It’s fairly common in sitcoms to hear characters joke about the failure rate or pointlessness of a long distance relationship. The show How I Met Your Mother described them as “a lie teenagers tell each other to get laid the summer before college,” as well as “all talking and no sex.”
In most media, characters generally prefer to end their relationship over pursuing a long distance relationship, and if they do choose to stay together, it ends poorly; usually with one of the characters cheating on the other. It doesn’t matter how close they are before the distance split either. In the show Glee, Kurt and Blaine, a couple who were essentially an old married couple when Kurt left their hometown of Ohio for college in New York, opted to stay together over the distance. That choice resulted in Kurt becoming incredibly involved in his life in New York, and Blaine cheating, which ended their relationship.
As someone who is in a long distance relationship, representation like this both upsets and angers me.
My boyfriend and I met in High School because we both ate lunch in the same teacher’s classroom, even though he didn’t have that teacher anymore since he’s a year older than me. We were together for a year before he graduated, though he went to a college close enough to home that he could commute. I, on the other hand, opted to come to AU, which is a four-hour car-ride away from home.
Understandably, this decision did not come easily and we were both incredibly worried about it. I remember when I was just coming to visit AU for the first time, he texted me, upset, because he was convinced that I was “looking for his replacement” and that was the only reason that I would be considering a university so far out of state when there were plenty of great universities at home (I’m from Michigan, most of my friends’ hardest decision was U of M or MSU). It took a while before I was able to really convince him that I wasn’t going away to get away from him, and that we were going to find a way to make it work.
I should also say that I was just as worried as he was about going away for school. My years of watching TV and movies, as well as reading books had taught me that any guy in long distance relationship would cheat, no matter what the situation—the episode of Glee that I referred to earlier actually aired when I was still trying to make the decision of if I was going to stay or go, and that did not make things any easier.
I don’t want anyone to get the idea that long distance relationships are easy or that they always work out. One of my first “boyfriends” lived in Virginia the entire few months that we were “together” and that one, obviously, ended. Neither of us cheated, as far as I’m aware, but it just wasn’t what either of us needed or really wanted by the end. Media’s portrayals of long distance relationships have to come from some base of fact or they wouldn’t exist the way that they do.
A long distance relationship takes out one thing that most relationships just cannot survive long without, contact.
Yes, obviously, with today’s technology, you can skype and text and Snapchat or whatever form of communication works; there are even apps specifically created to keep couples in long distance relationships in contact over the distance and those things are incredibly important. But, as someone who has been away from her significant other for three of the five years that we’ve been together, it’s not the same.
Nothing can replace the feeling of being in your partner’s arms, or the way they kiss, or even just the ability to reach out and touch your partner.
Because of the lack of physical contact, people in long distance relationships have to compensate with extra communication, which is why long distance relationship-specific apps exist. It’s easy for your partner to know that you’ve had a bad day or if you’re upset with them if they can actually see you, it’s pretty easy to communicate that with body language. But because you’re apart, you have to compensate that lack of body language with actual language.
If you’ve had a bad day and you want your partner to do something to make it better, you have to tell them. If your partner did something to upset you, you have to actually tell them. They may not realize what’s going on right away without the physical cues.
In addition to the lack of physical communication, it’s very easy to get discouraged in a long distance relationship. They take more effort than a regular relationship, you have to be a lot more intentional about the relationship, and there are people and TV shows and movies that are constantly telling you that it’s a pointless endeavor and that you’d both be better off finding someone closer. In all honesty, I almost stayed home to go to college because I was so scared of all of the ways that my relationship could go wrong and how hard it would be with us being so far apart for so long.
The fact of the matter is that it is worth staying with the person you love, even if it gets a little hard. The upside of a long distance relationship is that both of you get the chance to pursue your dreams, without being limited to just what’s nearby; and there’s nothing like seeing your partner again after you’ve been apart.
Of course, Long distance relationships are not for everyone, and some couples do end up the way that the media portrays them. But not every relationship is the same, and if you love and care for each other, it’s worth a little time apart so that you can both be who you want to be.
Beth is a senior English major from Canton, Michigan.