-time student. But trust me, there is nothing part-time about making long distance relationships work, especially when you’re a full time graduate student with a 20-hour assistantship (and additional co-curricular involvements and side hustles).
LTLDRs require time, energy, patience, and money. You figure out a routine and you stick with it: when to call in between classes, when to say goodnight, when it’s okay to FaceTime, when it’s appropriate to say good morning because of a 3-hour time difference. Even at the end of a long day of work, class, work, and more class, you still have to make time to check in with your partner. Luckily, Mark and I are at a point in our relationship where we can go several hours without texting or calling each other. Despite being across the country from one another, we don’t need to be in each other’s lives every single hour of the day. At the same time, constant and reliable communication is essential to making the relationship work. We’re very much our own people and each other all at the same time. You’re constantly thinking and reflecting upon your own actions and decisions because they not only impact you, but your partner as well. For example, as I finish my graduate work and figure out my job search, I am not only thinking about my future, but our future as well. You also pick up on mannerisms, personality traits, perspectives, and thought processes. Sometimes I find myself serving up some Jean Grey during our late night conversations. Communication doesn’t have to be verbal or visual. Communication can also be quality time spent in silence.
Now, if there was a way to make LTLDRs more affordable and cost-efficient, someone please tell me the secret ASAP. When I think about my own relationship and analyze it, there’s definitely notions of class privilege that come up. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s simply something to be cognizant of (for yourself and when around others). With one of us being in Vermont and the other in California, we have to make smart financial decisions to see each other. Obviously, flights are not cheap. Trips can cost anywhere between $400-$600 when you’re flying across the country. And let’s be real, when you’re a graduate student with loans, bills, and expensive tastes, those flights make a huge dent in the savings account. You wait three to four months just so you can spend three to four days with your partner. Those are the days that matter most. The ones that get you through your graduate program. Although I do not currently have the luxury of going out on Friday night dinner dates or waking up early for Sunday morning hikes with my partner, I know it will happen someday. Hopefully sooner rather than later. And hopefully this LTLDR will be just me and him without 3000 miles in between.
I think what also has been helpful over the last few years is the continuous and unconditional support from our friends and family members. The love that these individuals have shown Mark and I is indescribable. From cousins to colleagues, their words of encouragement, affirmation, and inclusion, allows us to be our best selves. Growing up, I had no idea what a queer relationship looked like, let alone what a queer Asian American relationship looked like. In college, we had the opportunity to define that for ourselves. Sure, it meant keeping things initially on the “downlow” from our friends and family, and knowing when and where it was appropriate to show some affection when in public. But as our relationship and friendship grew, so did our understanding of it. Even today, where is the representation of queer Asian American (Pacific Islander and Desi American) couples in the media, television shows, movies? Who can our kids look up to? Where can they find people who act, think, look, and love the way they/we do? If there’s nobody around our future generations to role model these kinds of relationships, we have to start creating, highlighting, role modeling, and loving them ourselves. Defining what our relationship looked and felt like to us was probably the most empowering and rewarding thing that could have happened. And having the support from our loved ones has helped us make it this far. It is my hope to share this love story, proudly and queerly, with the rest of my Asian American community. To instill hope and redefine love. To say thank you.
To be honest, it has taken me some time to become comfortable with how public my relationship with Mark is. We’re not “Facebook Official”. My extended family barely met him a year or two ago; he’s going next year to our annual Christmas party because it’s “time”. From the stereotypes to the stigma, from insecurities and unwanted glances, I have heavily worn all of these feelings and experiences on the back of my shoulders. But I think after six years of love and fighting, I am capable of anything and everything. We are capable of this, that, from the f*cking moon and back. This kind of love is political, dynamic, revolutionary, and whole. This is radical love.
Throughout these six years, I have gotten to know both my partner and my own soul. I know what kind of love languages he speaks and I know what kind of driver he is (one with road rage). I know what stresses him out at night and what helps him sleep. And at the same time, I know more about myself than I realized. All thanks to him. He taught me what love and commitment looks like, what openness and vulnerability feels like, and what sinigang fried chicken tastes like.
As the saying goes, “sometimes you just have to make your own luck.” Well, for me, it’s not just about luck; sometimes I simply have to make my own love as well. And I have. I have made it. So there he is: my boyfriend, my partner, my novio, my soulmate, and my best friend. This is my story. This is our love. And this is not the end.