Love Letters Sustained Their Cross-Country Relationship

Since meeting in February 2012, Natalie Joumblat and Harrison Van Der Linde have spent more time apart than together.

The pair met in a business class at the University of California, Davis, during their junior year and started dating soon after. “We sat together in class, studied together, ate together, worked out together,” Dr. Van Der Linde said. “For two years, we were inseparable.”

Dr. Joumblat, who was born in London, was raised in Long Beach, Calif. after moving to the United States from Lebanon with her parents as a child. Dr. Van Der Linde, a San Diego native, grew up about 115 miles away. They graduated from college together in June 2013, each with a bachelor’s degree in neurobiology, physiology and behavior sciences.

But for the next several years, they would only grow further and further apart — physically, at least.

After graduation, Dr. Joumblat moved back to Long Beach, where she began studying for medical-school entrance exams. Dr. Van Der Linde returned to San Diego where he worked as a technician for a local optometry practice, Carmel Mountain Vision Care, while preparing to apply to optometry school. A former high school swimmer, he also worked for the Pacific Swim team, based in Poway, Calif., mostly coaching children ages 8 to 12.

They would meet in the middle, in the town of San Clemente, to study at the local library, get some sushi or see a movie. These rendezvous continued for about a year.

“It was really hard going from almost no time alone to only seeing each other three to four times per week,” said Dr. Joumblat, who added that a more trying time was still to come. “But then we went to not seeing other for months.”

In 2014, Dr. Joumblat was accepted to the Miller School of Medicine at the University of Miami in Florida. When she moved to Miami that July, she left Dr. Van Der Linde behind in San Diego and the couple began an almost five-year period of living on opposite coasts.

But they were committed to making their relationship work. One would make the occasional cross-country trip to see the other and every day at 8 p.m., without fail, Dr. Joumblat would call Dr. Van Der Linde. He would also write her letters.

“They would say, ‘open me when you’re feeling sad,’ or ‘want to laugh’ or ‘missing me,’” he recalled. “Whenever I visited her in Miami, I’d wake up in the middle of the night, write a letter, and go hide it somewhere. Then tell her about it after I left.”

In 2019, Dr. Van Der Linde and Dr. Joumblat, both now 30, completed their studies. After receiving her medical degree, she accepted a general surgery residency at Kaweah Health, a hospital in Visalia, Calif. Dr. Van Der Linde, who received an optometry degree, now works as an optometrist at Serrins Valley Vision in Visalia.

That June, they returned to San Clemente, where Dr. Van Der Linde proposed to Dr. Joumblat on the beach. Their family and friends, in on the surprise, were nearby. A month later, the two bought a house in Visalia.

They were married Sept. 18 in an outdoor ceremony before about 140 guests at the Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach Resort and Spa in California. Ryan Malaeb, the bride’s cousin, who was ordained by the American Marriage Ministries for the event, officiated.

“I can honestly say you’re the peak of my day, every day,” Dr. Joumblat said in her vows. “I come home empty, and you fill up, what I call, my love tank. I promise to love you more tomorrow than I do today, every day, for the rest of our lives.”

“I could write a novel about all the memories we’ve shared together over the past decade,” Dr. Van Der Linde said in his vows. “I promise that as we get older, I’ll never stop being the letter-writing romantic that I am today.”