Many students enter their undergraduate studies intent on spending at least a semester abroad. Some see this time as an opportunity to flirt with cute foreigners or go on exciting dates in new cities. I was one such student— that is until I encountered a Babson senior during the fall of my freshman year. I’m not sure who “made the first move” as it were, but regardless, we hit it off at a party and started going out. We decided to become “official” after one month. We let ourselves fall hard for each other after four. Subsequently, when it came time to submit my application for the University of Cambridge as a sophomore, something inside of me faltered.
At that point, we had been dating for over a year, and I had endured summer and winter breaks without him. Even when at school, his full-time job in Boston made it hard for me to see him on a regular basis. I was not looking forward to reliving those sexless nights and long phone calls and the incessant check-ins while I was abroad in England. But my practical side took over. I could not base my decision to study abroad on a man that I had only known for just less than a few years. Thus, in August I boarded a plane and I was London bound.
My story isn’t original. Over 300,000 US students study abroad every year, with 45% of Wellesley College juniors factoring into this figure. Within my first week at Cambridge, I befriended nine other international students who also made the decision to date long-distance. Wanting to get a sense of how others navigate long-distance dating, I invited them to speak about their experiences.
I first sat down with Clémentine Savy, a third-year economics student from ESSCA School of Management in France. She has been dating her current boyfriend for three and a half years. They have been dating long distance for the past four months and, as a consequence of studying abroad, will continue to be long-distance for the next year. Despite the obvious downfalls of the situation, Savy offered a generally positive outlook on long-distance dating.
“You get used to doing other things and not being together all the time, so you still know how to spend time with other people like friends and family,” Savy said. “You’re also more happy to see each other whenever you see them. But you need to work on yourself to show that you care about the other person because it’s harder to show them that you care when you can’t see each other.”
Mercedes Chavez ’21 from the University of Pennsylvania also tried to remain positive when discussing her long-distance relationship with her boyfriend of five months.
“Before, we were together all the time because we were both in college. But since our relationship is so new, this has been positive in a way. I actually enjoy who he is as a person. It has strengthened our trust and has built up our romance together. It’s been positive in a lot of ways. It’s helped us see how we actually feel about each other. It helps me see whether or not we will last and if we can see a life together.”
Of course, Chavez is fully aware of the challenges that long-distance dating can present. Although she appreciates aspects of her dating situation, at times it has put stress on their relationship.
“It’s gotten harder over time,” Chavez admitted. “Over the summer I was less stressed and in a better place. But as we’ve become so busy, it’s been harder and harder to match up our schedules. But since there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, it’s still okay.”
I also managed to get in touch with several Wellesley College students who are studying abroad this fall.
Jordan Wong ’21 has been long distance since June and is currently studying abroad at the University of Edinburgh.
“It’s been a little hard just because I really like hanging out with my girlfriend and spending a lot of time with her,” Wong said. “Not necessarily talking or texting which is what we do a lot of the time now. It also sucks when you’re just waiting around to talk with them and see them.”
Emily Magnus ’21 has been in two long-distance relationships and is spending her fall semester at the University of St. Andrews. She has been dating her current girlfriend for 10 months, with seven of those 10 months being long-distance.
“We made it official the day before she left to go on winter break, so we didn’t see each other for the first two months of our relationship,” Magnus said. “We were forced to make time for one another. I think that by committing ourselves to Facetiming and staying in touch with each other when things were so new set a really good precedent for how we were going to communicate going forward.”
Zoe J. ’21* started dating somebody she met in California right before she left for Córdoba, Spain.
“Being long distance has definitely made us appreciate the other much more,” J admitted. “Distance absolutely makes the heart grow fonder. Additionally, we’ve had nothing but practice for our communication, so we communicate very well and very frequently.
When considering people who view long-distance relationships as a deal-breaker, J had this to say:
“I think it’s perfectly valid to not want to be in a long-distance relationship. They’re difficult to maintain and take a lot of work. But I also think that if someone really is right for you, it doesn’t matter that they won’t be physically near you; being in a relationship with them will be worth the time apart.”
She also added that while she gets that some couples want to break up to explore other options while abroad, this did not appeal to her.
“I really think I am happier being in this digital relationship with my S.O. than I ever could be either without him or with someone else,” J said.
I last spoke with Felipe Zwanzger Ojeda ’21 from the University of Michigan. He has been in a long-distance relationship for two years and would not recommend it to anyone. When I asked him why he was willing to remain in a long-distance relationship for so long, he kept his answer short and to the point.
“Love is powerful,” he said. “[Long distance] is not something you want to do. It’s something you have to do.”
That’s certainly how I felt. I did not want to fall in love as an 18-year-old. When I embarked on my college experience, I assumed I would have four years to experiment with different partners and pad my interpersonal C.V. with exciting, albeit temporary, romantic ventures. But now that I have this kind, funny, and unique mess of a man in my life, I can’t picture anything else. I am content to forgo a semester of Cambridge flings in exchange for a life spent with him. Ultimately, the thought of being in a long-distance relationship, while not ideal, is a small sacrifice for keeping someone I love in my life. It just requires more communication, patience, trust and planning. But is it worth it? Across the board, every interviewee said yes.
*11/11/2021 – Name has been condensed to protect student privacy.