Learning Independence in a Long Distance Relationship

I remember sitting in the basement of my best friend's house junior year and telling her about my most recent failed attempt at trying to talk to a guy. I was feeling sorry for myself and was sick of getting rejected by boys in our grade. I told her if I had to wait till college to date, at this point, I didn’t even care anymore. A week later, I met my current boyfriend of almost two years. 

High school was rough for me. I didn’t have a great group of friends. So, I was really lucky when I met my boyfriend. I was tired of school, but after meeting him he gave me the high school experience every girl dreams of. He's super social, loved by everyone, funny, confident and kind. He helped me break out of my shell and showed me the power of going through every situation with a smile. In return, I taught him how to be a better student and how to express his feelings more openly. Our friend circle slowly merged into one. We spent all of our free time together, we texted all the time, saw each other every morning before class and spent entire weekends together. Over the summer we were inseparable. I’d wait until 10 p.m. till he got off of work to see him every night. We’d hangout with our friends, go to dinner on weekends, go to the beach, concerts, baseball games and family events. Let’s just say I formed a dependency on him. He introduced to me to all of my good friends back home and he made me happy when I was in a place that I really wasn’t. So moving 9.5 hours away from him was an adjustment I was not equipped to make. 

My first few weeks here at school were a mess. I was severely homesick, I thought I made the wrong choice, my classes were time consuming and I was having trouble making friends. I would call my boyfriend at night in hysterics, crying and telling him I didn’t know what to do. My boyfriend on the other hand, being the social butterfly he is, had a group of friends established after the first few days, was not homesick at all and had little to no problem with his classes. We were on polar opposite ends of the emotional spectrum. On a Sunday afternoon, we were texting and he started sending me pictures of his friends. I spiraled and got really mad because it felt like he was rubbing in the fact that he was doing so well, and also a part of me felt like I was being replaced as his source of happiness. He warned me that night that if I made him feel bad for having friends and for being happy on his own, he was going to break up with me.

At first I was pissed. How could he say that to me? He knew that I wasn’t as social as him and it was hard for me to make connections. Overtime though, I realized that the problem wasn’t him, it was me. He had gone into college knowing that his life there and his relationship with me were two separate things. They would only intertwine when I came to visit. For me, I was desperately trying to make him apart of my life here and because the distance that was an impossible feat. I was texting him frantically, getting jealous when he was hanging out with friends, making no time for myself and getting extremely emotional for no reason. The truth is, I was still trying to be completely dependent on him and make him my source of happiness. I had a choice to make: either learn to be independent in my long distance relationship or lose him all together.

After a long conversation with my mom, a lot of thinkin and seeing him for the first time since the summer made me realize what exactly it means to be independent while in a long distance relationship. It was something I wanted for myself too. I don’t want him to break up with me, but I want a life here that is my own. So I began to make small changes in my life, and here are the seven changes I’ve explored while working on building my independence.

1. Quality of quantity

It should not be about how often you talk, but about what you talk about. I’ve learned that even though it feels good to be in constant contact, it is better to only talk sporadically throughout the day and have real genuine conversations, rather than constantly giving each other updates. When you’re constantly communicating it’s hard to stay focused on the tasks that you need to accomplish for yourself throughout the day. It’s also easier to feel jealous, disregarded and fight when you’re constantly in contact and it’s not meaningful. Plus, if you’re texting all of the time you don’t have anything to tell each other when you talk on the phone, which can lead to awkward and distant conversations. The truth is, you need space too!

2. Don’t text out of franticness - if you’re upset, focus on you

If you’re feeling jealous, insecure or emotional you should refrain from texting them until you’ve figured out the cause. It does not mean you have to repress your emotions, instead, you should just wait until the time is right to talk about them. Learning to handle your emotions on your own is really important because if you were to ever break up, not knowing how to handle your emotions in healthy ways can cause a lot of harm in an already painful situation. So hold off on having an emotional melt down, especially if you're worried about little things that might cause tension in your relationship. My mom told me when your boyfriend is being dumb, go out and have fun. If he’s doing something that is making you feel bad, go do something for yourself, and wait till the time is right to talk to him about it. Not only will this prevent a fight, but it’ll remind you that you have things in your life that don’t have to do with him. Don’t try to bring up feelings when he’s with his friends. It won’t end well. He might feel like you’re trying to sabotage his happiness, that you’re being needy, or that you’re just insecure. Just wait until the two of you can talk about feelings when there's not time constraint or other people aren't around.

3. Expect changes

The way you communicate is going to change, and both of you as people are going to evolve. College changes people. It is inevitable. The people who you are around influence the way you talk, dress, act, as well as your interests. Expect change. He’s going to change and you ARE going to change. Don’t try to keep yourself from growing as a person because you’re afraid of how it might impact your relationship. College is all about personal growth. Change is good, and it's necessary for you to figure out who you are and what you want. Embrace it. If it changes your relationship too, know that it’s ok, and it’s totally normal. Change itself won’t end your relationship, the only thing that will end it is if the change makes you realize that maybe it wasn’t meant to be. In the long run this is a good thing, even though it might be in the moment. Change will help you be more independent, so give yourself room and space to.

4. Do your own thing

One of my biggest problems was that I found myself not wanting to do things for long periods of time because I was afraid I was going to miss a chance to talk to him. I would avoid working out if I knew he was ending class soon, I would text him during my classes even though he wasn’t texting me during his, and I would stay behind from the friends I made to talk to him. This was not healthy. It was obsessive and obtrusive to my daily routine and life. I needed to put my phone away in class, with my friends, and I needed to make time to take care of myself. We chose not to go to the same school for a reason. It was so we could both grow as individuals. There are seven days in a week, I learned that if I focus on myself, and the relationship is meant to be, we will still find time to have meaningful conversation with each other.

5. You’re adults

College is all about finding the balance between still being a kid and transitioning to being an adult. Being in a long distance relationship requires a lot of maturity. You have to realize that there is a possibility that you or him could meet someone else or that something could happen that could break you up. The truth is that that is OKAY. The future is a big question mark for everyone. Even if you two are crazy about each other and in the moment you feel like you’re going to get married, four years is a long ways away. Anything can happen in four years, hell anything can happen in a month. You shouldn’t think your relationship is going to capsize, but you should be focusing on building your life away from your S/O. The way that you communicate is also going to change. If you aren’t alright with a more adult relationship and you want the luxury of constant flirting, texting all the time, and constant communication, long distance is not for you. You chose to do long distance because you see a future, an adult future after college, but the truth is you’re still kids so it might not work. If you don’t see this future, then it’s not worth trying to fight through four years. Trust me, you will find someone else if that’s what you are looking for, don’t drag the other person along if you know it’s not worth it deep down. Plus freedom can mean great things for you.

6. Think about the type of relationship

Every relationship is different. Every long distance relationship is different. If you know that you and this person are meant to be together in the end, but not right now there are different kinds of relationships you could try. Some of these could even help you grow as an individual, but also keep your S/O apart of your life. You could be the couple who’s together on breaks, but doesn’t talk during the school year. You could be the couple who stays in touch, but is only together over the summer. You could try an open relationship. You could just do long term. You could say "see ya," and reach out in four years if you’re not seeing anybody else. You could stay friends and see where the next four years takes you. You shouldn’t be afraid to explore these options, especially if one of them will help you grow as a person. Personally, I chose the traditional long distance relationship just because knowing myself I would spiral and get too jealous if I tried to do an open relationship. However, I would maybe consider a relationship with him where we were only together on breaks if we decide we see a future, but being apart is too hard right now.

7. Trust

A part of college is hanging out with people until 1am, going to parties, making stupid decisions, hanging out with whoever you want, and meeting people who are different from you. No matter whether you are in a long distance relationship or not, these things are important aspects of your college life. One of my challenges was getting over the fact that my boyfriend’s best friend at school is a girl. The truth is that this is normal. It’s also normal to be jealous, but acting controlling and jealous won’t help your case. If I asked him to chose between me and his friends, he would pick his friends. Which he should because college is all about making new relationships with whoever you want. He told me he’s just friends with her, so I had to let my jealousy go. I just had to trust that if his feelings for me start to change, he'll tell me. This is terrifying for me, but I have to switch perspectives. If a guy were to ask me to study or do something on a week night, I would probably say yes too. I just haven’t met any guy friends yet. Without trust, a long distance relationship becomes toxic. So trust me, you gotta trust, and let go of the jealousy. It’s only going to keep you from being happy. It’s going to make you circle back to the obsessive texting and worrying. Whatever happens, happens. Try not to stress about it, and don’t complain to your new friends about it. When you are with your people, focus on you. Keep your boyfriend and your friends separate. It’s for the better. And who knows, you could be the one meeting someone else. There’s no use wasting your time trying to control your S/O when you should be focusing on building relationships for yourself. 

One benefit of long distance relationship is that you get to have someone who knows you and loves you, but focuses on themselves at the same time. I know if it ends, it’s going to hurt. Trust me, I want to marry this boy, but I know that I have a lot of work to do on myself in the mean time. I don’t know how people survive break ups, the pain is unbearable, but they do. As hard as it is to admit, they make us better and more independent people. At this point in time, your relationship is either going to grow stronger or it’s going to end. Who knows maybe you’ll make it through college, but it ends when you move in together. Or maybe you get married and then get a divorce. Maybe you’ll break up in a month and you’ll love being single so much, you’ll move to Italy after college and open a Gelato shop. The future is unknown. I know that’s scary, but it’s also the beauty of life. Whatever happens, if you remember to take care of yourself, it’ll all be just fine. 

 

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