Love can thrive, no matter the distance


(Illustration by Madison Harada | For The Pitt News)

By Erica Brandbergh | Columnist

The first thing I do when I wake up every day is send my boyfriend a good-morning text. When he gets my message, his day is winding down — he’ll be going to bed in just a few hours.

There are 11,371 miles separating us. He lives in Perth, a city on the coast of Western Australia, while I’m here in Pittsburgh. We have been dating long-distance for almost two years now.

There’s no getting around the fact that dating long-distance is difficult. When people find out about my relationship, their first reaction is generally shock. They cannot believe I am in a relationship with someone who lives on the opposite side of the world and want to know how I do it. Many couples struggle to date their significant other with only a few hours separating them, so our ability to maintain our relationship seems like a feat.

Despite the challenges that come along with geographical separation, many people continue to date long-distance. And those who are in long-distance relationships understand love is not always rational, and in our case, putting extra effort in to make our relationship work was better than giving up on the connection we had. Letting go of each other seemed even crazier than dating each other more than 11,000 miles apart.

While most couples do not date with as many miles separating them as my boyfriend and I do, long-distance relationships are prevalent among college students. A 2005 survey from sociologists at Ohio State University found anywhere between 25 and 50 percent of college students claim to be in a long-distance relationship at any given time. A full 75 percent said they’d at some point been involved in a relationship with a significant other who they described as living far away.

Whether it’s a continued high school relationship after a significant other goes to a faraway university or the fruit of a brief, chance encounter while traveling that turns into a longer romance, long-distance relationships seem to be a natural outgrowth of the changing lives of college students. Just because your life is moving rapidly around you doesn’t mean you shouldn’t open yourself up to the possibility of finding a person who’s truly important to you and working to keep them in your life.

My boyfriend and I met my sophomore year while I was studying abroad in Spain and he was travelling there. After spending only a week together, we decided we wanted to give long-distance a shot. When we first met, we never could have predicted this would be our situation. He was set against long-distance relationships — he had heard many stories about how they were bound to fail and could not picture himself being in one.

Now, we go months at a time without seeing each other. The last time I saw him was in January. I sat crying on an airport floor in Indonesia after he left, unable to believe it would be six months until I would see him next. The goodbyes get more difficult every time.

It’s at times like these when I can see why people think I’m crazy for having a relationship like this. Relationships are difficult enough even when you have physical access to the other person, without adding on wildly expensive plane tickets, a 12-hour time difference and dates that can only take place over FaceTime.

While there are many downsides to being in a long-distance relationship, a 2013 study published in the Journal of Communication claims that long-distance relationships often form stronger bonds than geographically close ones.

Not only have my boyfriend and I become a stronger couple because of the thousands of miles between us, but I have grown as a person as well. I cherish little moments, like waking up next to him after months apart, or a FaceTime call at the end of a long day. I take nothing for granted, and when we are together, I make sure that I am present in every single moment.

We have had to become experts at communication because, as I’m sure you’ve heard before, long-distance relationships can’t work unless you are both completely open with one another. A 2013 survey of couples counselors conducted by relationship advice website YourTango found nearly two in three reporting communication issues as the biggest issue leading to divorce. Studying, working and living thousands of miles apart have quickly forced us to learn how to talk to each other effectively — but it’s a lesson we’re that much the better for.

I’ve learned a lot more about myself in the process, too. Since we are apart most of the time, I’ve really been able to develop a sense of who I am as an individual. Having to care for yourself and being alone as you care for the other person might be difficult, but it’s something many people struggle to do in relationships where they see their significant other every day. Dating long-distance has genuinely made me more confident both inside and outside of this relationship.

If you were to ask if me if I’d prefer having a long-distance to a “normal” relationship, of course I’d prefer the latter. This fall, I plan on coming to Perth on a working holiday visa, where I hope to pursue a career in public relations and be closer to my boyfriend. I am looking forward to the time when distance will not be an obstacle. But until we achieve that, I’m counting down the days until I see him again. The months apart are worth it every single time.

Erica primarily writes about social issues and mental health for The Pitt News. Write to Erica at [email protected].

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