If you’re heading back to college this semester after a summer with your SO, transitioning your relationship from summer to fall can feel overwhelming. The new setting can definitely take some adjusting to, especially if the relationship is new or you’re navigating long-distance for the first time. To help, I spoke with Jodi R.R. Smith, a professional consultant who helps clients navigate social settings and relationships, to help you address the summer-to-fall transition — no matter what your relationship looks like.
If you’re attending the same college
Maybe you and your SO were apart all summer, and you’re gearing up to see them in-person again. Now that school is starting, you’re worried that things will be awkward between you two. Let’s face it: being in-person again isn’t always easy, especially after months of long distance (and social distancing in general!). Therefore, it’s totally normal to feel anxious. “When you suddenly have the option of spending actual time together, things change,” Smith tells Her Campus, “and you may have changed as well.”
For Lindy Olive, a senior at Auburn University, alternating between an in-person and long distance relationship with her boyfriend became a natural part of her college routine. “His job was seven hours away from our university, so it was kind of crazy,” Lindy tells Her Campus. “I would get used to being in a long distance relationship with him, and the next semester, we would have to readapt to being with each other all the time.”
If you’re figuring out how to return to campus and see your partner again without things being awkward, Smith recommends carving out some intentional quality time together. She says, “[When you] return to campus, include some dates as part of reconnecting. Go to dinner together, take some long walks, and chat about your summers as well as your expectations for the fall.”
While quality time is important, Smith says that you don’t necessarily need to go overboard, especially right at the beginning of the semester when you’re still getting accustomed to a new routine. “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. Don’t ignore your other friends; it is important to focus on those connections as well.”
Lindy couldn’t agree more. “When my boyfriend comes back to college, we hang out 24/7 just because we are so excited to be with each other again,” she tells Her Campus. “But set boundaries for how much you hang out. You can’t go to your boyfriend about everything…sometimes, you need your girls to help you out.”
For Lindy, communication was key to handling the back-to-college transition. “We had to grow up a ton and learn about ourselves to make it work,” she tells Her Campus. “But [long distance] was totally worth it. He got the job experience he needed and our relationship is stronger than ever.” The bottom line: getting back into your groove as a couple may not feel natural right away, but it will eventually — and communication matters so you two can stay on the same page throughout the fall semester.
If you’re attending different schools
Maybe you and your SO were high school sweethearts or you recently got together for a summer fling. Now that the fall semester is starting, you’re heading to different schools across the state, country, or even the world — and you’re not sure how to navigate the change.
Rachel Petty, a junior at James Madison University, understands the struggle firsthand. She tells Her Campus, “My ex-boyfriend and I live in the same town, but go to college separately, so [it’s] always hard going back to school after being together for the summer.”
Being in a LDR — even if your partner lives in a nearby town — might mean seeing each other once every few weeks or even months, communicating exclusively via text or Skype, or constantly worrying about what the other might be doing. It might sound messy at first, but it doesn’t have to be!
Smith recommends having an open chat with your partner about the back-to-school transition. “The key here is to have a conversation before returning to school about expectations,” she 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.” If you’d appreciate your partner sending cute texts more often, or you’re worried about them seeing other people while you’re away, you have to bring it up — however uncomfortable it may be.
Over the years, Lindy and her boyfriend have become well-versed in college 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, 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 tells Her Campus. “If you leave each other out of the loop, you’ll feel less connected.”
”Communicate as much as possible,” Lindy agrees. “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. “Remember, [the transition] is a difficult situation,” she says. “You are going to fight and bicker, but don’t let long distance be the reason to quit something so special.” I couldn’t have said it better.
If one of you recently graduated
What if you and your partner went to the same school, but one of you recently graduated? This can be tricky and even disheartening, especially if you’ve gotten used to seeing your SO around campus for the past few years. Shelby Hyde, a Miami University (OH) alumna, remembers how difficult the fall transition was for her relationship. She tells Her 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. This summer, I was in NYC working as an intern, and he was working back home — but we’ve made it work!”
While graduation can be overwhelming, it also comes with new opportunities, job offers, and travel experiences. For example, Shelby’s partner plans on 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 [the relationship] work,” she tells Her Campus.
If you’re in a similar situation, one of the biggest issues you might face is simply not being on the same page as your partner anymore. You may decide to try and make it work, or, you may ultimately decide that ending the relationship is the best option for you. This isn’t an easy nor light decision to make, but you can always feel things out and see what feels best. “After a few weeks, see how things are going,” Smith recommends. “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.”
Obviously, breaking up with your partner is far from being your only option. But if you do decide to end the relationship, know that it could very well be temporary. “Graduating from college is a major life milestone and has its challenges,” Smith says. “At this time of your life, breaking up is not always ‘forever.’ Sometimes, it takes time apart to find yourselves and get settled in your careers before rekindling the campus romance.”
If there’s anything that can help ease the summer-to-fall transition for your relationship, it’s being completely honest and open with each other. “Again, communication is key,” Smith tells Her Campus. “It’s 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.”
Whatever your situation, the summer-to-school transition can be nerve-wracking. However, if you communicate with your SO (whether over the phone, FaceTime, Zoom, or otherwise), spend time with your friends and family, and pursue your hobbies, your relationship can come out stronger than you thought. Take a deep breath, and trust that everything will work out this semester as it’s supposed to. And in the meantime, we’re here for you. Good luck!
Jodi R.R. Smith, President of Mannersmith Etiquette Consulting
Lindy Olive, Auburn University
Rachel Petty, James Madison University
Shelby Hyde, Miami University-Ohio