Distance makes the heart grow fonder: Three essential qualities for long-distance relationships

Writer Mark Nealon takes a selfie with his girlfriend Tia, who he is currently in a long-distance relationship with. Photo by M.Nealon/Setonian.

Long-distance relationships. What do you know about them? What have you heard about them? Who have you talked to about them? Does it really even make a difference? The truth of the matter is that regardless of who you may ask, you are bound to hear the following line at least once if you ever consider getting into one: “THEY NEVER WORK.” Charming, isn’t it?

I myself am in a long-distance relationship and I have heard this line many times in some way or another. Interestingly enough, I’ve seen it too.

The line appears on a person’s face right after I tell them about my situation and they get this look. The look that says, “Poor kid. Doesn’t even know he’s a goner yet.”

This look is usually accompanied by an “Oh wow.” Can you imagine what their face would look like if I told them that I am in a long-distance relationship with my high school sweetheart? I think they would hug me (out of pity). High school relationships never work out, right? So, high school long-distance relationships must never EVER work out.

I have also heard this line when people tell me why THEY could never do what I was doing. Translation? “It’s never going to work out.” Another way I have heard this line is every time I tell someone my girlfriend is 4 1/2 hours away and I get an, “Oh wow.” “Oh wow.” Two words that can make you question your entire existence.

Now, I am not trying to say that all of them do work out by any means. They don’t. I have personally witnessed a handful of these relationships and all except two have left more to be desired. But those two just so happened to turn into engagements.

So, call me a hopeless romantic, a delusional dreamer or a whackadoo for believing what I do. But I ask you to remember, some people honestly believed that Donald Trump would become president. Not the MAJORITY of people, but hey, who’s counting.

My relationship with Tia, my girlfriend who is a senior in high school, began on Feb. 14, 2017. I know. Valentine’s Day. I told you that you could call me a hopeless romantic, although my girlfriend prefers to call me cheesy.

Anyway, when I came to Seton Hill, we had just finished celebrating our six-month anniversary in Ocean City, Md. Bittersweet and cheesy. Like no flavor you’ve ever tasted before. We left Ocean City a day before move-in and drove up with my parents. On our journey back to meet my parents, we endured an interesting thing. The five stages of grief.

On the 4 1/2 hour car ride back, we denied our vacation was ending, were angry about all the things we didn’t have time to do, begged and pleaded my parents to just homeschool me, sunk into our seats riddled with depression, until finally we accepted what was happening. Saying goodbye for the first time was exceptionally hard. Spoiler alert, it doesn’t get any easier the second, third or fourth time you say goodbye.

Nothing about a long-distance relationship is easy or gets easier. If they did get easier, you would find that those lines and looks of doubt would be extinct. However, they’re possible. How you may ask, oh expert of almost four months? Well. There are a couple of things that you can do to keep fighting.

#1. Communication
I know I may be beating a dead horse with this one, but communication really is key. Personally, I make sure to call my girlfriend after school before she goes to work every day. We talk about our days and how school is and about how much we miss each other. We also make sure to text as often as we can and FaceTime every night after she gets out of work. While we may miss a “date night” from time-to-time, that should be expected. Nobody is perfect. That’s not something I learned in school, that’s something I learned from watching Hannah Montana. And to this day it still rings true. Perfection is not necessary to make a long-distance relationships work. Effort is. Which brings me to my next point.

#2. Effort
I know, I know. Kind of a given. But let me explain. Effort does not simply mean you try to call and text on a schedule. Effort comes in many different forms. Effort can be that extra mile you go to talk to your significant other or make them feel better. Effort comes in those surprises that give you that cheesy trademark name. That is a name earned. For example, on our seven-month anniversary, I ordered sunflowers (her favorite) to be delivered to her. I also came in the very next day without her knowing. Now, I did not get this nickname since I’ve been to college. It truly is an art form. You’re talking to a guy that got a restaurant to help him with his promposal. I’m a veteran. However, most of my efforts come in day-to-day mindless actions. Sending her a cute Twitter post here, Facebook post there or even just using an app to watch our favorite YouTuber together. Effort should be effortless if you are with the right person.

Photo from pinterest.com.

#3. Trust
Trust is a very important part of a long-distance relationship, as it is with any relationship. Tia and I have an understanding. We are 100 percent no matter what. Good, bad, ugly, whatever. If you cannot be honest with the person you’re dating, what is the point? Who can you be honest with? It is important to always be honest of course, but especially when that person is hours and hundreds of miles away. A long-distance relationship is scary. Not just for you, but for that other person too. I came from a small town where you basically tag someone in kindergarten and forever you will be shipped for marriage. After moving so far away for college, stepping out of my comfort zone and meeting new people, I understand that feeling. The feeling of, “Are they going to meet someone new? Someone better?” It’s a natural fear. That is why trust is so important.

Do not worry. I will not leave this on a somber note. Being in a long-distance relationship has been one of the best decisions I have ever made. It really is a good thing if you are with the right person. All the songs about missing a love just speak to you on a different level. Going home never felt better. The longest time we spent apart before college? A three-day snowstorm that kept me from driving to her.

College in general is scary. There is no way around it. If you are like me, someone who is not easily inclined to change, it can be a very lonely place. It takes me a while to open up to people and really show who I am and what I am like. Without Tia, I don’t know how much worse my first few weeks here would have been. I’ve gotten better bit by bit, but only after a breakdown to her on the phone every now and then.

Best thing about my relationship? That’s completely okay. We actually made each other “Open When…” letters for such occasions. I may or may not have opened them all on the first night here, but I promise that I opened them honestly because that first night here, I was on the bipolar express. Choo choo.

Long-distance relationships are scary. That’s true. Sometimes they don’t pan out. That’s also true. It all has to do with how much you want to make the relationship work. If you find someone who the effort feels effortless with, you’ve got a good chance of being the exception to the rule.

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