Levy: The Lowdown on Long Distance

Long distance relationships aren't such a bad thing.

by Gabrielle Levy | 1/24/20 12:05am

Let’s be honest: long-distance relationships aren’t anyone’s first choice. They can be sad and frustrating and lonely; the list goes on. Yet, by one estimate, up to 75 percent of college students find themselves in a long-distance relationship at some point during their four years at school. 

Some college students try their hand at long distance to extend the life of a high school relationship. At Dartmouth, long-distance relationships seem to be even more common due to the D-Plan, which forces most couples to test their long-distance prowess at one point or another — whether due to a study abroad program or an off term. Conventional wisdom has it that long-distance relationships are too much trouble. But despite their challenges, long-distance relationships can be valuable learning experiences and all-around beneficial for growth both as individuals and as a couple. 

Personally, I never thought I would be in a long-distance relationship. I could only see them leading to negative outcomes, whether that was resentment or cheating or perpetual sadness. Before I came to Dartmouth, I thought I’d do the noble thing and call off my relationship with my high school boyfriend before it had the chance to fizzle out. I was made to believe that breaking off the relationship was the only way I could become fully independent and immerse myself in the college experience. Turns out that I was completely wrong: distance and good, healthy relationships are anything but mutually exclusive.

The skills needed to make a long-distance relationship successful are every bit as important for a “normal” relationship — whether romantic or platonic. It’s just a lot easier to notice the absence of these skills in a long-distance relationship. For one, long-distance teaches you to value the time you spend with your significant other. You have to consciously make an effort to “hang out” — for instance, by planning FaceTime calls and visits. Those who have the luxury of seeing their partners every day, on the other hand, might begin to equate things like studying in the same room or simply sitting next to each other with quality time­ — and devote less time to truly bonding with the other person.

If you don’t have to rely on FaceTime or texts and have the luxury of talking to your partner in person, it can also be easy to lapse into the routine of exchanging words but not really talking about deep or meaningful topics. Long-distance relationships force you to make the most of your time together and remind you to be a better communicator. When you can’t actually be with a person, you have to go out of your way to keep that person updated on your life and feelings. And that intentionality does a lot for any relationship.

Being in a long-distance relationship during college also teaches you to remain independent instead of becoming codependent. Romantic relationships can seem all-consuming, and it can be easy to neglect other important relationships. Long distance forces you to not be overly attached to someone else, if only because the other person isn’t physically present. They encourage you to develop a healthy relationship with your partner and still spend time developing other social ties. In this way, a long-distance relationship can allow you to explore other dimensions of your Dartmouth experience.

I don’t deny that there are disadvantages that come with long distance, even beyond the usual longing to see your significant other. For instance, long distance usually means having to miss out on some things in order to fit FaceTiming and visits into your schedule. It’s tough when you can’t experience stereotypically college-y things — like sorority and fraternity formals and double dates with your college friends — with your significant other. But those don’t have to be a deal breaker.

Many students on campus are likely concerned about going abroad or taking an off term next year and having to try a long-distance relationship for the first time. After all, the transition point between a “normal” relationship and a long-distance relationship can be rough for some couples — long-distance relationships do require a lot of communication and planning. But I encourage Dartmouth couples to not shy away from long distance and all it has to offer. The lessons you learn just might surprise you.