College. In terms of love, it’s a term associated with meaningless hookups, Tinder, casual sex, Bumble, friends with benefits, Seeking Arrangements, and a glorification of the “no strings attached” style relationship. Then, there’s the crowd of hopeless romantics, or an increasingly larger crowd (after freshman year, at least), of people looking for long–term relationships.
Arguably, the most difficult sort of relationship that our peers may be involved in are long–distance ones, henceforth referred to as LDR, for short. Trust, dedication, and apt communication skills are primary aspects involved in this special sort of relationship, which is often unfortunately dismissed as “too hard” too easily. However, this isn’t for quitters.
Relationships are complicated, even without the distance being a factor. People are inherently insecure and sometimes what we want isn’t necessarily what we need. Finding time while juggling college is enough on its own, and miscommunications are inevitable in any relationship. But some people are worth it, and the beauty of intimacy shouldn’t be underrappreciated. There is value in having someone to love, trust, and comfort, no matter where they live.
In the cases of Fisher Taylor (C ’21), Benjamin Banker (C ’21), Jenny Nguyen (C ’21), Jeong Inn Park (C ’21), and Tomasz Tabernacki (C ’21), and their respective significant others, distance has formed a major part of the relationship. For Andrea Makamba (C ’21) and her boyfriend, and Makenna Casto (C ’21) and her pug, Oscar, long distance is still something they’re getting used to.
College life is stressful, and it is one more thing to juggle along with a relationship, but some people acknowledge that college has actually made things easier on their relationships in some regards. Benjamin, whose girlfriend lives in New York, believes this because now, “We can control our own schedules and don’t have to be doing things at certain times during the day or on certain days.”
According to Fisher, a change in perspective is crucial for an LDR. “I think that couples in an LDR need to change how they think of a relationship. I am very realistic and know that I’ll always go to bed loving Brett and wake up loving him. Creating this mindset within our relationship was very hard, but we both agree that if we want to have a successful relationship, we have to trust and support each other always.”
Fisher and Brett met on Valentine’s Day of last year (how appropriate), and they usually don’t go more than two to four weeks, sometimes six weeks, without seeing each other. They live an hour away on train now, since Fisher started school at Penn. It’s tough, though, and the little things that are done while apart can become so significant. “I miss Brett’s smell and overall presence. He just makes me feel comfortable and loved. We both have the same sweatshirt that we wear while we are away from each other. When we see each other, we switch them so we stay connected—it’s cheesy, I know.”
For Andrea, whose boyfriend is in Canada, the hardest part is the feeling of involuntarily excluding the person that you want to spend the rest of your life with, “because you’re spending so much time without them you sometimes feel like you don’t need them.” Our day–to–day lives are busy and not everything can be appropriately communicated virtually.
The special things really revolve around small features of companionship. Benjamin comments, “There’s so much built up excitement. There is something so special about seeing each other come off the bus or the train. We both smile and look at each other and run at full speed. She jumps into my arms and we just hold each other until we’re content, ready to start walking, hand in hand.”
For Andrea and her man, “There are all these little habits and nuances about them that you completely forget about, like the way he squeezes my hand, and it just brings me pure joy when I get to experience those little things again.”
Maybe it’s even just having someone to sit across from at dinner and embarrass in public, as Jenny says. Her boyfriend is in the Air Force and he’s stationed in Alabama.
Although communication is important, complications arise, and schedules conflict. Jenny confesses that finding time for each other is something that her and her significant other struggle with. “He was recently promoted in his workplace, so he’s taking on more responsibility, meaning that there’s less time for lunch time calls and cute Snapchat selfies during breaks.”
Thankfully, today’s modernities have made communication easier, but this is also variable. Fisher and Brett FaceTime and call regularly. Ben and his girlfriend have dinner–and–a–movie over FaceTime occasionally. “We either go to the cafeterias and eat together or take out food if we’re going to be fancier. We also watch Netflix together, starting at the exact same time so we can be up to speed with what the other sees.” For Andrea, Skype chats can last up to five hours, three to four times a week.
Jenny and her boyfriend will "leave the Skype call on while we do our own things."
"I’m typing away at a lab report, and he’s busy playing Fallout," she says. "It’s a really cute dynamic; just having him there is comforting."
Every relationship is different, and sometimes FaceTiming isn’t enough. Makenna recounts that she FaceTimes her pug Oscar, who's in West Virginia, two to three times a week, but that he’ll stare blankly or look away from the camera because he’s sad that she left him, and he doesn’t understand why.
In Jeong Inn’s case, with a 15 hour time difference from her boyfriend in Guam, video calls or even phone calls can be a mission. Sometimes it’s difficult to remember that he’s more than just a screen, she remarks, meaning that she can more easily express herself in person.
Some couples don’t even prefer the video calling over texting, such as Tomasz and Rachel (his girlfriend in North Carolina). “We just talk a lot.”
For some people, LDR is hard, but always worthwhile. We can feel like an essential part of ourselves is missing, as in Makenna’s case. “It's definitely hard because my love for pugs makes up my identity, so without Oscar I feel like a piece of who I am is missing.”
But some disagree. For Tomasz, “It’s never hard work. You definitely have to put in more time just to make sure everyone’s happy and feeling secure, but it’s a relationship, it’s never work.”
Fisher agrees. “Seeing Brett less often makes us appreciate the things in relationships that are often forgotten. Because I am unable to be with Brett whenever, I love his touch, hugs, snuggles, et cetera, so much more.”
All of the little things, a moment, a laugh, the way their hair is parted or their particularly uneven breathing, just small inconsistencies that are so easy to dismiss and take for granted, are by far more appreciated. Distance makes the heart grow fonder.
“I knew one of the hardest things about going away to college would be leaving my dogs, so it's everything I expected honestly. It just makes coming home 50 times better,” Makenna says about Oscar, which stands true for every individual involved in an LDR. The best moment is in reunion.
Still, for all of you beautiful souls looking for love or just a hook–up on dating apps, be open to the possibility of something more. Penn student Tomasz Tabernacki and his significant other, Rachel, met two years ago on Tinder. “Yes, you can find your soulmate on Tinder,” he jokes.
Finally, here are some tips from Penn’s own lovers for anyone contemplating an LDR, or for those who already form a part of one.
Fisher: "Don’t sweat the small stuff. You have to learn to trust that both of you want the same thing. An LDR will never work without lots of communication and trust."
Benjamin: "If you feel really strongly about someone, it is absolutely worth it. There will be ups and downs, but to know that you are with the person that makes you happy, smile, and feel butterflies is just the best feeling in the world. Don’t discount that just because it’s hard. It’s 100% worth it."
Andrea: "Remember why you’re doing this. You’re here because you love this person, and you see the relationship lasting in the long run. If you’re not sure then don’t waste your time. My only piece of advice is to persevere and have faith in your relationship."
Jenny: "Your foundation for an LDR must be built upon trust and loyalty. It’s the only thing that will save you from long nights of overthinking and bouts of insecurity. Also, shoot your shot. You never know what will happen unless you do it."
Makenna: "Just be super loving in the time you spend with your dog because they'll never know why you're leaving them. Show them all the love in the world while you can, it's what they deserve and it's all that they give."
Jeong Inn: "It’s not as hard as a lot of people say it is. If you’re with the right person, you’d be willing to do anything for them. There will definitely be days when you wish they were here with you, but when you do finally get to see each other again—it’s the best feeling."
Tomasz: "Just make sure it’s the right person. You’ll know when it is."
And here's a bit of my own advice to everyone who’s read this, regardless of the nature of your relationship, love a little more, a little harder, and a little closer, regardless of distance.