Dear Dr. Wes and Kendra: This is the time of the year when high school dating couples are going away to college and making hard decisions about whether to hang on to their relationships or go their separate ways. What advice do you have?
Wes: This question fit so nicely with last week’s love letter to teen love that we had to run them back to back — a sort of yin to last week’s yang. Longtime readers know that I’m a great fan of real romance among teens, but I’ve had enough experience to know that love at this age is just as real as it is tenuous.
Here’s why: As teens transition to adulthood, they’re in a stage of rapid development, cognitively, spiritually and emotionally. The only constant from 16 to 25 is change as young adults assimilate and accommodate new facets of self, society and culture. Drift over these years is not only inevitable, it’s important. It’s why we send kids to college in the first place — to challenge them with new horizons.
All relationships are four-dimensional, changing and evolving. So, only time will tell if a couple can stand the test of time. A precious few well-matched, hard-working late-teen couples pass that test by evolving together. For most, that’s just too much to ask. They remain at this age more individual than dyad.
Moreover, dating is a process of finding out who you don’t belong with. Sure you can get lucky and nail true love the first or second time out. I’m still with the same person I was with at age 19 and I’m not complaining (please clip this and pass it on to my wife). But most of us require more trial and error than that before we land a soul mate.
Finally, a successful long-distance relationship is easier now than in the past with FaceTime, texting and social media. But finding real compatibility in love requires getting up and dealing with each other face-to-face, day in and day out. If a couple really want to carry on after high school, I recommend they plan their college careers together. That may be an imperfect solution for a perfect couple, but it’s the only way to improve the odds that partners grow together rather than apart.
Kendra: People say of relationships, “If it’s meant to be, it will be.” Whoever came up with that one was a total slacker. Relationships take commitment and teamwork.
Last December, William and I built a gingerbread house from a kit. Although a glue-like frosting was included, we decided to use our hands to temporarily hold up the house without it. As we each held our piece in place, the house stood, but once I took my hands off, everything collapsed.
Likewise, a relationship is prone to fail if one partner pulls away. Without the glue of living in the same town holding a couple together, it takes more effort from both members of the couple. Both have to hang on tight.
I think William and I will find a way to stay together despite our separation in college, but it will take extra, patient effort. The transition to college is a time for reevaluation; an opportunity to study the relationship and measure its depth.
Each member of a couple needs to decide if his or her partner is worth the sacrifice, either in choice of college or in missing a few social opportunities and staying faithful to someone hundreds of miles away.
Saying “let’s date long-distance” is easy. The hard part is doing it and accepting that it’s about as heavy as the train, bus or plane you’ll have to take simply to give your partner a kiss.
A long-distance relationship means committing to someone in one of the strongest ways possible. It’s one thing to stay together when meeting up comes between math and science. It’s another to put aside time for a Skype date after a long class and before a party.
— Wes Crenshaw, Ph.D., ABPP, is author of “Dear Dr. Wes: Real Life Advice for Teens” and “Real Life Advice for Parents of Teens.” Learn about his new practice Family Psychological Services at dr-wes.com. Kendra Schwartz is a Lawrence High School senior. Send your confidential 200-word question on adolescence and parenting to firstname.lastname@example.org. Double Take opinions and advice are not a substitute for psychological services.