By Evanne Montoya
I hold the tears in until he is out of sight. I can't believe that this is it. This is the moment I have dreaded more and more as it grew nearer. My friend holds me as I release my torrent of tears, right there in the middle of the crowded airport. I cry for a few seconds then stop, breath in, and start to walk to her car. I need to be strong; this was my choice.
My boyfriend, Jakob, was getting on a plane to Germany, where he would remain for at least four years. I don't think we understood then what attempting a long distance relationship would mean. I don't think we have it all figured out now, half a year later. But I am beginning to learn that we are not alone.
At any time, about 25 to 50 percent of college students are involved in a long distance relationship, and 75 percent have been involved in at least one LDR, according to Laura Stafford's book, "Maintaining Long-Distance and Cross-Residential Relationships."
Why so many? Whitworth associate professor of communications Alan Mikkelson said the number of college students in this type of relationship can be partially attributed to students moving away for school.
"It's actually a phenomenon that affects college students more than just about any other population," Mikkelson said.
Though they are widespread among students, LDRs are often viewed unfavorably.
"I think when it comes to long distance relationships, the common conception is that they don't work, and that isn't true," Mikkelson said. "Obviously they have some extra obstacles [to] overcome; it really boils down to how well people are able to manage those."
Mikkelson also said images of long distance relationships in media such as television and movies reinforce the idea that long distance relationships are difficult to maintain.
Sophomore Jessica Swanson can relate. She is dating Ken King, who is currently stationed in Afghanistan. She found that although many people reacted favorably when they learned about her relationship, there is a general tendency to fear long distance relationships.
"I get the impression that a lot of people are like, 'That's amazing that you're doing that, but I would never try,'" she said.
Swanson and King broke up for a brief period during their senior year.
"He was afraid that a long distance relationship wouldn't work out, and he didn't want to leave me all by myself, but we decided that we were going to try it out," Swanson said. They have now been dating for four years, two of which have been long distance.
Whitworth freshman Brian Freeman is dating Morgan Bice, who currently is going to school in their hometown in Hawaii. He said he did not find the transition to long distance to be a "huge change."
"I don't think it was as dramatic as people made it out to be," he said. "If you have a good relationship and it's not just about physical stuff, then when you do have a long distance relationship it shouldn't be too different."
One book on LDRs, "Close Encounters: Communication in Relationships," says many couples achieve happy long distance relationships.
"Most research suggests that LDRs may be just as satisfying, close, and nurturing" as relationships that are more proximal, or geographically close, according to "Close Encounters."
That is not to say they are without difficulties. Swanson said she missed sharing the activities of her daily life with King.
"I miss him all the time," she said. "Every day doing the silliest little things, like walking across campus; I just wish he was here."
Swanson tries to stay busy and maintain good connections with other people in order to deal with the emotional strain of her LDR.
That is a good course of action because research consistently supports the idea that having close community ties to provide companionship and support is important for members of a LDR, according to Stafford.
Swanson and Freeman both cite communication as a key component in maintaining the relationship.
"You can't forget to communicate with him even though he's really far away," Swanson said.
Similarly, Freeman talks to his girlfriend on Skype while they both stretch before working out, along with calling her every day.
"It's a really good way for her to feel like she has more time with me," he said.
Senior and student body President Michael Harri also found communication to be important in his relationship with Meghan Brombach, who graduated last year and is currently living in Olympia. Harri said good communication can be obtained by "listening well, understanding, and simply being thoughtful of the other person in everything you do and say."
Communication is especially important in LDRs because of people's tendency to "put their best foot forward," Mikkelson said. He added that those engaging in long distance relationships tend to avoid conflict. When they do see each other or talk they try to make the most of their time, which can lead to inaccurate, idealized impressions of one another.
"A couple of years ago [there was a study regarding] what happened to long distance relationships when they become proximal, and they found that a lot of them break up because this false image that's been created gets shattered," Mikkelson said. "Being able to openly engage in things that are frustrating would help with that."
I don't know what the future will hold for Jakob and me. Four years is a long time, and it is difficult for us to maintain a relationship when we're thousands of miles away from each other. In the midst of that difficulty, I take courage from Swanson's perspective:
"Love is not easy; it's hard and painful sometimes, but that doesn't make it any less worthwhile," Swanson said. "You need to hang on to it as hard as you possibly can."
What I have with Jakob is worth every moment spent missing him, as hard and painful as it is. What we have is worth holding on to. So I will.