I'm Lena Chen, a writer, activist, and media producer who's been called a "skank" (by Bill O'Reilly) and "a small Asian woman" (by The New York Times). My favorite part of my workday is the hate mail.For the unlikely story that is my life, read on.
I couldn’t sleep a few nights ago. I was in bed with Patrick in London. Lately, we’ve been talking about what we’re going to do after he finishes his Ph.D program next spring. We are both itching to leave Boston. Thus far, I’ve only discussed this at length with friends, but there’s a high probability that we’ll be moving to Berlin. In the three and a half years we’ve been together, we haven’t had to make a decision like this before, and this is one in which we are prioritizing the needs of one of us over the other, though I think when it comes to something as complicated as where to live, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with taking turns (especially when I have a much more flexible career). And don’t get me wrong; I really love the city. In fact, I’ve spent more time in Berlin than Patrick has. (We were supposed to live there last summer, and I was far more disappointed than he was when that didn’t work out.) That said, the prospect of leaving America for two, maybe three, years is incredibly daunting — even if I’m headed to a Western European country where English is spoken by most of the young adult population (and where I possess a rudimentary knowledge of the native language).
But most daunting of all is leaving my friends, specifically one of my best friends: Jason. Next to Patrick, he is the most important man in my life. He might very well be the most important person to whom I’m not related by blood. We’ve been together since the very beginning, and the seed of our friendship was planted the summer before freshman year of college, before we even met in person on the first day of orientation. That fall, before everyone’s sexual orientation became readily apparent to others, many of our classmates assumed that we were a couple. In the spring, we each chose to major in sociology because of the other. He dropped pre-med, which meant that we could finally take the same classes, in addition to spending nearly every free moment with each other (though admittedly, we did not party together, since I ran with a straighter crowd on weekend nights). Up until my gap year, when I met Patrick and started traveling more frequently abroad, we talked nearly every day (and in between, we bickered and bitched and still do). One of the greatest joys of my relationship has been watching a friendship develop between these two men. I don’t think I’d be able to be with someone who didn’t love Jason too.
I had a meltdown of sorts a few days ago over this whole moving abroad thing. Unlike Patrick, who left Germany a decade ago for the States (he’s 30 now), I’m not used to the idea of people I love being plane rides away. Even my summer-long separations from friends are difficult. Sure, my high school pals have mostly remained in Southern California and there are a handful of folks I know in exotic lands and there are still others living in New York or DC … but I’ve always lived in close proximity to Jason. I couldn’t fathom being away from my friends, but mostly, I couldn’t fathom being away from Jason. I wish there were some way to take him with me.
It’s funny … if I move abroad for my boyfriend, I don’t think anyone would blink an eye. But it’s not the sort of thing you’d ever do for a best friend, even if you love them every bit as much. This is why I object so much to the “romance industry” — the reality TV shows, the chick flicks, the dating manuals, wedding planners, the whole marriage institution. There is a widely accepted assumption that your romantic partner or spouse is supposed to be the most important person in your life. They’re supposed to complete you. Patrick is undoubtedly important to me; otherwise, I would never consider moving across the ocean for him. But while he’s the person I love in the romantic sense of the word, Jason is also someone I love — in a different but equally valid way. And the mere thought of being such a great physical distance from him was enough to keep me up at night, blinking back tears.
I’m not moving tomorrow. I have a year to make a decision, though for all intents and purposes, I do intend on leaving the country. By next fall, I will have been in Boston for seven years, three longer than I originally anticipated when I first arrived for college. I think Berlin will be a fantastic opportunity, not just because it’s an interesting place in itself and easy to travel from, but also because I don’t want to end up in New York, which would make a fine end destination, but is so familiar at the moment that it feels stifling. I want a roomy kind of life: physical room for an office/studio but also room for me to grow and learn. I believe I’ll be able to do that best by leaving the Northeast, where there’s a shortage of space in both the literal and figurative sense.
And though I’m not ready to do long-distance with Jason, it would be even less fathomable to attempt it with Patrick after three years of living together. Jason and I are very close, but we are used to communicating remotely during summer and winter separations, and we’ve never officially lived together (unless you count freshman year when we routinely spent the night in a suite to which neither of us was assigned). So in our case, it’s not totally unfathomable. It’s just heart-breaking. Maybe this is a testament to the fact that I have a stronger faith in the longevity of our friendship than I do in my relationship with anyone else. It pains me to think about leaving but I don’t have any doubt that we’ll always be part of each other’s lives. I told him yesterday that we’ll simply have to get used to a routine in which he calls me on the way to work in the morning (when it’ll be afternoon in Berlin).
When I couldn’t sleep the other night, it was because I was fixated on an imaginary image of my apartment, sitting empty and sad like our old place on the day of our move two summers ago. I thought of all our friends coming over to keep us company, to drink what’s left of the booze, to empty our fridge, to wish us farewell. This is what they’ve done nearly every time we’ve left for Germany, but after next year, we won’t be coming back. We won’t just be handing out food; we’ll probably also be giving away cutlery and books and appliances. Hamlet will be running around confused. And I’ll probably cry a lot, because that’s the sort of thing I do. I’m almost certain that on my final departure from Boston, Jason will be the last person I see. Just as he was the first.