Szuhaj: The Pros of Long-Distance

by Ben Szuhaj | 9/8/16 11:26pm

Don’t get me wrong. Long-distance relationships have a lot of drawbacks. The lack of physical proximity, the financial strain of seeing each other and the enormous amount of trust required can and often do challenge the health of long-distance relationships. But, if done right, the relationship itself can pose a redemptive challenge that strengthens both the individual and the couple as a whole. Hear me out.

A long-distance relationship allows you to develop a sense of self outside of a significant other. I’m not saying that being close to someone is bad — intimacy can often be very positive and healthy. However, it is all too easy to become dependent on your significant other if you are constantly with them. In this regard, a long-distance relationship can actually be a blessing in disguise. On the one hand, you have somebody you can share stories and secrets with, somebody you can speak to if you need support. On the other hand, you can still go to class, spend time with newfound friends and explore various passions in this exciting and formative part of your life.

That doesn’t mean your partner should become a glorified therapist. Quite the contrary. You should be able to come together — be it over the phone, via Skype and in person when possible — when you both have the time and energy to be fully available to each other. Being apart means you must make time for each other. If this sounds like a burden, then a long-distance relationship might not be for you.

However, if being apart sounds like the worst situation in the world because you will miss the other person dearly, then a long-distance relationship, as much as you may have been told otherwise, is exactly the right choice. See, the thing about missing somebody dearly is that you know, precisely because you miss them, that they are important to you. Missing them, thinking of them and wishing that they were with you fosters an appreciation of the other person. You appreciate the other person precisely because their absence is so painful. And, hopefully, you let them know that they are missed.

I say “hopefully” because communication is the bedrock of any relationship. One of the blessings in disguise of a long-distance relationship is that it forces you to communicate clearly with your significant other. Take, for instance, a late-night phone conversation. If you are rehashing your day, you must take the time to clearly explain to the other person what happened. You speak, you listen — you are focused on understanding your experiences and translating them into words, and you are focused on taking in their words and understanding their experiences. It is much harder to assume that your partner is a mind reader when they aren’t with you, thereby forcing you to communicate more clearly.

A long-distance relationship also affords you perspective. As a new student, it can be all too easy to become absorbed in the novel, fast-paced atmosphere of your freshman fall. Having a significant other who is outside of your immediate surroundings can keep you grounded in reality. Your partner can remind you of who you were before coming to Dartmouth; he or she can also remind you that there is a fast-moving world outside of our Hanover bubble. Change, especially during the transition to college, is healthy and should be expected — but having someone who knew you before coming to Dartmouth, or at the very least knew you in a context outside of Dartmouth, provides some contrast to those changes. This can ground you when everything else around you seems unstable.

For all of the positives I mentioned, there will always be some corresponding and disheartening negatives. “Having a sense of self” can translate into forgetting about the other person; “missing somebody dearly” can devolve into abject loneliness; “clear communication” can be easily manipulated into less-than-honest communication; “remaining grounded” can be thought of as preventing yourself from changing for the better. However, if you take the right steps, if you plan visits and make phone calls, if you are honest and focused and on the same page with your significant other, then you can remain close to them even though they are far away. Going to Dartmouth shouldn’t mean giving up on something good. Going to Dartmouth should allow you to follow your dreams, both past and present. If all it takes is hard work, discipline and a little bit a faith to do what you love while staying together with the person you love, then I say why not give it a try?