Long-distance relationships can work

27 Feb

I’m an international student from Southport, England, and have been with my boyfriend for over a year. On 17th December 2012 we went on our third date- the same day I found out that I had been accepted for my study abroad year at USC.

A couple of weeks ago, my friend asked me if I was ever going to write an opinion piece about what it takes to make a long-distance relationship work. Having made a trans-Atlantic relationship work since last August, my friend suggested that I write about my experience and share some thoughts about the secret to doing long-distance.

While I do believe that there are many things that make a long-distance relationship easier- like commitment, trust and honesty to name a few- I tend to treat ‘how-to’ articles with skepticism when it comes to relationships.

The idea that there’s a ‘secret’ to long-distance relationships is a harmful one. Every couple is different and every couple will be tried by different circumstances. The things that have made my relationship work may be completely different from the relationship values that the next person holds close to their heart.

While I’m reluctant to try and explain the secret behind ‘what it takes’, I want to argue in favour of long-distance relationships in a more general sense.

It wasn’t until a couple of months before I departed for South Carolina that I started to realize that long-distance relationships are given such a dishearteningly bad press.

My best friends, close friends and even Facebook friends I hadn’t spoken to in months started to creep around the topic, asking questions like, “So what are you going to do when you move away?” and “Don’t you think it will really change your year abroad?”

The closer my departure date came, the more I was starting to believe that I had a terminal disease written all over my face, as friends started to ask, “How long have you got left?”

I would like to call out the skeptics and reassure them that, contrary to popular opinion, long-distance relationships are not synonymous with the approach to a slow and painful death.

Of course being unable to pick up the phone and call my boyfriend and spend time with him in person has been unspeakably difficult. At home, we live just around the corner from each other, so scheduling Skype calls and communicating via Whatsapp has been an unwelcome substitute in a relationship that has never before been challenged by logistics.

But it is precisely these challenges that have made our relationship as strong as it is. Many people consider the decision to study abroad as a single person’s pursuit, but being in a serious, long-term relationship while abroad has been one of the most rewarding, life-changing and illuminating decisions I have ever made.

I often meet people my age who scoff at the concept of being in a long-term relationship during their early 20s. Stereotyped as the time to embrace freedom and single life, entering into one’s 20s are commonly seen as incongruous to long-distance, long-term relationships.

But being in a serious relationship doesn’t necessarily equate to a loss of freedom. While my boyfriend and I are committed to our relationship, we encourage each other to pursue our respective passions in life and seize once in a lifetime opportunities that come our way. To me, being in a long-term, long-distance relationship is far from a sacrifice or a compromise. It means enjoying all of the exciting opportunities that come my way during my 20s- but having someone I love to enjoy them with.

Attempting to make long-distance work has been just as transformative and life-changing as my decision to study abroad in America. It’s brought us closer together, made us stronger, tested our limits and taught us about ourselves as a team, and as individuals.

When I look back on my year in South Carolina, I will look back forever grateful for the priceless life lessons I have learned during my time here- many of which have come from overcoming the odds, and the skeptics, by making a long-distance relationship last.

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