Long-distance at Oxford: can it work?

Image description: My boyfriend and I at Wadham Commemoration Ball 2019

The life of an Oxford student can, at times, create a certain disconnect with the world outside. For me, my link to home is my partner, James. From the beginning, our relationship has been closely tied to my Oxford journey: our first date was right after I had come back from my interview and we were together just before my A-level results day.

He lives in Devon, my home county and does a degree apprenticeship with the Met Office. I wanted to speak to him and gain an insight into how the other side of the Oxford experience plays out.

Q – James, thank you for talking to me. What convinced you to agree to this interview today?

A: I hope to share our relationship with other couples like us, who may be in this situation or thinking about it for their own relationships. I’d like to help those people.

I know from experience that it’s a tough thing to do, obviously it won’t be right for every couple, but it’s working for us and I just wanted to share the fact it can work for others. I’m not saying we’re perfect, because we’re not; but I feel like every disagreement we have makes our relationship stronger in the long term.

Q – When we first met, did learning that I had applied to Oxford alter your opinion of me in anyway?

A: Yes, I thought you were lying! It’s not often where we are from that you meet people applying to top universities. I also think that in our community there are unfortunately a lot of disingenuous characters, especially among gay men.

I think once it dawned on me that you were telling the truth I was a little intimidated, because I associated Oxford with academic excellence but I have since learned that intelligence doesn’t always mean common sense, so I think we complement each other well.

I was also impressed that you had applied from a more humble background because it showed you had a hard-work ethic which I found more attractive.

Q – How do you find juggling your responsibilities with work and a degree with the difficulties of a long-distance relationship?

A: Of course it’s unfortunate that we’re separated geographically in this way. I find working and studying for a degree a big strain in itself, it’s an unbelievable commitment of time and responsibility. I work full-time with one day to study, which I really feel isn’t enough.

Adding on relationship commitments complicates it even further. I want to come and see you; I want to talk to you and write you letters, but a lot of days I just find myself too exhausted to do anything!

Q – Planning for the future is important for us. Do you think that Oxford has done much to change those plans?

A: I have always felt that Oxford is something that you need to do, just as much as my degree apprenticeship is what I need to do. You have been given some great opportunities but I think what you put in will determine what you get out at the end.

I can support you in that and I will support you as much as I can, but I know that a lot of it will be down to you. In terms of our relationship, I think it has changed our plans for the future.

I had always envisioned myself remaining in the South West, but now you’re thinking about pursuing academia further and thinking more about working in London, my plans have changed as well.

Q – It is no secret that the Oxford lifestyle can have a serious impact on mental health. As a neuro-diverse couple ourselves, do you think the demands of Oxford have put a strain on our long-distance relationship?

A: Oh yes, definitely. You’ve come to me with a lot of problems you’re struggling with, your ‘Oxford troubles’. Being so far away, I find it difficult to give you the support you need in those more difficult times. It’s the emotional support, for me as well, that is the hardest to do without in a long-distance relationship.

It’s definitely gotten a lot better as time has progressed and you’ve become more settled. A relationship is never a one-way street though, we support each other. I sometimes find it difficult to call you because I don’t want to interrupt your studies or your social life.

I don’t want to undermine your success. I think we still make the time when it’s important though, it’s all about prioritising.

Q – What benefits do you think we have had being in a long-distance relationship?

A: I think we’re definitely sure that it’s love. I feel like a lot of modern relationships are more about lust. I feel like sustaining a long-distance relationship shows that there’s more to it for us.

We’re putting in the time and effort, while not getting to see each other. I think that being apart makes us really appreciate the time that we do get to spend together, it’s much more magical. We always make the most of these visits, even if we do encourage each other to be a little less frugal.

Q – Finally, what advice would you give to a couple who find themselves in the same situation we are in?

A: I would definitely say communication is the number one thing in any relationship, long-distance or otherwise. I know for myself; I have always had trouble with good communication, but I think being in a long-distance has pushed me to change for the better.

I think planning is really important. When both of you have busy lives it can be easy to get caught up in your own world but arranging times to see each other is essential.

Never start long-distance, I would say. Make sure you’ve built the good foundation first. If you can maintain it though, I think it does show true love.

Image: Marie Wong Photography