Dear W & K: My boyfriend and I have dated since junior year, and we are going to separate colleges in the fall. He’s staying here, and I’m going to a school out of state about 250 miles away. I don’t think I’ll be coming back very often because it costs a lot and because I want to really get to know my college and the people there. We’re both really torn about our relationship. We’ve been really serious for nearly two years, and we don’t want to lose everything we have, but it seems hopeless that we can keep going so far apart and neither of us wants to miss the opportunities we’ve been given to be in our schools. We decided to ask your opinion.
Wes: This is a tough problem for the serious dating crowd. I have real respect for teens that militate against the Loyal Order of the Hook-Up. Casual, no-strings relationships may seem ideal for the younger crowd, but they often lead toward a lonely end by focusing too much on sexual chemistry and not enough on intimacy. I hate to sound like that cranky old guy who used to complain about all that loud rock-n-roll music corrupting the kids, but one can’t ignore the fact that just about every modern medium glamorizes sex as recreation and diminishes the sort of committed relationship you’re describing. So I commend you for wanting to hang on to something that’s been so special to you at this point in your life.
Wish I could sign out on that happy note, but I can’t. As we discussed last week, all teen and young adult relationships are a part of a larger process of learning to couple. They’re not the end all and be all — even as they absolutely feel like they are. I’m not saying you and your guy won’t end up together. You may. But the road to that ultimate relationship rarely ends at 18.
No matter how perfectly matched a couple seems to be, early marriage has an incredibly high failure rate. I realize that’s not what you’re proposing, but trying to maintain a relationship with someone 250 miles away OR trying to make decisions together to avoid that outcome is a level of commitment that comes pretty close to a marriage. It’s really very sweet and romantic, but it’s also painfully difficult and at worst may limit your opportunities (and his) to meet new people, have new experiences and really get the most out of the larger college experience. Some try to have it both ways by recessing the relationship during the school year. But these sorts of “breaks” become remarkably awkward when the couple reunites, each wondering what the other’s been up to in the interim.
From experience, I expect you’ll give this kind of relationship a try regardless of our advice. All I’d ask is that you NOT give up on your college experience for the relationship. If you’re going to be together, it will depend on reaching compromises that work for each of you. That doesn’t mean compromising your future, goals and opportunities. It means learning to balance what’s good for you, what’s good for the partner and what’s good for the relationship. That’s an awful lot to ask at 18 — but I do wish you the best of luck if you try. And if you don’t — try and make it a clean break. You have to be either in or out. In between is the worst of all possible options.
Kelly: Being in a committed relationship can have its own problems, but being in a long-distance one may create more harm than good. My main concern lies within both of your ability to remain trustful of one another’s actions. Often, people in long-distance relationships find themselves conflicted and lonesome, wondering about their significant other. The miles you put between yourself will not be the only thing that pulls you apart.
You and your boyfriend are about to embark on a life-altering journey, one in which it seems you want to leave a place for each other to remain in a healthy relationship. If you do choose to remain in a relationship, it is important for both of you to sit down and discuss what you expect out of the relationship and the boundaries you don’t want to cross. You must take into consideration the feelings and commitment that will be needed to make the relationship work.
As Wes says, you can try the long-distance relationship to see if it works. Who knows — you may regret it if you don’t. And if you do have these strong, unbreakable feelings toward one another, then go for it. However, there may be unexpected obstacles that will pose many problems and test you along the way. What if you or your boyfriend begin falling for another person? Will you remain faithful and honest?
If you find the long-term relationship is not working, don’t be afraid to reflect on your decisions and the possibility of ending it. You’re still young and have a lifetime ahead of you. You’re taking different paths in life. In a perfect world, we would be able to have everything work out just how we wanted it. However, not every fairy tale has a happy ending.
If you stay together, this is going to be an ultimate test of your relationship. As long as both of you are up for the challenge, it’s worth the shot. Just be wise and honest in your decisions.
Next week: We revisit the how the Internet does and doesn’t impact our teens.