[ Makenzie Way, 3L at the University of Pennsylvania ]
Maybe you spent your summer working in a new city and found love only to come to the realization that returning to law school means you need to break up, or try long distance. Or maybe, alternatively, you started a relationship during law school, or prior to law school, but now know that you’ll be moving to a different city without them come graduation.
Both scenarios bring the famous question “can long-distance work” to the surface. Or better yet, “is it worth it?”
To assist all of you facing this unfortunate decision, I sought advice from numerous friends and colleagues who’ve had a long-distance experience – both successful and not. So here’s their take.
First, you need to evaluate your relationship and your own feelings honestly to determine whether they are strong enough to withstand all the trials that come with a long-distance relationship. While it is possible for distance to strengthen a new or relatively ‘weak’ relationship, when you take into account your heavy work/school schedule and the stress levels you already face, most seemed to agree that long-distance was only worth it when the relationship was already somewhat serious, and when your feelings were relatively deep or growing rapidly.
Second, you need to be realistic about the timeline. Long-distance is possible, but it’s not possible forever. At some point you need to be together, it’s just human nature. Having a confirmed timeline – whether it be the number of years until you graduate, or the six months it takes for them to transfer jobs – you need to know that there is an end in the foreseeable future. For many of those whose long-distance relationships failed, changing timelines or a lack of an end date was what ultimately broke the relationship.
Likewise, you need to have a plan. It’s fine and dandy to have an end date marked on a calendar for a few months or years down the line, but you also need to know how you’re going to progress in your relationship during that time. That means talking about what your communication will look like, how many times you will visit one another, etc.
Notably, nearly all the people I talked to said communication was easy in the beginning when your sadness over missing them was still fresh. But as time progressed it became more difficult. Those in the successful relationship category said they eventually discussed the wane in communication with their partner and created a schedule of sorts (i.e. two phone calls a week, or skyping on Tuesdays at 8 pm). Alternatively, those in relationships that failed reported that as the communication dwindled they allowed their frustrations to fester until they boiled over, resulting in a nasty argument and even worse communication afterward.
Finally, and most importantly, you need to decide whether you can put someone else first. While this is a general principle in all relationships, it’s especially important as a legal professional and in a long-distance relationship. There is a tendency to view our schedules as more important because we’re in law school and that’s incredibly hard, or because we’re lawyers and that’s incredibly important. But when it comes down to it, our partner’s cannot be the only ones responsible for finding time in their schedules for our relationship. Their lives are just as important as ours (yes, even if they’re not in grad school, law school, or working as a lawyer or in some other ‘busy’ profession), therefore the burden needs to be shouldered equally, and sometimes you will have to sacrifice your needs/wants for the good of the relationship. As one individual said, “if you’re not ready for that, you’re not ready for long-distance.”
So, in conclusion, the consensus was 50/50 on whether long distance can work. Everyone agreed that the shorter the long distance, or the closer you are in terms of weekend trips, the easier it is. Having an end date and a plan are as essential as having consistent, and honest, communication.
But the most important factor is actually you – you need to decide whether the relationship is one you’re willing to fight for, whether you trust the person enough to be separated from them, and whether you have the time, energy, and mental capacity to put the work in to make a long-distance relationship work.