Are you heading off to uni or college and wondering how to have a successful long distance relationship as a student?
I was in this situation throughout my early 20s, so I know how uncertain things can feel. You might be wondering:
- Whether you’ll really have time for a long distance relationship on top of coursework and exams
- If you can afford it on a student budget
- Whether a long distance relationship is right for you at a time when you’re experiencing so many new freedoms for the first time
In this post, I’ll talk about some of the unique challenges students have to deal with when they’re in LDRs – and then some ways to make it work if you decide to go for it 🙂
Challenge #1: Meeting tons of new people – alone
Student life, for many, is all about socialising and making new friends. The age when most people head off to college is also an age when you might place a lot of value on being able to show up to parties, events – or even just the cafeteria – as a couple. This isn’t possible for long distance couples, except on the rare occasions one of you is visiting.
When an invitation does come, you then have to choose between going out to socialise, or staying in for a video date with your partner.
So what can you do?
How to make it work
If you’re an introvert (like me), all this might not be as much of an issue. Personally, I was good with going out one or two nights a week and staying indoors to Skype with my boyfriend the rest of the time.
Even if you’re extroverted and would like to be out every night of the week, if you love your partner deeply, you might decide that you’re willing to compromise some of the time. After all, most of the connections you make in college aren’t going to last a lifetime – but your relationship hopefully will if it’s the right one for you.
On the days you’re not Skypeing/Zooming/FaceTiming, your partner should encourage you to go out and meet people, and you should do the same for them.
Another thing to keep in mind is that there’s a very good chance that you’ll meet plenty of other people in LDRs at uni/college. Try to get to know others in the same situation – that way, you’ll feel less like the odd one out and you can also compare notes on your ‘LDR survival tips’. If your partners happen to be visiting at the same time, what about a double date?
Challenge #2: Studies taking over your life
If you thought a high school workload was difficult, wait until you’re pulling all-nighters with cans of Red Bull in the library and still only just meeting your deadlines.
Of course, how much this will impact you depends on which school you’re going to and what you’re studying. At my university, I had maybe 4 or 5 essays per term. Meanwhile, one of my friends went to Oxford and was expected to write about one essay per week. Similarly, if you’re studying something like medicine, it’s likely your workload will be enormous. If your partner is in the same position, they will probably understand, but if there is a big discrepancy in how much studying you each have to do, this can cause some misunderstanding about who is putting more effort into making time for the relationship.
How to make it work
Countless people have successful LDRs even with intense jobs and study assignments. Sure, it requires compromise and some understanding on both sides, but it can definitely be worth it for the right person.
I’ve written about strategies for career-driven people in LDRs to maintain a work/love balance – these tips can also be useful for busy students 🙂
If you want some more shortcuts for how to stay on track with your relationship even while you’re drowning in schoolwork, check out the post below.
Challenge #3: Changing and growing apart
In your late teens and early 20s (and even beyond, sometimes), there’s a pretty good chance that some of your most strongly-held beliefs will be challenged, your goals and ambitions will shift and your personality will develop in ways you never could have predicted. The same will happen for your partner.
It’s awesome to reflect how far you’ve come, but also scary to realise that following your dreams (or just figuring out what you like and what you don’t) sometimes means you’ll no longer be compatible with your S.O.
Unfortunately, in a LDR it’s much easier (and tempting) to hide this personal journey from your partner because you’re afraid of losing them.
How to make it work
Recognise the opportunity. When I look back on my first ever relationship, I was so shy about expressing myself and my opinions. The reason was partly due to general anxiety, but also because at that age and with so little experience, I had no idea what ‘counted’ when it came to our differences. Therefore, everything from my thoughts about the most serious subjects in the world, to insignificant things like whether or not I liked a song or a movie, were all things I was equally self conscious about.
Basically, I was so worried that everything would be a deal-breaker that I missed out on the valuable experience of disagreeing with my partner and seeing how strong (or otherwise) our relationship was.
It’s difficult, but being honest and true to yourself is the only way you can find out if you’re in the right relationship or not.
Accept when it’s time to move on. Almost everyone in the world will experience what it’s like to ‘outgrow a relationship’ at some point, so if you know you need to end things with your partner, it doesn’t mean you ‘failed’ or that any of it was ‘a waste of time’. On the contrary – if it’s helped you realise what you want from life, it was worthwhile. You may not be able to see it when you’re in the middle of your first heartbreak, but you will eventually 🙂
Challenge #4: FOMO and jealousy
Not everyone chooses to use their uni years to date and explore their options when it comes to love and sex, but many do. If you and your partner are monogamous (or even if you’re in an open relationship with some ground rules in place) this might make you feel uneasy. For what is likely the first time in your life, you’re surrounded by hundreds of smart and good-looking people from all corners of the globe – and so is your partner, if they’re a student as well.
You might feel a little jealous, or your partner might feel a little jealous. Or you may be tempted to explore your options and might start to resent your relationship for limiting your choices.
How to make it work
In my opinion, if you truly love your partner and see yourselves being together for a lifetime, it’s a mistake to give that up for anything superficial (such as wanting to fit in with your friends).
However, it is always worth talking about exclusivity, if only to put your cards on the table and agree on what the ground rules are. For many, monogamy is an absolute must, and for others, an open relationship is a must. Either can work just fine, as long as it’s what you both sincerely want (don’t compromise on anything that goes against your fundamental values or goals). It’s up to you and your partner to define what is right for the two of you.
When it comes to jealousy, a little bit is probably only natural, as long as you can be objective about it and handle it with maturity. It’s likely that your partner will notice other people, and it’s likely you will too. If you really love and trust them, that shouldn’t be a big deal.
Also, don’t be controlling. Neither of you should be trying to dictate where the other goes and who they can talk to. If you’ve been doing this, stop – it can ruin a relationship and probably hurts your partner, even if you don’t see it. If your partner is the one doing this to you, be assertive and tell them that it’s not okay. If they really care about you, they will stop, and it not, they probably aren’t the right person for you.
If you genuinely think your partner is hiding something, ask them directly but don’t jump to conclusions and remain calm. And if you’re really not happy with things, it may be time to break up.
Challenge #5: Travel on a student budget
It’s no secret that long distance travel is expensive and students aren’t exactly the wealthiest. If your partner is overseas, this is going to be even more of a challenge. So what can you do about it?
How to make it work
Budget travel is all about two things: planning ahead and compromise. I’ve written about my favourite money-saving travel tips for long distance journeys. As for compromise, you might have to go the route of Greyhound/Megabus or whatever equivalent budget bus-company you have in your own country.
A few dos and don’ts:
- Do keep the travel fair, if you can – one of you shouldn’t be doing all the visits
- Don’t go into debt to pay for visits, no matter how much you miss them – this can spiral out of control, leaving you in a desperate situation
- When they’ve taken the time to visit you and put their own money towards it, be grateful that they’re doing this for you. Be supportive and make them comfortable as soon as they arrive.
Why being in a LDR can be great for students
Going to college is such a massive milestone that it can sometimes feel like you’ve been uprooted from everything familiar.
This is where it can be wonderful to have someone there to be your ‘rock’ through all that experience. It’s incredibly comforting to know that even though your lives are changing, you have a solid source of support and love – and that you both value it enough to make the effort to keep the fire burning, in spite of the distance.
Sure, you can’t drop in on each other spontaneously, but this might matter less than you think.