Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern


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Close at heart

Communication sophomore Zak Kirchner keeps handwritten notes from his girlfriend, Katie Olinger, on top of his printer, underneath a stack of blank CDs.

“I forgot this,” Kirchner said as he admired the letter Olinger sent last year, before they were dating, to congratulate him for pledging Sigma Phi Epsilon. “That’s cute.”

The sticky notes and stationery with scribbled messages and pasted magazine clippings help Kirchner stay connected to his girlfriend of about seven months, a sophomore at Elon University in Elon, N.C. Instant messenger, phone calls and quarterly visits to each other’s schools also bridge the physical separation.

“When you find a person that’s really good for you, it’s kind of rare,” Kirchner said. “You shouldn’t give that up just because of long distance.”

At Northwestern, Kirchner won’t have trouble finding some students who agree.

Dr. Roberta Baer, an assistant director at Counseling and Psychological Services on NU’s Chicago Campus, said long-distance relationships are common among undergrads.

But she said that doesn’t mean they’re easy to manage.

“It’s really hard to negotiate both keeping the connection and adjusting to a new lifestyle,” said Baer, who is facilitating a workshop on long-distance relationships for NU graduate students this quarter.

Even students happily maintaining long-distance love said it brings challenges. Students said the physical separation can be painful.

“To go from seeing a person every day to not having a person but a phone — it’s hard,” said Caroline Ainsworth, an Education freshman. Ainsworth is in a relationship with her high school boyfriend, now a freshman at Yale.

Some challenges have convinced students like Weinberg freshman Brad Walsh that long-distance relationships aren’t worth the effort.

After four months of trying to maintain a relationship with his girlfriend, a senior at Walsh’s former high school in Morristown, N.J., Walsh decided the pain of separation was too intense. He called it quits over Winter Break. He said long-distance relationships cause loneliness and pose limits for both people involved.

“If you really like someone — you love someone — you’re going to be depressed if they’re not there,” Walsh said. “There’s a very good chance that you’ll meet someone 10 feet away or across campus and connect with them, rather than someone a thousand miles away. You’re better off playing the field where you’re living.”

Baer agreed that long-distance relationships can lead to loneliness if those involved don’t attempt to make connections with people at school. But she said it depends upon how a student handles the relationship.

“Ideally, college is a time for students to learn more about themselves and grow, and having a long-distance relationship can deflect some of that energy,” Baer said. “If it’s the kind of relationship where both people communicate with each other, support the other and are not threatened, the relationship itself can grow stronger, along with the individuals.”

For some at NU, long-distance relationships have provided freedom to grow.

Medill sophomore Shannon Adducci said she has more time to focus on her friends at school because she doesn’t have to balance her time between them and her boyfriend, Jordan Winfield, a sophomore at Hope College in Holland, Mich.

“I don’t feel like I’m missing out,” she said.

Most students said they communicate every day. Many talk on the phone or on IM. Kirchner even uses a webcam about once a week, so he can see Olinger’s face as he types.

Students said visits also keep the connection alive and give those in long-distance relationships something to look forward to. Having supportive parents helps, students said, because the cost of travel can be expensive.

Despite her contentment, Adducci said she can’t help but question her choice to date long distance from time to time, especially because she and Winfield aren’t thinking about marriage yet.

“Sometimes you do have the realization of, ‘What am I doing? Where is this going?'” she said.

But she and other NU students said they can answer those questions with ease. The effort is worth more than ending a relationship that both partners enjoy.

Education sophomore Amanda Dixon said the occasional “stupid little fight” with her boyfriend, a sophomore at St. Gregory’s University in Shawnee, Okla., sometimes occurs because of the distance. But there are more benefits to the relationship, she said.

“You underestimate how great it is to be able to hug someone if you’re upset, to cuddle with someone, even just to go to dinner,” Dixon said, but, “the connection that we have and that ongoing thought — ‘it is worth it’ — is what makes the relationship work.”

Reach Francesca Jarosz at [email protected].

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