Le 14 février c’est la Saint-Valentin, la fête des amoureux en France !
But you already knew that, didn’t you?
While Valentine’s day is celebrated in many countries around the world, I’m here to say that being abroad can put a ‘special’ twist on this holiday dedicated to lovers. While this subject may not address all students, I can recall countless friends who have come to France–either already in a relationship–or who left France having developed one.
Given how common it is, I think this is a great occasion to bring up a topic that is largely ignored by study abroad resources: Long distance.
I mean, I get it, relationships are never one-size-fits-all … so it’s a tough topic to address. Especially when we could be covering more conventional stuff (housing, language learning, etc.)
But life abroad is more than just logistics and classes. It’s relationships: You’ll meet friends from all over the world, maintain contact with people from home, and sometimes, you might fall in love! This particular Valentine’s day I am grateful to have my partner here with me in France. Last year, we were skyping.
So let’s just jump to the most obvious question: Is long distance hard?
Yes and no! Funnily enough, I used to think long distance dating was a biggggg waste of time. And it can be if you let it dominate your experience abroad.
The truth is, long distance relationships require a lot of balance, patience, and communication. There’s no definitive guide to going about long distance, but I can share some of my own experience and hopefully, it helps someone else along the way!
Story time: Last year, before I started university in France, I was already in a relationship with a boy from home. We had been dating for about seven months. When I left, we quickly learned that there are some healthy and unhealthy habits when it comes to long distance.
Unhealthy habits are things that make the distance feel truly insufferable.
- It could be over-texting, jealous behaviors, monopolizing the other person’s time, becoming distant, or engaging in self-destructive activities whenever you miss your partner.
- Oftentimes, unhealthy behaviors can be exaggerated if something stressful is happening alongside the relationship (exams, depression and loneliness, family crisis.)
Everyone has their own personal boundaries and coping mechanisms to be aware of. For me, communicating about what I personally needed to feel comfortable and confident (and learning what my partner required in return) was the key to overcoming these negative habits.
Healthy habits mostly constitute self-care and reciprocity, they make the distance feel surmountable and like the time apart is a period for growth.
- For us, healthy habits meant becoming familiar with each other’s schedules, so as to respect their work hours but also the time consecrated for social events.
- It also meant finding a balance for communicating. In the beginning we talked a TON but as we grew more comfortable it was reduced to tiny ‘good morning’ and ‘goodnight’ messages whilst reserving our longer conversations for a planned Skype call on the weekend.
- One special thing my partner did was he’d go out of his way to meet with my parents while I was away. It made me so happy to see him getting to know them better while I was gone and it helped us all to stay in touch better.
- Sending gifts in the mail can be tricky so we had a habit of venmo-ing each other small amounts randomly so that the other person could treat themselves.
Finally, the best thing we did was visit during our vacations. For Christmas, he came to France for a whole month. We traveled to Ireland to meet his relatives and I got to show him La Fête des Lumières in Lyon! During springtime vacation, I was able to visit home for a week.
This made the time pass much faster. Soon enough the school year was over, and I moved back home for summer. In the meantime, Dillon had practiced his French and applied for exchange in my city. Now we both live in Lyon!
I think the big takeaway that I gathered was that relationships have low and high points, whether you’re in the same town or thousands of miles apart.
It’s all about keeping the habits in check so that the negative never outweighs the positive. All in all, if you can make your time apart an opportunity for personal and shared growth, it won’t be in vain 😊
On that note, Joyeuse St Valentin à toutes et à tous !
Thoughts? I hope you liked this post and if you have any special tips, anecdotes, or feedback about long distance, I’d love to hear it.
– Siobhan Donovan ex-Campus France e-ambassador