LONG DISTANCE LOVE

Bryan White and actress wife Erika Page keep passion alive across the miles

Nothing about the romance between Bryan White and actress Erika Page has been easy. They practically had to be pushed together to begin with, and have carried on a courtship -- and now marriage -- separated by hundreds, even thousands of miles. Yet after five years of constant travel, high phone bills and way too many lonely nights, this pair's long-distance relationship has left them more in love than ever. "I would definitely highly recommend it," declares Erika on a sunny afternoon at the couple's apartment in Los Angeles' San Fernando Valley. "Under the right circumstances."

This interstate love affair began in circumstances that were less than perfect. The two met through mutual friends: Neal McCoy and his wife, Melinda, who took Erika to a benefit concert in L.A. where Bryan was playing in April 1996. At the time, Bryan had already racked up No. 1 hits like "Rebecca Lynn" and "Someone Else's Star," and Erika was starring on the TV show Second Noah -- a fact that momentarily escaped her future husband.

"Being the moron that I am, I said, 'It's nice meeting you, and hey, I really love Party Of Five,' " he recounts with a chuckle. "She goes, 'Oh, no, I'm sorry, it's Second Noah.' That just reassured me that I would never get to go out with this girl, because she would never wanna have anything to do with me."

Matchmaker Neal, however, had other plans. He kept giving Bryan Erika's phone number, insisting he should call. Finally, Neal simply dialed Erika himself, handed the phone to Bryan -- and let nature take its course.

Bryan and Erika found they had much in common and began talking frequently. Finally, a year after their introduction, they met up again in Los Angeles -- but they planned only on friendship. "At the time, I didn't know anybody in L.A. except my manager," he remembers. "I thought it would be really cool just to have somebody to come hang out with, just a bud."

But when Erika's car blew a tire on a road trip together, she began to see something else in him. "I've got him in the car, I've got a flat tire, and we're in Malibu -- not the easiest place to find a tire," she says. "That really upset me. So he saw the real me, and he was such a gentleman. He was totally sweet! That broke the ice, and we started seeing each other."

They fired up a long-distance relationship, spending hours on the phone together. That proved beneficial in some ways -- they couldn't get wrapped up in physical attraction, and had to rely on actual conversation. They didn't try to hide any of their flaws, or their strongest opinions. "You can't hold back anything," notes Bryan. "It's gotta be all out on the table."

But the process was grueling. He was on tour when their relationship began, and Erika had won a part in the soap opera One Life To Live, which required her to move to New York.

Still, the couple juggled schedules to steal an occasional day or two together -- and in August 1998, Bryan popped the question. Cautious about the idea of a cross-country marriage, they kept quiet about the engagement for four months. Finally they tied the knot in October 2000 in her hometown of Dallas.

Now Bryan, 28, and Erika, 26, keep both a home in Nashville and the apartment in L.A. Lately she's been busy with TV work and he's recording a new album, but they try to hook up on weekends -- and rarely go more than five days without seeing each other. "The main thing is learning how to make the effort," says Erika.

Both Bryan and Erika come from divorced households, and they're both adamant about not repeating the cycle. "We've agreed that getting a divorce is not an option at all," Erika declares.

Still, the pair looks forward to giving up the long-distance thing. "We're working as hard as we can now, so that when we're in our 30s, we can go and live in Nashville and be a normal couple," she says. "That's our plan."

It's also obvious how the two treasure their time together. As they chat, they look at each other with a certain wonder -- a starry-eyed glow that seems to transport them at times into a private world, entirely separate from anyone else in the room. Depending on your point of view, one could consider them either ultimately romantic ... or disgustingly mushy.

And that's why parting is still painful. She cries every time they say goodbye at the airport, and he's always struck by the way in which a plane instantly creates distance -- they're side by side in the morning, thousands of miles apart by noon.

"The positive thing is that every time she leaves, or every time I leave, we don't have time to take it lightly." Bryan concludes. "I feel like every time, I'm that much more in love, and that much more thankful for what I have."

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