It’s Valentine’s Day. You’re hyper aware of all the couples on campus: the girls holding hands, the guys exchanging a kiss, your classmate shyly handing an envelope to their partner.
A lump comes to your throat as you think of your significant other, another country and time zone away.
Dropping into your seat, you send them a quick text and wait, hoping they have time for even just a quick heart emoji. But you know their schedule too well. They’re still asleep.
Not for the first time, you wish they were here with you.
This scenario is a reality for many students at VIU, including international students with partners at home and domestic students whose loved ones are working or studying outside of town.
Even if the time zones are the same, both parties have their own lives going on, which means they can’t always make time for each other.
About one third of college students are currently in a long-distance relationship, according to a 2022 study.
The same study found that college long-distance relationships have a 58% success rate. Most couples broke up due to a failure to plan. Their biggest obstacles were loneliness (72%) and absence of physical intimacy (66%). One third of couples split three months after reuniting.
These statistics might make people wonder: are loneliness and separation anxiety worth pursuing a long-distance relationship?
For two current VIU students and one graduate, the answer is “Yes.”
Kaito Haraguchi has been dating his girlfriend for over three years, mostly long-distance. She is working in Kochi, Japan, as a dental hygienist.
“[She] is generous and very nice and always happy. She really doesn’t get angry at all. We’ve never had any fights … I guess we’re really having a good relationship,” Haraguchi said.
They started dating five months after they first met. Three days later, Haraguchi left Japan to come to VIU. He’s traveled a lot since childhood, so he was familiar with doing things long-distance.
Despite this experience, the long distance is challenging for both of them, and it’s always difficult to leave after reuniting.
There’s a 17-hour time difference between Kochi and Nanaimo. Haraguchi wakes up every day at 6 am to call his girlfriend who, in Japan, is getting ready for bed. The routine helps reduce the effects of the distance.
Haraguchi admits it is hard celebrating Christmas, Valentine’s Day, and birthdays by himself, especially when there are couples around him.
“[It] makes you very nervous and irritated. But I think you just gotta keep calm,” he says.
Besides texting and calling his girlfriend, he sends her presents. On their monthly anniversary, they send each other texts, and every yearly anniversary, Haraguchi sends her a handwritten message with flowers. Last week for her birthday, he sent her flowers, a cake, and pajamas from the Japanese brand Gelato Pique.
The couple tries to meet up whenever they can. Haraguchi’s girlfriend will be coming to visit him for a week at the end of April.
Setting a date gives them both something to look forward to, Haraguchi explained.
“We keep that as a goal, and then we try to keep [the relationship] steady until there.”
A graduate currently working at VIU takes the same approach. Her boyfriend is studying and working in Rwanda, which is 10 hours ahead of Nanaimo.
They call each other often, being mindful of each other’s busy schedules. However, the graduate acknowledged that plans can change unexpectedly, so both sides need to be understanding.
There are times when the distance feels more painful, like when she wants a hug from him. To help cope with the separation, she video calls him, watches a video of them, or listens to one of his voice messages.
“The basic foundation of our relationship is that we love each other. The distance is hard, but we know that it’s hard and we make sure that we communicate and we share how we feel as often as possible,” she said.
Social media helps keep them connected. For birthdays and other special events, they video call and send each other videos. Like Haraguchi and his girlfriend, they also makes plans to meet, even if it’s once a year.
“We value each moment we’re together…Knowing that we have each other and knowing that we’re going to see each other…helps us to deal with [the challenges],” the graduate said.
Those long-anticipated meetings are indescribable. “I feel so happy, and I don’t need to say anything. Being with him is enough,” she said. “It’s sad to leave him again. I miss him before I say goodbye.”
Communication and flexibility are the key to Rylee Krause’s relationship. She and her boyfriend are both originally from Okotoks, Alberta, but now she’s studying at VIU and he’s training to become a millwright in Nelson, BC.
Krause also went to Barbados on exchange last semester. Barbados is four hours ahead of BC, further complicating their long-distance relationship.
“I had my group of friends who I was constantly doing stuff with, because we were all on exchange, so we were all trying to make the most of our time,” she said.
The low points happen when both of them are busy and don’t consciously create time for their relationship.
“It almost feels like we are being ignored by each other, even though we know that isn’t the case and that the other just has a lot on their plate at the moment,” she said.
Krause and her boyfriend make the best of things, calling and video chatting whenever possible.
“We don’t have hard feelings if our calls don’t get answered… If the other one has the time, we answer, and if not, then we try to just say, ‘Hey, this was what I was calling about. Can we make time to chat?’” she said.
They look forward to the times they meet up in person, including every Christmas. They spend most of the day together and go out for dinner.
“I get really excited, like a kid in a candy shop,” she said. When they’re about to reunite, she gets butterflies in her stomach.
It’s always difficult for them when they separate, even if they know when they’ll see each other again. Krause admitted that she has a hard couple of days before she can get back to her regular routine.
Research shows that when someone is going through a break-up (or in this case leaving each other for a long period of time) they can experience a drop in dopamine and serotonin levels.
Luckily for these couples, the positives of their relationships outweigh the negatives. But do they recommend other students have long-distance relationships?
It depends on how committed both parties are.
The graduate says people should make sure they love each other enough to go long-distance. In her case, she and her boyfriend set their standards so high that a relationship with another person in their close community wouldn’t have worked.
“It’s like a sacrifice … I know that a lot of people say that it’s not possible or recommended. But if people are committed and love each other, it’s possible.”
She also pointed out that the long distance helps strengthen trust in already committed relationships, especially for couples who have never experienced time apart.
“If you trust them, then you know you’re going to be okay,” she said.
Krause’s advice to couples: know where you stand before trying long-distance.
“Have the conversation of ‘What is this going to look like?’ Don’t just go into it blind, assuming that everything will be fine and dandy, because it is hard. But if you love the person, then it makes things worth it.”
Haraguchi has a few recommendations. He advises students to get to know each other first and try to stay close in the beginning—something that wasn’t possible for him.
When couples start long-distance, they shouldn’t set restrictions, like requiring each other to text every time they go out. These rules cause additional stress and also decrease trust.
Haraguchi acknowledges that some people feel more comfortable giving each other rules, especially if their goal is not to break up. However, he wants his girlfriend to socialize and have fun, and vice versa.
Having trust in the other only strengthens the relationship.
“It’s really hard to keep it steady,” he says. “If you’re maybe thinking of breaking up, I suggest you think about when you guys started dating … [and] the memories you had before.”
As you leave the classroom, your cellphone buzzes with a new message.
You smile and text back: “Hey, you have time for a call?”
A few seconds pass, and they answer: “Yes!!! <3”
As you run past a couple linking arms, you can’t help but smile. You answer the incoming call and put the phone to your ear.
“I missed you.”
Sophia is a fourth-year Creative Writing and Journalism student. She was the News Editor for The Navigator last year. Outside of The Nav, Sophia volunteers with VIU Cultural Connections as a Peer Helper. Three things she wants to do in the future are: travel to Japan and Korea, attend a Stray Kids concert, and adopt one or two black cats.View all articles