I had coffee this week with one of the girls from my old youth group at All Saints church. “Brynne” has just finished up her junior year, and in the past few months, has started dating “Scott”, who is a year older and has just graduated. Scott is off to university in the fall, hundreds of miles away.
In many senses of the term, Scott is Brynne’s “first.” He’s the first guy she’s ever fallen in love with, certainly, and before they started dating this spring, they had been friends for two years, since they first met in youth group. I know Scott almost as well as I know Brynne: he is a remarkable young man, outgoing and ambitious and passionate. These two teens, so bright and sensitive and driven, are as near-to-perfect for each other as could be.
When we met at Starbucks, however, Brynne was anxious. Practically the first words out of her mouth to me were “September 18!” I asked what that date meant, and she explained that that was the day Scott was heading off to college. “It’s less than three months away”, she said, “and I don’t know what’s going to happen.” As we talked further, Brynne made it clear that both she and Scott had talked about wanting to stay together in a committed relationship after he goes off to university. “I know that’s what I want”, Brynne told me. “I also know it’s what Scott says he wants, and I believe him — now. But I don’t want to be the reason why he misses out on ‘college’ experiences, you know? I don’t want to be this stupid high school girl who is his ball-and-chain preventing him from having fun. Sometimes I think we should just break up, as much as that would suck, just so he could be ‘free'”.
In my role as a youth group leader and mentor, there are few questions I get asked more often than the one about the viability and wisdom of long-distance relationship. “Should we break up or stay together?” is a query I get every year, usually in the summer as a couple moves inexorably towards autumn’s physical separation. I never answer the question definitively, because each situation is in some sense unique, and each couple’s set of abilities and desires is different. But if I have a bias, and based on my own experience and that of a great many people I’ve worked with over many years I do have one, it is towards saying that yes, a couple that is in love ought to make an effort to stay together when separated by different colleges.
I asked Brynne: “What sort of experiences do you think Scott would miss out on because of being in a long-distance relationship with you?” She winced a bit, and I pressed on: “Is he going to miss out on great classes? Miss out on joining the right club or fraternity? Miss out on making great friends? Miss out on learning to surf, skydive, or mountain bike?” Brynne laughed, saying “That’s not what I mean.” “I know”, I said, “you’re worried he’s going to miss out on the chance to ‘be with’ new people, with other girls”. She nodded. Continue reading