Joel Panchevre and Molly Spratt are nearly inseparable.
For the past year, the couple has talked every day, shared countless experiences, and even learned the art of finishing each other’s sentences. And though they are young, they have no reservations about their compatibility or the strong foundation of their relationship. When Panchevre enters his freshman year of college at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth this fall and Spratt begins her senior year of high school, they say the four-hour drive won’t come between them.
“I think we’re different,” Panchevre said.
“Yeah, and there are all those success stories about meeting and staying with your high-school sweetheart,” Spratt said, subtly smirking at her boyfriend.
“Those are good stories,” Panchevre responded. “We like to hear those.”
The couple, who met during Panchevre’s senior year and Spratt’s junior year at Clark High School, began talking about a long-distance relationship when Panchevre was applying to colleges last fall.
“Ever since I was little, I’ve always been pushed to think that `the University of Texas at Austin` is the school for me,” Spratt said. “I asked Joel if he would apply to UT, and he said no, and I remember I was really upset.”
“She was mad, not going to lie,” agreed Panchevre.
“Yeah, I was, because he didn’t want to think about my school,” Spratt said, “so I knew we’d have to separate for college.”
According to a study conducted by Purdue University researchers in 2003, one in four college students are involved in long-distance relationships. Given the heartbreak and challenges, why?
“They feel a strong attachment to someone they’re not going to be around,” local marriage and family therapist Pete Doyle says. “That
attachment could be love or it could be infatuation or it could be based on a need, codependent type of relationship.”
Doyle says a relationship based on love requires a commitment to honesty, respect, and care.
“Love is a verb; it’s something we do,” he said. “Infatuation is a noun, and that’s something we feel, and it’s a great feeling, but it’s not be confused with love.”
For more than a year, Genevieve Legris, now a senior at UT-Austin, attempted to maintain a long-distance relationship that began in high school. In the beginning, she and her boyfriend would alternate weekend visits between San Antonio and Austin, but by the second semester of her freshman year, the visits were much less frequent, a sign that the relationship wasn’t going to work out.
“As a freshman and sophomore at UT, you’re getting into the college scene and you’re meeting a lot of different friends, so there’s no way for him to relate to that if he’s not doing the same thing somewhere else,” Legris said. “Our schedules got off, and we weren’t able to communicate as well as before, so we decided to end it.”
Doyle said in his experience many young adults don’t yet have the self-esteem or sense of personal boundaries to successfully cope with the distance.
“They tend to be lonely, and they get distracted by the person sitting next to them in class or the person they meet at the student center,” he said. “Older people can look ahead and see the discipline of what they’re going through today is going to lead to a good result in the future. There are young people who have that maturity and can do it very well, but they are in the minority.”
Legris has reflected on her former relationship since the breakup. She thinks an added sense of security is one reason she initially pursued it.
“For a lot of people, you’re going out of the city or out of the state, and you might not know anyone you’re going to school with,” she said. “You want to feel like you have that anchor to your home, and if you’re already in a relationship, you don’t want to let that go when you’re going off somewhere else.”
Jessica Anastasio, a Saint Mary’s Hall graduate and junior at Princeton University, and her boyfriend Joe have been together for more than two years but have never lived in the same city. The couple, both musicians, met while attending a music program and continued the relationship while she was in New Jersey and he was in Philadelphia finishing his master’s degree. Even after her boyfriend moved to Miami the following year for a fellowship with the New World Symphony, Anastasio said the distance only improved their relationship.
“In my experience, in a good relationship, distance, although hard at times, can feel easy and natural, and in a worse relationship, even if you are happy together, it is stressful and hard to manage,” Anastasio said.
Counselor and therapist Kathryn Campbell says long-distance relationships are sometimes a healthy investment.
“You are in some ways forced to try to communicate on other levels other than the physical,” she said. “You have to come up with other ways of being close, and you can work on other areas and avenues of communication.”
Anastasio and her boyfriend talk on the phone several times a day, use Skype, commit to flying to see each other every month and spend every holiday together. Though the couple will continue living apart while Anastasio returns to school and her boyfriend begins a position with the Kansas City Symphony, they plan to get married in the future.
“It is absolutely worth it in that I’m the happiest I’ve ever been every day,” Anastasio said. “I never came close to considering ending my relationship because of distance.”
They can’t guarantee the future, or even the fall, but while Panchevre spent the summer in New Braunfels, the couple tested the waters.
“We were … ” Panchevre struggled.
“ ... really scared for college because we spent every day together for eight-and-a-half months, and this summer I only `saw` him once or twice a week,” Spratt finished. “But now I’m used to it.”