OPINION: Distance doesn’t automatically mean breakup

Two small figures stand on separate planets. They are connected by a string and a heart.
(Andrea Zheng • The Student Life)

We’ve all heard the horror stories about long-distance relationships: You’ll be cheated on, you won’t get to spend any quality time together and it always ends in disaster. Well, I can tell you from my experience that these aren’t necessarily the case, and you shouldn’t assume distance will automatically cause a breakup. 

My boyfriend Nick and I met in my senior year of high school. It was a short-lived, romantic whirlwind that ended in heartbreak and teenage angst. Then, as COVID-19 hit, we became digital best friends, talking every day on Snapchat, watching movies on Netflix and subconsciously building a solid foundation for our relationship. As the COVID-19 restrictions slowly loosened and we started seeing each other more, I became increasingly attached and wanted to spend every minute with him.

While I loved spending all my time with him, I realized that I was so focused on my relationship that I began to lose my independence. In the excitement of being in love, I stopped painting, reading, watching movies for myself and even driving. I started to feel anxious and lonely when we were separated — what we call separation anxiety. 

Finally, as summer came to a close, so began the dreaded separation. The feeling of excitement about starting college was met with a pit in my stomach about losing him in this period of transition and our relationship becoming rocky as he started school an hour away from me in Los Angeles. While this isn’t an across the country type of long-distance, with the pressures of school, driving times and other barriers, we end up not seeing each other incredibly often and it was also a major transition from living together to living in different cities. This “hybrid distance” has still taught me a lot about relationships, trust, and the myths of distance dating.  

Nevertheless, it’s been seven months since we each moved and a year and a half since we started dating, and we are stronger than ever. Distance allowed me to make new friends on my own, reconnect with hobbies I enjoy like creative writing, acting, and exercise and allowed him to grow on his own and settle into a new school. Of course, there have been fights, ups-and-downs and periods where I wanted nothing more than to hang up the phone and walk across the hall and have him on the other side of the dorm hallway. But this distance taught us patience and trust, and we have learned to value the time we spend together.

Because we only get to see each other on some weekends, we carve out time to watch movies together online, talk on the phone, text and write letters to each other. And when we are together in person, we put down the cellphones, take a break from the distractions and focus on each other. It allows us to be more present when we are together and to respect the other person’s boundaries and alone time when we are apart.

From talking to peers, I’ve come to notice that fear around long-distance relationships tends to be about faithfulness. You don’t cheat because you are apart. You cheat because you feel unwanted, you become bored or you genuinely fall for someone else. Distance doesn’t cause these problems; rather, it amplifies them. If you are able to have clear, thoughtful communication and set up boundaries, then you both should be able to see yourselves as being on the same page. 

Finally, having your partner far away from you doesn’t necessarily translate into a feeling of loss, but rather it can reaffirm your commitment to them. You don’t have to feel sad all the time that your partner isn’t with you. Of course, there are parties I go to where I look around and wish he was there dancing with me. There are times when I see couples at the Hub working together when I wish he was there to do the same with me, that things could just be easy. But you shouldn’t give up just because you have to work a bit harder to stay connected. 

You need to do the mental work to allow yourself to enjoy moments you’re apart, to learn to lean on your friends and your other support systems when you miss them. Also, it’s okay to sit with those feelings of missing your partner. They can stand as a testament to how much you love them and how deep your feelings are.

Don’t give up on long distance, and don’t write it off for being too messy. If you go about it in a way that’s respectful, honest and committed, then it can be a rewarding, wonderful experience. I am so thankful to have found my person, and I would never give up on him just because we’re apart.

Anna Tolkien CM ’24 is a literature and film dual major. She loves her pugs, creative writing and iced coffee.

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