When I measure the distance from my apartment to his, it’s 66 miles. It’s an hour and five-minute drive for him, sometimes even more dependent on traffic. For me, it’s a bus ride to the Blake Transit Center, getting on the Michigan Flyer for an hour and a half, and then driving to his apartment. No matter the distance between the two of us, these are the things we do for love.
I met my boyfriend online in December of freshman year. We met on Bumble (yes, a dating app). The beginning of our relationship was very exciting. I was at home in New York City and he was at home in East Lansing, so our “talking stage” was completely virtual, sharing memes and text messages. I remember texting him about my family, sharing our Christmas tradition of only eating pepper pot and bread on Christmas morning and him sharing his stepmother’s tradition of making Yorkshire pudding for Christmas Eve dinner. We would exchange pictures of our locations in time, me sending him pictures of art from the Whitney Museum of American Art in Manhattan and him sharing pictures of his cat Kiwi curled up on the beige cat house at his dad’s house. I was attentive to his text messages, taking in every sentence telling me about his family, cats and friends each day because that was the only form of communication we had. After a month of only communicating virtually, I was squealing with joy at the thought of meeting him in person. By the time we met in person that January, I felt as if I already knew him for ages. Sadly, we would only see each other on weekends, because while I was a first-year student in Ann Arbor, he was a junior at Michigan State University in East Lansing.
Saturday mornings during my freshman year were a race against time. Being in a (somewhat) long-distance relationship makes time spent together very sacred. Every second, minute and hour spent with him brought me peace at the end of my hectic school week. Therefore, I was always trying to find the fastest way back to my dorm from work in order to get on the earliest bus to see him. During my walks back to the dorm on Saturday mornings, I would carefully break down my entire afternoon, assigning a task to each minute to ensure I caught the bus on time. “Shower at 1:00, makeup at 2:00, hair at 2:30, be out the door by 3:30” repeated in my head like a broken record to make sure I never missed a beat. For me, time with him was precious, something I could not afford to lose.
This race against time and me came to a finish when the pandemic hit. After dating for only three months, we took a leap of faith and decided to move in together. Before moving in, I was nervous because we only knew each other for such a short amount of time, but were about to take a huge step forward in our relationship. “Are you sure you want to do this?” I’d ask him at least once a week. “I mean, if this is going to work, it’s better to find out now instead of later,” he would tell me.
Living together had its own challenges: who was cooking dinner, who was cleaning the bathroom and who was taking out the trash were always debatable questions. As time went on, I slowly caught myself frying my onion and garlic and making curry for us. Eventually, I turned the stove on every other night. On the weekends, the scent of fresh laundry detergent would intoxicate my nose when I started the washing machine. Slowly, but surely, I was fulfilling the stereotypical duties of a housewife.
He began to embody the role of a man of the house, spending all day at work and returning home only to answer more phone calls and finish projects. I spent the day making the bed, cleaning the room, making each meal and running the dishwasher. When sharing the dynamics of our relationship, my friends would roll their eyes and say, “He needs to pitch in more, you can’t be the only one doing everything.” At first, I did not have a problem with the role I embodied, but hearing their words made me notice just how much I was contributing to household chores. Eventually, I felt resentment build up inside of me.
I remember calling my mom one day and expressing my frustration, telling her he “leaves his things all over the apartment” and “takes advantage of the things I do for him.” As an Indo-Caribbean woman, I grew up watching my mother do these same “chores” for my father while he was at work. She would make him chai in the morning, clean the house and make him fried okra and roti for dinner. When I asked her if she ever got tired of doing this for my dad, she would always say no and tell me she understood how hard my dad worked during the day. She used to say something that I never really understood: “These are the things we do for love.” She was quick to remind me that my significant other was working 14 hours a day for us and that when we weren’t living together he was constantly calling me, reassuring me whenever I had doubts in school and driving to Ann Arbor to spend the little hours of free time he did have with me. She expressed that it is not about who does more laundry or dishes or who makes dinner in the relationship, but about how we spend time together at the end of the day. Her perspective shocked me because I always assumed that as a stay-at-home mom, she was tired of taking care of the house for my dad and us as children. However, she said she was always willing to do these things if it meant that she and my dad could sit together for dinner at the end of the day and simply have a conversation.
Looking back at this internal conflict I had with myself, I now understand what my mother was saying when she said, “These are the things we do for love.” It is not about who does more for the other person in relationships, but the things we do for one another that makes our days easier. Now that school is back in person, my partner and I have returned to short-lived weekends and homes 66 miles from one another. On Fridays after class, like freshman year, I find myself rushing home to take a shower at 1:00, finish my makeup by 2:00, and have my hair done by 2:30 to be out of the door at 3:30. During our time living together, I used to think I was contributing more to the relationship by taking care of the chores in our home. However, I think of the hour and five-minute drives he used to take to come see me, the 14-hour days he would work to support us and the sleep he would sacrifice. Somewhere in the midst of it all, I have learned that it’s not about how far you travel, but where you meet each other in the middle.
MiC Columnist Anchal Malh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.