Doubts about distance

As affirmed by the opener of the long distance eHarmony webpage, long distance relationships are not for the faint of heart. However, many students become involved in this type of relationship eventually due to the travel expectations necessitated by school and work opportunities. Oftentimes, individuals are forced to choose between staying in a potentially fulfilling relationship or taking an opportunity that could be beneficial for their careers. This agonizing decision is something that many students grapple with and one that can produce unexpected benefits.

For example, Holley Flora is a junior studying paleontology at MSU and has been in a long distance relationship since December 2013. Although she and her boyfriend knew it would be difficult, they decided to go ahead and begin dating. She says that since they are both committed to the relationship, the relationship is meaningful. “If both are in it [a long distance relationship] to try to make it work, it’s worth it. But if you need reaffirmations of affection, it’s not worth it,” said Flora.

Flora is not an exception. Approximately 3.5 million college students identified as being in long distance relationships between two 2013 studies from the Center of Studies on Long Distance Relationships. These kinds of relationships are becoming more common as well. Compared to 2000, there were 839,000 more long distance relationships than in 2005.

However, many students have negative opinions about long distance relationships. For example, Leanna Hansen, a recent graduate in Cell Biology and Neuroscience, stated that if you’re still dating your high school sweetheart, you should just “let it go.”

The option between whether a relationship is worthwhile or not is a difficult decision that many undergraduate and graduate students face. The transition period most students experience in college is owed to the fact that students’ lives are highly dynamic. The possibility of transferring, leaving for graduate school, or studying abroad can catapult students into uncertainty, making decisions about the future of their relationships difficult. In general, students on MSU’s campus have a negative attitude toward this type of commitment as many students feel that it could be a risk, a waste of time or just leave them hanging.

I had the personal experience of studying abroad while in a relationship and being with a boyfriend who worked in other states from month-to-month. I found unanticipated benefits to this type of relationship. The time we spent together was far more valuable because it was exciting to see him after time apart. Additionally, it was a relief when he would leave because it gave me time to focus on homework, research and other time consuming tasks that became more difficult when he was in town. Being apart while in a relationship is not a process I would enjoy repeating, but it did have interesting benefits.

Furthermore, Flora commented that technology has made all the difference in her relationship. She explained, “Technology is amazing. We have Skype dates and text pretty frequently. The weirdest obstacle might actually be timezones!” Technology has shaped the way individuals form relationships and long distance ones are no exception. In fact, the increase in social networking websites and communication apps like FaceTime eases the distance for many couples. In a long-distance support webpage, there is an entire section devoted to ways to use technology to decrease the distance.

While technology provides help for those who wish to maintain a relationship despite the distance, it’s difficult to not wonder whether there is something important to the qualitative experience of being in a relationship. Is some essential element being lost in the technology of texts and emails rather than the exchange of letters and phone conversations? Difficult questions arise when couples are faced with either breaking up or maintaining an indefinite long distance relationship. For some students it is worth being physically alone but emotionally attached. For others, it is essential to be with the people you can touch and talk to face-to-face. However, there is no doubt that the way long distance relationships exist is changing and each student needs to decide whether distance makes a difference that technology can mitigate.