There are many reasons why Emily Abraham and her boyfriend, Luke, should be dating.
“We have the same sense of humor, we have a lot of fun together,” the junior psychology major said. “We tell each other everything. He’s one of my best friends.”
But it’s not as perfect as it seems. Luke is a student at Penn State and the hours between the couple mean many phone calls, Snapchats and long car rides to keep the love alive. And when Abraham’s having a rough day, the digital version of her boyfriend has to suffice.
“Sometimes when you’re stressed out, you don’t want to talk,” she said. “You just want a person to hug.”
There’s no denying that long distance relationships are hard, especially for students bombarded with the idea that hookups, meaningless flings and casual flirtation are all part of the collegiate experience. Yet, even for young people, the appeal of a steady somebody has hardly been lost, and those in long-distance relationships prove the right person is worth the work.
“It would be like we were missing out on something if we weren’t together,” Abraham said.
Most of Cameron Spruill’s friends are in relationships, and the junior’s girlfriend goes to school three hours away at James Madison University. The couple tries to visit each other every three weeks.
“Usually the one who’s hosting has something planned so it’s usually a grand old weekend,” the civil and environmental engineering major said. “Each night we try to do something fun or go on a little adventure.”
Spruill says while he and Kate are apart, they have time to focus on schoolwork and keep their priorities straight. They have also built individual friend groups so they don’t always depend on each other for entertainment.
“It allows us both to be productive while making sure we’re in a good relationship,” he said.
Technology also allows long-distance relationships to thrive. A bad grade, good hair day or exceptional lunch can all be shared via Snapchat, Skype or a simple text. But there are certain aspects of a relationship that screens and social media can’t relay.
“There’s times when I’m like ‘I wish we could have sex right now,'” Abraham said. “Sometimes it can make it better in a way because you can have something to look forward to.”
Abraham said she and her boyfriend tried sexting and Snapchat to keep the physical intimacy going, but found it didn’t quite work.
“That’s just not really for us, so we’ll talk about if we want to have sex but we won’t talk as if we’re in the situation,” she said.
Couples such as junior Brennen Kuehner and his girlfriend, Kristen, have learned the art of waiting, even if the prospect isn’t so attractive.
“We definitely would rather be able to have sex whenever we wanted,” the agricultural science and technology major said.
But Kuehner says staving off the impulses is not unrewarded, and the separation makes the time together more special.
“It’s more passionate, more romantic when we do get to see each other and have sex,” he said.
And it’s not just the physical aspects that thrive — many aspects of long-distance relationships find success in the balance of challenges and rewards. Students who found partners in high school say they haven’t known it any other way. Others, such as junior Karen Liu, view the distance as a temporary inconvenience. Liu’s boyfriend graduated from this university last winter and moved to California to open a business.
“Some days are a lot more difficult than others,” the civil and environmental engineering major said. “Everyone in my apartment right now is in a relationship so it’s kind of tough to see and I’m like, ‘OK I’m kind of seventh-wheeling.”
Liu says her Snapchat streak helps the couple see how long they’ve been apart and reminds them to touch base every day.
Yet the optimism often gives way to the reality of two people living in separate worlds. Kuehner says the longer his relationship has gone on, the more difficult it’s become, to the point of being “a chore.” But that doesn’t mean he’ll quit. Despite the occasional lonely nights and extended phone calls, long-distance relationships bring joy and stability to couples caught in the college whirlwind.
“I think it’s worth it if you really love the person,” Kuehner said. “It’s worth it for me.”