My Partner & I Did Long-Distance For 4 Years: Here's What Worked & What Broke Us Up

by Sydnee Lyons

I got into my first serious relationship only two months after starting my first semester of college. We didn't meet in the dining hall or in my mandatory natural science lab. We met years before through family friends in my hometown. It wasn't until I moved away, though, that we realized how we felt about each other. For weeks, we considered ignoring our feelings and falling out of touch until we lived in the same area code again. Logically, I figured that would be easier than doing long-distance for four years. LOL! It wasn't and we caved fairly quickly. An LDR and a full, freshman course load — what could go wrong?

I think I learned more about myself by being in a long-distance relationship all throughout college than I did by actually being in college. For example, I struggled with classmates' attempts to belittle my relationship in favor of what they deemed the typical college experience (read: one-night stands and spring break hookups), even though I was happy in my relationship. Granted most of these jabs came from guys I'd turned down, but I had to learn how to own my decisions and stand up for myself when it came to discussing my personal life.

Ultimately, what I really learned from long-distance was endurance. With my partner's help, I learned what a relationship needs to work in the long-run, how to get through months at a time without seeing each other, and how to remain optimistic through it all.

We took each other out to our favorite local spots via FaceTime.

I didn't care that the servers at my favorite breakfast place gave me weird looks for setting my phone up against my coffee cup. This way, I could get out of my tiny apartment without leaving my partner behind. I took him with me to wander through the aisles at Barnes & Noble and to help me pick out almond butter at Trader Joe's. He took me along on beach days with his family.

I relied a lot on these virtual dates to ward off any loneliness I felt as a college freshman in a new city. It kept my partner and I closer together and left me feeling closer to home.

I used our daily text conversations to share my notes from class.

No, I don't mean love notes (but I suppose that would have been cuter). I actually sent my partner summaries of my lectures as a study method I still endorse. He'd already graduated from college at the time and his major — computer science — was very different from mine — economics.

In between classes, I would explain microeconomic theories of demand and supply via text and he would ask me to provide real-life examples he could relate to.

I recently stumbled across some of these text conversations and I'm pretty sure I could still use them as self-contained study guides. It was unconventional but totally us.

We kept a running countdown in between trips to see each other.

This was something we did publicly on social media — you know, back when status updates were still a thing. Every few days, we would post something cute and sappy about how excited we were for our next trip together. It was a way for us to validate our relationship among friends (not that we needed to) and to give us something to look forward to whenever being apart felt particularly challenging.

These crafty solutions got us through the entirety of my college career but not beyond graduation. That was a turning point for me, like it is for most other college seniors, and I realized that my online relationship came with real-life consequences.

I canceled plans so often to stay at home and FaceTime my boyfriend that I had gone through college without making any real friends.

Maybe I didn't need those guys who tried to convince me that my long-distance boyfriend was more like a pen pal than a serious, romantic partner. But I didn't make that many genuine friends, either. I spent so much time on the phone with my partner — even when I left my apartment — that I'd completely closed myself off to the real world around me.

By the time, I realized this it was too late. I felt more alone at my commencement ceremony than I had at any other point throughout my college career.

Our countdown took us from visit to visit but we had no actual plans for the future once I graduated.

With graduation came another crushing revelation. I decided to take on a full-time internship in my college town, which meant no more spring break or winter break trips to see my partner. I hadn't noticed how much of the travel burden fell on me up until that point. We knew how to navigate long-distance as long as I was in college and my schedule was flexible but we never thought about how our relationship would stack up out in the real world. Turns out, we needed that study guide all along.

In the end, I was ready to take myself out to breakfast alone (even to places where there was no WiFi). My partner felt the same way about the WiFi... but only because he'd hoped I would be sitting across from him.

For a long time, I vowed never to do long-distance again after that because I felt like I had lost myself in the process, which was true. But the thing about long-distance (or any relationship, for that matter) is that you have to be OK with being alone before you can agree to be with someone else. I know that now.