It's a Growing Affair

“It’s a Growing Affair” revolves around how, by building each other up, all relationships are strengthened.

Observing the relationships around me, I came to the conclusion that an ideal relationship is a healthy relationship where nobody brings anybody down, but only lifts each other up to bigger heights. After all, love isn’t love if it’s hurting you, or instead of being the cure for depression that it is, you cry yourself to sleep every night.

I know it sounds like I believe in helping your significant other grow too much, but it’s only because all the relationships that I’ve seen around me, read about, and the one that I live right now have survived only because of the uplifting-each-other quality upon which I have based my love.

One reason I made this comic is because I wanted to share with our readers what I believed made the intimate bond between two individuals stronger.

In the story, Sara helps her partner grow through stacking metaphorical building blocks. Her continued love and support pushed her partner to grow, becoming a better version of himself. Similarly, in the end, they live happily only because they keep making each other stronger throughout their lives.

Taking inspiration from my Instagram explore feed’s digital comics, I chose digital illustration to tell Sara’s story, and also because diving into new mediums is a thrilling ride and what better audience than the one of Lithium.

In just five slides, this comic teaches lovebirds a waywhich has zero cons and a million pros—to create a healthy and fulfilling relationship for themselves.

Also, I hope to lend a helping hand to the questions of those who are in a bad stage, and are struggling with defining love and its whys and hows.

By Arwa Halai

Squeeze Me In

I don’t think there is a good-enough way to put into words what exactly a long distance relationship is. Because until you are in one, there isn’t really a way to fully grasp all of the feelings that it brings, and every little part of it that makes it work. There are two ways you can think of it. Some may say “absence makes the heart grow fonder,” while others will say “out of sight, out of mind.” And I am here to say: it’s honestly a little bit of both. Depending on the type of person you are, and the type of relationship you and your partner have, a long-distance relationship can essentially work for anyone. There is no right or wrong way to do it, but there are a few things I have learned.

There are two types of distance. 
When someone hears the word distance, the obvious meaning that first comes to mind is physical distance. You aren’t able to obtain what I believe to be the simplest part of any relationship, which is just being with each other. There are simple things that are so small, and usually don’t require you to do a whole lot, that until distance takes them away, you forget just how important they really are—things like being able to hold their hand, or looking at their face independent from a screen. Or having long conversations without the static behind a phone call, and being able to kiss them goodnight to end your day. These simple things are what become so much more special, because when it feels like something is missing, you pay a lot more attention to what exactly used to fill that place.

The biggest thing I have realized, though, is that it’s not only physical distance. There’s this sense of emotional distance that is the hardest thing you may have to deal with. Physical distance is hard, but it is the emotions that come with the distance that become nearly unbearable. Those simple things, that require little to no effort at all, are all things you can just feel: laying next to each other, sitting with each other while the other is doing homework, or going to work and knowing you will have them to come home to. There’s a lot that you never really pay attention to because you don’t have to. Oftentimes, it is just their presence that gives you that feeling of doing something together, even when you aren’t doing anything at all. It’s hard to have that when you are long distance, because you have to work ten times harder to make it feel like you are together.

That sense of emotional distance comes from the fact that your lives become nearly completely separate. It’s almost like having to make sure you can find a place to squeeze yourself in wherever there is enough room so you don’t completely disappear. On a good day, it works. You text each other throughout the day, send each other photos, and maybe even a phone call in between classes. For a second, it almost feels like you are a part of their day. But on a bad day, maybe that phone call before work ends in tears, or you start to crave attention when their attention isn’t available to you. The emotional distance then becomes overwhelming and sometimes makes it all feel impossible.

Sometimes, it will feel like the end.
Long distance is especially hard because there will be really good days, or there will be days that feel impossible. The good days are where the balance is just right, and you feel like you are doing enough for each other. These days typically have the longer phone calls, the best conversations, and you’re reminded of why you both decided to make long distance work in the first place. These are the days that you want to remember, but they will tend to fall to a blur when a bad day comes. The bad days feel like the worst. It’s a pain I cannot even fully describe because it’s one thing to fight with the person you lovethat’s already painful enough as isbut fighting with them and not being able to physically be with them, too, makes fighting feel like you are fighting towards something unattainable.

There will be fights that feel a lot worse than they actually are. You have to remember, you are fighting with them hundreds of miles away, and behind a screen. There will be fights that come from frustration, and out of simply just missing them. You never, and I mean never, should take it out on them, but sometimes you do. And essentially, you learn that you never mean to, and you will work a thousand times harder to remind yourself of that. There is a different level of understanding that is needed in a long distance relationship. A lot of times, the feelings of frustration because things aren’t easier, they are feeling, too. The overwhelming amount of feelings you have towards missing everything about them and the relationship you share with them in person, they are also feeling. Distance is hard enough as is, so sometimes you have to pick and choose your battles.

You’ll sometimes ask yourself if it’s worth it. And you’ll come to realize that distance is not what decides if it’s worth it or not; it’s the relationship you and your partner have that does. A lot of the times, it is worth it, but depending on your current state of mind, it’s hard to remind yourself of that. There is a reason you two are together, and a reason why you believed long distance could work in the first place. But like I said, the bad days feel like the worst, so it is hard to remember these kinds of things. So, I’ve found that you have to communicate your feelings more than you ever have before. When you have a petty fight with your partner, often times a quick silent treatment and swerving of a kiss could be enough to tell that one of you is upset. But the beauty of distance is, you don’t have any room for pettiness. You absolutely have to communicate everything or, I mean, how else are they supposed to know?

Communicate like you have never communicated before.
A lot of the times when you fight with your significant other, the one thing that the both of you will really need is reassurance—whether that be reassurance that everything will be okay after a poor mental health day, or reassurance that the two of you are going to be okay when you are feeling a little insecure. One thing I have learned and take full pride in is that it is okay to be needy. We are all human and humans generally need attention. But you have to communicate when you are, because shutting down and lashing out only causes a bigger problem that the both of you cannot control. So you learn that it’s okay to want attention, it’s okay to want to feel wanted, and it’s okay to express these kinds of things. I’ve found that it’s important to establish this in a long distance relationship early on, because it’s a feeling that reoccurs a lot. It’s hard to feel wanted, or to receive the attention you crave, when you are so far apart. It’s a constant feeling of needing to be squeezed in so you don’t disappear.

Sometimes, you will also feel like it is hard to communicate. Sometimes, the situations you find yourself in and the things you think about too much seem like fights waiting to happen. Being away is significantly hard because you spend a lot of time physically out of each other’s lives that it becomes really easy to feel like there isn’t a whole lot of room for you. Usually, that isn’t even the case because you and your partner tend to keep each other in mind no matter what, and begin to see each other in everything you do. It’s just hard to remind yourself of that when you get stuck in a feeling.

The hardest things that I have found to communicate are the things that are typically hard for you yourself to even swallow. Communicating about the things that are painful, and the things that make your world a little scarier, are always hard to talk about. But there’s a hole that’s easy to fall into when you don’t say these things out loud to the person that makes these kinds of things feel a little less lonely. As they become harder to handle, you might even notice it begins to affect how you act in your relationship. So at this point, it’s even more necessary to talk about it.
Things like mental health are hard to discuss because there is a lot of baggage you are both carrying, and giving, to another person. It’s harder to convey just how bad your mental health situation is over a text or a short phone call. Being apart from each other in these situations are the hardest because it feels like you are then at two completely different points of your lives. On one end, one of you is doing just fine, while the other...not so much. There’s this sense of feeling guilty for placing this burden on your partner because you aren’t there in person with them to have to deal with it, so you feel like they shouldn’t have to. But you tell them and it becomes something they now have to deal with from afar, which makes it hard on both of you. I think through this, though, you sort of learn that it isn’t your intention to make things harder, although sometimes, that’s just exactly what happens. It, too, isn’t their intention to make you feel like you are too much to handle; it is just a situation bigger than the both of you. It’s in communication like this your relationship grows. You are meant to be each other’s person, so it’s important to feel like you can talk to each other about everything that makes up your life together.

Always, and I mean always, try to see things from their perspective. It is absolutely essential that you understand the situation before you enhance the situation. I’ve learned that not being able to understand where the other person is coming from makes an already painful situation even more painful.
I could go on forever about how essential communication is in any relationship, especially a long distance one, but there’s just too many areas to cover considering communication is all you really have. I mean, you talk about your plans, you talk about each other, you even talk to each other in a way that makes up for the fact that you can’t physically hold them. Your words are essentially what keep you together when you are apart. You learn to talk about everything, and I mean everything! It doesn’t even necessarily have to be deep. It’s important to discuss what you need and what exactly you are feeling, but it’s also important to talk about everything that makes up your days to keep things normal. Some days it can feel super dramatic, but other days, you are just happy to have had time to text throughout the day. Something even as simple as a winky face emoji can mean the world because they snuck it to you during their shift at work. It makes you feel like you are a part of them again.

Everything is different from before. (It’s good!)
You learn to trust each other more intensely. You have to. You have to trust that they are still going to go out and live their lives and that you will still be in their mind while that’s all happening. Even when it doesn’t feel that way, you have to trust that it is that way. Some days are harder than others but there’s a balance. When you trust them to live their lives, you are establishing each other’s independence. And I have found that it is most important to keep your independence. It is the one thing you will always have while you are away from them, and what will make you better, when you are with them again. 

With communication comes a new sense of maturity that shapes your little love story. When being apart, you are forced to establish a different kind of connection that works for the both of you. Maybe you plan date nights every week that involve watching a movie together while FaceTiming, or ordering in from the same restaurant to eat while spending time together coloring and talking and just trying to create a space where you feel like you are in each other’s presence again. Maybe you even call each other every night to fall asleep “next to each other.” Whatever it may be, it’s effort. A different type of effort that I think makes your time together even more special. Suddenly all the fights you thought were going to end you actually shaped you.

You’ll notice that the short time you do get to be with each other after a while feels like the clock is constantly ticking. There is also an insane amount of pressure to make everything perfect, because you expect it to be. Distance is what was making things so hard, so now that we are together everything should be fine, right? You try to fit in everything that you have missed about your physical relationship for so long. (Believe me, I have had things planned two months out for the next time I see my girlfriend.) There will be lots of kisses and cuddles and tons of things to talk about that you couldn’t fit in during those phone calls or texts. You appreciate everything that makes up the two of you together. It kind of feels like each time you see each other after not seeing each other for a long time, feels like the beginning all over again. There’s always that first kiss you share when you finally get to see them, and it’s like learning how to kiss all over again. And as cheesy as it may sound, it’ll give you those same stupid butterflies, and you’ll both remember why there are just some things worth holding onto.

By Alana Rose Marcelino

You on Your Best Day: Tinder, Self, and Depression

“It was too much effort. To look passable. To look pretty enough. To make sure all the seams lined up and everything matched and she looked as much the her in her mind’s eye as she possibly could. She did not know even who she was dressing up for. So much effort to go through to smile smugly at her mirror reflection. Saying yes, this is you on your best day.”
-Kate Zambreno, Green Girl

It starts at a high school party, as so many regrets do, slung across someone’s leather couch like a ragdoll, sleepless brain-fried me. My friends know how to convince me to do stupid things. They know how to embolden my wanting into doing, even if daytime me cringes, nauseated, would never. They write my boldness into beingnot coercion, but confidence. Or so they say.

“You should get on Tinder!” Oh, no. “Yes, yes yes. You have to.” Do I really? “C’mon, it’s not a big deal. Do it for the memes. You don’t have to actually meet up with anyone.”
Okay, fine. I’ll do it for the memesas adequate a reason as any nowadays. To me, the app epitomizes contemporary hookup culture in all its disorientation. The app epitomizes casualness, effortlessness, painless connection. As if there is such a thing.

In high school, my teachers all offered the same criticism: Sofia’s writing tends to be too convoluted. Let the ideas speak for themselves, not the sentences. I have a tendency to marble big thoughts in superfluity, intricacy, wordiness. Maybe because I have so little faith in the quality of my ideas that my sentences must overcompensate. I can make words sing so that they resound with that quality of euphony. Trusty Wikipedia defines a euphony as “a word or phrase which is beautiful purely in terms of its sound, without regard for semantics (i.e. meaning.)” A good example: the phrase “cellar door.” The meaning meaningless, but the sound of the phrase, gorgeous. I littered my essays with cellar doors. Not to say, Look what I can do, look what adjectives I can glaze these paragraphs with, look what stylistic illusions I can make out of nothing. No: arrogance, show-offiness wasn’t my problem. Maybe at first glance, but really, I overwrote so consistently because I didn’t think there was anything underneath those cellar doors. I thought myself capable only of hollow undergrounds, of garnished echoes.

Depression as desert: hollow, droughted, rocky succubus of quiet and solipsism. Depression as a windowless room: mausoleum-like, monotonous, The Shining-esque cabin fever within oneself. Depression as a word problem: something I most definitely cannot solve, layered in red herrings and off-map attractions to derail your grasps at the answer, to distract you from this business of living. Depression as this, as that, as anything but what it actually is. I try and try and try, but I cannot analogize it away.

So the mess of Tinder: to somehow “put myself out there,” to gloss myself into something easily comprehended, easily liked, undoes me. I cannot stand the cruelty of making ourselves vulnerable, weeding out desire through swipes, through a handful of selfies and carefully selected photos, the brutal rumination over our mini-biographies, condensing these amorphous prickly selves into a concise, flirty-but-not-too-flirty, bold-but-not-too-bold, witty, likable paragraph. I cannot stand such self-cruelty.

Being on Tinder as a person with…mental health kerfluffles. Being on Tinder as a person with malfunctioning brain chemistry, in other words, is not so easy. With a head like this, “connection” is scary as shit. For everyone, probably, but especially so for those of us with histories superimposed upon histories, traumas scaffolded upon traumas. Those of us with panic in our blood. Maybe I should be honest. Maybe I should tell the truth in my Tinder profile: Will probably disappear now and then, but expect you not to. Will probablylikelyinexplicably retreat from the world sometimes, crawl under covers and lock myself into silence. Will have bad days where I cannot speak to you or anyone. May experience random panic attacks in the bathroom of a party, so that we’ll have to leave early and you’ll be irritated and I’ll be shaky-silent. Probably won’t want to socialize as much as I should. Would prefer to watch horror movies all night which ironically tend to alleviate my existential dread while eating sushi. Probably wants too much aloneness. Might drive you insane with my moodiness, my silence, my disrepair. Aren’t I the complete package? Aren’t I the quintessence of the word “lovable?”

Tinder, incompatible with anonymity, and so, the knots in my brain cannot be sewn pretty in namelessness. Talking to people. Talking to strangers. Talking to men. Talking online, one thing, but then, in person? Slow down there. With Tinder comes expectations of romantic intentions, and, frequently, of physical intimacy. Maybe without the emotional intimacy. I’m not degrading that type of relationship; I myself am not cut out for it. I care I care I care so dreadfully much.

I try hard to embody sex positivity, to destigmatize sex in our wonky puritanical culture. Sometimes, though, sex positivity can tread into that queasy space of “gameness.” If I am not embracing my sexuality, I am doing something wrong, it feels. If I am not acting on it, I am doing something wrong.

This approach can erase those who identify as asexual, though, and can also murk the freedom to not be sexually active, to require emotional connection before physical connection. Sex positivity must include asexuality. Sex positivity must also recognize those of us with triggers, with a deep and complicated need for breathing room, for perhaps extreme slowness, for emotional intimacy preceding anything else. Yes, Tinder absolutely works for many of its users. I know how incredibly liberating access to a (relatively) self-directed sexuality can be. It often transcends romantic relationships and can become a friend-making tool in a new city. Tinder can undoubtedly put some goodness out there. But. 

In me, it amplifies an identity crisis. I want to somehow connect with more honesty, with vulnerability that springs from sharing my “crazy.” We can gloss ourselves away, detach ourselves from the turbulence of personhood in the free-fall of internet “dating.” Our edges flatten, the screen-self less a mirror than a “final draft” of our best selves…we self-edit so much that any “realness” is cut and mended. Until we retreat into the simplest holographs of ourselves, and the living, hurting, blood-running person behind our screens becomes unknowable. Because she is too much.

Roxane Gay, writing about Kate Zambreno’s novel Green Girl, says, “Throughout the novel, there is also an awareness of how sometimes, women perform their roles. They play the part of girl. The performance, at times, overshadows a woman’s identity and stands in place of her identity. As Ruth realizes, 'Sometimes she is struck by the sense that she is someone else’s character, that she is saying someone else’s line.' The green girl also does one thing and feels another because the passivity of the green girl masquerades as politeness. She wants to put her fist through a window but doesn’t because she knows that’s not what expected of a green girl.”

The suffering of a pretty white girl, the stuff of (male-authored) poetry. The term “green girl” is taken from Hamlet, a phrase used by Polonius regarding Ophelia. Green girl: ruined, lovely, indecipherable. Green girl: madness coated in romance. What we know of green girls comes from the male viewpoint, mainly, and what blisters underneath those eyes usually goes unrecovered. We criticize these green girls as difficult, frustrating, annoying, self-absorbed, overdramatic, periled with vanity. Indeed, when we refer to “green girls,” there usually comes a certain tundra of privilege: whiteness? Prettiness? What kind of problems are those? But rarely does critique of the green girl talk about thatit’s usually about how damn irritating the heroine is. Because for a girl, for a woman, likability trumps all else. For a girl, to be liked is to be lauded as a character worth getting to know.

Online, I glimpse the green girl sprout alive in the form of Tinder. I watch myself want to be liked so so so so badly. I watch myself afraid of my own suffering, afraid to claim myself as anything other than damaged.

Maybe, though, my desire to annihilate all traces of my moodiness, imperfection, self-loathing, isn’t only a symptom of mental illness. Maybe my need to cleanse the digital Sofia of all grime comes from what Zambreno refers to in Heroines: “ANXIETY: When she experiences it, it’s pathological. When he does, it’s existential.” I want to wipe myself not only of the grime of a difficult brain, but really, of being itself. Maybe I pathologize personhood.

Nomaybe culture pathologizes womanhood.

I must come to terms with the fact that people in relationships are evolving, too. Intimacy does not require a “finished” or “completed” self; a final-draft selfbecause, really, is there such a thing? My brain bludgeons me into believing that my fluidity, my fluxing, complicated self, is not ubiquitous. That I am unique in feeling unfinished, redrafting over and over, ever-recreated. I confuse my mental health issues, which are very real, with my person issues. I am a person, I am messy and changing and unpredictable and I must not feel guilty for that.

Eighteen years spent tidying myself into binaries. Eighteen years spent nudging myself away from one box into another, never considering the possibility of not having to choose. Maybe this essay has turned more into a meditation on my girlness than my mental health. We push teenage girls to choose between selves. Being many things, holding many selves, holding multiverses, is not an option we usually offer. And so when it comes to thinking of myself as a wantable person, as a woman deserving of want, I cannot help but feel shame crowding my complexity, my complicatedness, my ever-messiness. I cannot help but feel aghast at my own cluttered self. We teach girls to like this or that, never this and that. Sexuality is this or that. Gender is this or that. Until our heads cloud with binaries, and the spiderweb of human experience is tugged into a single thread.

Let me be everything. Let me be fragmented, discomforting, weird, messy. Let me not feel ashamed of my knotty brainwho is to say what a clean-framed brain looks like? Let me manage my mental health, take care of myself without that tremulous obligation to love and cherish and ever-believe-in myself.

I want an online space that abhors limitations and functions as, perhaps, philosopher Alain de Botton suggests: "One of the first things couples should do is rather than saying how perfect they are, they should say 'I'm crazy like this, how are you crazy?' Most of the time we make discoveries about how difficult people are at the moment when the difficulties have actually hurt us, therefore, we are not likely to be forgiving or sympathetic."

A meeting point for my crazy to greet yours.

Bitch. Perhaps the universal song of TinderBoys: bitch. As a mournful chanting to accent their being deprived of nudes. Or the rejection of grotesque “pickup lines” usually referring to how badly they want to “bang” “screw” “fuck”insert otherwise aggressive verbsyou. How we allow men to behave. Even on Tinder, I don’t believe that anyone should expect to be harassed. Flirting seems very distinguishable to me, and it’s certainly not the same thing as verbal violence. Or, the very best, unsolicited dick pics: harassment. Amongst the ever-growing list of things we never asked for but get from men anyways, because apparently they know what we want better than we ourselves do.

Who, then, is the girl capable of liberation and self-loathing? Who, then, is the marvelous creature able to believe in her self-worth enough to seek intimacy, and yet feel like an incurable burden all at once? The contradictions that live within us, I don’t know how to mold.

By Sofia Sears
Photo from Girl Gaze exhibition at Annenberg Center for Photography

Would You Like to Leave a Message?

Two of my main passions in creating art are drawing inspiration and content from real people and real life, as well as revealing the vulnerability in being human. “Would You Like to Leave a Message?” is a short film revolved around accomplishing those two concepts. 

When developing an idea of what I wanted to capture when making a film, I was drawn to the authenticity and, you guessed it, vulnerability of voicemails. I think that voicemails are examples of what it means to long for someone, expressed and embodied in a permanent file. When we reach out to speak to someone over the phone, our initial hope is that they will answer. If this does not happen, the leftover emotion is captured in the voicemail.

“Would You Like to Leave a Message?” was conceptualized in hopes of taking the audio from a real-life voicemail, and visually constructing a narrative around it through video. After posting an Instagram story asking my followers to submit a prominent voicemail they had received, I came across the voicemail I used to narrate my film. It's about a boy calling a girl who he felt was slipping away. Creating this piece was so rewarding and emotional, and I hope all who watch enjoy it, too.

By Anna Maestas

Sparks to Embers

The day we met, my best friend had just broken up with her boyfriend. She joked that you shared your blanket with her, so clearly it was meant to be.

I had a boyfriend, but secretly, I was jealous.

From that day on, I always thought you were really cute.

We didn’t talk for months after that introduction. I broke up with my boyfriend. My best friend made up with her boyfriend, and moved to Peru for four months. I told her that I had four months to woo you.

I was kidding, though.

I was hurt from my last relationship. I swore off boys, or at least relationships, until graduation.

I had a plan: graduate, move to New York City, go to law school. In that order.

Instead, I accidentally fell in love with you. 

You added me on Snapchat, and we started talking the night of the Super Bowl. The Patriots won.

For a while, it was just Snapchat. You lived with my friend, so I was in your living room a lot.

We only talked occasionally. You were always out late, but I was in your apartment late. We were never alone.

Until one day, we found ourselves in the same campus courtyard. You sauntered over to me, smiling, backpack slung over your shoulder. I was supposed to be reading for my next class, but instead, I found myself talking to you, leaning in to your questions.

I was immediately comfortable with you.

You must have been comfortable with me too. You invited me to go skiing on Friday after fifteen minutes of small talk.

Of course, I agreed.

Two days later, Wednesday, I was doing homework in your living room while my friend watched TV. When you walked in, you gave us your trademark bright smile, shrugging off your tan Carhartt, setting your Nalgene–the clear one with the green top–on the counter. “Hi, guys,” you drawled, still beaming.

Not to be dramatic, but even now, that smile makes me swoon.

You sat down beside my friend. I was reading–something I was always doing as an English major. When the episode ended, my friend went to bed.

“Goodnight, Rach. Let yourself out,” he said, yawning and waving.

I read another few pages before you started a conversation. I don’t remember what we talked about, but I know I stayed until 1 a.m. I know we made plans to go to the ski resort on Friday (two days away) and you braided my hair and hugged me goodbye. You were taller than you looked.

I got back to my room and sent my best friend an SOS text. Falling in love with you was not part of the plan.

You met me outside your apartment at 7 a.m. on Friday morning. It was 21 degrees outside, and I could see my breath in the air. You had a steaming cup of black coffee in the camouflage mug that’s still sitting in my kitchen right now. You were wearing camo overalls, too.

At first, we didn’t talk, but you turned on the radio, and we sang along. You listened exclusively to country music. I was surprised at how many of the songs I knew.

You would be a good kidnapper. I followed you across state lines, knowing virtually nothing about you. Or maybe I’m an easy target.

Either way, we drove to Pennsylvania, an hour and a half away. I hadn’t skied in over a year, but it came back naturally and quickly. It felt good.

And I was almost as fast as you.

Truthfully, I liked racing you down the mountain. I had never dated anyone who enjoyed the outdoors. You challenged me–and I loved it. 

We drank beer on the ski lift, even though it was ten in the morning.

That was the day I learned that one beer could get me drunk. You were drunk, too. Or, I thought you were. Later, you told me you were just pretending, because you felt bad for getting me drunk.

“Babe, it was like three beers,” you said, chuckling, the night after you drank fifteen. “I was sober as fuck.”

Oddly romantic, if you ask me.

You kissed me on the ski lift, somewhere between beers. “Thank you for coming with me, Rachel,” you said, and my name had never sounded better than it did on your lips. It was the kind of kiss that made me never want to stop kissing you.

I tried to talk myself out of it. I wanted law school and New York City, not a country boy, a lifted pickup truck, and a new group of redneck friends.

It’s just a crush. He probably doesn’t like me like that. I’m not looking for anything serious.

 My friend told me you weren’t looking for anything, either. I tried to believe him.

I fell asleep in your twin bed every night after that ski trip. We never fought over the blankets, and there was always just enough space for the two of us.

For the second time in a month, I followed you across state lines. This time, Virginia, to a rodeo. 

A rodeo.

Never thought I’d be a girl going to rodeos, but I had never had so much fun. I sat beside you, gripping your hand, counting down the seconds, and screaming at the outcome, quieting down only to hear the score. 

To be completely honest, it was exhilarating.

That was the night you leaned over and whispered in my ear, “Are you my girl?”

I rolled my eyes, feigning annoyance. “You asked me that this morning,” I said, but I was glad you asked, because it felt surreal. I couldn’t believe I was your girl. I couldn’t believe I got to call you my boyfriend.

“I was just checking,” you said, fake-defensively.

“You’re drunk.”

“Yeah, and still, I have the prettiest girl here.”

Year One
The first few months were intense. It only took a month for me to fall in love with you, and you loved me right back, fiercely.

We traveled a lot. Despite being broke college students, in the first six months, we went backpacking in North Carolina and West Virginia, vacationed in Massachusetts and New Jersey, laid on South Carolina’s beaches, and splashed in Delaware’s oceans.

Traveling became a hallmark of our relationship. Every weekend, we were backpacking, hiking, or snowboarding. In November, all of our friendsyes, they were my friends now, toowent to Vermont for five days. We spent days on the slopes and nights in the hot tub. We ate wellhomecooked meals, local diners, and once, we snuck away for a wonderful, memorable date at the mountaintop lodgeand drank heavily.

I loved the people you brought into my life just as much as I loved you. I loved how much they adored good food and cheap booze. I love the way they thirsted for adventure. They may have been your hometown honeys, but they had a desire to see the rest of the world that matched even my restless wanderlust.

We went to New York City for one night around Christmastime. We were on our way to visit my parents in Boston. We took pictures by the Rockefeller tree and ate expensive cheeseburgers in a local bar. We went to four museums, and met Toby Flenderson from The Office. (Or, rather, the actor who plays him, along with his wife and kids.)

We celebrated our first anniversary at the same rodeo where you first leaned over and drunkenly whispered in my ear: Are you my girl? 

Yes. I’ll always be your girl.

Year Two
We kind of lived together. You slept in my bed every night, showered in my bathroom every morning, and ate dinner at my dining room table every evening. I grocery shopped and cooked for two. I packed your lunches and washed your dirty socks. In return, you made me coffee every morning, rinsed my hair in the shower, and did the dishes after dinner. You brought me candy bars and seltzer and ice cream.

Not a single day went by without an I love you.

You moved away after college. Not far, only half an hour by car, but it was enough to cause problems. We fought the most in the months following. I clung to you like a vise and you pushed me away. The harder I clung on, the more you pushed back.

I was lonely without you. You were miserable in a suit and tie.

Slowly, we began to figure it out. I found things to do to keep me busy. I read more, did yoga, went back to the gym.

You started stepping up when I needed you. You stopped at the store for fancy seltzer and Reese's. You paid for my Chipotle. You touched me more–holding my hand when leaving a restaurant, rubbing my back while we watched TV, playing with my hair while we laid in bed.

We were not as passionate as we once were, but we were still deeply in love. It’s like building a fire. You need it to burn strong and bright at first, to get the center hot. Once there are embers, you just need to poke it once in a while, add another log, and it will burn by itself, as long as you maintain it.

In the beginning, it was extravagant trips, frequent date nights, and constant Snapchats. Now, things are slower. We go to happy hour on Mondays after work. Sometimes, we will see each other during the weekdays following. We still travel on the weekend, but not as far, or for as long. We barely text throughout the day, but a call on the drive home is just enough for us to feel that same connectedness that once required constant attention.

There are fights, too. It’s not good all the time. In one handwritten letter, you said, If we’re going to spend forever together, there are going to be bad days. Things can’t be good all the time.

Of course you were right. 

There are days where I go to bed crying and days when you can’t stand to listen to my voice for one more minute. There are days where we need space. Spaceand sleepis the best remedy for us. It’s the reset button.

And then, we come back to the table, ready to sit and talk. Sometimes, it is a long talk. Sometimes, a tight hug works wonders.

I have learned to be humble. I have learned to voice my feelings and back down when the matter is unimportant. You have learned to be patient and understandingand to go to yoga classes, even though you hate them.

Thick and Thin 
In a lifetime, one will encounter bumps and bruises, rough patches and rocky roads. A person shouldn’t seek a partner in someone willing to endure; rather, they should find someone willing to extend a hand, kiss the scrapes, and give you a boost when you need it. 

And that is what I have found in you. Yes, there are rough patches. We have gone through them before, and come out, heads high, hands intertwined.

There are intimacies you only get in a relationship. It’s the morning snuggles and afternoon naps. There is midnight pasta-making, hot towels from the dryer when you get out of the shower, and family dinners for a family you are not part of. There is praying together, in bed, in church, over a meal. There are adventures to Target, where we don’t buy anything, just run around and put wet floor signs in the freezers. 

There is always adventure. We’ve been to 31 states. We’ve slept in forests, deserts, fancy hotel rooms, and Walmart parking lots. We have driven hours for concerts or a half-day of snowboarding. We have hiked eight miles, barefoot, with thousand-foot-drops on either side of us. We have trekked into canyons. We have stood beside each other, smiling, with degrees and high honors.

There is an overwhelming amount of support. I was there through every head cold, armed with orange juice, vitamin C tablets, and hot soup. You carried me to my psych class when I broke my hip the same day as an exam. We watched one another graduate, days apart. I sat in your lap and promised that things would be okay when you stressed over family drama. You hugged me and wiped my tears when I cried overwell, everything.

And there is a lot of beer. Cold beer, couch beer, surprise beer, congratulations beer, fancy beer, funky beer, craft beer, cheap beer, road beer, woods beer, backpacking beer, parking lot beer, slopes beer, tequila beer, seawater beer, red beer, local beer from Colorado, New Mexico, Texas, Utah, Nevada, Rhode Island.

There’s a lot of coffee, too.

But mostly, there is love, the kind of love that makes you drive half an hour to pick up your boyfriend on the side of the road when his truck breaks down (again) or half an hour to your girlfriend’s work because she locked her keys in her car (again.) It is the kind of love that sits with you in the doctor's office and rubs your back after a long week at the office. It’s the kind of love you want to come home to every nightcomforting, relaxing, snuggly love that greets you at the door with a kiss and a hot meal. It is the kind of love that you can build a home in. I’m glad it’s our love.

By Rachel Pfeffer

Love It If We Made It

When we hear the words “long distance relationship,” the first thought that enters into our mind is a couple, making their two-sided relationship work. But this isn’t the case. This is about a group of 15 friends, working through it. 

It was the 31st of May, and we were all in the dressing room doing our makeup, wearing our dresses, curling our hair, and just enjoying each other’s company, taking random photos in our disposable cameras, and laughing about how not one of us actually knew how to curl hair. It was our last official night of being together for four solid years. 

But months before that, my friends and I would always go to this burger place not far from our high school. It was a tradition. It was where we all talked about the most random things anyone could talk about. But there was this one specific topic that had all of us in tears.

It's difficult enough to know for a fact that you and your high school friends will eventually go to different colleges and universities, but it's even more difficult when that day finally comes and you have to say goodbye. 

For the past four months, our traditional after-school hangout slowly faded out, but that didn’t mean we stopped seeing each other. We made plans. We go to each others’ houses. We catch up either through chat or through video calls. Despite having distance, we still connect with each other because we love each other. 

Four months later and yet here we are, still having the best relationship anyone could have. It's easy to say that we would definitely make it.

By Chloe Taal

Digital Love

Recently, I’ve become aware of how much our generation relies on technologynot only for work and entertainment, but in an emotional sense. "Digital Love" is a photo series about only seeming to fall in love when one is behind a screen. It’s a message to myself and others about becoming too attached to the images of people we create by looking at their social media. This piece subtly hints at not only being in love or obsessed with a person, but also with the technology we use every day. The entangled cords and the eerie, dimly-lit mood hint at the darker idea of being captive to the lures of technological validation and the dangers in being addicted to social media.

I wrote a poem a month ago about the way I felt attached to someone whom I met once. Afterwards, I simply saw their posts and activity online. For two weeks, I thought this might be love. The truth, however, is that the images we see flashing in front of our eyes every day, and the abbreviated, emotionless, emoji-heavy messages sent back and forth create a flat, unrealistic impression of who a person truly is. I knew this, yet I still allowed my mind and my phone screen to carry me away to false infatuation. Everything about this experience is illustrated in "Digital Love", using colored lighting, the appropriate props, and selected lines of my poem. I hope this is a new beginning for me and anyone else who can relate to this feeling of being in love with the technologically-constructed concept of a person. 

Modelled by Kaya Piekaar and Nikki Blythe
By Anova Hou

Soup, Sweets, and Phone Lines

One of my apartment mates walked in today, talking in a mix of English and Cantonese about herbal soup. Her mom was on the other end of the line, directing her towards the freezer and then the sink: “Wait, let me video call you…I defrost the chicken like this? Like, just put it under hot water? Okay, now what else do I add to the pot? How long will it take?” My roommate emerged from our double, joining my apartment mate in the kitchen. “Oh, my mom’s made this before, too. Looks good.”

I continued clicking through my chemistry homework with a smile. Many of my evenings hold similar conversations with my own mom: “How much jeera powder should I use in this? Will my khichdi last another couple days? Do I really need rasam powder to make rasam?” Every time, she laughs at how much I overthink my food. “It’s easy, Arya. Don’t worry, you’ll figure it out.”

A little while ago, the only thing I knew about my mother’s childhood was that she had one 15x17 cabinet that held her life; books, toys, and scrap materials for crafts, all things that were hers and hers only. Past that, everything in the one-bedroom house was shared with family, and she never minded that.

My sister and I have heard this story many times, through both nostalgia and frustration. Our upbringing is vastly different from that of our mom’s, but I would often forget that because I didn’t know very much about my mom’s childhood besides her cabinet. I knew she lived with her two parents, three siblings, and one of her uncles. I knew that she would make skirts out of her dad’s old trousers, and I knew that she was familiar with all the stray dogs in her apartment complex. I knew that one of her older brothers would often bring her paperback books from the stand down the road (and just as often send her on excursions to bring him vada pav from the vendor on the street corner).

People sometimes ask me questions: where did my mom grow up, did she go to this school or that school, how does she know our family friends? One of my first cousins came to stay with us this summer. She barraged my mom with questions about her previous life in India, and my mom would happily oblige with answers. When my mom wasn’t around, my cousin asked me the questions–tremendous guilt settled in my stomach as I realized that, more often than not, I wouldn’t know any answers.

It was only after my mom started teaching me to cook this summer that I learned a little more about her experiences growing up in India as well as what she did when she came to the US. Food became the epicenter of bigger conversations–through picking up recipes for my favorite dishes, I registered how similar my mom and I are in practically every way.

I swiveled back and forth, back and forth on our kitchen counter barstool as I watched my mom flatten and pinch, flatten and pinch the dough of her kozhukattai. The fall months bring treasured foods–thanks to my college’s quarter system late start, I get to be around to enjoy a good fraction of them fresh from the kitchen.

Mom scooped the sweet, sticky coconut filling into the center of the next batch of dough circles before embarking on folding them. I watched her dip her fingertip in water to seal the top of the dumpling-shaped sweets before arranging them all in a circular metal tray for steaming. After all the filling disappeared into the kozhukattai, she rolled the leftover dough into small rounds and spread them on a separate steaming tray.

I recalled this as I sat on a friend’s couch in his on-campus apartment, watching him churn out heaps of cong you bing, Chinese pancakes, for the growing crowd in the living room. We were about to watch The Kid’s Table, a web series exploring Asian-American identity, and my friend was delightfully insistent on presenting us with his freshly-made pancakes and chili-maple dipping sauce. “Food brings people together,” he always says, “food is love.” 

Since my mom taught me to cook, I turn to food to unwind and connect with the people around me. One afternoon, I enlisted the help of a couple friends to make gnocchi–we spent two hours kneading, rolling, cutting, boiling, and frying our potato pillows to perfection before five of us sat down around our dining table to demolish the final result. My mom taught me not only how to properly use an arsenal of spices but also how to take cooking step by step, taking care and enjoying every stir, flip, and slice. Her food gave me another way to share moments with the people around me and build closer friendships.

“How’s your soup?” I asked my apartment mate as she sipped a bit from a ladle.
 “Not salty,” she said, “which is good. Last time I made soup, I added so much water and then made double the amount but it was still so salty.”

I chuckled, knowing how much my own cooking improves when my mom is on the other end of the phone.

By Arya Natarajan