Heart Beat

According to the St. Olaf website, 70.9% of the class of ’19 participated in an off-campus study program. St. Olaf is ranked number one among baccalaureate colleges in the U.S. for the number of students studying abroad. While this is great for our academic careers and makes us global citizens, it can totally complicate your love life. You have been seeing someone on campus. Then, suddenly, they’re leaving?! What do you do?! It’s a hard decision. I know. I’ve been on both sides of a relationship — I’ve been both the one who stayed and the one who went abroad. And let me tell you, it can make things very interesting. So, what should you do?

As with any relationship, there is no cookie-cutter solution. As I see it, there are essentially three main options that I’ve come across while on campus and while abroad: Break up, start an open relationship or stay together. All have their pros and cons. All require a really, dare I say it, mature, adult conversation about the needs, wants and expectations of both people. It requires some vulnerability and empathy because yes, there is always the chance you aren’t on the same page.

Breaking up is, I think we can all agree, not a particularly comfortable experience for anyone, but it is an option. The obvious cons include: being extra sad on top of all the stress of leaving, no longer having “that person” to talk to at the end of the day, increasing sense of loneliness and isolation …I think we all get the picture. But I’m here to tell you sometimes, that is one of the most mature and healthy decisions you can make.

You don’t have to worry about miscommunication or differing expectations, or feeling the pressure to always be Facetiming or calling on the phone. And, honestly, you’re young. It is completely fair to want to meet and experience new people while you’re apart. Maybe most beneficial of all, it gives you both space to grow while you’re apart. Besides, no one wrote any rules saying you can’t revisit this relationship when you’re both back on campus.

Option two is an open relationship, which has a bad reputation. I’m a little biased because this is what my partner and I chose to do in our relationship, not once, but twice! And people always ask me why. And they’re right, there are some real downsides. The biggest one is jealousy! How can you not feel jealous knowing your partner can go out and make out with someone else? It takes a lot of trust and you have to believe that your partner isn’t out to get you. I would advise a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, personally. But the pros are kind of great. You get the space to feel like you can grow on your own and try new things, but still spend an evening Facetiming. If you’re not sure you’re ready to commit to a full-blown, long-distance relationship for whatever reason, this might be a good compromise. You can still text and talk and express your romantic or sultry thoughts, but also dance with someone at a Pause dance without worrying about whether or not that’s cheating.

The last option is staying together. This one is high risk, high reward. Not everyone is at a place in their life where they feel emotionally or even practically available to spend the time and energy to make a long-distance relationship work. It’s hard! And sometimes it ends up being more lonely, pining away in your dorm room. I think the biggest risk is that the partner abroad doesn’t take full advantage of the new place they’re in because they’re too consumed thinking about home. Neither person wants that. But when it works, I think it often brings a couple closer together. They have navigated different time zones, different modes of communication and different priorities. They have gone the extra mile to still be present and make their partner feel loved.

The important thing is that both people express their needs and expectations ahead of time. And that you remember that all these options are perfectly normal and reasonable things to consider when leaving (or staying) for a semester.


Having trouble navigating the St. Olaf dating scene? E-mail your questions to mess-ae@stolaf.edu and maybe one of our love columnists will answer them in next week’s issue. All submitted questions will remain anonymous.

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