Long-distance relationships and Oxford: a guide

I imagine life feels pretty good for many of you at the moment. You’ve achieved some amazing grades that have got you into a great university. You have almost six weeks of summer left before you start the next big adventure in your life. You’re ready for new experiences, and yet, despite all these wonderful things, you might also have a slight niggling feeling that not everything is perfect. The source of this niggling feeling is young love. Whether it’s the childhood sweetheart you’ve been dedicated to since the age of 13 or an exciting new summer romance, the prospect of leaving this person behind as you begin the next chapter of your life leaves you feeling – well, you don’t quite know how it leaves you feeling. Everyone else, from your gran to the random people you met once at a house party, will have their opinion on the possibility of a long distance relationship, and it is most likely that they will want to share it: but ultimately, how things work out will come down to you and your partner.

Like your gran and the random people you meet at house parties, I have my own ideas on having a partner at home whilst you’re studying in Oxford – and unlike your gran and the random people, I have decided to share some of these thoughts through the channel of student journalism. I think I should put a disclaimer out there: when I came to Oxford I was completely and utterly single. However, last Christmas, as the result of an unexpectedly enjoyable Tinder date, I somehow ended up with a boyfriend who lives in London. I like to think I’ve had some experience in what I’m writing about, although of course no two relationships are identical.

For some couples, the first thought that might arise when considering the possibility of a long distance relationship is should we even give it a go? I know there are some people of the opinion that basically everyone should go to university single. It is, after all, a fresh start, and who wants to be tied down? Personally, I am glad I was single when I arrived, as it gave me the chance to completely emerge myself in university life and focus on my interests for a while. Some of you might want a fresh start and if you know this to be the case, you must be honest with your partner. Don’t draw out a relationship you know you don’t want to be in – it only makes things more difficult. For some the decision will be easy, for others there may be a great deal more deliberation. If the person you’re with is the partner of your dreams (well, apart from the fact that soon they’ll be living 200 miles away), you’re not ready to give them up but you’re concerned about the distance.

Everyone will have their opinion on the possibility of a long distance relationship, and it is most likely that they will want to share it: but ultimately, how things work out will come down to you and your partner.

You may hear anecdotes that sway you. Your best friend’s brother managed to stay with his girlfriend when she was in Exeter and he was in Glasgow, so why can’t it be the same for you? Try not to be overly influenced by the experiences of others. I’ve seen relationships flourish despite their separation, and I have also seen relationships crash and burn. In the end it comes down to your own personal circumstances. There are a couple of factors you may want to consider when making the decision. Firstly, the length of a relationship; if you have been dating someone for a couple of years you will probably be more inclined to stay with them, as opposed to someone you have known for a couple of weeks. Although time is not the be all and end all – if you met three weeks ago but both want to see how things work out then by all means give it a go. In addition, the feasibility of a continued relationship, whilst not a terribly romantic thought, is nonetheless of practical importance. I live in Oxford, my boyfriend is in London – we are at most an hour and half on the Oxford tube, and 15 pounds away from each other. This makes it relatively easy for us to hang out on weekends. However, if your partner will be a significantly greater distance from you things might be a little more difficult – this is something to bear in mind.

So you’ve thought about it, you’ve decided to stay together (wonderful news, congrats guys) – but what’s that I hear? You want some advice from a wise third year about the best way to manage your new situation? Well thank goodness I’m still here. First and foremost, the most important piece of advice I can give you is to seize your first term with both hands – if you don’t you will regret it. I’m not advocating you neglect your partner, but remember that this term is an opportunity you will only get once. The pace of life in Oxford is insane – in my first term I remember being especially astounded at how quickly friendships were formed. Balance here is key; make time for your partner, call them, visit them, make them feel important, but simultaneously enjoy all Oxford has to offer, as you’re only here for a short time after all. When they do come to visit bear in mind that Oxford might be a little strange for your partner. Oxford can certainly seem strange when you first arrive as a fresher but you quickly become accustomed to all the little traditions: your partner won’t have had that opportunity. Bring them to formal hall but don’t be surprised if they’re a little perturbed by saying grace in Latin.

More pearls of wisdom you ask? Well I guess I have a couple more up my sleeve. Managing expectations is important: talk to each other about how often you will realistically be able to visit each other so than no side is left feeling disappointed. This also applies to how often you crazy kids might call text, or snapchat (whatever your preferred method of communication). I’m not saying you should make a precise schedule, but having an idea that on a Wednesday your girlfriend has classes all day and then a three hour pottery class with her new craft friends, might explain why she hasn’t been super responsive to that hilarious cat video you sent. Bear in mind that people have different desires when it comes to communication – you might want to text throughout the day, they might be happy with a phone call every second day, or perhaps a weekly email. All of these things are ok. Ideally you will both be on the same page when it comes to communication, but if not then you will need to respect each other’s feelings and boundaries. You should both be equally invested in the relationship and you should both show this. Perhaps make use of the postal service, resurrect the love letter, send them a package containing a nice pair of socks. In my experience these can be a great way to show someone you’re thinking about them, maybe even a perk of the long distance relationship.

Ultimately relationships can be unpredictable at the best of times and we all know that there are no right answers. What works for one couple will not necessarily work for another, but I hope my musings have been at the very least interesting. Whatever you decide to do, whether you arrive at university with a partner or are single, good luck! You’re in for a big year.