Old fashioned with a twist

By on April 16, 2008

It is 4 a.m. and my cell phone starts to ring. At first I think it’s a dream, but then I realize, that it’s the only ring tone that always puts a smile on my face. The only ring tone that I would want to hear at 4 in the morning. The song is Alicia Key’s “No One,” and whenever I hear it, my heart begins to melt.

I met him senior year in high school. He was tall, dark and handsome, with wide eyes, an adorable smile, and more charm than Prince Charming himself. A month passed and we officially became a couple. Now four years have passed and we are still going strong, but not without one major obstacle that we both still face today.

In March 2006, my boyfriend, Chris, made the decision to join the United States Marine Corps. I remember having every emotion possible run through my body. At first, I felt completely betrayed. Why was he leaving me? Then I realized that in Chris’ mind, he was doing this for us. “I want us to have a great future. together,” he said to me one day.

In these past two years, we have been through three months of boot camp, where we only talked through written letters, six months of School of Infantry training, where he got to call me once a week, and right now we are in our last month of his eight month deployment in Iraq, where I receive those reassuring 4 a.m. phone calls.

Our love for each other is one part of what keeps our close bond intact. What truly keeps our relationship alive is the world of constant communication that we live in today.

When we first started dating I would have never seen myself in this situation. At the very beginning of our relationship we were inseparable. The face to face conversation was the only conversation we ever had. Our phone conversations consisted of “Hi, are you home? OK, I am coming over.” We spent more time together than I could have imagined, and our relationship continued to grow.

Our first challenge came when I decided to move to Connecticut for college. I chose Quinnipiac University because it had a wonderful communications department and wasn’t very far from my home in Oradell, N.J. The drive was only an hour and a half, but Chris made it seem like I was moving across the country. It was sad for both of us because we knew our time together would be lessened.

Obviously, we pushed through and survived the hour and a half distance, by seeing each other mostly every weekend and turning our five second phone conversations into one hour ones. As hard as it was, neither of us ever thought there would ever be any more distance between us other than that hour and a half.

Once he signed the papers to become a United States Marine, he tried to make me understand how it would benefit us in the future. “This is the path I need to take in my life right now, not only for me, but for us,” he said. “It will give me something to look forward to and help me in my career as a police officer.”

Chris wanted to become a cop since the first day I met him, and college just wasn’t a good fit. “I always wanted to be apart of a good cause, and what better cause is there than fighting for my country?” he said.

I tried to understand his reasoning, but all I kept thinking about was how our relationship would drastically change. The hour and a half distance turned into a 12-hour distance, which then turned into us being in two different time zones when he went to Iraq.

Our hour long phone conversations minimized to 15 minute ones, twice a week, but my time on the Internet grew.

We always heard the occasionally joke about being high school sweethearts but never considered it a reality. Now, with only one month left in our separate time zones, we have started to realize that this is our reality.

The Christmas before Chris went to Iraq he gave me a promise ring. The beautiful, dainty ring means more than just a promise. Yes, I promised him that I would be by his side throughout his time in the Marine Corps, but the ring also symbolizes the strength in our relationship and in our future together.

Some days are harder than others. There have been days when I feel lonely and vulnerable, and instead of getting upset because I miss him, I get angry. I am angry because this amazing man, who decided to fight for his country, doesn’t get to be with his family or girlfriend on Thanksgiving. This amazing man isn’t able to watch his nephew grow up. This amazing man was not allowed to have a beer on his 21st birthday.

When I think about only having a month left until I see his face again, I am reminded of what helped us make it this far.

When you love someone you want to have contact with that person everyday. You want to kiss their lips, see their smile, and hear their voice, but what happens when you can’t see that person everyday? What keeps you connected?

At first, we had to kick it back to the old school ways of written letters when he was going through boot camp, and I sort of enjoyed it. It was different for a college girl to rush to her campus post office to hopefully find a letter with USMC written on the front. Each letter I received put a bigger smile on my face and added another letter to “Chris’ Box.” It was hard not hearing from him everyday, and I always wondered how people, who lived in the day of the ink pen and letter, ever survived. Or how wives of soldiers in WWII kept their sanity?

Then instead of the post office getting most of my attention, my cell phone and laptop became top priority. Not only are they sometimes my only devices to communicate with the outside world, they are what keeps me connected to my boyfriend.

It is hard to think about anyone not having a cell phone. Did we really have to wait to get into our houses to talk to our friends? Were people really not able to contact their significant others while they were apart?

Not only do I get calls at 4 a.m., I get calls when I am in class, when I am food shopping, and when I am at the bar with my friends. If it wasn’t for my cell phone, I would basically never be able to talk to my boyfriend.

On other days, Chris doesn’t have access to a telephone. This is where our laptops come in handy. AIM-AOL Instant Messenger recently became my second boyfriend.

Conversations with anyone on AIM aren’t always the best way to go. You can’t hear the tone in their voice and all the shorthand typing is a killer. Why are people so lazy that they can’t type ‘you’ instead of ‘u’?

But AIM conversations with Chris are usually better than our phone conversations. When Chris uses the phone he has to go to a phone center. The center is filled with many phones so as many Marines as possible can call home from Iraq. The problem there is there isn’t much privacy. Usually, I can hear the conversation of the Marine sitting next to Chris. And even though he doesn’t mind saying ‘I love you’ in front of anyone, he definitely does not want everyone knowing our business. It gets frustrating because when I finally get some of his free time, someone could basically be eavesdropping.

It is also difficult to have an intimate phone conversation with my boyfriend when all of his “boys” are around. The saying “Boys will be boys” comes into full effect when you have more than 20 Marines in one room. It is annoying when I just want my boyfriend all to myself.

The Internet is also a big part of my relationship. I have had a Facebook page since my freshman year of college, and ever since Iraq, I made Chris make a page. It was my idea to help him stay connected with his friends from home, but it turned into another piece of technology that keeps us connected. A poke here, a message there, a wall post every once in awhile; it puts a smile on our faces while reminding us that we are doing everything possible to keep our strong connection alive.

Being apart can put a toll on anyone’s relationship, especially when you feel as though you are missing out on your loved one’s life. I am a Print Journalism major and Chris has always been my No. 1 fan. Whenever I get bylined, he is the first to ask to read the piece. With him in Iraq, it would be difficult for him to read my articles if it wasn’t for the Internet. He reads my blog every week and also the column I write for my campus newspaper, since we have a Web site.

We know that growing up apart will be one of the most difficult tasks we will ever endure. We started out as this old-fashioned couple; high school sweethearts who everyone said would always be together. One would think that we would follow each other to college and after college, move in together. One would think that for a couple to be as “old-fashioned” as we were assumed to be, we have to know what each other is doing every waking moment, be able to talk to each other whenever possible, and have nothing in the world separate us. But all of that doesn’t matter to me.

I still look at our relationship as old-fashioned but just with a new-age twist. If it wasn’t for this era of non-stop communication, I wonder if I would have spent these last two years of my life as Chris’ girlfriend. We have gotten this far, and not only am I proud of us, but I am glad we didn’t let any stereotypical assumptions about relationships get in our way.

I never believed in love conquering all, but after Iraq. all doesn’t seem so bad.


About Alicia Staffa