Even if you were an unfashionable, awkward, honor-list geek in high school – like me – chances are that you finally found love in college. I mean, really – how can one go through four years of constant contact with hundreds, if not thousands, of other young, eager, excited specimens of the opposite sex, not to mention the parties, long days of studying and collaborative projects… without finding a mate? Or even a fling? Figuring out your sexuality and dating are just as much parts of the college experience as books and classes.
And just when you’re getting warmed up – just when you meet that special someone that might be the “one” – senior year comes along…and there’s no pressure worse for a healthy relationship than the pressure of graduation and the uncertainty that comes with it. The final year of college can be a trying experience for any couple, and if you make it through unscathed there are the constant questions surfacing towards the end of it all… As if the pressure of finding a job and stepping out of the educational bubble and into the “real world” isn’t enough, now you have to think about nurturing a relationship, on top of it all!
Some grads make it to graduation happily single or married. Those folks probably aren’t reading this article. Others are forced to determine the fate of their relationship – Do we stay together? And if so, where are we going? Many grads go to college in places they do not intend on staying. And many fields of study are specific to certain geographic regions of the world. The six months after graduation are unpredictable, uncertain, and usually involve some kind of move – a major transition in and of itself. What do you do when the relationship is solid, is good, is the best either of you have ever had… but your career paths are leading in two opposite directions? It is, without a doubt, one of the most challenging decisions a couple will ever make, and during one of the most emotionally trying periods of your life. Great.
There is no right or wrong answer in this kind of situation…but I feel very strongly about the choices that I made, and if I had to do it all over, I would change nothing.
Go Your Separate Ways
I am a huge advocate for following your individual dreams, regardless of the strain it may put on the relationship. Absence really does make the heart grow fonder – IF and only if the relationship is meant to be.
I graduated a year before my boyfriend of two years. Both of us knew that we didn’t want to live in the area we had met, especially since we’d chosen a career path that led primarily to either New York City or Los Angeles. My circumstances were especially challenging as I went to college near my hometown, and was very anxious to travel and live abroad. I had dreamed of moving far away upon college graduation. But… we were madly in love. My options were to go out on my own, or stick around and wait for him to graduate, with no guarantee our relationship would survive through either situation. What did I do? I left. It was one of the most difficult decisions I ever made, but I took a summer job four hours away and left only two weeks after graduation. Even though I bawled almost every night from missing him, I wouldn’t do anything differently today because being away from each other made our goals more clear than ever before. Less than a month apart, we were engaged. Going out on my own made us both realize that we wanted to be together.
I’m not saying that if you go your own way, you’ll eventually get engaged. What I am saying is that you’ll figure out, pretty quickly, what needs to happen. You’ll both realize that it’s either going to work, or it’s not. And once you’ve made the decision, everything else will fall into place.
The key is to pay attention and not be afraid to act once you realize the reality of the situation. It could have been the opposite for us – we could have discovered that we were happier apart. We could have felt free and content on our own. And if that had happened, we would have ended it. My point is that you both need to do what will make you each happy inside as individuals. And if – once you’ve done that – you realize that your happiness is not complete without the other person, then you’ll know, with complete certainty that you’re meant to be together. Or, the opposite.
Once we decided we were engaged, I didn’t come running back to his side, sacrificing all of my dreams. On the contrary, having an unfaltering confidence in our future together, I realized that this was my unique chance to do what I wanted to do, on my own. It was my only time to develop as an individual, to prove to myself that I could survive on my own. That winter I bought a job permit and moved to London for four months. It was one of the most challenging experiences of my life, but it shaped me as an individual and strengthened our relationship more than ever before. I returned from London with a newfound confidence in both our relationship and myself. And instead of having sat around miserably waiting for him to graduate, I embarked upon our post-college life together with no regrets.
I’m not going to lie and say that it was a piece of cake surviving a long-distance relationship. While being engaged made the months apart slightly easier, it was still one of the toughest experiences I’d ever gone through. We talked on the phone daily, we both drank too much to numb the missing, and we both experienced bouts of sadness that phone calls could not heal. There were moments when it really just sucked, and eventually, I came home earlier than planned because I missed him so much (and because I was broke – London is not exactly a walk-in-the-park for a young, American film graduate). But despite it all, my experience abroad was exactly what we both needed, and the feeling in my gut on the day I finally came home is one I’ll remember forever.
Long-distance relationships are never fun for either party… but they are the ultimate test, and a test that you shouldn’t hesitate to take if it arises as the best step in your paths. Cell phones, internet phones, camera phones, web-cams, and email ease the missing-you blues, and no matter how difficult it is, you both will figure out how to proceed: together, or on your own.