Editorial: Going the distance

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It begins, perhaps, with a passed note in your high school chemistry class. A red rose in the days before your senior prom. A conversation that gently echoes down a locker-lined hallway or a long gaze dreamily sent across a cafeteria table.

The high school romance of lore generally proceeds in such a saccharine state of infatuation. Come the end of summer after your high school graduation, however…and then what? You predictably head to separate schools, maybe begin full-time jobs, even move to opposite sides of the country.

Thus begins the dreaded distance. Your phone calls replace face-to-face conversations, you trade hugs and kisses for Snapchats and texting becomes your new method of whispering sweet nothings into your lover’s ear. In an effort to keep the flame alive, you might even handwrite your significant other 365 letters.

You write them every day for a year.

And, as Caroline Kitchener writes in The Atlantic, you and your bae may not even make it to that one-year milestone. Many high-school sweethearts succumb to the so-called “Turkey Drop,” or the phenomenon where couples break up when they come home from college for their first Thanksgiving.

“In the first few months of college, there are those long, lonely freshman nights – times when you wonder whether you’ve actually made any real friends,” Kitchener writes. “By November, however, most freshmen have gotten over the worst of their homesickness…they realize they no longer need the safety blanket of their high school significant other.”

Beyond that, even, our generally accepted college culture often decries the desire to maintain a high school or long-distance romance. Instead of spending our evenings curled up in bed for Skype dates, we’re expected to be downing shots, grinding to a blaring beat and having late-night hookups, often with random strangers. Films like Animal House and Accepted glorify the notion that college, aside from constituting the best four years of our lives, provides the only time that we can do crazy, stupid things and not feel the full weight of their repercussions, Kitchener says.

In short, Kitchener writes, “(We’re) supposed to make mistakes because those mistakes become cool stories – the kind that build character and street cred. But it’s hard to feel free to make bad decisions when you’ve got someone from home sending you a constant stream of text messages on a Saturday night.”

When we leave for college, we’re encouraged to try new things, take risks and explore. But when that exploration begins to take its toll on our long-distance relationships — as well as our long-distance friendships — we often reconsider such bonds in favor of independence. We become increasingly wrapped up in our own college experiences, and it grows harder and harder to budget time for those who are so remote. Our long-distance relationships often begin to hum with the gloomy tones of obligation and doubt.

Indeed, those ties tend to be looked down upon as clingy, juvenile or simply sad. Jack and Rose never had to schedule phone calls. Bonnie and Clyde didn’t drop thousands of dollars taking turns embarking on cross-country commutes. And Spiderman and Mary Jane certainly didn’t have to go weeks, even months, without a glimpse of the other.

Despite such apparent strains, a study published in the Journal of Communication in 2013 suggests that long-distance romantic relationships actually provide equal, or even more, trust and satisfaction than their geographically close counterparts. The study indicated that long-distance couples tend to engage in more self-disclosure and form more idealized relationship perceptions than other couples. Another study by researchers at Ohio State University showed that long-distance relationships exhibited greater stability and that their more pronounced characteristics included idealization and satisfaction with communication.

As Nicole Allan writes in Pacific Standard, the flip side of idealization is that it contributes to making long-distance couples more likely, whenever they do manage to align their geographic trajectories, to break up. Exaggerated idealization can certainly create a path to disappointment. But isn’t part of being in a relationship believing that your partner is special?

Ultimately, distance is hardly the only factor that can contribute to the demise of a relationship. It certainly doesn’t make love a cakewalk – but sometimes it doesn’t matter when you find someone worth going the distance for.

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