Making the best out of long distance
Starting a long-distance relationship wasn’t in junior Alex Mennella’s plans when he met his significant other. However, a year and seven months into his relationship, he can’t imagine it any other way.
The Chicago native was just looking for a summer job to earn a few extra bucks in 2016. He started working for the maintenance department in a park district in his hometown. The workers would often sit in the lifeguard sheds. There, he met Ashleigh O’Donnell, who he would soon find out was a senior in high school.
Mennella asked her on a date in July 2016. Soon after, he said he knew he wanted their relationship to become more than just a summer fling.
“The more we hung out, I started to think, ‘Man, I really want to stay with this girl and I’m willing to put up with the distance for her,'” said Mennella, a marketing major.
Both discussed making the relationship long term and agreed to try a long-distance relationship, even though Mennella was headed back to the University of Miami at the end of the summer.
Mennella, who had never been in a long-distance relationship before, said it was hard to adjust to life without O’Donnell.
He flies back to Chicago for all of spring, summer, Thanksgiving, winter and fall breaks. Even so, Mennella said they only spend about 5 1/2 months out of the entire year together.
During summer break, Mennella and his girlfriend spent all three months together. When it was time for him come back to Miami, they spent an hour saying goodbye.
“It was bad,” he said. “So it just shows you how much we really care about each other.”
However, this year, as Hurricane Irma would have it, Mennella was able to fly back for about three weeks.
Mennella said the two components that make his long-distance relationship work are trust and communication. The pair makes sure to talk on the phone with each other for one hour each day to catch up.
“You have to know that the other person cares about you and that they’re not going to do anything that’s going to be stupid or hurt the way that you’re going to be in the relationship,” he said.
However, he said even with trust and communication, it hasn’t gotten easier.
“I have to pick up my whole life, drop my whole life down here, then pick it back up and drop it back off in Chicago,” Mennella said. “It’s been really tough on me.”
When it doesn’t work
They say distance makes the heart grow fonder. But some, including junior Tiffany Kaplan, may argue that it doesn’t. Sometimes, it does the opposite.
Kaplan, a double major in elementary special education and psychology, started her freshman year still dating her high school boyfriend, Richard. While Kaplan went off to college, her boyfriend stayed back home in California to attend school. Kaplan found comfort in the security of her relationship while spending much of her time meeting fellow students and exploring her new surroundings.
“You have that one person you know even though they’re not necessarily there with you,” Kaplan said. “While you’re not super comfortable around everyone around you.”
In fact, initially, Kaplan didn’t think maintaining a long-distance relationship in college would be “too hard.” Kaplan and her then-boyfriend had gone to different high schools throughout their relationship before college.
“We didn’t see each other that often anyways,” she said. “I didn’t think it would be a huge change, though it would definitely be something different.”
However, as the academic year rolled on, Kaplan found sustaining a relationship harder than she expected. She said lack of communication and the time difference between Miami and California killed her relationship. Kaplan said initially the pair attempted to combat the time difference by setting specific times throughout the day to talk over the phone. But when their schedules didn’t match up, the distance became too much.
Kaplan and her boyfriend broke up in March 2016.
However, her first experience with long-distance relationships didn’t discourage her from trying again.
Kaplan began dating her best friend’s cousin the summer before her sophomore year. He, like her former boyfriend, stayed in California, and worked a full-time job while Kaplan moved back to Miami for school.
But the lack of face-to-face interactions, even with FaceTime, and the difference in time zones still placed a huge burden on the relationship. The strain intensified when Kaplan stayed in Miami during summer 2017.
Kaplan and that man broke up right before Hurricane Irma, in September.
Inevitable long-distance relationships in college
Senior Jihad Shatara met his girlfriend like many students do – at school.
Shatara met UM sophomore Athena Koumanelis last year after living on the same floor in Eaton Residential College. What initially started as a close friendship, full of dining hall runs and “Big Brother” binges, soon turned into a romance. He said he knew he wanted more than just a friendship with Koumenalis when they saw a performance of the “Children of Eden” together at the Ring Theatre in spring 2017.
Soon after, they went on a date to RA Sushi. After a few more dates, they decided to make it official, though hesitantly.
“The reason we took so long to start dating, or to make it official, was because the summer was coming up,” Shatara said.
The upcoming summer break presented a challenge for the couple. Shatara would be interning at NBC 6 in Miami while Koumanelis would be working full time in her hometown of Nashville.
“That’s the toughest part,” he said. “Most people do long-distance over the summer when they’re in school but they visit. We didn’t do anything like that.”
For Shatara, it was hard to adjust to his girlfriend’s physical absence.
“It’s hard when little things would pop up,” he said. “You want to go watch a movie or you want to go hang out with your friends but you can’t bring her. It’s different.”
Shatara, a broadcast journalism major, said he and Koumanelis made the short span of the long-distance relationship work by texting each other in the morning a rundown of their upcoming schedules for the day. Shatara said SnapChatting and FaceTiming every day helped keep the rhythm of the relationship from running into monotony.
“Going three straight months without having her by my side, it was hard,” Shatara said. “But I don’t think we missed a beat, to be honest.”
Looking ahead, Shatara will be graduating this spring. After having made it through long-distance for a few months, Shatara said the pair have been talking about how their relationship will pan out in the future. Shatara said he’s not afraid to try it again.
“We’re going to take it day by day,” he said. “I know it sounds cliché, but there’s no point in getting sad over timing about what’s going to happen in May. We’re going to enjoy the moment now and revisit it.”
Correction, Feb. 13, 2018: This article previously misspelled O’Donnell’s first name as Ashleigh. The correct spelling of her first name is Ashley. The story has been updated to reflect the correct spelling of her name.