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“You’re so bold for staying in a long distance relationship, I don’t think I’d be able to do that.”

“It won’t last – you’re 18 hours apart from each other, and you’ll hardly be able to see each other”

“Don’t you feel like you’re gonna be missing out on the college experience?” 

Each of these were real things said to me by friends, family, and people I met upon my first day of coming to school when I told them that my boyfriend and I were staying together after I left for school. The assumptions were clear: I was bold for not wanting to pursue the college experience by using my body and my romantic endeavors as a means of learning more about others and myself. When stressed out about how you’re going to make your long distance relationship work, the last thing you want to hear from the people around you is that it won’t last. 

I had spent the second half of my high school life growing and learning how to love myself as I embraced another person’s life, customs and culture into my own. My boyfriend was my rock throughout all of my struggles as I transitioned into this new stage of adulthood, but with adulthood came our separation of hundreds of miles. I attempted to build up memories and pieces of our relationship that I could bring with me and hold onto until I could see him next, by going on countless dates and spending time together whenever possible in the months leading up to move-in week. On some of the most stressful nights, I would scroll through the long distance relationship tag on TikTok to see what advice random influencers could give me about how they made their long-distance relationships work over the span of their college lives. I even consulted Wikihow’s 18-step tutorial to a successful long-distance relationship, only to feel more lost than before. How was I supposed to handle this sudden change? 

The First Weeks Apart 

If I could divide the stages of our relationship after leaving for school, it would look like a week-by-week calendar. A little something like this: 

Week 1: The night before leaving, I had warned him that I was going to cry the next day, and we both tried to convince myself I wouldn’t. He had planned to stop by before our car would hit the road in the morning, to usher me off into my new future. I kept thinking to myself “This is a new opportunity for the both of us to grow independently, to build routines and habits that will allow us to be better together.” If only that was convincing. 

The morning I left, he came over to help my family load things into the car. We cried. I was never a big hugger until I met him, and on this day, I clung to him like a koala on a tree branch. I was about to go from seeing him nearly every other day for the entirety of the summer to a couple of days every two months. My head couldn’t process it. I cried when we were on the road. I still feel bad for my family as they listened to my sniffles and my requests for a tissue every five minutes.

Everything will make you think of him. I called him later that night and through tears, we both said “It will get easier, all of this will be easier soon,” and tried convincing ourselves of that for days, until the tears would start flowing when we woke up, or showered, or saw anything that reminded us of the other. 

Week 2: The first, full week of school, you’re so busy with move-in, orientation, learning your class schedule, meeting new people, joining clubs, and orienting yourself to a new semester that you hardly find a moment to sit still. When you do have a minute to sit and think about everything that’s happened, it can really hit hard. During week two we Facetimed whenever we were both free, and talked as much as possible over the phone, text, and Snapchat and the communication didn’t stop coming. This same week, classes started. It was very difficult to find a moment to stop and really reflect about everything going on around me. 

Week 3: During this week, the workload started getting overwhelming and that increase was counteracted with missing him all the time. We were talking as much as possible, downloading apps that let us know the other person’s mood and digitizing hugs and kisses, but none of it was the same. I missed him too much. My original plan was to stay on campus during my school’s fall break to accustom myself to staying for future years, but this was the week I caved and bought my plane ticket home for the measly, four day break. It shortened the amount of time until I would be able to see him, but weeks still felt like too much. 

Weeks 4-8: Throughout these weeks, we continued frequent communication, but gradually both got busier and busier. Some things that helped distract me from how overwhelming the distance was included going out with people to get dinner or ice cream or seeing a movie, going to the gym, and developing upon my existing study habits. I was balancing how to be a better long-distance girlfriend with learning how to be a better student. 

Week 9: Going home didn’t help. Well, it did in so many ways; seeing him, spending time with him, and actually getting to be in his presence was such an unbelievable relief that I never wanted to leave. The night before I left (and my last time seeing him on that break), I was a mess, knowing that I would see him again for Thanksgiving, but also knowing that I would go back to school and spend every day missing him and being in his presence. I was a wallowing mess on the inside as I flew back to school for classes that morning. In high school, when things got hard, my boyfriend could be my saving grace from just ten minutes away, but when you’re 18 hours apart, you have to learn how to pull yourself together and support each other from afar. 

What Works 

I’m still learning. Until you’re out of a long distance relationship and living together, I believe you’ll always be learning. The process of being in a long-distance relationship is about constant growth and understanding of one another’s needs. I know plenty of people who offset their long distance relationships by going home every other weekend, or having their significant other visiting them every so often. When that option isn’t plausible, you learn to cope in different ways. 

No matter how tedious it sounds or how often you hear it, communication will always be key in a long-distance relationship. If your significant other can’t tell what you’re thinking over text when you’re near them, they can’t tell what you’re thinking when you add tens or hundreds of miles between you. Clear and honest communication about feelings, actions, words and behaviors will only create clarity and strength in a relationship. Don’t expect them to know what you’re thinking, and unless you communicate about your wants or needs – that “if he wanted to, he would” mindset is going to take you nowhere. 

Try to find exciting ways to stay connected with one another. My boyfriend started to make vlogs for me throughout the day to recap his day or his experiences and share them with me. We downloaded apps like Obimy that allowed us to make characters and do certain actions to the other person’s character like a hug, kiss, etc. and would notify the other person, or Locket, that allowed us to share pictures to one another that would appear on a widget on our home screen. Facetime and phone calls have also been our best friend. You can also Doordash one another food to sit down on the phone and eat, simulating a normal dinner date. Facetime offers screen sharing features that might allow you to watch TV or a movie together, or even scroll through for-you pages together. It might even be nice to surprise one another by mailing each other gifts or handwritten letters. 

Don’t be afraid to meet new people. Find people who might share a common interest as you (like being in a long distance relationship) to help build a support network for yourself. Although your bonds with friends back home may have been very strong, having a network of friends on campus that can support you when you’re enduring any personal struggles (be it school or non-school related) is extremely helpful. These friendships are also crucial to building a sense of home and belonging on campus when the person you call home may be hundreds of miles away. 

Another extremely important piece in making long distance work is to build strong foundations that allow you to enjoy life outside of your partner. Don’t isolate yourself because your other half is away, instead build upon your interests and passions so you can allow yourself to grow independently. Doing so helps you find your value outside of a relationship, and furthers your sense of belonging in a new place. The small achievements you make in progressing yourself independently can allow you to turn to your partner and share your successes with them. 

Every step, no matter how small, that you make while you wait for your next chance to see your partner is progress. It’s never guaranteed that it will get easier over time, but building a support system at your school, finding people who make you feel like you, and maintaining open and honest communication with your partner are vital parts of finding your happiness away from home. Even though they say long distance isn’t for the weak, you’re so much stronger than you think.

Sofia is a student at Vanderbilt University, majoring in Political Science and minoring in Communications. When Sofia isn't studying or trying to pick out a new tattoo, she loves listening to her array of Spotify playlists, going to the gym and trying out new restaurants.