I started dating my boyfriend when I was a freshman in college. He was a junior at the time so the day eventually came when he graduated and I had two more years of school left. I approached the situation with an uncharacteristically blasé attitude. I needed time to find myself, to be independent, meet other boys – all rather abstract goals fueled by the fear of giving too much up for another person. In the end, we stayed together and have been dating for four years, two of which have been long-distance.
Long distance relationships, often referred to by old-hands as LDRs, have become increasingly popular in the digital age. Maybe popular is the wrong word, considering long distance relationships are almost never voluntary and generally involve more than a little bit of pain.
Nevertheless, technology like Skype and Gchat makes staying in touch far easier than it was when writing letters and accumulating enormous phone bills were the norm. There are apps designed for separated couples, allowing users to send a digital kiss or count down the days until their next visit. Long distance relationships even had a brief moment of stardom when Drew Barrymore and Justin Long starred in “Going the Distance.” A dismal 53% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, however, revealed that people don’t want to watch a movie about LDRs, let alone be in an LDR themselves.
I’ve notice that more of my peers and close friends are putting their careers before their relationships, passing up the option to settle down in order to find personal fulfillment and success. In fact, there is mounting pressure to deliberately avoid professional sacrifice for the good of a relationship. I have a friend who passed up jobs in the city that her boyfriend lives in for fear of “moving for a boy.” While there once was pressure for women to settle down, now there is a pressure to do the exact opposite: put off romantic commitment until you’ve achieved a certain level of individual success.
I understand this pressure; in fact, I’ve often inflicted it upon myself. Having dated the same person for the four college years normally reserved for “finding yourself”, I worry that my relationship has hampered my independence. I know that my grown-up self is somewhat informed by my relationship and I’m not always sure that that’s a good thing.
As a result, I’ve made an effort to avoid professional sacrifice even when it’s detrimental to my relationship. LDRs tend to surface these worries often because questions ranging from the short-term (when is our next visit?) to the long term (how much am I willing to sacrifice for them?) arise regularly, forcing you to evaluate – and reevaluate – the implications of the relationship.
Though professional success is, for many — myself included — no substitute for romantic companionship, it’s difficult to determine how much professional sacrifice constitutes too much. A recent New York Times article profiled a group of young women at the University of Pennsylvania so determined to avoid romantic commitment that they risked overlooking the comfort and personal fulfillment derived from a stable relationship. As always, these things require a certain, hard-to-achieve balance. In the two years since my boyfriend and I first became long-distance, I realized that my initial blasé attitude was naïve. It’s not easy, nor particularly smart, to drop a relationship simply for the fear of forfeiting one’s own goals. That said, I’m still not ready to sacrifice my career – and this, I think, is a good thing.