For many of us, walking through the front gates of Georgetown University for the first time was a fresh start. Although moving to college provides a plethora of new social opportunities, it also distances us from prominent figures in our previous lives: our siblings, parents, high school friends and significant others.
Does substituting after-school meetups with phone calls or grabbing a meal in O’Donovan Hall instead of gathering around the kitchen table weaken our relationships with people back home? Or, as the saying goes, does absence make the heart grow fonder?
When we leave for college, we may vow to keep in touch with our friends from high school, but is remaining close realistic given all the new people to meet in our classes, clubs and dorms? In fact, while distance may not bring us closer to our friends from home, it does not necessarily pull us apart. The frequency with which friends communicate, rather than their proximity, determines the closeness of long-distance friendships, according to a Marquette University study of the relationships between college freshmen and their best friends from high school.
The type of communication also matters if you want to avoid losing touch with your close friends. Because shared experiences are crucial to maintaining strong friendships, friends can remain emotionally close by sharing their problems and feelings with one another, a study by professors at Eindhoven Institute of Technology found.
However, the study also reported that long-distance friendships often lack this critical interaction. Absence need not drive you apart if you maintain emotional intimacy despite the distance. So during your next Skype call, go ahead and complain about the food at the dining hall and share how excited you are to be part of Rangila — doing so may strengthen your friendship.
While there is potential to maintain friendships across distance, can we keep our high school relationships alive? If the adage “absence makes the heart grow fonder” is in fact true, it does not explain why we break up with our high school girlfriends and boyfriends during our first Thanksgiving break at Georgetown.
Some findings present a grim outlook for long-distance relationships in college. According to an East Carolina University study about undergraduate students’ long-distance relationships, 20 percent of students said that separation made their long-distance relationship worse, while another 21.5 percent said the distance caused their relationship to end.
However, other research finds that long-distance relationships are not doomed. Another study from Queen’s University in Canada concluded that the quality of a relationship depends on the characteristics of the relationship and the partners involved, not on whether a relationship is long-distance or in-person.
To go a step further, absence may indeed make the heart grow fonder for romantic partners. People in long-distance relationships consider their interactions more intimate, tend to act more cheerful toward their partner and have fewer day-to-day spats than those in in-person relationships, according to a study at the University of Kentucky.
The data also reveal that long-distance couples talk about problematic or taboo issues less frequently than other couples do. Their romantic interactions may enable long-distance partners to maintain a positive perception of the relationship and help compensate for the lack of physical intimacy.
While the absence of everyday conflict may create fondness in the short term, it can undermine the future success of a relationship. Conflict enables partners to assess their long-term compatibility, so if they do not address disagreements when they are apart, their relationship may not last long after they are reunited.
While we can end our high school romances if they do not work out, some long-distance relationships are here to stay. For example, how does going away to college affect our bonds with our siblings?
When the physical distance between siblings increases — such as when one goes away to college — they interact less frequently and feel more emotionally distant from each other.
This tendency, however, is not necessarily a bad thing. Most siblings actually become closer and get along better when one goes to college. They may fight less and make more of an effort to spend time together when they can. So now that you spend most of the year at Georgetown, your brothers and sisters may seem more likable than when you lived under the same roof.
Absence can make the heart grow fonder, but even if it does not, our previous relationships do not have to suffer when we go to college. So, give your high school sweetheart a chance, look forward to making peace with your siblings during the next school break and shoot a text to your best friend from home. Rather than expecting distance to weaken your bonds, take advantage of the ways you can strengthen them during your separation.
Vera Mastrorilli is a junior in the College. Her column, TESTING TRUISMS, has been renewed for the spring semester.