If this school year is like any other, many of you new students are arriving at the University with a long-distance boyfriend or girlfriend at another college or back home. A couple of weeks ago, you left each other for what might be the first time. Now, as you navigate the cereal dispensers in the Hill Dining Center, you imagine them longing for you in the midst of golden wheat fields or on smoky fire escapes. As you lay awake in your dorm room with a stranger’s snoring filling the dense Ann Arbor night, you read and reread their text messages.
“I love you so much,” they say. “This is the worst, but we’ll get through it.”
Of course, it’s good to know that someone cares for you, especially when your surroundings are so frighteningly new. You don’t know where to find Angell Hall Auditorium A or if you’ll have to play another icebreaker tonight, but you’re sure that there’s a person missing you from miles away. Your sweetheart — excuse the gender-neutral ‘50s slang — is a security blanket, a perceived constant, a reminder of the comforts of home. But, there’s such a thing as being too comfortable.
I know from experience that it’s easy to use a long-distance relationship as a crutch. It can become an excuse to stay in and video chat on a Friday night while kids from your hall are exploring the mysterious streets of Ann Arbor. They’re being brave and making new friends, while you perform Skype sex in your dim dorm room — hoping to God you don’t hear the sound of your roommate keying in the code to your door. They’re getting tipsy, maybe even laid, while you’ve got your pixelated genitals traveling all the way to a space satellite so your partner can get off on a wavering image of you.
Sure, there’s something tragically romantic about having a lover so far from your fingertips, and physical loneliness may not seem so bad in the face of all your damn love. But in reality, sexting gets old real fast and relying on weekend visits with your roommate in the bunk below you is going to make the long, cold Michigan winter feel even longer.
I know it can be especially hard to imagine yourself with a new person if your sweetheart was the first girl to slide her hand down the waistband of your underwear, or the first guy to treat your nakedness as a gift. However, I can promise you that there are many others out there who would gladly do the same. It’s also not just about sex. Imagine what you could be missing out on while you slip away from your friends to update your sweetheart on what you ate for breakfast or what your professor was wearing in lecture.
The classes, choices and experiences you have now will change you immeasurably in the long run. College is a microcosm of endless possibility and due to its magic, it’s unlikely you’ll be the same person once you graduate. You could take geology classes that inspire you to spend the rest of your life on archeological digs. One wacky Residential College puppet-making class could convince you to join the School of Art & Design. Most importantly, no matter how great You 2.0 will be, you won’t be the same person your sweetheart signed up for, and that could be true for them as well.
“This is hard!” your lover’s texts say. So, ask yourself: Why are you doing it? Do you imagine a life with them after college, a wedding attended by your entire family and your genes converging into babies? If so, then do what you have to do; in that special case, you’ll have the rest of your lives to be together after school. If you’re unsure, have an adult discussion about the future with your partner. If you’re making the commitment to stay faithful from a distance, then you should be able to discuss what your relationship may look like in the long term.
But, if there’s no endgame in mind, if there’s no plan, then why are you committing yourself to years of shared loneliness? Is it true love propelling your long-distance relationship or fear of the unknown?
New social and sexual experiences are worth the uncertainties that come along with being on your own in an unfamiliar place. At this very moment, there are thousands of other new students wandering starry-eyed through campus. Their collective excitement is building an energy that sparks new friendships and bravery, but it will dissipate once classes fall into full swing. This is the sweet spot — now’s the time to take advantage of the fact that everyone is jittery and unsure and open to new experiences. Be nervous with them. Get out there and use your fear. You could be anyone, and do almost anything. This is the time to move on from your old life and join in on the excitement of firsts sweeping through campus.
Emily Pittinos can be reached at email@example.com.