Caroline Gerdes
March 15, 2015 6:33 am

As I boarded the flight to Pittsburgh on February 14, 2013, I felt a tickle in my throat and a twinge of fear that I would be Patient Zero in row 13. There was a lot riding on this Valentine’s Day. It would be the first time I saw my boyfriend Robert in six weeks.

We began dating two years before as undergraduate students at Louisiana State University, and, in January 2013, we decided to foray into the ever more common world of long distance. Robert was moving to Pittsburgh for a mechanical engineering graduate program at Carnegie Mellon University and I wanted to pursue journalism opportunities in Washington, DC.

We were so sure a commuter relationship would be a breeze. Friends advised us to see each other every six weeks, but we knew we would see each other more often than that — three weeks of separation, tops. Never mind that neither of us had a car. There were buses, after all.

Soon after, I suffered one death in the family, moved to a new city and received zero job offers. I realized how hard it was to go through life with your partner miles away. And, it was still January.

This long distance relationship stage has become a common part of millennial courtship. With the job market requiring more years of schooling, post graduate internships, a globally connected world and more and more young people trying out jobs before finding a career, most millennials have done the long distance thing. Today’s 20-somethings, of both sexes, are not willing to sacrifice their education, or first job, for a relationship. Some forego love completely, while couples make it work long distance while individually accomplishing goals.

Usually, Robert and I weren’t candy heart and chocolate box valentines, but absence made us put in the extra effort on an already high stakes holiday. I wore a sweater with a big pink heart and applied makeup in the restroom near baggage claim. He was beaming when he picked me up at arrivals. We both just stared at each other for a few minutes, laughing about how we were communicating in a three-dimensional world. Robert was no longer a pixelated, slow-moving image in my Google Hangout window. He was real and warm.

As I got ready for our date, I knew something wasn’t quite right. I barely picked at my dinner as Robert anxiously looked on, hoping I was enjoying his efforts. We were, at last, in the same room and eating at the same table. I was so happy to be with him but I had the sinking suspicion that this was the flu. That night, my fever was 101 and Robert became my nurse. Our high pressure and heavily anticipated romantic plans had gone out the window. I ruined Valentine’s Day and the guilt felt worse than the fever.

The next morning, Robert displayed the same efforts he had as the day before. It was his goal to provide for me and give me what I needed. Instead of romance and candy, February 15 brought crackers and ginger ale. As the day beat on in a haze of naps and Tylenol, Robert developed a fever of 99.9. Yes, I gave him the flu for Valentine’s Day. Though, in my defense, he never got quite as sick as I did.

I remember lying in bed, unable to turn my head and dramatically thinking, “I wasn’t supposed to die on Valentine’s Day … I’m going to die in Pittsburgh.” Moments later, I had a sharp feeling in my stomach, but under my lungs. “This is happening,” I thought. Robert was in the shower and the bathroom door was locked. His bedroom trashcan was a trendy, metal mesh from Ikea. I did what I had to do. I threw up into a grocery bag next to the bed.

And, it was blue.

Yes, the blue expectorant capsules had turned my vomit an unnatural hue.

If it had been in question before, now I had certainly ruined the Valentine’s visit.

Robert soon appeared from the shower smelling of shampoo, Old Spice and aftershave. For the moment, we were both feeling a little better.

“I did something bad,” I said unable to make eye contact, embarrassed but overall too sick to care.

“Uh oh,” said Robert with a cautious laugh.

“I threw up into that bag,” I pointed at the translucent, tied off Shop ‘n Save bag. And before he could say anything, I added, “Yes, it is blue.”

Like the solid boyfriend he is, he took my bag of blue vomit out to the trash and returned with a glass of water. He even let me pick a Netflix movie. I knew then that our love could go the distance.

And, it did.

After learning to live independently and accomplishing what we set out to do in two different cities, we decided to call long distance quits. Today, we are engaged and living together in Pittsburgh. I let him pick the Netflix movie sometimes.

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