If you’ve decided to study abroad, you’re in for the adventure of a lifetime. But if you have an SO, you may be feeling anxious about what’s going to happen to your relationship. Let it be known that staying with your SO while you’re abroad isn’t for everyone. But if you do decide to stay together, there are some things you’ll need to know in order to keep the spark alive when you're apart for a semester or longer. We’ve talked to collegiettes with experience to let you in on ways to maintain your relationship while you’re studying abroad.
1. Define the relationship
Before you leave, it’s absolutely crucial to define the relationship. If you’ve been dating for a while, it’s still important to have a conversation about what your boundaries are and where the two of you stand for the semester (or however long you’re abroad). “My boyfriend and I were together for a really long time before we actually made anything official,” says Lauren*, a junior at the University of Denver. “It wasn’t until a little bit before abroad that I actually brought it up because I didn’t want to leave and have no clue where we stood even though we spent most of our time together.” Lauren and her boyfriend decided to stay together — but it’s okay to take a break too! If you think having an SO is going to hinder your experience, see how they feel about an open relationship or let them know you want to be single while you’re abroad.
2. Make a plan
If you’ve decided you want to stay with your SO, it’s important to establish a plan for when you’ll be able to talk to each other. Are you okay with not talking every day? Would a simple goodnight text do the trick? Especially with time differences, it’s important to make sure you’re on the same page. “Given the time difference (he’s in Colorado and I’m in Sweden, so I am 8 hours ahead), we have a very limited time to talk throughout the day, which is probably the most difficult part because I’m missing out on the majority of his day, and vice versa,” Lauren says. “We try to FaceTime once a week, which is the best time to actually catch up and talk, but I can’t deny that only being able to really talk to him once a week is one of the most annoying things.” Even though Lauren wishes she could talk to her boyfriend more, FaceTiming him once a week gives her a chance to see him and let him know how she’s doing (and vice versa). Nicole Kelly, a senior at Bryant University, also scheduled a time to Skype her boyfriend at least once a week while she was studying abroad in China. "It made it easier to get through the week because we knew that regardless of the time difference and busy schedules, we would always have time dedicated to catching up," she says. Figure out a time that works for both of you, and try to stick to it!
This may seem like an obvious one, but it’s critical to communicate with your SO and let them know if your feelings are starting to change. “While you do not have to talk every single day, staying open with your partner is important,” says Isabel Calkins, a junior at New York University. “If at any point you are starting to stray from your feelings, you have to be open about it. It will take work to maintain the relationship but as long as you know that where you are is temporary, things are going to be okay if you want them to be.” Keeping an open line of communication will help keep each of you satisfied, as Lauren has experienced. She’ll sometimes “just ask to FaceTime that night or ask him to give me just a little more attention throughout the week,” she says. If you need to scream into a pillow or have a small crying session, that’s okay too. This isn’t something easy!
4. Remember it’s temporary
If you’re having a mini-breakdown or wondering how you could possibly go on like this, remember that it isn’t forever! “I guess there’s no perfect way to handle a long distance relationship during abroad, but I always remind myself that it’s only temporary, and things will be back to the way they were once I return to the states,” Lauren says. With this mindset, you’ll be able to enjoy what you’re doing in the present (which is so important!) and know you have only a few months before you’re back with your SO. It’s definitely a different ball game if you’re overseas, but with hard work, you can get through it.
5. Find a way to stay connected
Even if you're thousands of miles away, you can find ways to stay connected. Mailing letters (so much more romantic than texts!) and care packages will bring a smile to your SO's face and let them know you're thinking about them. It's also a great way to share what you're doing with the other person (send them something cool from a place you visit!). If mailing is too complicated, like it was for Nicole, you can find other ways to let your SO know you're thinking about them. "It would've been super complicated and taken weeks for him to send me anything [he was in Boston while she was in China], but I ordered him pizza delivery once," she says. Such a cute and simple idea! If your SO feels like they're still an important part of your life, the relationship will continue to grow rather than be put on hold.
If you’re still feeling uneasy about where your relationship stands once you go abroad, talk to your SO about it. If you don’t trust them, the relationship isn’t going to last anyway — so that shouldn’t be an issue. Figure out what’s going to work best for you and be prepared. It’s not going to be a walk in the park, but as Isabel says, “Long distance is really hard but not impossible!” If you’re meant to be with your SO, you’ll get through it. Good luck, collegiettes!
*Name has been changed