When I tell people that I’m in a relationship, I usually receive one of two reactions. There is the blunt disapproval—which has taken shape in such outbursts as, “Why would you come to college with a boyfriend?” or, “Oh, well I don’t believe in long-distance relationships.” Or, my personal favorite, the “I-just-visited-the-slaughterhouse” look of distaste topped off with an eerily unaffected “Oh.” There is also the masked disapproval—the sad attempt at a smile plastered onto an all-too-telling expression of mock enthusiasm, given away by a pair of flitting eyes and very desperate attempts to change the topic of discussion. Rarely have I encountered a genuinely positive response to this fact—this confession, I suppose—of commitment.
Throughout the tail end of senior year and upon arriving at college, I was faced with a kaleidoscope of judgmental faces and backhanded comments, and so by the second week or so of school I’d become pretty used to it. I no longer got offended by the grimaces. I didn’t try to explain myself. But I must admit that I become aware of, wedged into my conscience, a pinprick of embarrassment—a hidden “tendency,” not to lie about my relationship status, per se, but just not to bring it up. Trying to make another understand intellectually what I feel from a place that is far from logical had proved to be a futile effort. So rather than deal with pejorative looks and condescending responses, I learned to tuck this piece of me away—as if it were some dirty little secret.
In truth, Ben is the least shameful bit about me. A photograph of him sitting in his white-and-gold Navy uniform hangs from the wall in my dorm room. The way in which he lives his life inspires me to be the best version of myself. So why do I feel so ashamed to talk about him? And besides, what ever happened to the good old fashioned long-term relationship? Have such values as commitment and patience dissipated? When did being in a long-distance relationship become so unacceptable?
Perhaps we can blame it on the generational gap. In this world of instant communication, the concept of delayed gratification has become foreign, in more ways than one. Rather than waiting for the sake of preserving a steady relationship, high school and college students today participate in a noncommittal hookup culture. It is no coincidence that the generation that learned the patience of handwritten letters and the overwhelming gratification of receiving a letter after waiting on the postal service also marked its approval on long-distance relationships, while the generation that relies on moment-to-moment contact via email and text messages does not. But if you have ever kept a correspondence via “snail mail,” you will know how much more satisfying it is to open up that envelope and indulge in its contents, after having to wait—God forbid, a couple of days—to receive it.
For those that missed the snail mail era, imagine instead a jar of Nutella. It has always been delicious. But now imagine that you were on a diet, and had not tasted Nutella in three months. Suddenly, that cocoa-hazelnut flavor that you’ve always loved takes on an entirely new, almost fantastical quality. When your diet is over, and at last you taste that spoonful of bliss, this Nutella spread—somehow, though you’ve had it millions of times before—has never tasted so good.
Long-distance relationships, in my experience, have much the same effect. People often argue that holding onto a long-distance relationship is limiting, because, who knows—maybe my actual soulmate is waiting for me at college, and being “taken” is short-circuiting this opportunity. I will be the first to say that there is no universal “right answer” to the question of long-distance relationships. But I will also then say that it is a bit unfair to judge “long-distance relationships” as a single, homogenous entity, rather than on a case-by-case basis. In the end, if a relationship is worth saving, then when the two do come together again, they will experience something much like our Nutella-loving dieter: The time spent together will taste infinitely sweeter. So to those who ask why a girl would come to college with a boyfriend, I pose a counterquestion: Why would I settle for an average jar of Nutella if I could wait and get an endless supply of that better-than-ever-before brand? I argue that choosing long distance is a matter of delayed gratification, and of knowing a prize when you’ve got it.
The author is a Columbia College first-year.
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