Once upon a time, a boy meets a girl from a nearby university. Many moons later, the boy declares his appreciation for one of her photos on Instagram. Lo and behold, the girl then messages the boy by way of SMS. Gathering enough courage, boy asks girl out. And thenceforth, the boy and girl embark on many adventures together. A tale as old as time indeed.
As you've probably already guessed, I'm "the boy" in this story, and "the girl" is my wonderful girlfriend, Ashley. Since the summer of 2014, we've been in a long-distance relationship; I currently live in NYC while she calls Delaware home.
Like most couples, we're always looking for different ways to grow together, especially due to the difficulty of being long-distance. One day at work, I thought it would be cool if we did a social experiment where one of us had the ability to "remote-control" the other person. This would allow us to work on our communication while offering insight into what the partner truly needs.
I asked Ashley if she wanted to lead the experiment and be the controller. After she resoundingly agreed, I set the ground rules:
- Ashley will send a series of commands via text messages over the course of the next week
- I have to do whatever Ashley instructs me to do (as long as it's legal, won't get me fired, and I don't morally object to it)
- If any purchases are involved, they must not exceed $25
Here. We. Go. A big part of me is very nervous about how the next week is going to transpire. I'm not known to be a full-fledged extrovert per se, so I'm a tad scared to see the situations Ashley is going to put me in. But here goes nothing. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Post an inspirational quote on Facebook? Not too bad. Starting off with the training wheels on. I like it, but this is something I would NEVER do. I often poke fun at one of our mutual friends who's notorious for posting such quotes. #grit #hustle #grind... More like #GTFO. Inspired by my recent foray into stoicism, I chose a quote from Mediations by Marcus Aurelius.
Unsurprisingly, the post was met with some...mixed emotions. Some people found inspiration from the words, while others were just utterly confused. But the only opinion that mattered was Ashley's. She later told me it was a perfect way to start her day.
Reflection: Some of my friends are 🍆s. Explore the practice of sending more words of encouragement to Ashley.
Next up: Draw something random? A blue duck! "I drew the duck blue because I've never seen a blue duck before, and to be honest with you, I wanted to see a blue duck." (What can I say? Billy Madison was a cornerstone of my childhood.) But I digress...
Armed with my phone to capture the interaction and my random blue duck drawing, I went around the office looking for strangers to bestow my priceless artwork. The lucky winner was sitting on the tech floor. After the initial awkward interaction and explaining my motives, random person #1 was happy to be chosen. Embracing the overachiever in myself, I decided to continue the experience by drawing two more blue ducks and giving them to two more strangers. Now I have three new acquaintances in the office, just as a result of a random blue duck and a text message command.
Reflection: Small gestures can have a huge impact on someone's day.
TASKS #3 & #4
Too easy! You know those "couples conversations" that go back and forth for what feels like forever until someone either folds or an argument ensues? Well, typically that'll happen to us when it comes to what's for dinner, but for the last couple weeks, Ashley has consistently responded with an emphatic "Vietnamese food!" Led by this prompt, I headed to Sao Mai on 1st Avenue and confidently ordered a Bun Ga Nuong (Grilled Chicken Vermicelli Noodle) for takeout. Even though I totally butchered its pronunciation, I still smiled, victorious; I felt confident that I had successfully chosen her favorite food.
Shortly after snapping her my dog selfie with the Vietnamese vermicelli, she gave me my next task. Since I had already eaten lunch and didn't want to waste this perfectly good food, I saw an opportunity to combine the two tasks. On my way back to the office, I crossed paths with Christine, who was homeless. I asked if she wanted some food, and she accepted. I was happy that the silly previous challenge could end up actually helping someone.
Reflection: Those "couples conversations" are really just learning experiences.
One of the toughest things about being in a long-distance relationship is the fact that we can't enjoy each other's company throughout the week. Whether it's binge-watching something on Netflix or going to the gym together, it's difficult not being able to be in the same city for moments like this.
On the other side, the time apart keeps things in perspective and makes you grateful for the actual time spent together. I hear many stories of families in the Philippines where significant others are separated years at a time, as one or the both individuals go abroad to financially support the family. With this, I lace up my sneakers and set forth to conquer a nice little two-mile run down Eastern Parkway as if I were outrunning Ashley's small stride.
Reflection: Though we're miles apart, we're still #blessed since we're able to see each other on a weekly basis.
Here we go! 😑 It was only a matter of time. This is borderline cruel and unusual, but rules are rules.
Channeling my inner Helga Pataki, I set forth to make the shrine of shrines. With some photo-manipulation skills, Christmas lights, candles (both real and fake), and a figurine off my desk, I put together a pretty well-executed shrine, if I do say so myself.
Reflection: Even though the shrine is a bit much, I wouldn't do it for anyone else.
Walk home?! Because she doesn't live in New York, I'm not sure Ashley has the spatial awareness to gauge the distance between the office to my apartment. But despite the additional hour and 45 minutes of commuting time, I reluctantly started my walk.
Thankfully, it was a beautiful fall evening. My route took me south through the outer edge of East Village, Little Italy, Chinatown, and City Hall leading me up to the Brooklyn Bridge. Standing in the middle of the Brooklyn Bridge, I realized this walk home wasn't that bad. I started off a little sour, but halfway through, I realized how lucky I am to be able to do this.
Over the course of the next couple miles, I witnessed a couple taking engagement photos and tourists experiencing NY for the first time, and I discovered new areas I could later explore with Ashley. Despite the physical excursion, it was truly an amazing experience. Two hours, 30 minutes, and four audiobook chapters later, I finally made it home.
Reflection: Walking feels good. I need some new shoes. NY is a beautiful city. Count your blessings.
Unfortunately, unlike most Filipinos, I was not gifted with song-and-dance genes. I would liken my dance moves to a rusted-up robot that's missing a couple essential parts. Not sure if this stems from some repressed childhood memory or the fact that I have some tight hammys, but the point is, I can't dance and I hate to dance.
So this brings us to my interpretation of the moonwalk. First, I would like to apologize to the late, great MJ for disgracing his patented move. Next, I was genuinely trying in the video, and those crashes into the wall were not staged. Lastly, yes, I legitimately tried to do a kick-and-spin at the end. Your eyes did not deceive you; I failed miserably. You're welcome.
Reflection: Stretch more. A lot more. Be open to taking dance lessons. Embarrassment is a product of your own brain, so just do it.
After my terrible dancing, this was a much-needed new prompt. I personally struggle with disconnecting and often find myself constantly looking at my phone and laptop to check emails and monitor social media. It was a nice change of pace to enjoy my turkey sandwich without interruption.
Reflection: Learn to disconnect more often. No need to have self-induced stress and anxiety.
First off, I haven't played chess in years. I think the last time I played, Bill Clinton was still in office. It took me about 10 minutes to scout out the competition and choose my opponent. I ended up being matched up against a friendly gentleman named Bucka. Shortly after the game started, a fellow chess player became our lone spectator. I'm not gonna lie — I was clearly out of my league. In a matter of five minutes, the game was over. Yup, I lost faster than it took me to actually sit down for a game. Afterward, I stuck around for a little to ask Bucka about himself.
Reflection: There are so many talented people with interesting stories who you can easily meet. Don't be so aggressive.
Well, that's not a subtle hint, amirite? I get it though. In the course of our relationship, we've attended six weddings and celebrated a number of our friends getting engaged. We're at that age where people are settling down and starting families.
As for the rings, I learned the following:
- 4 C's: color, clarity, cut, and carat
- The average ring size is a 6 in the United States
- The divorce rate is 1.3x higher for those who spend $2,000–$4,000 on engagement rings compared to those who spend just $500–$2,000
- You can save up to 30% by choosing a gem just under whole number carats
- I am not a fan of the halo setting (gross!)
I'm a firm believer that you're the average of the five people you spend the most time with at any given moment in your life. I've been lucky enough that my circles have raised up my average immensely through the years.
This task gave me the opportunity to catch up with two old high school friends (Eli and Paul), an old college study buddy (Natasha), a former roommate (Alex), and my little brother's best friend (Tyler). Although we ended up talking about different things, their reactions were the same when I said I missed them: a smile, a laugh, and a reciprocated "Miss you too!"
Reflection: At the end of the day, friends, family, and the relationships we build are what it's all about. No matter the length of time between conversations, good friends pick right up from where they left off. Long-distance friendships also require maintenance.
Not sure if this was a product of her being in NY and not having room for her stuff or the slow manifestation of marking her territory leading to her inevitable move, but there I was having to give up some valuable storage space in my apartment. Admittedly, it was at first an inconvenience since it forced me to find a new location for my stuff, but I understood the value in her point of view. Since we travel back and forth so much, this little gesture will allow her to leave more of her things here, which translates to her traveling with less.
Reflection: One drawer = one fewer headache for her
DAY DATE! Who doesn't love a good day date?! It was a beautiful weekend in NYC, so outdoor activities were on the table. We started off picking up sandwiches at the local corner store. We then made our way to Central Park's Great Lawn, found some real estate, and lounged out. This picnic in the park was highlighted with laughs, people-watching, and planning next weekend's activities. We capped the date off with a trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Reflection: Nothing like a date to serve as a reminder of why you got together in the first place.
As Boyz II Men most eloquently said, "We've come to the end of the road." Wanting the best for me, Ashley has been on my case about sticking to a healthy diet. She requests that I prepare some meals for our upcoming week. With this directive, I made two meals. The first: chicken, sausage, and peppers served with a wild rice quinoa. The second: ground turkey with mushrooms, served with roasted broccoli/cauliflower and a baked sweet potato.
Fast-forward to Monday around lunchtime. Ashley jokingly texts me saying, "Your next task..." She then follows up saying that her meal was delicious and that she loved me.
Reflection: It's very endearing that Ashley cares so much to worry about weekly diets.
Overall, I would look at this week as a great success. What I initially thought was a fun couples exercise manifested itself into embracing the mentality of saying "yes." We often shield ourselves in a world of "no," where life is comfortable and easy. Through these tasks, I was able make a small impact on some people's lives, reconnect with old friends, let down my guard, gain a sense of gratitude for everything I have, and, most importantly grow closer with Ashley.
This boy can clearly say that it truly is a precious privilege to be alive — and to be loved, especially by this girl.
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Illustrations by Lyla Ribot © BuzzFeed