One familiar mantra shared by people who find themselves far apart is “absence makes the heart grow fonder.” Andrea (Keegan) Parkinson and her husband, Ian, realized the importance of this phrase shortly after meeting.
Andrea and Ian met in February 2015, when they were both students at the University of Iowa. “Lord knows why he picked Iowa, but he did,” said Andrea. Ian, who is originally from Australia, attended the University of Iowa during the spring semester for a study abroad program.
The pair met at a bar during a night out and connected. They later began seeing each other as friends. Andrea was under the impression that their friendship would not blossom into a relationship because of the distance. After all, Ian was only supposed to attend the university until May.
“Our relationship started under the understanding that it wouldn’t last,” said Andrea. “But I always had a strong sense from the beginning that I was comfortable with him.”
“The closer we got, the harder it was to stay away from each other,” said Andrea. She said that, as her feelings grew, she noticed that they started seeing each other less and less. Because of this, she decided to meet with Ian over coffee to figure out what direction their relationship was heading.
Andrea was nervous when she sat down with Ian in that coffee shop; she had grown quite fond of him and didn’t want their relationship to turn to dust. Ian, said he felt very similarly. He said that he didn’t want to get too close to her, only to be let down when he had to leave.
When Andrea asked him why they couldn’t see each other as friends, she received the shock of a lifetime.
“Well honestly,” said Ian, “I think I’m falling for you.”
The pair left the coffee shop knowing each other’s feelings, but not knowing what to do about it. Soon after, Andrea dropped Ian off to travel and compete in a rugby tournament. She decided to send him a text message that night, telling him that she understood if he didn’t want to see her anymore.
“I wanted him to remember me for all of the good times, not as the girl who stole the last few months of his study abroad experience.” After Andrea sent this message, she said she felt broken up. She had given Ian the decision of whether or not to continue their relationship, though she hoped he would want to.
He came home from his tournament three days later, and asked Andrea to hang out.
Ian later admitted that, once he read that message from Andrea, he felt as broken up as she did. He later told her that, at that moment, he realized just how much he cared about this selfless girl he had met just a few weeks before.
The pair again began to hang out as friends. Ian expressed his desire to meet Andrea’s family. While Andrea was apprehensive at first, she later realized that Ian was insistent about meeting them. Her 21st birthday was coming up, and she had plans to celebrate with her extended family. Ian insisted on coming with, and Andrea finally gave in.
“It was absolutely amazing,” said Andrea, looking back on the celebration. “He was introducing himself to everybody and he fit in so well with them. I realized then that I really loved him.” Andrea, during the celebration became, overwhelmed with emotion. She fled to her bedroom and began to sob.
Her mom followed behind. Like any mother would, she had warned her daughter to guard her heart because he was leaving so soon. When she found Andrea crying in her room, Peggy apologized to her daughter. She finally understood why her daughter spoke so highly of this guy she had been seeing.
“As a parent, you really want your child to be happy,” said Peggy. “When we met Ian, we knew that he made her happy. We enjoyed him from the very start. He fit in right away and we all got along with him. He’s so easy going. For us it was never a matter of where he lived or where he came from, as long as she found what she was looking for in a partner for life.”
Two days later, Ian was to leave the United States and head back home to Australia. “Those two days were rough to say the least,” said Andrea. “We were both a mess.”
The pair knew that they loved each other, but they still did not know what the future held. They decided that they would keep in contact, but knew better than to try to talk every day. At the airport on that June day, they agreed that if they both were still single in a few years, they would consider revisiting their relationship.
“Being at the airport was one of the hardest things I’ve done in my life,” said Andrea.
Ian went home, and the two talked periodically. One week later, while Andrea was at work, she received a call from Ian.
“He called and told me he wanted to make us work. We didn’t know how, but we were determined to make it work.”
Andrea decided to travel to Australia at the end of 2015 to meet Ian’s family. She spent three weeks in Australia, getting to know his family and friends and going on a road trip. During her time there, she realized how well she fit in with his family. His mom liked her, and Andrea even found a few shared interests with Ian’s sister.
“I knew that I cared about him,” said Andrea. “But meeting his family put the stamp on the ticket.”
Andrea returned to the United States after three incredible weeks of being reunited with Ian. “Coming home was harder than the first time we were apart, because we didn’t know when we would see each other next.”
The couple talked it over during the next few weeks, and decided that Ian would finish his degree online and come back to the United States. By February 2016, he was back.
Neither one of them had ever experienced a serious, long-distance relationship before meeting each other. “It was something brand new for us, but we both realized it was something special from the get go.”
Ian finished his degree in construction management online while Andrea finished her nursing education at the University of Iowa. Both worked a number of jobs to get by. Today, Ian works as an assistant project manager for Hardscape Solutions of Iowa, out of Cedar Rapids. Andrea works part-time as a nurse for the burn unit at the University of Iowa hospital, and owns “Body by Dre,” a fitness and nutrition business in Iowa City.
Ian returned to the United States in February 2016 and had a one-year visa. As 2017 inched closer, the pair knew they had to take steps in their relationship to stay together. They talked about marriage in the fall, but never took it seriously. One day in January 2017, that all changed.
“I remember we were sitting at the island in our studio apartment. We were eating eggs, and I asked him if he wanted to get married.”
On Jan. 17, 2017, the couple went to the courthouse with two close friends as witnesses. They married, and told nobody but their parents.
Andrea’s parents didn’t mind the circumstances of their marriage. “We were of the belief that the two of them were getting married anyway,” said Andrea’s mom. “If they had to get married in January and then celebrate later that was fine with us. It didn’t have to be traditional.”
They decided that eventually they would hold an actual wedding. Before that, however, Andrea had to find a way to break the news of her marriage to her extended family.
“I decided to tell them what we had done at Easter.” Andrea is very close to her family, so she knew she had to tell them before they found out from anyone else. Luckily, they took the news well.
“At first all of them thought I was going to announce a pregnancy. They looked really scared,” she said. After she broke the news, though, everyone was very excited. Andrea said her grandma even gave her her wedding ring to wear for the day.
Andrea and Ian finally had their “real wedding” Aug. 25, 2018. The pair held their reception at Terry Trueblood, a recreational area south of Iowa City. Their wedding blended American and Australian traditions. For their wedding décor, they decided to use native Australian plants.
“There were some Aussie songs that were common at weddings which was different,” said Andrea. “There was one in particular where the men had their pants around their ankles for the entire song. It was interesting to say the least.”
On the very first night they met, the couple shared their very first dance to Ed Sheeran’s “Thinking Out Loud.” For their first dance as a married couple, they decided to record their own version of the song.
“We both play guitar and sing,” said Andrea. “That was something we have bonded over since he was first here.”
How did the couple make their relationship work from opposite ends of the globe?
Andrea said that her family and friends helped her a lot. She said she often turned to them when she needed to talk.
She also credits technology for saving their relationship. “Facetime is a glorious thing,” Andrea said. She and Ian communicated frequently via Facetime, which helped to ease the pain of being apart.
Finally, Andrea said that all good relationships require both people to fight for the opportunity to be together. “Too many times we let location and distance get in between our feelings and what we want in our life.” Andrea and Ian fought from opposite ends of the world, and ended up with their happily ever after.
“It’s hard, but it’s worth it. This experience has taught me that distance has no bounds,” she concluded.