Distance: the true test of college relationships
Published: Monday, September 10, 2012
Updated: Monday, September 10, 2012 23:09
Students face an endless litany of obligations every day: attending classes, studying for exams, engaging in extracurricular activities and, not to mention, the tedious task of maintaining a social life. How then, can students be expected to maintain healthy relationships on top of all of that, particularly when the relationship spans across several states?
According to the university’s Student Wellness & Health Promotion website, “healthy relationships function based on mutual respect, trust, equality, honesty and open communication.”
Bahira Trask, a professor of human development and family studies, says two of the most challenging factors that are important to maintain when making a long distance relationship work- communication and trust.
“Long distance relationships exacerbate that feeling of, ‘He or she is not with me, what are they doing? Are they meeting new people?’ that sort of thing,” she says. “So I think consistent, regular, open communication is the key to maintaining and building a relationship.”
Junior Andrea DeMaio says she, too, believes keeping trust in a long distance relationship is crucial to its success.
“If you want to maintain a long distance relationship, trust is the most important thing, or you will be wasting all your time worrying about [your partner] and not living in the moment where you are,” she says. “I would attribute fights and fall-outs within long distance relationships to a lack of trust.”
With the advent of many technological advancements in the past decade, it would seem that maintaining healthy communication across distance is easier than ever. However, DeMaio says students should be careful not to completely commit to the hyper-connection, as it could disengage students from their experiences where they are, particularly for first year students.
“They have to divide their time between their significant other and the new people that they are meeting,” she says. “Often times it makes students more cautious to meet new people which can cause stressors on their new social life in college.”
Trask says that technology can bring about a state of ‘over-connection,’ but she says she thinks the problem is not in the technology itself, but how it is used, particularly with some social networks.
“I like technology, I like the fact that I can be in communication,” she says. “I just think that with young people the constant preoccupation, with Facebook in particular, can at times be bad. It’s not just communication there, it’s also with Facebook’s presentation of [yourself] and I think that can be detrimental at times.”
Sophomore Hannah Gibney says she thinks the hardest aspect she experienced in her own long distance relationship was the transition from seeing each other all the time to having to travel several hours just for a weekend.
“Jealousy became inevitable,” she says. “Even though we would travel 300 miles it was so bittersweet knowing you were only going to see each other for four days. But when we did see each other it was great.”
While Trask says she does see the drawbacks to distance, she thinks the general assumption that long distance does not work is not entirely true and it can sometimes work better.
“It’s the day to day stuff that kind of grinds people down,” she says. “Sometimes when people are in long distance relationships it’s kind of like the honeymoon starts over again multiple times because they’re so excited to see each other each time they actually do.”
Nevertheless, DeMaio says her advice to students in long distance relationships would be to not let the relationship infringe upon the ability to socially branch out.
“It’s okay to interact and meet new people in college,” she says. “If you shrink your world to just you and your significant other you will probably regret it after college.”
The other concern Trask says that she has for any relationship is in declining into the constant seriousness and monotony that many relationships begin to be predominantly composed of. In short, she says, do not get too caught up in incessant heavy communication and remember to enjoy each other.
A healthy relationship needs regular communication and a shared sense of fun, Trask says.
“A lot of people start out with a cheerful light heartedness and it quickly kind of disintegrates into long complicated discussions about the relationship, which is sometimes important but it shouldn’t be a constant theme,” she says.
Gibney says she would recommend trying to take advantage of some of the small perks of distance like sending gifts or surprises through the mail.
Trask says staying in a healthy long distance relationship means focusing on keeping and building trust.
“The idea that, ‘You’re not here with me, but I still know you really care about me.’ That’s what people are most worried about,” Trask says.