I am not, nor have I ever been, a romantic. The smallest displays of PDA give me cold sweats and the only thing The Notebook makes me feel is vomit in the back of my throat. Yet somehow, despite possessing the curmudgeonly nature of an 80-year-old man, I fell in love towards the end of my senior year of high school. As it turns out, the end of senior year is a terrible time to get a boyfriend: Just as quickly as we started dating, my new boyfriend and I were forced to confront the fast-approaching issue that was freshman year of college, and we’d be going to schools nearly 2,000 miles apart.
Days away from embarking on my journey to the University of Michigan, I was still struggling to decide what to do in terms of my relationship: break up or stay together? After countless Google searches for “long-distance college high school sweetheart good idea,” against all reason, I decided to listen to my heart and stay with him. He was my best friend and the first person to ever love me. I was nowhere near ready to lose that. Perhaps I had been poisoned after all in my youth by Disney and its frighteningly idealistic portrayals of young romance, but I was willing to give long-distance a shot in the hopes that maybe I had found the Cory to my Topanga.
At first, being star-crossed lovers wasn’t nearly as difficult as Shakespeare would have you believe. I balanced school, drunken debacles with friends on the weekends and Skyping my boyfriend with ease. We made it through the Thanksgiving Turkey Drop with hardly even a fight, high-fiving as inferior couples around us angrily parted ways. I loved my boyfriend and I loved school.
Eventually though, as the exciting newness of college wore off and the emotional difficulty of freshman year and being away from home set in, my boyfriend became my crutch. Whenever I was sad or lonely at school, instead of going out, meeting new people or trying to solve my unhappiness, I would cry in a broom closet and Skype a boy in a different time zone. I fell deeper and more in love with my boyfriend, but consequently felt increasingly out of place and distant at my large, rambunctious state school. College became just a three-month obstacle to burn through until I’d get to go home and see my boyfriend again instead of what were supposed to be the best years of my life.
The problem (or one of many problems) with long-distance is that your heart is never fully in the same place as you are: Half of it will always be across the country at the University of Texas or wherever your significant other resides. My boyfriend viewed four years of misery apart as an investment towards a potential lifetime of happiness together. It was certainly a risk, but he thought it was worth it. Somewhere around March of my freshman year, I began to have my doubts. Despite how good the relationship was, I realized long-distance wasn’t good for me. I watched myself give up opportunities to travel to places I’d always dreamed of and take internships in distant cities so that my boyfriend and I could spend the summer together. I declined going out with friends to talk to my computer screen. The fights and miscommunications my boyfriend and I had over the phone and Internet put me in a foul mood. During the breaks when we both were home, I struggled to equally divide spending my time among my boyfriend, my friends and my family. Being away from him became more painful, and the vibration in my pocket from an affectionate text message could hardly replace the buzzing sensation of a kiss.
No matter how in love I was, the relationship was stressful, and the stress started to wear me down. My relationship became a constant source of anxiety and frustration. I didn’t know if I could take four more years of the emotional burden – and what if it wasn’t four years? What if, after all this, we both graduated from school and still didn’t end up in the same city? Or even worse, we ended up in the same place, realized we had changed too much and our relationship just wouldn’t work out? At 18 years old, I was nowhere near ready to potentially think about spending the rest of my life with someone. Perhaps I would be ready to make decisions based around another person someday, but for now I wanted to be selfish while I was still young. The bottom line was I couldn’t rationalize staying in a relationship that made me unhappy, held me back from taking opportunities, and above all else, had no end date to the long-distance. There were too many variables involved and I knew I had to end it.
With freshman year coming to a close, I told my boyfriend through hot, frustrated tears that I couldn’t do long-distance next year. It was just too hard. He understood. We amicably broke up at the end of summer this past August and I transferred to Northwestern. There are a lot of reasons why I left the University of Michigan, and after a year of long-distance, a need for a fresh start was one of them. (I couldn’t give you a percentage or an exact figure, but it’s interesting to note that what seemed like a lot of transfer students spent their freshman year in a long-distance relationship as well. Make what you will of that.)
A few weeks into my newly-single sophomore year here at Northwestern, a couple of friends and I invited a fellow new student to go out with us. Thanking us for the offer, she politely declined, apologizing with, “I have to Skype my boyfriend. We’re in a fight,” and promptly returned to her dorm. Although I wanted to say in a moment that would have gone down in the Sassy Retorts Hall of Fame, “And that is why I am no longer in a long-distance relationship,” I held my tongue. Post-breakup, whenever I meet someone in a long-distance relationship, my first instinct is always to shout: YOU’RE MAKING A HUGE MISTAKE. END IT. NOW. I MEAN IT. Usually, I act on my second and more socially acceptable instinct, which is to keep my thoughts to myself and wish them good luck. You see, telling someone in an LDR that her relationship is inevitably doomed does about the same amount of good as watching a horror movie and yelling at whatever wide-eyed bimbo is about to get slashed that the killer is right behind her. It’s a huge, frustrating dose of dramatic irony, to put it in literary terms, that’s bound to fall on deaf ears.
I can’t tell someone else whether or not a long-distance relationship is right. Some things you have to learn for yourself. No matter how many friends you ask or Google searches you perform, there is no one or no search engine that can tell you the right answer when it comes to long-distance. For an infinitesimally miniscule select few, long-distance does work out. That boyfriend or girlfriend 2,000 miles away is their once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and being with them, even when they’re long-distance, is never a day wasted. Part of me envies that. I guess those people are more mature and better at committing to someone in their teens for the rest of their life than I was. Besides, I would hate to be known as the person who broke up Cory and Topanga with her incessant cynicism. But way more often than not, these couples aren’t Mr. and Mrs. Cory Matthews. The best and truest thing most people can tell you is that no matter what, long-distance is really hard and, in the end, most long-distance relationships don’t work.
Occasionally, a critic or two will view my DFMO-less freshman year as a waste. Despite my relationship’s fiery end, I never think of it that way. I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on my decision to try long-distance, and the question always surfaces: “If given the chance, knowing what I know now, would I do it all over again?” Despite the pain, the heartache, the 2 a.m. Skype calls from the broom closet, the answer is always yes. Perhaps my relationship was a mistake, but it was certainly a mistake worth making. Had I not tried long-distance, a part of me always would have been tortured by a bad case of the “What ifs?” It was the best learning experience I could have ever asked for and, given the option, I’d make the same choice all over again.
That being said, I also don’t regret ending it. Like with any breakup, being single was a difficult, lonely adjustment at first. Hell, even now, there are days where I miss my ex-boyfriend. But it was necessary. Since the breakup, I’ve learned to make decisions based on myself and what I want to do, rather than coordinating around which decisions will allow me to see or Skype my boyfriend the most. I’ve made new friends, reconnected with old ones and thrown myself into classes and extracurricular activities. Instead of trying to speed through whole month-long periods of my life, I’ve focused on making every day and every moment worthwhile, a feat that would have been impossible last year. As the words I’ve never been happier softly buzz inside my head, I’ve realized, in a bittersweet moment, that life without your high school sweetheart does go on.