Connections Over Distance

On Sept. 10, 2017, my friend told me she was added to a group chat on an app called Kik. She asked me to download it so she could add me to it as well. I hadn’t used the app since I was in middle school, and I was a senior in high school when she asked me to download the app.

Reluctantly, I ended up downloading it. Seconds after, I received a notification that I was added to a group chat called “LGBTQ Babes.” I rolled my eyes at the name, but continued to make my presence known. I was welcomed with open arms by everyone who was already in the group chat. It was the first time I ever joined a chat of multiple people who I didn’t even know. I was a little suspicious whether these people were really who they said they were, so I lied and said my name was Lily (which is incidentally my middle name). I definitely wanted to make sure I didn’t give my real name to some 50-year-old pervert.

A month later, I made good friends out of most of the people in the chat. The few that stuck with me to this day are Paige, from Michigan, and Svenja, from Germany. I even got comfortable enough to give them my Snapchat username. Once I did, I received a Snapchat from Svenja right away.

“Would you like to start a streak with a random stranger?” Svenja said.

I had yet to know exactly what she looked like. She was one of those girls who sent a picture of half of her face or a picture of the ground. At least, from what I could see, I knew she wasn’t lying about her age or gender.

As time went on, I learned more about her as a person. She was my go-to person when things got rough during high school. When I stressed myself out too much, she would help me calm down and focus on graduating in the spring. Or when softball started becoming more of a job than a hobby, she helped pull me out of my own head. She had a good sense of humor, respect for her family, and, most importantly, she had a dog. We talked as friends for about two months until things took a turn. In the beginning, there was a hint of flirting here and there. But the flirting grew more intense and soon I found myself constantly wanting to be talking to her. 

Since Svenja lives in Germany, she is seven hours ahead of me. We talked when we could, but our conversations were limited. When it was the evening for me, she was sleeping. When it was the morning for her, I was the one sleeping. The times were annoying, but it seemed worth it at the time as long as I had her in my life. There were times where I didn’t even sleep just so I could talk to her. I was okay with getting 3 or 4 hours of sleep knowing that I could talk to her more. 

In December of 2017, I wanted to tell Svenja how I felt. So, on New Year’s Eve, I told Svenja how I felt at midnight. I told her I liked her, and I wanted to make the distance work. But, again, she was sleeping at this time. I had to wait until I woke up in the morning to find out what she said. 

 I tried waiting for her to answer, but at the same time, I almost didn’t even want to know her answer. There were several scenarios going through my head. I tried distracting myself with my family and joking around with them, but it wasn’t working. I constantly checked my phone, but nothing was there. It felt like the thousandth time I checked my phone when I finally told myself to put it away until I knew she was awake. In order to get rid of the nerves, I forced myself to go to sleep early so I didn’t have to deal with it. It turns out that she felt the same way and from then on, we started talking romantically. This just meant that we talked how we always did, just the flirting intensified, and we talked about things friends wouldn’t talk about, for example, how we would get to kiss when we finally met.

It only became official on Feb. 7, 2018. I sent Svenja a purple rose that had eternal life, along with a note that asked her to be my girlfriend. I chose a purple flower with eternal life to show her how my feelings for her were undying. It took a week for her to get the present, and I was anxious. I knew she would say yes, given the context clues from the last few months, but that didn’t ease my feelings at all. The doubt constantly crept into my body. What if it is too soon? What if she wasn’t sure about her feelings and I pressured her into making a decision by asking her out? It turns out all of my doubts were just that – doubts. She said yes, and from then on, every 7th of the month was our anniversary.

We worked with the distance so much so that it almost wasn’t a problem. We FaceTimed when we could, we texted whenever we were available and she even came to visit the U.S. in July this past summer. When she came here, I had the time of my life. It felt like I could finally breathe since she was in my arms for the very first time. We went to Chicago, and I even brought her to my family’s lake house in Indiana to meet the rest of my family. I was convinced we could conquer the distance and make it until one of us could move to live in a home with the other. 

You might think that when you finally meet your long-distance significant other, your relationship would only become stronger. Believe it or not, it’s actually the opposite. Thirty-three percent of couples who meet for the first time often break up within the first three months. Svenja and I made it almost four months, so we could technically be part of that statistic.

For almost nine months, this girl was a part of my life. But as of Nov. 1, 2018, we are no longer together. We thought the distance would only be a minor factor in our relationship. It shouldn’t have mattered how many miles were between us as long as we had each other. But things change, and we couldn’t handle not seeing each other anymore. 

I have social media to thank for this experience. If it weren’t for the internet, I never would’ve met her and I wouldn’t know what a long-distance relationship feels like. According to Recode, 44 percent of teenagers who were asked which social media platform they’d use if they were allowed only one, chose Snapchat. Snapchat was the foundation of the relationship between Svenja and me.

No one could have dreamed of this 10 years ago. Phones weren’t even considered smart when I was 8 years old. My relationship never would’ve happened if technology wasn’t as evolved as it is now. 

Marmy Clason, the chair of the communications department at Mount Mary University, said you don’t need to constantly talk in relationships, but both parties need to negotiate when communication is necessary. 

“When it comes specifically to communication, an interesting thing happens,” Clason said. “People in long-distance relationships tend to communicate more because of the distance factor.”

She said that couples in long-distance relationships will text more, email more, and Facetime or Skype more. People in long-distance relationships tend to get to know each other more since that’s all they can do to try to compensate for the distance.

It might’ve taken me longer to get to know Svenja’s tendencies or her habits, but they felt more genuine because of the fact that I got to see more of her as a person due to her trying to compensate for the distance. 

Metacommunication is also enhanced in a long-distance relationship. Metacommunication is the nonverbal cues that carry meaning about how a piece of information should be interpreted. For example, if I say I had a good day, but I say it with a frown and a deep sigh, you know that isn’t the truth. In long-distance relationships, nonverbal cues are easier to communicate to a significant other. 

Before I was added to the group chat, I never really used my phone much. After I was added, social media was all I used to talk to my internet friends. Personally, I think it connected me to them more than my friends in real life. I was emotionally attached to them instead of physically connected to them.

This experience led to me to believe that I wasn’t alone. I had friends in person, but the connection I got with internet friends was absent from those friendships I had. Somewhere out there, there are people ready to love you. You just have to find them. I used social media to find Svenja. Even though it didn’t last, she was still a part of my life, and I respect that. 

“Long-distance relationships are tricky (and) interesting,” Clason said. “Because, of course, you are missing the physical presence of the person, which is one of the things we would assume to be a component in a good relationship.”

According to research done by the International Communication Association, almost 75 percent of college students claim to have had a long-distance relationship at least once during college. Because of social media, people are able to maintain relationships with people they have never even met before. Even though the relationship between Svenja and I didn’t last, I have faith that true love can exist on the internet. 

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