My girlfriend and I often think back to our first date four and a half years ago. Not only was it an exciting and new adventure for both of us, but we both only agreed to start dating if our relationship wouldn't interfere with our personal goals. Now, we are 1,000 miles apart at different colleges pursuing our own interests. Now more than ever, it has been important for us to grow as individuals.
No one ever told my girlfriend and me that a long-distance college relationship was going to be easy. In fact, some even discouraged it. However, from the start we both knew that it would be worth pursuing. Continuing our relationship during college would help us reach our own professional and personal goals while still being able to stay together. We like to think of it as an investment in ourselves and each other. Throughout our journey, we have had moments of struggle, but also times of great joy and fulfillment. Despite the challenges and the doubts, here we are, halfway through college and still going strong.
Though physically separated, we have found ways to improve and enjoy our relationship. Most importantly, we have grown as individuals by applying what we learn in our long distance relationship to our everyday interactions. So, here are three skills that I think that everyone could benefit from to improve their intrapersonal relationships, whether long distance or in the classroom.
The first skill that my girlfriend and I both improved on is frequency of communication. Initially, this was a challenge for us. Like most, our first year in college was focused on building routine and learning how to live mostly on our own. It felt like we had little time for long phone calls. It was exciting to be doing something completely different but also a struggle to learn how to manage a long distance relationship. At first, we found that it was difficult to stay in touch because of our new routines. However, we quickly found out that this was going to be the new normal. So, instead of working around our schedules, we built facetime and phone calls into our schedules.
We’ve found that deliberate and consistent communication have really helped us stay connected. I think this skill has also found its way into our lives away from the long distance relationship. Intentional communication with professors, friends and family is key to building stronger relationships. Long distance quickly helped us learn that you get what you give when it comes to communication. The more open and thoughtful your conversations are with others, the stronger your intrapersonal bond. This may seem like a no brainer to some, but I believe that the pandemic has detracted from our intrapersonal skills. For example, when talking to peers, going beyond surface-level questions like “what's your major?” has opened conversations that lead to a much stronger professional relationship. Often, you’ll end up finding something in common with each other.
The second skill we’ve found to be crucial to the strength of our long distance relationship is attentiveness. Sometimes it’s easy to tune out and not pay attention to what a person is really saying. However, being able to follow up on details from previous conversations is an excellent way of showing someone that you are truly invested in them and what they have to say. Down the road, this skill really helps build trust.
Additionally, we’ve found that working on increasing our attention span has helped our own professional development. Now that many workplaces are having more and more online interactions, the ability to be extra attentive and active over virtual calls will make you stand out from your peers. Things that make everyday long distance facetime calls meaningful, like eye contact and active listening, translate directly to those Zoom meetings or interviews with employers.
Lastly, setting personal goals is another way of improving relationships. We both knew that our biggest goal was to graduate, and then we could remove the “long distance” from our relationship. Now at the halfway point, we are ready to tackle the next two years together to achieve our goal.
Having goals with other relationships is also important. It can be as simple as making it into a professor’s office hours at least once a month, or getting to know a classmate better. Setting benchmarks and achieving them can help build the confidence needed to get over the next challenge.
At the end of the day, long distance still isn’t ideal. However, we think that being able to learn from each other and our circumstances has helped us become better people. I hope that my girlfriend and I will continue to grow as individuals and apply our long distance relationship skills to our everyday lives. Thankfully, we can look forward to easier communication with each other and our peers in the future.
Andrew Gotshall is a photographer for The Beacon. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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