How to make long-distance relationships work at university

Three-quarters of university students have a long distance relationship at some point. Tips for surviving from someone who knows
Elissa Gurman

Being in love is the best; being in love with someone who lives far away is, well, the worst. When I met my now-husband while we were in university, I never imagined that we would endure four years of long distance before we finally reunited and started our lives together. While our relationship is one of the best things in my life, our time spent apart also made it one of the hardest.

I’m hardly alone in this experience. When I look at my circle of friends, it seems that nearly everyone is in (or has been in) some form of long-distance relationship. In fact, one study found 75 per cent of college students will have a long-distance relationship at some point. The reasons for the prevalence of these relationships come down to two factors, I think.

First, long-distance relationships are now more feasible, thanks to technology that helps keep couples in touch. I don’t mean weird wristbands that transmit your partner’s heartbeat into a pillow for you to snuggle (yes, this is a thing), but more commonplace tools like cellphones and video chat. Second, the rise in long-distance partnerships—especially among young people—has a lot to do with women’s professional ambitions. While women once saw marriage as the ultimate goal, my peers and I largely entered into long-distance relationships because both partners wanted to pursue their own, separate aspirations.

So, what can you do to make your long-distance relationship work? Here are my best survivor tips.

Always have a plan

Develop a strategy for visiting, accounting for both distance and the cost of travel. Who is going to come to whom? For how long? And, how often? Who is paying the bill? These conversations can be awkward, but they are important and will ultimately strengthen your bond. My top advice to people starting a long-distance relationship is to never end a visit without having booked or planned the next one. There is nothing more depressing than leaving someone you love without knowing when you will see them again.

Express your needs

To make long distance work, you need to think about what you require to stay happy and functional. Encourage your partner to do the same. Before my partner and I started long distance, we weren’t the best at communicating our feelings; we just spent a ton of time together and that was enough. I knew this wasn’t going to work once we were apart. Early on during our long distance, I told my partner that I needed daily phone calls and daily “I love yous” in order to feel connected. This was definitely hard for him at first, but I think it was integral to our relationship’s success.

Try not to fight when you’re apart

This is a tough one, but I found fighting while apart was the worst part of long distance. Without touch—a reassuring hug or cuddle—it’s hard to feel like the fight is really resolved. Whenever I’d fight with my partner while we were apart, even after we’d apologized, I’d fall into sadness hangovers that could sometimes last for days. If you can possibly manage it, try to save serious and difficult conversations for when you are together. This creates a whole other set of problems, because you don’t want to spoil the precious time with an argument. But trust me, it’s better to hash out and resolve your disagreements in person.

Ignore the haters

When you’re long distance, it seems that suddenly everyone has an opinion about your love life. And—surprise!—that opinion is often that you are wasting your time and you should break up. Almost everyone who is important to me told me I should break up with my partner at some point during our time apart. It was really, really hard to hear this kind of advice from the people I loved and trusted most. However, when it comes to your relationship, if you’re going to make it work you have to trust your feelings and ignore the haters. When people give you unsolicited “break up” advice, politely tell them you’re in it for the long haul, and try to steer the conversation elsewhere.

Make the most of it

I know it’s hard, but try to think of long distance as an opportunity. Just think: you get the love and safety of a relationship and the freedom to have your own independent life. I often felt lonely during long distance, so I filled that gap with an extremely active and fulfilling social life. I made amazing friends while my partner and I were apart because I didn’t just want to stay home and watch him on FaceTime. Join a club, start a hobby; focus on the things you love in order to make the most of long distance.

It’s ok to be sad sometimes

If you’re in it, you know: long distance sucks. So much of making it work involves being strong and staying positive…but sometimes, you’re just sad and lonely. It’s okay to have bad days or to be filled with doubt. It’s also okay if it doesn’t work out. It is not your fault. But, if it’s the right person and the right relationship, I promise it will all be worth it.