How College Students Can Thrive in Long-Distance Romantic Relationships

Stephanie Olsen
May 4, 2021

Lots of students have long-distance relationships some friendships, some romantic.   The end of high school is the beginning of those geographical separations: Your best friend or the person you’re dating might go to a different college or graduate before you. What you’re left with is a long-distance relationship.   And while both long-distance friendships and dating relationships can definitely stand the test of time, long-distance boyfriends and girlfriends certainly face more challenges than those in traditional relationships. What’s good to know is that “distance can actually lead to a deeper connection and a more fulfilling relationship overall,” according to a study from Queen’s University.   Still, there are approaches you can take to maintain your long-distance romantic relationship.   Let’s take a look.  

All relationships need communication

In our connected world, it’s easy to stay in touch. We can facetime, chat, email, make free VOIP calls, and watch movies and play games together online.    That nearly effortless ability to contact each other certainly helps keep our friends and significant others close.   Of course, the kind of chats you have with casual friends is very different from those with your partner. The person you’re going out with is the one you need to have emotional intimacy with in order to keep that relationship special.  

Schedule emotional check-ins

Romantic relationships need intimacy to stay healthy. That means talking about things that matter and how you feel about whatever’s going on in your lives. You would do this without thinking if you were together all the time, but when you’re in a long-distance relationship, it’s good to intentionally set a weekly time to check in.   The benefit to seeing how the other person is doing and how they feel, is that you can look for potential problems. Because you’re not together physically, you’ve lost access to their body language, both negative and positive.   A full 60% of communication is nonverbal, including facial expressions and hand gestures. Video calls are great, but you won’t catch everything. That’s why long-term relationships depend strongly on good communication skills.   Photo by

Make those check-ins work for you

Don’t force it, though. The problem with scheduling calls is that you may not have much to say on the day. You’re tired, or they’re busy, and you both wind up feeling irritated. It’s natural to have days like this – it happens in every relationship, long-distance or not. Let it go and catch up another time. If you just need some inspiration to get that conversation rolling, this list of questions might help.   And be open to changing that weekly schedule if it doesn’t work for you. Everyone’s different. Maybe you two rarely talk about feelings and emotions even when you're together all the time; if it works, it’s okay to carry that forward into your long-distance relationship. What’s not good is a sudden switch from a couple who discusses everything to one that barely talks at all.  

Be clear

Part of communicating means being clear about expectations you each have. If you think it’s an exclusive relationship, but your significant other expects to see other people, you’ll have problems. So, lay explicit ground rules that you both agree to before leaving town.   Same goes with how you handle your partner going out with friends. Obviously, you can’t exist pining endlessly for your far-away girlfriend or boyfriend, always miserable and lonely. You need to spend time with your friends at school, and go out with them. Your partner should do the same. For this to work, you have to trust each other and behave responsibly. Jealousy and lack of trust will kill any relationship, especially a long-distance one.   Photo by Andrea Piacquadio

Be realistic

Some situations are hard when you’re in a long-distance relationship. When all your friends are going out with their dates, and you’re the only single one in the group, how will you feel? Could it make you resent your partner? Could it make you want to meet other people, even though you agreed not to see other people? Could it even make you secretly hook up with someone?   If you know that you’d regret jeopardizing your relationship in cases like this, don’t put yourself in temptation’s way. Either make sure you have a couple of single friends you can go to an event with, so you don’t feel left out, or nix that event completely in favor of doing something online with your partner.    More >> Here's how to make the most out of college without feeling like you wasted your time  

Make plans to see each other

Have something to look forward to and talk about. It can be your next visit home from college, or maybe a trip next summer you’re planning together.   Get together as often as possible. It will keep you from feeling disconnected from the person you’re dating. Couples in long distance relationships can lose intimacy by not being able to talk about day-to-day activities, even if they’re sharing the emotions they have for each other. So, make those visits a priority and spend your time together.   When they come to your school, show them around and introduce them to your friends. This can help make them comfortable with your new life, and to feel part of it. They’ll know who you’re talking about when you reference those friends later on, which can reduce any feelings of jealousy that might come up.   cute couple talking to eachother in a dark room Photo by @rita.sav via Twenty20

Remember to be romantic

Every once in a while, buy a little surprise gift for your partner or physically mail them an “I miss you” card. It doesn’t have to be expensive or especially meaningful, but it shows the person you’re dating that you’re thinking of them.   Just as with every relationship, long-distance or not, make sure to notice their birthday, your anniversary, and any other meaningful dates or events. Wish them luck before a big exam and congratulate them they ace it!  

Take their clothes (or teddy bear) with you

Wearing his too-big sweater is a great way to keep loneliness at bay and even keep his scent nearby when you’re far away. If he's too big for your shirt, exchange little plush toys you can squeeze once in a while. Kind of like a virtual hug you feel in person.   More >> Advice for incoming freshman to make the most out of your college years