My college sweetheart and I are travel junkies. We first bonded over mugs of black coffee gulped down while preparing for map quizzes and funny faces shot across our cultural anthropology classroom, so it should be no surprise that over the years we’ve dealt with more than our fair share of long distance relationship turmoil. Our two year long relationship survived two long stretches of trans-pacific love punctuated by daily emails, weekly Skype dates, and 14 hour time differences before ending. Three years, several trips abroad each, and an unhealthy (some would say masochistic) attachment to Skype later, we fancy ourselves experts on the topic of long distance love. Here is a taste of what we’ve learned along the way:
I have long been a believer that studying abroad acts as a time machine for relationships. It forces two otherwise unassuming twenty-something’s to hop off of their bunk beds, put on some clothes and really contemplate their relationship, sometimes for the first time.
“Where have we been?”
“Where are we going?”
“Can we handle a semester or year without kissing each other?”
“Does our relationship have enough longevity for one of us to spend hundreds or potentially thousands of dollars on airfare for a visit?”
These are questions that only the people involved in the relationship can answer, but I can tell you both from experience and observation that picking the right answers can make or break your study abroad experience.
Should you try a long distance relationship?
Both with yourself and your partner. Acquiescing to someone else’s wishes (or demands) to avoid a fight now will only lead to more problems later (On this note: remember it is totally alright to want to be with someone while simultaneously feeling that you can’t handle a long distance relationship, be honest about your fears)
Follow your instincts:
If your gut tells you that you’re too jealous to handle seeing pictures of your partner partying on Facebook without you then save yourself a lot of grief and trust that instinct
So now you’re in a long distance relationship?
These bits of advice may seem cliché, but hey, clichés stick around for a reason
Trust your partner! If you don’t trust them, don’t be with them
You are both having new and different experiences, even if one of you is still at home, don’t be shy about sharing those experiences and how you feel about them
Don’t communicate too much:
Of course you should express how you’re feeling, but you should avoid the trap of being glued to your cell phone, ipod, or computer. Just like in your normal life, you want your relationship to enhance your experiences, not detract from them. Making time to talk is important, of course, but don’t let it consume you to the point where you aren’t enjoying your time in your host culture.
True Story: my friend Gary* had a girlfriend back at home during the whole time we were studying abroad. Instead of coming out with us he would stay home on Skype with his girlfriend every weekend, listening to her yell at him for one reason or another. They ended up breaking up within a month of his return to the states… now he’s single and totally bummed about all of the great friend/party time he missed out on trying to make his (obviously) doomed relationship work.
If something makes you uncomfortable…say it. If you don’t feel like talking one day… say it! Better to speak up now than to blow up about it in a week, a month, or when you’re in the same place again
If you can swing a visit then by all means do it… it will only strengthen your connection and help you understand what your partner has been trying to explain to you over Skype for months
So you’ve decided to go on a “break”/ break up instead of trying a long distance relationship?
Maintain a friendly connection:
There are many different schools of thought on how to act after a break up. However, breakups that occur as a direct result of one or both individuals studying abroad are very different from most. Whether or not you have thoughts of getting back together at the end of your study abroad experience, if you guys go to the same university there is a VERY good chance that you will be seeing each other a lot when you get back. My only advice is that you keep that in mind as you post pictures and choose to either ignore or reply to Facebook messages. Although this experience may seem like your whole world right now, it is a finite experience like any other.