Imagine locking eyes with the future love of your life. Now imagine you actually met that person online, at a party or a one-time vacation. You may or may not make it out of college together. The girl or guy of your dreams may live states or even countries away. That’s the reality for many college students. And in the digital age, it’s the case for many an adult as well. Long distance relationships can be riddled with anxiety, jealousy and their fair share of loneliness.
Is it worth it? For Temple University couple Alex and Ye Jin, it just may be.
You may look at Temple student Alex and his girlfriend, Ye Jin, and simply see two hard-working art students. Both met in the studio while working: Alex is a graphic design student, and Ye Jin is a painter. As young, reserved artists, many would argue their pairing seems like a match made in heaven. It takes a lot to keep a relationship together. Sharing a passion is always a good start. But there’s a catch.
“I was a little skeptical of long distance relationships,” Alex admitted. “Now, I don’t mind them.” Think having a friend or family member a few hours away is a pain? Ye Jin, an international student, lives in a different time zone, country and continent as her partner. She’s from Singapore. Alex lives in Philadelphia. Nonetheless, the two stuck with one another throughout college. Both will graduate in 2020.
I asked Ye Jin about the benefits of a long distance relationship. What, in her mind, makes the distance between her and her boyfriend worth it? For people who don’t understand how a relationship across the ocean could work, her answer proved insightful. “It takes a lot more work from both sides,” she said. “But it makes it more genuine instead of a friendship born out of convenience.”
Many, including myself, may not question who we latch on to as friends or lovers. Is it truly because we would go out of our way to be with this person? Or is it simply because they’re someone we see every day at work or school?
Ye Jin said that long distance takes a lot more work. She said that many of her friends are in other countries too, as she’s an international student. That may be something you or I take for granted. We all have those friends—people you never hang out with outside of the shared space you inhabit. Applying that to a relationship might be far trickier, but Alex seemingly echoed his girlfriend’s positivity in this area, despite the extra work. “[The long distance relationship] lets us… experience different things, it puts more value on the time we have to talk.”
Any relationship works best when partners communicate and act independently of each other. I can attest to that; my partner and I have been in a long distance relationship for around two years, and one of my closest friends lives in Canada. It’s hard to explain how much we take for granted in life. But seeing someone who you’ve cried with, laughed with and talked to for years only once in a blue moon highlights how much you value their companionship.
This distance, however, also highlights how much we expect of other people. I can say in my own relationship that there was and are still times when I get annoyed, anxious or upset when my partner sees my messages but doesn’t answer instantly. This breeds anger. Not all arguments will settle over a simple phone call. After one argument my partner and I met up in person at their house.
While at my partner’s house, I saw Facebook from their point of view. Then things truly snapped into clarity for me. Several dozen work related messages came to them through Facebook. My message sat hidden at the bottom, despite sending it that morning. My anxiety faded away. It wasn’t a matter of not caring. Finding my messages and remembering to reply among a sea of other people is hard to do. Even I forget to answer texts, and my circle of friends is significantly smaller. Understanding your own flaws in relation to your partner’s make or break a relationship. But knowing one’s flaws means knowing yourself. And that means spending “me time” on your own.
What Alex and Ye Jin told me about their relationship only added credence to what I’ve learned along the way. The couple honestly admitted to problems that can arise in a long distance relationship, just as they sincerely praised the space that allows them to grow. Think of a long distance relationship like a double edged sword.
Time zones, emotional effort and even the prospect of growing apart loom over a long distance relationship. Being in a relationship where the others person life may be partially cut off from your own may make it harder to detect when your interests or goals have simply drifted away from one another. “I had thought it wouldn’t be worth getting into a long distance relationship if another relationship was possible closer to me,” said Ye Jin. “It just takes the right timing and the right person.”
Like any successful relationship or friendship, it takes the right place and right time for your connection to blossom. The truth about long distance relationships, especially during college, is that there is no truth. Like any couple, you need to spend time, effort and more importantly, time apart, to find yourself within the partnership.
Ultimately, talking to real long distance college students will teach you one vital lesson: If you find the right person, hours, states and time zones won’t keep you apart. And if you truly put in the hard work and put your feelings for each other above the prospective hurdles, you may find you’re ready to try one long distance relationship for yourself.
*Last names withheld for privacy reasons.