Oberlin Blogs

Long Distance

July 11, 2011

Joe Dawson ’12

Sara, Nina, Jacob and I are living together next year. This makes me happy. Our apartment is on the second floor of a red house on Union Street, and it's going to be a hell of a lot of fun. I really loved living with Nina this year and having people around with my own space to do my thing will be great. I'm anxious about one thing next year. I'll miss Liz a lot, tons actually. I'm in love with Liz. We're dating and having an adultish summer, both of us living away from parents, making our own meals, paying rent. She is an Oberlin alumna, living in Chapel Hill this summer and starting grad school here in the fall. This necessitates an LDR, the ominous, dreaded Long-Distance Relationship.

Illustration of a rhino sitting at a table with a bottle of booze
LDR? a Lonely Drunk Rhino? Not quite. Don't end up like this guy, kids.


I've done long distance before. I didn't particularly care for it. Maybe I was using a relationship as a link to home and a definite friend when I was anxious about getting new ones. I knew that this thing was certain, and maybe I was holding on to it because I had never been out of a relationship and in college at the same time. I didn't have an unattached freshman year where I made bad decisions and went wild in any sense of the word. I don't necessarily think you need one either, but living on your own should maybe involve some bad choices. Not like bad bad choices, but you can certainly stay up all night, burn a couch on a bonfire in a backyard.

The Long Distance Relationship is a topic that may be on a number of minds as our Junes are turning into Julys and the time to leave home arrives. Depending on how far from Oberlin you live, you may be moving quite a ways away. Moms, dads, sisters, brothers, and good friends are constants, they seem like they will be there when we get back no matter what. Relationships with boyfriends, girlfriends, and pen pals can feel tenuous, like something is going to go wrong if you leave to a place where there are lots of young people around. The promise of visits over fall breaks, Thanksgiving breaks, Winter breaks are all reassuring and help to break the time into smaller chunks, but there is still a 4-year weight hanging over the two of you (or three of you ;-) ), and a lot of changes that happen to a person over those four years.

Fans of Kate Hudson movies will be disappointed to know that the defining element in whether or not a long distance relationship works is not how much you love someone. Everyone who commits to staying with someone when they can't see that person except every few months loves that person very much. I'm sure there are people who choose not to try to keep it going who love each other more than those who stick it out. It has a lot more to do with how assertive you are, how content you can be being away from that person. Also, there is absolutely NO WAY to lose any guy in ten days. Believe me.

Don't keep secrets. They probably won't come back to bite you in the butt, but they might. You'll feel bad about it, mostly. Along the same vein, try to be as up front as you can about how you are feeling. Talk about how classes and things are going and what's got you stressed, but also about the relationship you are in. Be very frank with yourself. What are you worried, anxious, or scared about? What is your reaction when people ask you to go out and watch a movie? How about when your cell phone rings in the movie? Do you loiter after events, late at night, talking to new people? College kids do that a lot, you should too.

Share your fears with the person/republican you're in a relationship with. For guys it's hard, and when faced with a girlfriend saying she's scared, my first instinct is to be strong and empathetic, emphasis on strong.

Have your own life. You need it. You don't need to be accessible by phone all the time either. It's super tempting to spend lots of time disconnected from the place/folks around you and connected through some electronic means to the person you're missing. It's a quick way to run out of conversation. Enjoy life away from your lover. When I was in a LDR before, one thing I really wanted was for her to go out, have fun, be around people. When she did, I could relax and do the same. Don't pretend you are not having a good time if you are. It is a lie. You shouldn't lie.

Illustration of a raccoon looking in a mirror with its hands in the air
Larry the Dumb Raccoon spends all his time attacking his own reflection in the mirror. Don't spend all of yours video chatting on Skype.


In some ways, being in an LDR is not a way to transition into a place where you are figuring out who you will be, what people you will want to be around, and what you will study long term. It is almost necessary to throw yourself headlong into this new place, do too much in your first semester, get to know a good number of people in the first week that you won't talk to or recognize by your sophomore year. Being attached by phone/Skype/tin can to someone many miles away while you are trying to get attached to a new stretch of land and group of buildings shortchanges yourself.

Buying things for your significant other on their birthday is thoughtful. So is drawing them a picture and writing something sweet on the back of it. Don't go broke because you're worried that she's worried you're not thinking about her.

Don't stay in it if it's really not working for you. A no-brainer, right? Ahh, only for the man with no brain!

Illustration of a man who looks vaguely like Frankstein
Lobotomy Dude Ralph says "My heart's not in this relationship,
but I'll stick with it so no one gets hurt." Ohh, Ralph!


It's also easy to say that distance is tearing you two apart and that if the two of you could just be together then everything would be perfect in your relationship (damn these four Barrows walls, Julia!). This is far from true even if it feels that way. The things that make for a good face-to-face relationship make a good LDR. Those things are, in order, love, doves, gloves, and playful shoves.

Be aware of how text messages and emails can be misleading. Heavy sarcasm doesn't travel well over long distances. Ooooh, really Joe? How wise and insightful of you! Noooo, I mean it! Reeeeeaaaally. If you picked up on any sarcasm there, you're in the top 2% in the nation.

So, as I venture into a brand new wilderness of LDR-ing, I know that Liz is going to be the one at a new place, maybe unavailable to take my calls and making a bunch of new friends. It will be hard, and we both know that. I feel like I have more to lose with a long-distance relationship with her than calling it quits. My worst fear is that we will resent each other, and I want us to be friends until we're old even if we're not together anymore. I don't think we could hate each other. Who knows what will happen.

One big difference between the LDR I'm about to start and the one I had before is the time frame. This time, I am a senior in college and I feel like the light at the end of this tunnel is much closer than before. I'm leaving Oberlin after next year to go to Engineering school somewhere, and Liz is getting finished with Public Health school in two years. If we decide that we still want to be together, that means we're lucky people who work well enough together to get through a 9-month LDR okay.

Author taking a selfie in front of their mirror
Putting pictures into longer blog posts is a great way to break up the reading into smaller chunks. This is a picture of me, as if I were in a Long Distance Relationship right now!


LDRs are hard as shit. A first-year on the Cross Country team who started off the year in a LDR asked me if I thought he should stay in it. At the time, I told him no. I didn't know him well or his girlfriend, and certainly didn't know their relationship, so I don't think I necessarily should have told him anything, looking back on it. But he and his girlfriend weren't together by the end of this year.

Here's the payoff-- If you find that you can get through a period of time away from your significant other, forgoing other temptations of the flesh and keeping your own well-being in mind, you will have learned something about yourself. You will have a relationship that you know can withstand one of the harder tests relationships can go through. Congratulations, you two will never have any problems ever again.

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