In the summer of 2006, Abi Long, a University of Manchester student, was to attend an eight-week Spanish language program in Guanajuato, Mexico. She arrived at the villa-style student house the program provided and while unpacking her luggage, heard someone coming through the front door.
She had heard that a boy from California was going to be staying in the house, and envisioned him as a surfer dude with tousled, salty blond hair and bronzed skin, a clear fantasy for the English girl who had never been to America, let alone California. But when she walked to the door, she found Luis Chaffo, who was neither a professional surfer nor blond. He was a native of Peru and a San Francisco State student, and he had enrolled in the same school for a two-week-long Spanish teaching program.
During their introduction, he found out that she was originally from Newcastle, England, the home of his favorite soccer team.
“The chance of finding a person from Newcastle in Guanajuato, living in the same house as them and studying in the same school was really zero to none,” says Luis, a teacher at a Catholic high school. “It was like our destiny was decided then for us.”
Because the house had four other students, the couple got to know each other in group settings. Common-area discussions turned into jaunts to cafes that turned into private dinners in the Central Mexican town. Luis returned to San Francisco six weeks before Abi, but not before booking a ticket to return two weeks later.
From the very beginning of their relationship, they said, they were devoted to each other and distance was just something they had to get through. They both say their immediate bond gave them a sense that all the travel would be worth it.
He spent a week and a half back with Abi in Mexico before jetting back to the Bay Area for the second time. Abi was left to finish her program alone, which gave her time to grow accustomed to the hectic lifestyle of a person in a long-distance relationship.
She was back in England by the end of the summer. With Luis in San Francisco, there was an eight-hour time difference between them, and it would remain that way for the next 31 / 2 years.
A schedule was set for when they could call and e-mail. Much of their communication took place on weekends so that calls and instant messages could go on for four hours or more without the threat of Abi saying she had to sleep before the next day’s classes or Luis confessing that he needed to grade papers.
Their lives started to mirror one another in 2007, with Abi’s acceptance to Oxford University for a teaching degree. She graduated a year later. While Luis taught Spanish in San Francisco, Abi taught Spanish and French to middle-schoolers in England.
Although they had nearly identical schedules, the couple could see each other only three times a year, on average. Summer was always the best, with longer periods of time together and the opportunity to meet in places such as New York or Barcelona. However, their visits were often spoiled by a sense of what Abi calls “impending doom.”
“During all of our time together, whether it was on vacation or a weekend away, it felt like the clock was ticking,” Abi says. “And you would get so sad halfway through whatever you were doing because you knew that soon enough, the other person would have to board a plane and fly around the world again.”
In 2010, an opportunity to close the distance presented itself. After years of teaching in England, Abi nabbed a position at the British School in Georgetown. Luis decided to follow.
For the first time, they could be together without the clock ticking.
“A lot of people had doubts about our relationship when we were so far apart,” Abi says. “It’s just that we knew that we were the best person for one another. I’ve always had this sense that everything would work out, and it’s not like I’ve ever had any justification for this idea; everything we did was rather irrational, but like we thought all along, it was totally worth it.”
After three years of living together, Luis proposed on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial last summer. After Abi said yes, a Washington Post photographer approached the couple and showed them the photo he had snapped of them on the steps, with the illuminated Washington Monument ahead of them. The image ran on the front page of the newspaper the following Sunday.
Abi had always dreamed of getting married at an estate in her home country, and on July 26, Abi Long, 30, and Luis Chaffo, 36, married at St. Maurice Church in Northumberland, England. To reach the flower-themed reception, guests strolled down a country lane to Ellingham Hall.
During the ceremony, Abi’s sister read “A Lovely Love Story” by Edward Monkton, an illustrated children’s book about two dinosaurs who fall in love. At the end, the dinosaurs have grown old and are standing on a hill “telling each other stories and feeling the warmth of the sun on their backs.”
“Let us all be Dinosaurs and Lovely Other Dinosaurs together,” the story concludes. “For the sun is warm. And the world is a beautiful place.” For Abi and Luis, it certainly is.