Going the distance

Students gather to share sentiments of long distance relationships

Manuel Duran, a graduate comparative literature student, watched “Breaking Bad” with his girlfriend when they lived near each other in Miami, Florida.

Now, with his girlfriend still in Miami, and Duran in Buffalo, his girlfriend counts down from three, and they push the play button simultaneously to watch the series together on Skype and emulate the experience of a close-proximity relationship.

To learn how to continue his long-distance relationship, Duran attended “Long Distance Love: Relationships While Apart,” a panel discussion held by the Student Health and Wellness Center Oct. 30 in 250 Student Union.

Twenty-five to 50 percent of college students are currently in long-distance relationships and up to 75 percent of college students have engaged in a long-distance relationship at least once, according to Science Daily.

Functional long-distance relationships are based on seven key elements: willingness to nurture the relationship, commitment to the relationship, effective communication, trust, a balance between independence and dependence, clear expectations and mutual respect, according to a pamphlet handed out at the event.

For many students in long-distance relationships, simple yet meaningful communication is a cornerstone for maintaining a long-distance relationship.

Duran and his girlfriend communicate not only through Skype but also by sending each other letters.

“My girlfriend [and I] have this ongoing crossword puzzle that we send back in forth to each other after we figure out a word,” Duran said.

Li Jin, a sophomore English major from South Korea, frequently exchanges messages with her boyfriend. But she said one of her American friends only exchanges messages with his girlfriend twice a day – once in the morning and once at night.

“In my country, we would send messages saying, ‘I’m getting up now,’ ‘I’m going to the store now,’ ‘I’m going to eat now’ [and] ‘I’m going to wash my face now,’ Jin said. “This was the norm.”

Jin said the workshop taught her she does not have to respond to her boyfriend’s text messages with a barrage of messages.

Talking about the future is also important to maintaining a long-distance relationship, according to Ladan Golshanara, a computer science graduate student.

The attendees agreed technology is useful for communicating during long-distance relationships.

“My girlfriend and I do this thing we call Skype Space, where I work on grading papers while she works on her illustrations,” Duran said. “We don’t really talk, we just get our things done while we are there on the screen.”

These practices allow long-distance couples to maintain their individuality and simultaneously nurture their relationship, Berkoski said.

When Amberly Panepinto, assistant director of counseling for Student Health and Wellness, and her now-husband were in a long-distance relationship, they could only afford to talk on the phone twice a week.

“My boyfriend and I would have to time our phone calls for when the phone rate would change,” she said. “We didn’t have cellphones at the time, so we could only talk after 11 p.m.”

Although couples can communicate through technology, they often miss the physical intimacy of a close-distance relationship, said Alina Swierski, a senior speech and hearing science major.

“On the flipside, there’s likely more physical intimacy when you’re together because there’s this pressure that exists since you’re together for a shorter time,” Panepinto said.

Workshop attendees discussed if the success of a long-distance relationship depends on whether the relationship starts as a long-distance or close-proximity relationship.

“It’s easy to start a relationship while it’s long distance, but harder to maintain it,” Jin said.

Workshop attendees also discussed how men and women develop different concerns in long-distance relationships.

“I understand that culture places this kind of a stigma [on women] that we’re supposed to be the strong ones, and you guys don’t feel anything,” Swierski said. “But I’m wondering how guys get through the commitment of long distance relationships.”

The success of long-distance relationships is based on mutual effort, according to Krystle Berkoski, associate counselor for Student Health and Wellness.

Trust is also essential to maintaining a long-distance relationship. In a long-distance relationship it’s “more difficult to trust” because the “only form of commitment is their word,” Panepinto said.

“A lot of people will tell you it’s hard, but I’m thankful I’ve had a good experience,” Duran said. “[My girlfriend and I] don’t have conflicting schedules, we live in the same time zone [and] we both have access to technology that allows for easy communication. There is no relationship without trust and there is no trust without honesty.”

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