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Countless texts, phone calls and Skype sessions. A four-hour ride on Megabus — longer when there’s traffic. For many couples in long-distance relationships, these are trademarks for staying connected during college, trying to bridge the hours and miles apart.

While some decry the prevalence of the “hook-up culture” on college campuses, surveys indicate there to be around 4 million college students in committed long-distance relationships. These students may face pressure from family or friends to begin their college careers unattached — to grow and explore without their high school significant other. Problems can arise: trouble communicating, jealousy and lack of physical connection, to name a few.

But, despite all these challenges, the bonds that sustain long-distance relationships can prove remarkably resilient — for some, at least.

There’s the stereotypical collegiate long-distance relationship: You start with your significant other from high school and by Thanksgiving it’s over (the so-called “turkey drop”). In essence, that’s the story of Andrew DeBraggio (COL ’16). The summer before freshman year, DeBraggio thought about breaking up with his girlfriend, who he’d been dating for over two-and-a-half years, but elected not to. But after three weeks at Georgetown — with his girlfriend back home in upstate New York — he realized that their arrangement was untenable.

“[It’s] not your easy relationship where you get in a fight, you hug, you make up and you’re fine. You can’t do that,” DeBraggio said. “Not having the physical presence, not being able to talk to them, it’s a very difficult thing.”

DeBraggio broke up with his girlfriend at that three-week mark, but a week later, they got back together, despite his continued doubts. She even came and visited in October, but just before Thanksgiving, he decided to end it again. DeBraggio, who’s from the small town of Clinton, N.Y., had realized upon moving that he didn’t necessarily want to return to small-town life with his girlfriend after graduation. Rather than break it off quickly like he had attempted in September, DeBraggio tried to slowly cut their communication until she got the hint. Eventually she changed her Facebook status to “single,” though residual feelings lingered for a few months.

Liz LaFranchise (COL ’15) also broke up with her boyfriend at Thanksgiving, though her situation was quite different from DeBraggio’s. She began dating her best friend only after they spent a few weeks apart at college; he had wanted to date for a few years, but it took separation for her to realize that she wanted to be with him, too.

But their relationship ended up not being what she had imagined, and communication was harder than expected.

“[I would] Skype him at 2 a.m. under the covers when [my roommate] was asleep,” she said. “It was weird not knowing when we were free and not responding to texts.”

The couple also faced a lot of pressure to stay together from their friends and family.

“When [my friends from home] found out, they said, ‘You should just be engaged   on Facebook because you’ll never break up.’ Once we were together, it was like we were together for life, and that was intimidating,” LaFranchise explained. “I didn’t want to be with one person for the rest of my life at the age of 18.”

By the end of October, LaFranchise decided to call it off until they would be back together at Thanksgiving and could talk it out. Though they decided to separate, they remained best friends and as graduation approaches, they’re looking for ways to end up in the same place again. But rekindling her romance might not be in the cards for LaFranchise, as her ex-boyfriend is currently in a relationship.

Kendyl Clausen (SFS ’16) originally decided to break up with her boyfriend of about one year before they started their freshman years at Georgetown and Princeton.

“We didn’t want to date all through college, get married and then, at 40, realize we never dated anybody else and then start cheating on each other,” Clausen said.

Clausen and her boyfriend both used that break to experience a more typical college life — partying, flirting and the like — but soon realized that they wanted to be together. “It turns out you can’t force a break up,” she said.

Sustaining their relationship hasn’t been easy, either. Clausen is on Georgetown’s equestrian team and her boyfriend rows for Princeton, so there are few weekends when both are free, and the price of train tickets stands in the way. Last year, they saw each other just once while school was in session.

To feel close, Clausen says she and her boyfriend frequently text and talk during the school year. But technology — which helps so people in many long-distance relationships feel connected in ways that would have been impossible 15 years ago — often proves to be a mixed blessing.

“We’re actually trying to cut down on [texts and calls]. They take you away from what you’re actually doing,” Clausen explained.

Clausen noted that virtual romantic signals are even more difficult to interpret than traditional ones.

“You want to be updated and know what’s going on, but over text, you can’t talk about how you’re feeling,” Clausen said. “You lose the emotional connection at times and I won’t know if he’s upset or mad.”

LaFranchise agreed. “If there was a problem or an issue you wanted to talk about, you kind of just put it off, because why ruin the little time you had to talk with that kind of an issue?” she explained.

Emile Doak (COL ’14) and his girlfriend Kelsey DeFord, a senior at James Madison University, have found a unique way of negotiating the communication issue: They have no rules for how often they’ll speak to each other. While he texts her “good morning” every day, she may not respond for hours, and they have no expectation that they’ll talk on the phone every day or even every week.

“The reality is I’m here and she’s there and that’s not going to change for the four years of college, so you have to build your own life apart from her which is really hard,” Doak said.

Doak believes their casual communication policy cuts down on fighting.

“A lot of my friends who are in long distance relationships, a lot of their fights are over, ‘You didn’t call me when you were supposed to’ or, ‘You didn’t make time for me,’” he said. “I sympathize with them when they don’t make time or they don’t call because they have their own things going on here.”

But in some ways, Doak and DeFord have it easier than most in similar situations; she’s only two hours away at James Madison University and they see each other about twice a month. Planning those visits can be logistically difficult, though; Doak says that because the pair stringently follows their Catholic faith, DeFord never sleeps over.

Joseph Cardone (COL ’14) has found himself in a similar long-distance relationship. He was just beginning his senior year of high school when his then-girlfriend left for college two-and-a-half hours from their hometown near Philadelphia. The two had only started casually dating that summer.

“We weren’t sure it would last when she went off to school,” he said. “[But when] we weren’t spending time together and we still felt the same way and we weren’t interested in meeting new people, then we decided we’d stay together for good.”

As time went on, their relationship became more of an outlier among his college friends.

“Freshman year, it wasn’t uncommon,” he explained. “But by the time you get to sophomore or junior year, people are amazed that you’ve been in a long distance relationship the whole time.”

This July, Cardone took the relationship one step further. He and his girlfriend spent the weekend at his girlfriend’s family’s beach house in Delaware with a few of their friends. The area is home to an old military base, with tall towers that tourists can climb to get breathtaking views of the beaches. One day, Cardone snuck away from the beach in order to set up a surprise. He then brought his girlfriend up to one of the towers, where she saw that he had written “Caroline, Marry Me?” in hundreds of pine needles on the sand.

She said yes. The pair had discussed marriage before. Cardone had said he wouldn’t propose until after graduation, but he thought that if he did wait, he would never be able to surprise her.

Though he doesn’t expect that they will marry for a few years, he believes their engagement gives them different opportunities that they wouldn’t have if they were just dating.

“This way we can start planning our lives around each other, like where do I want to get a job, what do I want to do after school, which we really couldn’t plan as well if we weren’t engaged,” Cardone said.

Cardone believes that if they hadn’t started out as long distance, they wouldn’t be engaged at this point.

“The long-distance relationship showed me that she was serious about this and that we could last,” he said. “We made it work, whatever problems we had, whatever fights we had. It made me commit early on for good.”

Now that they are engaged, Cardone sees it as extra motivation to plan his future, as his girlfriend has already started her career.

“She’s set and ready to move on,” he said. “It’s definitely motivated me to find out exactly what I want to do.”

Cardone, a physics and economics major, is looking to teach high school physics or work for the military once he graduates so he can start saving for his wedding and show his girlfriend’s parents that he can support her.

This summer, Christina Kaldi (NHS ’16) also navigated the other side of the long-distance problem: being reunited. She and her boyfriend had only known each other a month before Kaldi left her home in Greece for college last fall, but she decided to take a chance. This summer, the two had a month and a half together after spending most of Kaldi’s freshman year apart. It didn’t end well.

“We were together for too long during the day, and there was no balance,” she said. “That just made us both fight all the time. As sad as it is, there was a big difference to how our relationship used to be before and how it ended up.” They broke up in July.

For Jade Burt (COL ’16), closing the distance between her and her boyfriend has brought them romantically closer. Last year, her boyfriend of three years attended Rochester Institute of Technology, but this year, he transferred to George Mason in nearby Fairfax, Va. Burt says that their desire to be closer was an influence in her boyfriend’s decision, though she encouraged him to do it for himself and not for her. Like others, she saw that her attachment to her best friend and significant other, who was far away ,was hurting her ability to connect with her peers.

“It made it harder for me to make attachments to other freshmen because they all had that need for each other, so they all grouped together,” she said. “But I was still leaning on him and he wasn’t there. It made me feel detached from the freshmen.”

Burt expects a lot of the problems they experienced due to distance to dissipate now that they’re close. They’ve already seen each other frequently, though Burt expects they won’t be constantly together. Still, some fears remain.

“I have a little bit of fear about wasting time,” she said. “One motivator to stay together — it’s not the best motivator — is that I’ve already invested so much time into one relationship and I can’t imagine investing all that time into a new relationship or a string of new relationships.”

For now, she’s happy with the one she has.

 

 

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