The Summer-to-School Relationship Transition: How to Deal

Whether you were home with your SO all summer and you’re moving back to different parts of the country in the fall, or you were in a temporary LDR, transitioning back to school can feel unnatural. This new set-up is definitely going to take some adjusting, especially if this was your first summer as a couple. We talked to Jodi R.R. Smith, president and owner of Mannersmith Etiquette Consulting to help you make sense of the situation, no matter what the circumstances of your relationship are.

If you’re moving back to the same school

The situation

So you and your SO were apart all summer, and although it was hard, you had gotten used to it. Now that school is starting, you’re worried that things will be awkward between you two.

What to expect

There are a few reasons why jumping back into your college relationship isn’t easy. “There is something so old-fashioned and romantic about a text-call-letter-only relationship,” Smith says. “When suddenly you have the option of spending actual time together, things change. You may have changed as well.”

Three months of summer as a collegiette can change you more than you could imagine, which is part of why reuniting with your partner might feel unnatural.

Lindy Olive, a senior at Auburn University, and her boyfriend have had to deal with this every other semester for the past year and a half; he works one semester and goes to school the next. “His job was seven hours away from our university, so it was kind of crazy,” Lindy says. “I would get used to being in a long-distance relationship with him and then the next semester we would have to readapt to being with each other all the time.” This was far from ideal, but the collegiette’s couple made it through—and so can yours.

How to handle it

There are plenty of simple ways for your relationship to go back to normal. “Coming back to campus, include some dates as part of reconnecting,” Smith says. “Go to dinner together, take some long walks and chat about your summers as well as your expectations for the fall.”

Don’t overdo it, though! “Spending 24 hours a day together for the first few days is completely understandable,” Smith explains. “But then you need to focus on school and get back into your routine. Do not ignore your other friends; it is important to focus on those connections as well.”

Based on her experience, Lindy could not agree more. You need to “set boundaries for how much you hang out,” she says.” “When my boyfriend comes back to college, we hang out 24/7 just because we are so excited to be with each other again.” But Lindy always makes sure to carve out time for her friends and family, because “you can't go to your boyfriend about everything,” she says. “Sometimes, you need your girls to help you out.”

For the collegiette, communication was key to handling the situation. “We had to grow up a ton and learn about ourselves to make it work, Lindy says. “But it was totally worth it, because he got job experience he needed and our relationship is stronger than ever.” Bottom line: getting back into your habits as a couple won’t come instantly, but it will eventually—promise.

If you’re going back to different schools

The situation

You and your SO are high school sweethearts, or maybe you got together over break. Now that the semester is about to start, you’re moving back to different schools across the country, and you’re going to miss each other like crazy!

What to expect

Being in an LDR is tough, especially after spending so much time together over the summer. “My ex-boyfriend and I live in the same town but go to college separately, so it was always hard going back to school after being together for the summer,” says Rachel Petty, a junior at James Madison University.

Lindy had to get used to being with her boyfriend long-distance as well, when he went back to work every other semester. Being in an LDR means seeing each other once every few weeks or even months, communicating exclusively via text or Skype, and worrying about what the other might be doing. It can get messy, but it doesn’t have to be!

How to handle it

While you and your SO are home, you want to make the most of each other. Talking about being apart is probably the last thing you want to do, but it is necessary. “The key here is to have a conversation before returning to school about expectations,” Smith says. “Long-distance relationships can work if both partners are committed to keeping it going. There needs to be a frank discussion about what it means to be together.”

For instance, if you need your partner to send you cute texts more often, or he or she is worried about you cheating, you have to bring it up—however uncomfortable it may be.

Lindy and her boyfriend, who are going to live close to each other for good, have become seasoned experts when it comes to LDRs. “Before the semester starts, go ahead and plan a weekend or two out of the semester to see your SO,” she suggests. “You can plan your studies and hobbies around that date, so when you do get to see him/her, you can focus on having fun with each other and not school.”

Additionally, Lindy and her boyfriend made sure to take turns traveling to see each other. “For example, in the fall semester, my boyfriend would do most of the traveling because I was overwhelmed with school,” she says. “This summer, I did all of the traveling because my job allowed me to work remotely.”

Whatever you do, make sure to talk to your SO on a daily basis when you go back to school. “It's important to keep communicating and share what's going on in each of your lives,” Rachel says. “If you leave each other out of the loop, you'll feel less connected.”

As for Lindy’s advice to collegiettes like her—you guessed it—”communicate as much as possible,” she says. “Although I consider our relationship strong and healthy, it was difficult to remember why I loved my boyfriend so much when he wasn't five minutes down the road to easily hang out or go eat together. The stresses of the semester allow you to easily forget about or fight with that person.”

For Lindy, calling, texting and Skyping was essential to her relationship’s success. And as an inspiration to us all, the collegiette concludes: “Remember it's a difficult situation. You are going to fight and bicker about it. But don't let long distance be the reason to quit something so special.” We could not have said it better!

If one of you graduated

The situation

You and your SO went to the same school, but one of you graduated this past spring. This might be even more difficult than going back to being long-distance, since you have grown used to being together on campus. “My boyfriend just graduated from Miami of Ohio, and we have been together since my freshman year, meaning that we saw each other regularly on campus,” says Shelby Hyde, a senior collegiette. “This summer, I was in NYC working as an intern, and he was working back home, but we have made it work, as he came to visit.”

But with graduation comes new opportunities, job offers, volunteer trips, etc., and you two could end up on opposite sides of the country—or even the world. Unfortunately for Shelby, her boyfriend is moving to China for nine months in the fall. “He was given an amazing opportunity to work overseas, and we have decided that with the help of Skype, WhatsApp and even resorting to snail mail, that we would do our best to make it work,” she says.

What to expect

One of the biggest issues you might face in this situation is not being on the same page as your partner anymore. Deciding to stay together is not a light decision to make, although it can absolutely work. “After a few weeks, see how things are going,” Smith says. “Are you happy? Is your partner happy? If so, continue the relationship by keeping in contact and making plans to see each other again soon. If not, it might be time to take a break.”

But even if you do decide to break up, it could be temporary. “Graduating from college is a major lifecycle milestone and it has challenges,” Smith says. “At this time of your lives, breaking up is not always forever. Sometimes it takes a bit of time apart to find yourselves and get settled in your careers before rekindling the campus romance.”

Obviously, breaking up is far from being your only option. Shelby is determined to make her relationship work. “Though the 12-hour time difference will be difficult, we have endured a temporary LDR at some point during our relationship and there are definitely ways to make it work,” she says.

How to handle it

We’re not teaching you anything new when we say that the key to any strong relationship is to be completely honest and open with each other. “Again, communication is key,” Jodi says. “ It is perfectly acceptable to pledge your undying love for one another. In fact, this may provide a degree of comfort and security for the one who has graduated and is trying to make his/her way in the great big world.”

Shelby knows that communication is essential, but she has also learned that “using FaceTime or Skype every day doesn't necessarily help. It is important to each maintain your own life, and plan to talk via these platforms once or twice a week to catch each other up on the exciting and sometimes mundane happenings in your lives. But discussing what works for you beforehand is definitely important, so that nothing is left up in the air.”

Basically, you should make sure that you and your SO are on the same page before you are far away from each other. If you are both determined to stay together, then it will come somewhat naturally, i.e. you won’t feel the need to Skype twice a day to check up on what your partner is doing.

Whatever your situation, the summer-to-school transition can be messy. But if you communicate with your SO and remember to spend time with your friends and family as well, your relationship will come out all the stronger. Have a great year, collegiettes!