Many of us have been told that you don’t change who you are in order to meet someone and fall in love. You meet someone, fall in love, and it changes you.

About one year ago, I was going through one of my typical “Kathy gets bored and restless” phases, and I hopped on Tinder and went out on a couple of dates. I was still new to Colorado and needed to meet people. Maybe it was just for the ego boost or maybe I needed the company, but whatever it was, I didn’t find it because (despite my denial) I was definitely looking for it.

I only went out on dates with non-climber males in a very non-climbing capacity. It seemed important to try and branch out and see what else existed—even though the summer before, after a breakup, Aly Nicklas told me with a chuckle: “Kathy. You can’t date a non-climber. I can date a non-climber……but you can’t.”

After realizing that Aly was ultimately right, I broke it off with someone who responded with: “You jam your hand in a crack and hang from a mountain. You pack up your life and seek an intentional life of community, climbing, and fulfillment. I’m just a dude who is nice and wanted to get to know you. We’re definitely not in love. Don’t know if we ever would be, but there is no chance if the assumption is that you’d have to stop being Kathy to find out.”

While the baggage had been piling up on the Kathy-highway, I have never felt unlucky in love. In fact, I have been lucky enough to have loved some really incredible individuals over the years. They have shaped so much of who I am today. I have had some unlucky streaks with relationships and pseudo-relationships, but ultimately those failures were blessings in disguise.

Another blessing in disguise was taking a ground fall and breaking my foot this past summer in Eldo. I now tell him that it was one of the luckiest days of my life. I don’t know how it happened, or even what happened exactly, but it did. We spent a summer in a disorderly jumble of confused feelings (him not really knowing if he was looking for a girlfriend, and me, not really believing that he could give me what I needed emotionally). We were both wrong.

When good things come along, I tend not to question them too much. But I had to question everything, and I had a lot of questions to ask, because he was leaving for the Canadian Rockies for two months and I didn’t know if a real relationship could outlast that kind of thing. Well, it turns out that it can.

I once tried a long-distance relationship with my high school sweetheart when he went to upstate New York for college. I was more of a hot mess at sixteen than at any other point in my life. It turned out, he missed me more when he was home than when he was away and we broke up shortly after him telling me so. And the reasons why my failed relationships were such a blessing is because they prompted a realization: my coping mechanisms were what drove my partners away. It took those failed relationships to admit that, and many years to discover and really understand it.

So with the best chance I had in years, we were about to cross rivers, climb mountains, and build bridges—one thousand miles apart. Oh, it was only a few states and the entire Canadian border. That’s not so bad, right? That’s why the Internet exists, in addition to puppy photos and spray.

People remind me that he is doing what I have done so often—travel and climb. I didn’t really know what a relationship would look like with a climber, let alone an alpinist and have often asked myself if I would come second to the mountain. I was advised by a good friend to look up the word “compersion”, a term associated with polyamory. The definition read: “The feeling of joy one has experiencing another’s joy. The feeling of joy associated with seeing a loved one love another; contrasted with jealousy.” The idea is that we can be happy and love someone, while watching them love someone else, too. And then I was told to consider the mountain the “other woman”.

And it made sense. I wasn’t brooding around feeling (too) sorry for myself, and I’m really not the jealous type. In my heart, I truly felt joy for him being able to follow his passions so freely—there was nothing half felt about that. I didn’t feel like I was living in the shadow of the mountain—I just really like the part where you get to snuggle up at the end of the day with your honey, especially next to a warm fire with dirt on your face and still wearing tape on your hands. I was going to be able to have that too, right?

I made the conscious decision to go against several friends’ advice when I committed to someone who needed to be in the mountains as much as he did. We’ll miss a couple of holidays and birthdays together, but ultimately the best gift I could give another human is allowing him to be free like wildfire. Just as I was once told that I shouldn’t have to stop being myself to find out if love had a chance, he needed to be able to exercise that same freedom.

Because ultimately, doing the things that we love make us better versions of ourselves and I want the best version of him. I want him to have the best version of me. Long-distance has been anything but easy, but really when it comes down to it, it’s never about the length of distance or time, but the strength of your love. I told him that in the end, distance is only distance because love makes leaps and bounds (yes, even over the Canadian border).

Certain things in life cannot be measured in miles and numbers and units. I am not a rich woman by any means, but in life (and in love) I feel as though I have won the lottery.

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