Danny and Sandy had it pretty great. Casual meet-up on the beach, a little wholesome hanky-panky under the docks (depending on who you believe in that he-said-she-said fiasco), and everlasting romance through senior year and beyond (I mean, if your car flies, that’s a pretty good indicator of what you can expect from the rest of your life).
Real life involves a lot fewer televised dance-offs, for one thing.
But more than that, starting—and continuing—a relationship during your undergrad years, and especially after graduation, takes dedication. When so many of us grow up, go to college, and get our first jobs in any number of cities (even countries!), it can feel like an insurmountable challenge to form romantic attachments to somebody else.
Here are some do’s and don’ts that may make the idea of committing just a little less phobia-inducing. No poodle skirts, I promise.
**SKC Do’s and Don’ts**
DO talk about your relationship before you graduate… Boy meets girl. Boy and girl date for several years. Boy and girl are about to receive diplomas.
But what do you do when you’ve landed your dream PR job in the big city and your beau is shipping off to law school down south? Having miles of interstate between you doesn’t necessarily mean the death sentence of your relationship. Talk about the logistics—what kinds of transportation are will be available to both of you? How financially feasible will it be to make those trips happen? Do you see this (gulp) going anywhere down the road?
…but DON’T insist on setting your future in stone. In our early twenties, none of us know what the next few years of our lives are going to bring. Making sure the two of you are in the same general chapter as far as your relationship is concerned is a good thing, but there’s no need to start picking out china patterns if you’re not there yet. Putting too many constraints on yourselves at this point in your lives might keep you from seizing opportunities that arise—opportunities that could be amazing for both of you, if you’re willing to weather them together.
DO make the effort to visit… No one gives enough credit to the “long” part of the “long-distance” relationship, in my humble opinion. Go into this knowing that you’re about to spend a significant portion of your non-working time on trains, in buses, or buzzing down interstates. Depending on where the two of you have your home bases for the next couple of years, you may be seeing each other as often as every other weekend or as infrequently as once every few months. Regardless of what schedule works for you, try to make the travel fairly equitable for both of you—even if it means becoming great friends with your local Amtrak conductor.
…but DON’T use the guilt trip on your partner. You’re free this weekend, and you’re all set to jump in the car and drive the several hours to spend some quality time with your significant other. Except for…there’s this networking event she has after work on Friday. Or an intramural softball game he totally forgot about on Saturday. (Is it even legal to have company bonding events on the weekend?!)
As difficult as it may be, try not to let your disappointment take over. There will inevitably come a time when it’s you who has a commitment you can’t (or, frankly, don’t want to) get out of when your sig-o wants to come visit—and wouldn’t you hope they would be understanding? Part of what makes a long-distance relationship challenging is acknowledging that you both have lives in the cities you’re in—and that that’s not a bad thing.
DO allow yourselves to grow and change… Think about the person you are right now. That person’s pretty different than who you were in high school, right? Well, a few years out of college, you’re going to look back and notice the same thing. Relationships that start in college share an awesome foundation, but they have to be flexible enough to let both of you keep growing into the adults you were on your way to becoming when you met.
…but DON’T force yourselves to be people you aren’t. Sometimes the people you grow into aren’t going in the same direction—med school and residency might be keeping you in one place for the foreseeable future, while your significant other’s job, and promotion, might be getting transferred across the country. This is the part where being grown up sucks. Acknowledging that you love each other but that you want different things can sometimes be the best decision—if that’s the way you feel. Putting in the work to make a relationship succeed is hugely important, but if you start to feel more dragged down than buoyed up by the results, it might be time to reconsider what’s best for both of you.
The biggest DO: Appreciate little time, and little things. Maybe your significant other has a half-hour layover in your city between two legs of a business trip flight. Savor that crappy airport lunch, if that’s all you get. Maybe your boyfriend couldn’t be there to see you receive that company achievement award…but he mailed you a box of Rolos because that’s the only candy the two of you would eat together when you went to see movies in college. When the times you’re physically together are few and far between, being grateful for what you’re given can go a long way.
Tara Powers works in publishing during the week and haunts the corridors of Amtrak and Metro-North most weekends. She blogs about her life, culinary and otherwise, at Chip Chip Hooray, and apologizes to her boyfriend and college friends for turning their lives into a column.