University is seen by many students as a fresh start – a chance to move away from home to gain independence and experience life outside of the areas they grew up in. The average student in the UK travels a distance of 91 miles from home to university, and many travel further – to other ends of the country or even abroad. Whilst this move away from familiar circumstances may lead to exciting new experiences and the introduction of new friends, travelling far from home can also be isolating and frightening and can place a strain on existing relationships with friends and family. There are, however, many ways to preserve and strengthen these relationships, and this article hopes to present the view that living far from home doesn’t have to mean losing that loving support structure.
Keeping in touch with friends and family may seem obvious and, at first, it may be easy to set aside time to check in with everyone you want to. However, as university progresses, deadlines, extracurriculars, and part-time jobs will increasingly infringe on your time and setting aside specific time for loved ones will become vital. Whilst simply messaging family and friends may seem like enough to keep in touch, video and audio communication have been shown to more effectively promote bonding between friends. Therefore, allowing time for a face-to-face Skype call or even a simple phone call can strengthen a relationship, and make friends and family feel closer to you.
Social media can be a great tool for keeping up to date with the lives of friends and family and has even been shown to be a helpful tool for maintaining long distance relationships. One study found that Facebook users had a higher quality relationships with long distance friends than non-Facebook users and even reported higher relationship satisfaction. This would suggest sharing your life on sites such as Facebook can help your friends and family to feel involved and informed about your life. However, how you use social media should be careful and considered, as social media has also been shown to have increasingly negative effects, especially on long distance romantic relationships. The feelings of jealousy and suspicion that ambiguous social media posts can create can negatively affect relationships, so document your life for your long distance loved ones but keep the images and posts clear, authentic and honest in order to avoid miscommunication.
Often the hardest part about long distance relationships can be missing out on what are often seen as the “big moments,” from occasions like birthdays or Christmases, to decisions such as where to live in second year or what postgraduate jobs to apply for. An easy way to make those you love feel included in those big decisions is simply to ask for their advice, making them part of the decision-making process. Alongside the possible invaluable insight they may provide, asking family and friends for their opinion shows them that their opinion is one that is important to you and one you respect, which in turn makes them feel valued.
Letting people know they were on your mind can make them feel loved and appreciated, and there are a multitude of ways you can let far-away loved ones know you were thinking about them. From small easy gestures such as recommending new TV shows or music that embody your shared interests, to bigger gestures such as sending a care package when you know they are having a rough time; letting someone know they are on your mind helps them to understand just how important they are to you and helps end any worries they may have around being forgotten or neglected by you.
Overall, despite what the media may suggest, long distance relationships are not doomed to fail. They may pose a unique and challenging circumstance for a friendship or relationship to overcome, but they are definitely possible and can be as strong and healthy as relationships with those physically close to you. The most important things to remember are simply to be considerate and understanding of the other parties’ feelings and to make them feel included and like a significant part of your life. Let us know if you have struggled with long distance relationships at university and how you overcame those struggles in the comments below.