Being Together without Being Together

By Divya Murthy

How to make 900 miles feel a little smaller.

Photo courtesy of Tanner Spenceley.

Photo courtesy of Tanner Spenceley.

Tanner Spenceley was a girl without a Facebook account and Quenton Martel was a guy looking for parties when they met on a dating app. They hit it off, but it would be another month before they would meet in real life — and Tanner already knew what she wanted for the first date.

Tanner asked Quenton to come to the horse therapy farm she worked at, where she helped little children with cognitive and physical disabilities.

“I wanted to see how he would do in that sort of a scenario,” she said. “You can kind of get a read off of people based on how they do with animals and with special needs children.”

Quenton passed Tanner’s little test with flying colors, addressing the adults at the farm with “Ma’am”s and “Sir”s, passing around handshakes and pushing the kids on swings — like the “classic gentleman,” Tanner said. They beelined for pizza and ice-cream after their time at the farm and after that, the two didn’t look back. The beautiful summer saw trips to the zoo, dates at their favorite sushi restaurant, and memorable slow-dances at prom.

Photo courtesy of Tanner Spenceley.

Photo courtesy of Tanner Spenceley.

As summer came to a close, however, the high school graduates had some decisions to make. Tanner was going to study public relations at Syracuse University and the Rhode Island girl moved a few hundred miles upstate. Where Quenton was going, on the other hand, involved more than a few hundred miles away from home — he went into the military to serve in the Marine Corps.

But their connection meant more to them than a summer fling, and Tanner and Quenton stayed together. She settled into a new dorm and began college classes at Syracuse; he began a strict regimen at bootcamp in South Carolina. Communication now became a challenge for a couple who had spent their entire summer together: bootcamp banned any electronic communication, and Quenton got pneumonia in the first few weeks, effectively cancelling out any written communication.

“That was a rough time for me, because I was adjusting to college first semester freshman year, and I also had zero communication with him, I didn’t know anyone coming into school,” Tanner said. “I got four or five letters out of that three month period; I wrote him everyday, I sent him little photos and selfies and little drawings and doodles.”

Despite that, the two stuck it out, and after three months of boot camp, Tanner saved up to go see Quenton’s graduation from boot camp last November; he was now a Marine. The two met each other over Thanksgiving and over New Year’s and decided to take one more plunge together.

Photo courtesy of Tanner Spenceley.

Photo courtesy of Tanner Spenceley.

The Marine and the college student got engaged, eight months after they met. The brief time they had been together wasn’t a hindrance — when you know, you know.

Quenton made the proposal one Tanner would never forget; he planned out a scavenger hunt that lasted the whole day. He gave Tanner two photos of themselves and a clue leading her to the farm they first met at. The farm produced two more photos and more clues: the two ended up visiting all of their favorite places and finally at sundown, Tanner, loaded with clues and photos, and Quenton landed at BeaverTail State Park, overlooking the bay. He gave her a little tattered notebook and told her to find him when she was done reading.

“At this point, I knew what was happening, but I read it, and it’s a seven to ten pages of love notes, just the cutest, sweetest, sappiest thing,” Tanner said. “And when I went to go see him on the rocks, the sun was perfectly setting over the water.”

Quenton had changed from a sweatshirt into his Marine Corp dress blues before he got down on one knee.

“He had given me a Princess Pandora ring before bootcamp and he’d always called me his princess,” Tanner said. “And then he said ‘this is where I asked you to be my princess and now I want to ask you to be my queen.’”

Tanner said yes at once, but Quenton had known a long while that she was the girl he wanted to marry. Knowing was easy, he said, once she decided to stay with him through his time at bootcamp and in the military.

Photo courtesy of Tanner Spenceley.

Photo courtesy of Tanner Spenceley.


“The USMC doesn’t have a great reputation for relationships so I expected her to move on eventually when I left, but she stayed,” Quenton said. “She put up with me more than pretty much anyone other than my parents. I could trust her with anything about myself. Once I was out of bootcamp and I visited her on campus I realized that yes things had changed, but in a positive manner. Our love and affection for one another had only grown. That feeling of security is not something I want to be without.”

The two are planning to get married this coming June, but will stay apart for at least four more years until after Tanner graduates and Quenton’s contract is over. Quenton plans to follow Tanner wherever she goes after graduation.

“Staying strong while being apart is by far the hardest part because in a committed relationship your significant other is your rock that holds you down your shoulder to cry on,” he said. “But in order to stay strong you still need to communicate, communicate, communicate and have unyielding trust in one another and when one person is sad remember all the fun times you had. It’s never the big things that have the biggest impact.”

Saving up memories like their favorite grilled cheese at the Blue Squid, seeing the beluga whales at the aquarium and being a color swatch at Sephora take the couple a long way. And having a good Netflix show to watch at the same time helps too, he said. The two watch Grey’s Anatomy at the same time if they can’t FaceTime — their way of “being together without being together,” Tanner said.

“The little things in life or the ‘journey’ is the most important,” Quenton said. “Don't worry about whatever is down the road, focus on now.”

Divya Murthy, a junior at Newhouse, is a tiny bespectacled blot on the orange landscape of Syracuse University. She is under the impression that she’s the fourth PowerPuff Girl, but when she’s not using her creativity thus, she enjoys drinking filter coffee, reading Wodehouse novels and imagining life without the pumpkin spice latte.