Heart Jet Lag
When I started at Jacobs in the fall of 2010, our then President, Joachim Treusch, said a few words in his welcome address that stuck with me throughout my entire time as a student there. They went something like this:
“99 percent of you will graduate from this university.
90 percent of you will fall in love during your time here.
10 percent of those relationships will work out.”
Now, I’m not sure about the exact numbers anymore, but it was a depressing statistic, as far as relationships and their success were concerned. During my first two years I thought that it was probably due to academic stress and cultural differences that most relationships at Jacobs eventually failed. Both factors are certainly relevant. However, as I learned in the summer and fall before my third year, there is another big issue: distance.
“What distance?” you might ask, on a campus where the bar is three minutes away and a “long distance relationship” probably describes dating someone from College Nordmetall. Of course, I don’t mean on campus distance. I mean the countless instances in which one of the partners is on campus, and the other is not – usually because they’ve graduated a year or even two before their significant other.
The biggest drawback of an international university, where our friends come from all over the world, is that after graduation they end up going to live… well, all over the world. This is even more of an issue when it is our boyfriend or girlfriend that moves to a different city, country or even another continent. In those cases, there are, I think, two kinds of scenarios. Either we expect to eventually still end up with the same person, or we already assume that graduation will be the end of our relationship and just refuse to think or speak about it before it actually happens.
In my experience one needs to be firmly convinced that the relationship fits the former scenario if there is to be any chance for it to survive. And no, I was not entirely sure of that, and no, we’re not together anymore. So then who am I to give any sort of advice on the subject? Well, I at least know what not to do…
Based on my personal experience I have three main points I’d like to share:
1. Don’t put off talking about your expectations
Before you or your partner leave campus, talk about what is going to happen and how you are going to deal with it. The elephant in the room does not go away just because you avoid the subject. You will have to talk about it, and you will have to be honest about your expectations for the future. Where do you see yourself going? Do you feel ready to move for someone else? Are you even okay with trying long distance to begin with? How often do you want to talk to each other, how are you going to schedule your Skype dates, and can you manage to possibly visit each other? Or – be honest – do you think it might be best if you broke up?
I’m not saying that what you’re expecting and planning is actually going to happen. In my case, we both felt our relationship was not established enough to sustain long distance and we lived with an expiration date in mind from the very beginning. Yet, the relationship lasted almost a year after my partner had left, even though we spent most of that time on different continents. Still, it ultimately ended because we could not find a scenario in which we would be able to live and work in the same city again without extreme difficulty for either of us. If we had talked about it before and planned our lives out a little differently, there might very well have been a way.
2. Don’t forget to have a life
This seems very obvious, but we do tend to forget how incredibly important it is. If you’re the person “stuck” on campus, make the most of it. Campus is amazing, the people are great and you’ll maybe never again in your life be this close to all your friends. Party it up, have sleepovers, study sessions, coffee dates with your bestie at the downtown Starbucks, lie in the sun on campus green, bring your poor studying friends in the IRC some chocolate, or go study there yourself (you know you should, midterms are coming closer!). Just don’t let your entire day revolve around that half hour on Skype. Yes, it sucks that you have to do all these activities without your significant other, especially if you had a year or two to get used to him or her always being around. But don’t forget that you still have a ton of wonderful people around you. The same is true if you’re the person who moved away. Missing Jacobs and your partner should not stand in the way of a host of new experiences!
3. Be aware of how distance changes fighting
If you’re fighting with a partner who’s in the same room, you will most likely stay in the same room until the conflict is somehow resolved. Even if it escalates and one of you leaves – you can always find each other again and talk about it once you’ve calmed down. Distance does not always give you that luxury. Being late for your Skype date the day after you had a fight is just as bad as not replying to an angry email – or having to wait a day to resolve your argument because you’re on different continents and your partner is asleep. If you’ve ever spent a night lying awake wondering if your relationship still exists then you already know the feeling. Don’t do that to your partner. Answer the email, stay on Skype until you’ve resolved your fight, or at least be on time the next day. Fighting feels very different when you can’t kiss and make up.
There’s one more thing to remember. People say long distance relationships never work. I know for a fact that this is not true. A young man I graduated with got married only a few weeks ago to the love of his life, a girl from a different continent. They’d had a long distance relationship for years before that and I am beyond happy for the two of them. You know why I think it worked? Because they both believed in it one hundred percent. They were committed to it one hundred percent. If either of you is not ready for giving 100 percent, it is better to voice your concerns early on. Share your fears and your doubts. You are not helping anyone by prolonging a relationship that you are expecting (and thereby causing) to die.
No, my Jacobs relationship did not survive the post-graduation long distance phase, but I am not sad. I’m still glad I had that time to spend with a very special person who I still think of as a friend and wonderful man. Jacobs wouldn’t be Jacobs without the drama, the love, and the crazy, funny and strange misunderstandings that come with intercultural relationships. As cheesy as it sounds, make the most of it and if you fall in love – fall deeply. Even if you’re not among the ten percent in the end – it’s part of the Jacobs experience.
Photo Credit: chiarashine on flickr