Long-Distance Relationships Abroad: Keeping the Flame Alive Although You’re Apart

Posted on August 21, 2011

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Will continuing a relationship weigh you down like excess luggage? Or does distance help tell if a relationship will stand the test of time? For in-depth information, see our Complete Guide to Dating Abroad. [link]

Getting the opportunity to go abroad is something that should be celebrated and looked forward to. Sometimes however, it may be hard for those loved ones that are being left behind to share these same emotions, especially if you are dating them. Your boyfriend or girlfriend will be overcome by an emotion much different than the joy and excitement you will be experiencing (as you should).

On the outside your significant other might be extremely supportive and happy for you, but on the inside, they might be having mixed emotions, scared that the person they love will be traveling all over foreign countries with perfect strangers for months — and that a such a big change could bring your relationship to an end. So how do people make long-distance relationships work? And how do you determine whether to jump ship, or hang on?

By Eileen Rush

These conflicting emotions make it hard for them to realize that you are stepping out of your comfort zone to travel across the world. To make matters worse while they are stuck at home dealing with real college classes and exams and the everyday college stressors, they won’t be able to stop their minds from wandering to how much fun you are having, and who you are becoming friendly with.  Before leaving the States you should set your boyfriend or girlfriend straight by assuring them that this is not the case at all.

My relationship was a prime example of how you do not hope staying together while abroad pans out. My boyfriend knew that I had always planned on going abroad, plus it was required for my major. However, when I got accepted into my university for that fall, his biggest concern was me not being at his football games watching him. Needless to say, we stayed together, believing we would be one of the couples who could successfully stay together. And we did.  But we had our fair share of problems.  It was crazy how much I felt like I was being babysat by someone who was living 4,000 miles away from me. In order to assure him that I was not doing anything wrong, or becoming too cozy with the locals I had to check in, all the time. (He obviously did not understand Italy’s primitive internet connections or the concept of a long distance phone bill.)  To make my life easier, I had my parents send out my Blackberry (which by the way is much more efficient than the student cells you get). With my Blackberry, I was able to talk to him for free, because he also had a smart phone. But with this, also came many more check in texts, and I began to become more engulfed in my phone than my surroundings.

To avoid arguments, I constantly found myself in the middle of white lies, and blaming Italy’s awful phone service and internet for not responding to his texts until 5 am on a Sunday morning. Coming home from an excursion, I would always text him to tell him all of the amazing things I did on my trip, the people I met and the sights that I saw.  However, due to his jealousy and bitterness for being stuck at home, he was always so reluctant to listen and made me feel guilty for enjoying these once in a life time experiences.

The truth of the matter is, no matter how much you and your boyfriend or girlfriend trust each other, as soon as you step out of the country, things are going to change to one extent or the other, and it is hard to predict what will happen ahead of time, until you live in that moment.  It is hard for anyone at home to truly understand the experiences you have, the friends you meet and the memories you make.  You will find upon returning home that nobody really cares all that much (besides your family) that you were in Italy, or wherever you were; especially if that person is your boyfriend or girlfriend.

Although I had an amazing time while I was traveling abroad, I felt as if I held back on a lot of things that I wanted to do in order to avoid arguments, and that I was very rarely entirely tuned in to my surroundings and my company as I was always too engulfed by my phone and my boyfriend’s constant check ins. Coming home and not being able to show him pictures and tell him stories was probably the worst part and at times it made me very frustrated.

Through sharing my experience, I did not intend to upset anyone, but rather shed light on my personal experience and make you aware of how hard and different continuing a relationship while abroad may be.

However I can also share some other scenarios I witnessed. I had several friends abroad who were in relationships, all of which had occasional problems, but were fine in the end. One friend of mine in particular was in a very successful relationship while abroad. This may be due to the fact that they were both experiencing amazing things and were able to relate to each other as she was also abroad for the semester. I also had friends who started off their abroad experience in relationships and had to end them while abroad due to the fighting and resulting unhappiness. Whatever the situation may be, the one thing I hope you take from my experience is not hold back on anything when you are abroad.  For most people, this is a once in a life time experience and you should live it up to the fullest.  You should take advantage of everything you can, and if doing what you want to do means losing your boyfriend or girlfriend for the time being, as sucky as it may seem, maybe a break will help you enjoy yourself to the fullest and once you return to the States you will be able to work it out if it was meant to be.  Before you leave, make it a point to have that awkward conversation no couple wants to have.  Express your feelings on everything you want to experience while abroad and how important this will be to you.  This should help determine whether you and your boyfriend/girlfriend are cut out for being together during your time apart.  And if you decide you want to stay together, it will help prevent problems while away.

With that being said, here’s some practical advice for making it work, if you decide you want to go the distance.

Manage your Expectations. Gone are the days where lovers wrote letters by hand and waited weeks or months for a reply. Among Millennials living in a technology-permeated age, making a long distance relationship work while one person is abroad should be easier than ever. Some research suggests that long-distance relationships are on the rise. If you decide to stick with it, know that you aren’t alone, especially in those moments when you’re the only one not kissing random Parisians on the street.

Go tech. Two people can text, e-mail, instant message or good old fashioned talk on the phone so that it simulates being together. With the click of a button, you can send someone flowers in Beijing – and watch them receive them using a web-cam or camera-phone. Let technology be a bridge between you – just be careful it doesn’t turn into a crutch. Sometimes constant contact can be as draining on a relationship as being apart, so find your balance.

It’s temporary. A semester abroad is short in the long scheme of things, so as a couple focus on the light at the end of the tunnel: being together again. In the meantime, you have a few months or even a year to grow as individuals and experience the world. Take this as an opportunity to learn about yourselves so you can stronger together.

Enjoy it. Don’t feel guilty for not pining away for each other. This is time to learn a bit more about who you are on your own. Are you anxious without your significant other by your side? Learn how to be bold and branch out. Distance can be a great time for perspective.

Write down what you miss. Their laugh, their smile, that inside joke you share? Someone to snuggle with on that miserable 10-hour bus ride? Their philosophical perspective on different flavors of gelato? Remember and take pleasure in the things you miss around them, but don’t mope. Instead, remember the good things and write them down, text them or send them an e-mail so you can remind your significant other how much they mean to you next time you talk.

Understand the communication barrier. Have a discussion beforehand about the constraints of a busy semester abroad. Agree on how much you should talk, and try to set aside specific times to chat while you’re there. You may not want constant text messages or daily phone calls. This could end up taking away from your experience and exhausting both of you. Instead, try to agree ahead of time that communication will be limited: e-mails, and a small number of phone calls. Setting expectations will keep you both from feeling disappointed, and can also give your relationship some structure.

Let them know how much this trip means to you. Also let them know how much they mean to you. What’s that old saying: if you love someone, you’ll let them go? Try to take this literally, sans the breaking up part.

The Plain and Simple

You and your significant other are either going to be together forever, or you are going to break up. Whether abroad or at home, if someone isn’t right for you, don’t stick with it. If they are, you will know. Studying abroad isn’t a death sentence to a great relationship, but it’s going to take some work and understanding for both people involved in order to keep the flame alive – while still having an unforgettable time.

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