I sat on my bed as Skype connected. Soon my boyfriend’s face filled the screen. “Get the jar!” I said.
Chris grabbed the mason jar filled with paper hearts off his dresser, unscrewed the lid and pulled out a slip of paper. “What are your three favorite moments in life so far?” he read aloud.
That jar was how Chris and I bridged the distance that inevitably forms when dating from afar. A month into our relationship – me in Phoenix, him in Washington, D.C. – it was wearing on me that we were only able to talk on the phone, text or video chat.
We tried to find ways to feel closer than we were in a geographic sense, such as watching a TV show together over Skype every week. But there are only so many times you can text a photo of yourself on the way to work or sneak in a call on your lunch break. So I started brainstorming things we could do that could be more interactive. That’s when I came up with the idea for the jar of hearts.
In a burst of creativity, I bought some construction paper and cut out a bunch of pink, red and white hearts. On each heart, I wrote a conversation topic or an idea of an activity we could do together while physically apart.
I tried to write questions that would lead to new conversations: favorite places he had visited, a vivid memory from childhood, the best concert he’d ever seen – that kind of thing. I also included notes like “Tell me a movie to watch and we can discuss” or “Send me a playlist of your favorite songs.”
Then I folded the hearts, stuffed them in the jar and mailed it to Washington. The jar of hearts helped me discover things about Chris that I had not known before. He’s 10 years older than I am, so his answers about favorite concerts were completely different than mine. He had also been on a lot of trips with friends and by himself. While I’m just starting to travel out of the country, he has endless stories about trips with friends. After hearing about the many adventures he had been on, it made me want to be a part of his next one.
Sure, at times the questions could be tough to answer. How would we be together once we were reunited? Would the connection still be there? I think those questions helped us get to know each other. Sparking meaningful conversation was important to me, especially if our relationship was going to grow from afar.
Once we were halfway through the jar’s questions, the physical distance between us felt like it was shrinking. Once we dressed up and had a “date” over Skype, making dinner and drinking a glass of wine. It soon became a nightly ritual to unfold a heart while Skyping and talk about whatever was inside.
Eventually the hearts ran out, but Chris kept the ritual alive by writing down more topics of conversation and sending the jar back to me in Phoenix.
When I moved in with him in Dupont Circle a couple of years ago, I filled the jar with activities we could do in person to explore my new city and our new neighborhood. As our lives have come together in the same place, we’ve kept alive a tradition we no longer need but still keeps us close.