Off the beat: Distance makes the heart grow fonder

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“How’s Austin?” is a question I’ve gotten countless times in the few days I’ve been back in Berkeley. Some friends say it offhand, as if asking about the weather. A few ask with obvious enthusiasm, hoping they’ll get to see him soon. Others speak in a soft, confidential tone, as if to say,“I’m here for you in case anything has gone wrong.” Its funny when I stop to think about it. In the two years I’ve been at Cal, my boyfriend has become a staple of my existence here, even though he’s about 100 miles away in Sacramento.

I started college in the bliss of a new love. I was certain that I would be able to handle the stress of a long-distance relationship that was six months fresh, and I soon met many others who were just as hopeful as I was. But, as the year progressed, the number of friends I had who were in long-distance relationships plummeted. I began to worry about my relationship, and whether it could survive the strain of being cities away. It seemed to me then, that Austin and I were fighting insurmountable odds and that it was only a matter of time until it all fell apart.

But it never did. I don’t think I would be the person I am right now if it wasn’t for his constant encouragement, advice and love. And although I do wish that we were in the same zip code, I feel that I’ve gained a confidence and independence here that I may not have had if we’d entered college attached to the hip.

If you’re dealing with the strains of a long-distance relationship, fear not! These relationships can and do work if you are willing to take the time to grow together, to learn from each other and to adapt to the needs of your partner, however big or small those needs may be. If you’re nervous about how to navigate all the intricacies of keeping the love alive from far away, these are a few of the things I have learned.

First off, please don’t spend all your time on your phone or computer talking to your significant other.  I thought at first that the best way to handle being apart was to constantly be connected to Austin digitally, but looking back I’ve realized I  was making myself miserable. I hadn’t let myself miss Austin in a healthy way. I spent all day texting him, we skyped after school, and I would even fall asleep sometimes on the phone, just so his voice would be the last thing I heard before drifting off to sleep.  All that time I spent trying to stay close made me conscious of just how far away we were from each other. I started to get paranoid about our relationship. I would get angry when he wouldn’t respond to my texts right away, thinking that he was too busy having fun to give me the attention I craved. It turns out that Austin just doesn’t check his phone often.

Although it took a long time, and it didn’t come without some fights, we’ve worked out a communication schedule that works for us. We text somewhat regularly, mostly to just remind the other we’re thinking of them, and that’s it. We call each other randomly, but mostly to share funny stories and class woes. The lighthearted nature of our exchanges help me feel like he’s near even when he’s not, and there isn’t the same pull of loneliness that there had been before.

Another thing that has helped us is spending real time together, which means taking the time to see the other about twice a month. Its not always easy getting away for a weekend, but its a commitment I’m happy to make. We’ve learned to be understanding when schedules — usually mine — don’t always allow us to see each other with perfect regularity. I love that Austin has created relationships with my friends, and that I’ve been able to continue friendships with his friends. It seems to minimize the physical and mental distance between us. I know some people aren’t close enough to visit each other as often as Austin and I have been lucky enough to do, but I’ve gotten to know my friends’ significant others through mediums like Skype and Facebook, which if done right, can achieve the same goal. It helps create bonds that connect the two of you beyond your relationship, and  maintains a sense of inclusiveness that can minimize the gulf between your relationship and your everyday life.

Most importantly, I’ve learned that trust is the most integral part of a long-distance relationship. You have to trust your partner to live their life, and trust that they want you to live yours. Austin and I are two autonomous, successful individuals in our everyday life, and our relationship only enhances our strengths. Although he is my other half, I no longer feel incomplete without him, only thankful that we’ve been given the opportunity to continually learn and grow from each other.

Being apart has been a journey, but I think it has only brought us closer together.

Contact Carli Baker at [email protected]