Going the Distance

posted in: Features, March 2013, Relationships | 0
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By Alicia McElhaney

They say it never works. A long-distance relationship is impossible: it will force you to compromise independence, become emotionally attached and worst of all, you hardly get to see your significant other.

And yet the greatest love stories and fairytales are founded upon the basics of long-distance love. Snow White knows someday her prince will come, an ocean separates the Little Mermaid and her love — the list goes on.

And it does not stop at fairytales — movies such as “Sleepless in Seattle,” “The Time Traveler’s Wife” and “Casablanca” are all about how love prevails over distance.

longdistance
Photo by Atara Bernstein

But can fairytales translate into real life? According to the Center for the Study of Long Distance Relationships, it is possible. Between about 4 million to 4.5 million college couples in the United States were in a long-distance relationship, according to the 2005 study.

Sophomore broadcast journalism major Arielle Gurin and her boyfriend are one of the many college couples trying long-distance love.

She and her boyfriend, Benji Klein, both from upstate New York, have been together for two and a half years. However, much of their relationship has been characterized by time spent apart.

Soon after getting together with Klein, Gurin took a gap year in Israel. The two spent a summer together while Gurin prepared to come to the University of Maryland and Klein finished high school. Now, Klein is in Israel for his gap year, and their physical distance is further than ever.

“We video chat daily and text as much as we are both awake,” Gurin said. “The time distance is difficult to manage.”

But Gurin and her boyfriend are not the only couple dealing with a time distance —freshman engineering major K.C. Wayman and his girlfriend Natalie Ko are 2,300 miles and two time zones apart.

 

“We Skype two or three times a week, and we have a standing movie date every Saturday, where we press play at the same time,”

 

The two met in high school and began dating in June 2011. While Wayman chose a college close to home, his girlfriend was interested in going away for college, so she picked St. John’s College in Santa Fe, N.M.

But the distance doesn’t keep them from having weekly virtual dates, Wayman said.

“We Skype two or three times a week, and we have a standing movie date every Saturday, where we press play at the same time,” Wayman said.

While Skype is a popular medium for long-distance couples, others like freshman journalism major Rachel Greenwald and her boyfriend Nieko Akers prefer talking on the phone.

The two have been dating for a year and a half and began their long-distance relationship at the start of fall semester, when Akers went away to Fairmont State University.

“We talk on the phone more than anything,” Greenwald said. “We can only Skype at weird times, so talking on the phone is just better.”

So how do these couples make it work?

It’s all about understanding the underlying feelings, according to a PBS article by Suzanne Phillips, a psychologist and psychoanalyst.

“Clarifying together — knowing why you are in a [long distance relationship], the logistics, the timeline, the feelings and the expectations, eliminates hidden hurt and resentment and opens up the decision making process,” Phillips wrote.

For Gurin, who hopes to marry Klein after graduation, it’s important to watch the relationship mature and develop.

“You need to see the relationship going somewhere,” Gurin said. “We talk about getting married. We are obviously really young, but in the Jewish community, it is normal to get married rather young.”

While having similar expectations is important, planning that far in the future does not work for all couples.

“We try not to talk about the future too much,” said Greenwald. “My thing is, as long as I’m happy in the present, I don’t worry about the future.”

There are, of course, difficulties with being in a long-distance relationship. Negativity, reaction to negativity, addiction to each other and betrayal are the most destructive parts of a long-distance relationship, according to Phillips.

“It’s a real challenge to be apart,” Wayman said. “Not seeing Natalie face-to-face is hard. Misunderstandings can often be blown out of proportion because words are all you have. If you say something wrong, it can be bad.”

But the couple has a solution, Wayman said.

“We try not to hang up without resolving our issues,” Wayman said. “And we are able to talk to our friends at school to figure things out. It is important to always end on a good note. You cannot let things fester.”

Long-distance couples said they also face the challenge of balancing their social life at school and their relationship.

“When I came to school, I had my fair share of parties, but it is hard for Benji when I go out,” Gurin said. “I don’t go out a lot anymore because of that.”

Dealing with jealousy also poses a problem, Wayman said. “You have to be sensitive of what you say.”

Updating a significant other on new friends, parties and other social events can help him or her feel more in the loop, Phillips wrote, making long-distance situations more bearable and feel closer.

And as it turns out, couples can actually benefit from spending time apart, according to a College Student Journal study completed by Sara Mietzner and Lin Li-Wen. The study shows as couples spend more time apart, certain relationship skills, such as independence, emerge.

“These new attitudes compel those in long distance relationships to find common ground with their partner in different ways,” the study reported. “When apart, they can focus on work or school, and when they are together they can focus on their relationship.”

The dynamic works for Greenwald, she said.

“It is definitely nice having someone separate from school,” Greenwald said. “I’m more focused on school work.”

Most importantly, communication is key to maintaining a long-distance relationship — it takes both sides to determine if it’s worth staying together. If it’s meant to be, the distance is worth it, Greenwald said.

“If you are feeling it, you should stay together,” Gurin said. “If not, break up.”

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