"What I'm most concerned about is the fact that while you've been together for three years, you two haven't really spent more than 14 consecutive days together." Those exact words put together in that exact order kicked us into a reality that we weren't really facing.
As we sat next to each other on her two-seated leather cushioned couch playing verbal ping-pong, we needed to hear those words. Well, really, he needed to hear them. Mentally, I was already there. I knew that if this was a forever thing like we were saying, something had to give.
So, we sat on her couch arguing about a whole bunch of nothing. Maybe it wasn't arguing, but he would throw what he considered one of our biggest issues at me, then I'd swing right back with one of mine, and she sat there patiently, listening and observing.
Our therapist is a well-lived and accomplished Black woman, and one of the most sought after therapists in the South. So many degrees and certificates hang in her office it was difficult to even see the paint color on the walls. This wasn't our first time in her office together, but this time it was somehow different from the other visits. This time, it felt like we both knew that we needed her decades of expertise and experience. Not only as a therapist, but as a Black woman who's been married to a Black man for even longer than she had been practicing.
As we continued going back and forth, she sat there like only a Black woman could—upright and calm, just letting us talk for what seemed like a good ten minutes before I glanced over and saw her face. To most, it would probably appear that she was just listening and waiting her turn. But see, I had a Black mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, and several aunts who taught me exactly what that face meant. It meant that it was time for us to shut the hell up and digest this wisdom that was about to be thrown our way.
"OK, that's enough," she said in a gentle yet authoritative voice. "These aren't your issues. Right now, you're just picking at each other." Followed by 27 words that hit us harder than a 1997 Tyson and Holyfield punch. (For those 27 words, see the opening line of this essay.)
According to our therapist, we were fussing about all the wrong things—small issues that could easily be fixed. But what wasn't small to her was the fact that we were planning a life together while living 865 miles apart. "I need you guys to figure out how to spend more than three consecutive weeks together before you make any lifetime commitments." Those were her last words to us on Tuesday, February 18, 2020.
We walked out of her office that day with no clue about how to make that happen with me working and comfortably living in Atlanta and him working and not-so comfortably living in New York. At this point, it was our third year of long-distance dating, and while it was starting to take a toll, we were still, surprisingly, really good. We were having the time of our lives, actually, hopping on planes and meeting in our respective cities, traveling across the world together, FaceTiming each other every single morning, afternoon and night, literally, since the day we met.
Speaking of FaceTime, that's where we met. It sounds strange, but it's kind of simple. One of my friends posted a picture of himself and his older brother as kids with their mother on Instagram. My friend — the youngest — was sitting on his mom's lap as she held him with one arm. His brother, five years his senior, leaned against their mom, her other arm wrapped around him. A cute but normal family picture. He tagged his brother. And I'm not sure if there's any reason other than me being nosy that made me click on his brother's tagged profile, but I did. My immediate first thought after seeing grown-up pictures of his brother was he's fine. I don't know if I thought that this would go anywhere, but I texted my friend, "Your mother makes some handsome young men."
"I'm totally gonna tell my brother," he replied.
"I mean, if he's single … get to telling," I wrote back.
Five minutes later, I received a FaceTime call. I only answered because I wanted to know who was FaceTiming me without permission or warning, and I ended staying on FaceTime for hours with my friend's brother that day. I quickly learned that if I was going to see him, it would probably have to be on FaceTime, because he lived in Brooklyn.
We had an immediate connection. But if I'm being honest, I didn't think it was going to turn into anything. Especially because I was one of those "I'm never doing a long-distance relationship" women. Grown woman lesson #1: Never say never, because the moment you put that word into the universe, life has a funny way of saying, "I bet you will."
In this case, life was right. Since that day, not one day went by where we didn't talk. Those FaceTime talks began to turn into relationship planning sessions: figuring out the best days for me to travel to New York or him to Atlanta, planning and booking vacation flights, sharing dreams, giving each other life advice, making plans for a life together, talking about our families and childhoods, having somewhat very intense discussions about everything from our personal relationships with God to how we define happiness. You name it, we did it on FaceTime.
We made a deal that we wouldn't go one month without spending physical time together, whether in New York, Atlanta, my hometown of Baltimore, or a random city we decided to meet in. And for the most part, it wasn't necessarily difficult. For nearly three years, we made it work.
Then one day towards the end of year two, I wanted to go on a date. Nothing extravagant, nothing expensive, just movies and dinner. I didn't want to plan it. I just wanted to go. But of course, that wasn't possible. This wasn't the first time I came home from work on a Friday and wanted us to go on a movie and dinner date. But this was the first time that I said to myself, and to him, "I don't know if I can do this much longer."
After almost three years, I had questions: "What's next?" and "Where is this going?" We'd been talking about the future of our relationship and our next steps. There were plans for him to relocate to Atlanta at the end of 2020. But I was over the distance, and he could tell. So we made the decision that we were going to buy a house together. I was going to sell my house and move into our new home by myself, until the end of 2020 when he would join me.
That was our plan. Did I think it was a perfect plan? No, but it was what we thought was best.
On February 18, 2020, while sitting on the therapist's couch, we shared our plans with her. At this point, we hadn't spent more than two consecutive weeks together. She was worried about that and how that played into us making such a big decision. We both understood her concerns, but didn't quite know how to address them before making a huge commitment. Did we really know each other enough to commit to making such a huge purchase together? Would we feel different about each other after spending a month together and break up before we even got engaged? Once we bought our home, were we stuck together, or could we change our minds? Would he now think that we were good and he no longer had to propose? These were all questions that I thought of after that visit to her office. But instead of allowing those questions to take up too much real estate in my head, I relied on what I knew: We had built a solid friendship, we had fun together doing nothing, we knew we wanted to get married and spend our lives together because we talked about it often, and we loved each other.
At this point in February 2020, we had heard some coronavirus talk, but it didn't hold much of our attention, if any. He had several trips to Atlanta already booked throughout the rest of February and March, and we planned to use that time to look at homes together. As soon as we walked into the last house on our schedule, we turned, looked at each other, and I immediately said, "This is our home."
From there, it all happened so fast. He returned to Brooklyn and on March 2, I put my house — the first I had owned and lived in by myself, for nine years — on the market. By the end of that day, I had accepted an offer. The next day, we were under contract for the new house. On March 10, he landed in Atlanta to celebrate his fortieth birthday. We went to a Blood Orange concert that night, and the next evening joined friends and family for a birthday dinner. About eight of us sat around the table face-down in our plates when one of his close friends stopped eating, checked a notification on his phone and said, "The NBA just cancelled the whole season."
We looked at each other in shock, picked up our phones and began reading headlines and social media. That night was the end of our lives as we knew it, and the beginning of so many unknowns.
He was scheduled to fly back to New York that Friday, March 13, but after watching the news non-stop and seeing what was going on in New York, he decided against it. "I'll just stay a little while longer until things get under control," he told me.
It seemed like every day after that, COVID-19 hit harder, but we still had no idea of the magnitude of this virus. I began working from home. And since New York was completely shut down, he stayed right there with me.
On March 19, with masks, hand sanitizer and disposable gloves on deck, we sat at the closing table as I sold my first home. One week and a day later, we prayed together as we drove on the highway with the windows down, allowing the warmth from the sun and the wisp of fresh air to guide us towards a moment that will forever be marked as one of the best chapters of our story—the day that we closed on our first home together. This day marked the beginning of our new lives together, and while it was a joyous occasion, it was also very sobering. There was no closing table. We had a drive-through closing and stayed in our car the entire time. COVID-19 was here, and while everything seemed to be falling apart because of it, our relationship seemed to be finally coming together because of it.
While many people around the world were understandably growing increasingly tired of the pandemic stay-at-home life, we were enjoying it. We were consumed by the joy of waking up together, cooking our favorite meals, laying on our couch cuddled up together binge-watching Ozark, shopping on Amazon for new home additions, and just simply living in the moment that the pandemic gave us. But I would be lying if I didn't say that the joy also came with guilt. The truth is that we were smiling and creating the best memories while others were sick and dying from this virus.
That joy lasted for most of the year, until it hit home for real. One December evening, he walked into our bedroom not looking like himself. He felt very lethargic and had a fever.
"Baby, I think I have the flu," he said. "I'm going to try and sweat it out."
"Do you think that you should call your doctor to make sure that it's the flu and get you some meds?" I replied.
He brushed it off and said that he would be OK. But by Monday, I was starting to feel achy, too. My first thought was, I think that he gave me the flu too. Within an hour, things progressively became worse for me. After a visit to the hospital to be tested for multiple things, the next day the doctor called and told us words that everyone around the world were trying to avoid—we had tested positive for COVID-19.
We spent 21 days in pure hell—constant sweats, high fever, extreme fatigue, aches and pains, no strength or desire to eat, bathe, move, talk or walk. For days at a time, we were stuck in the same spot. And somehow, when he was extremely weak, I was a little stronger. And when I couldn't give anything, he was able to give a little. So that meant that we took care of each other. COVID brought us to our knees — we had control over nothing — but there was something beautiful, maybe even poetic, about us going through this together.
In 2020, in many ways, COVID gave us the gift of each other. And ten days before the year ended, the virus made something very clear—we are committed to each other and our love is worth fighting anyone or anything for, even this relentless, unexpected, merciless, murderous virus. A pandemic that forced everyone to adjust their lives became our saving grace, and we were able to end our long-distance relationship and make our time with each other permanent.