Peter and I had been dating for only a week before our relationship became marked by the signs of a long-distance relationship: expensive phone bills, used-up data plans and Skype sessions over plates of steaming pad Thai.
He’d graduated from the University of Oregon a few months before we’d met and, by the time we’d begun dating, he was already packing up to move to Portland. Only a handful of dates later, and our relationship was already reliant on screens and notifications and FaceTime.
Not that our situation was unique. Lots of couples — particularly, those in college — will face time apart. Especially during the summer months. Come June, no longer will they live down the hall, down the block or across town from each other. There’ll be differing time zones to consider and phone bills and Wi-Fi connections and data plans — not to mention The Big Questions: Should we stay together? Will we stay together? And if we do, how do we keep this relationship alive? Especially when everything is so fresh and new and vulnerable?
Take UO student Lindsay McWilliams and UO alumnus Dash Paulson, for instance. They had to answer those questions; both began dating their current partners only weeks before a summer break they’d spend apart. I talked to them both and put together a few tips in case it’s your turn to navigate The Big Questions.
Communication. Communication. Communication. Not feeling the long-distance thing? Not wanting to break up for the summer? Fine — just tell your partner that. When McWilliams wasn’t sure what the summer would look like for her and her boyfriend, she was upfront with him. No matter what they chose to do for those summer months, she said, come September, she’d want to be with him. That’s when they thought: Why don’t we just stay together? So they did.
Consider the long-term. Let’s say you’re still confused as to whether or not you want to become exclusive with this new partner over the summer. After all, it is a commitment. Perhaps this will help: Imagine yourself in the fall. Imagine that you had stayed together over the summer; now, imagine that you hadn’t. What does it look like? Feel like? What would be the consequences of not staying together? The benefits? Consider the vulnerability of the relationship and the amount of investment necessary in order for that relationship to grow. Imagine that the relationship has grown. How do you feel?
Just hang out — on Skype. So. You’ve decided to stay together. Here’s a tip: Skype as if you were just “hanging out.” When my boyfriend and I were apart, we Skyped as if we were together in person. That means we didn’t just get on to chat about our days and be done with it. We’d stay on Skype while doing the things we’d normally do: homework, listening to music, writing a paper. We even watched a couple of movies together.
Know this: It’s okay if you go your different ways. Paulson abides by the advice a friend gave him once: Should you and your partner grow apart, it’s okay. “You’re still new to each other and getting to know one another,” Paulson said. “The relationship itself should just be about having fun and being supportive and if you’re engaging in that way, and you two aren’t tearing each other’s hair out and not losing interest, you should stay with that person. If you do find you’re going in different directions, that’s okay, too.”
Plan time together. Whenever Paulson and his girlfriend have spent time apart (and they’ve done it twice now) they plan a trip for the end of the summer — just the two of them. First time, it was a few days in Portland; second, they camped in Idaho. Planning a trip like that gives you something to look forward to, and a time when you two can replenish the relationship.
Take it as a sign. Remember, if you do make this work, it’s no small feat — especially if you two were still getting to know each other before you made the commitment to stay together. It says something if you two can communicate naturally and honestly — even miles apart. It says something if you two can Skype for hours and text about miscellaneous happenings and have electronic dates. Treasure it.
Editor’s Note: This column was written in preparation for HuffPost Live’s video broadcast series, On Campus: Let’s Talk About Sex. The segment host invited the Emerald’s former sex and relationships writer and Quackd editor, Katherine Marrone, as well as two other sex columnists from Harvard University and Rollins College, to talk about summer sex rules. Watch the live-streamed video and join the conversation online today around 2 p.m. (Pacific Standard Time).
**Both Lindsay McWilliams and Dash Paulson are former Emerald writers.