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Summer Love...Don't Get Burned

by Stacy Lipson, Senior, Temple University

Summer is here, and the days are heating up in more ways than one. Many students use the time off to focus on their romantic relationships. For others though, summer means heading back to their hometown and being apart from a college love.

Whether starting a new connection or maintaining an existing one, students want to have relationships that are positive. Positive romances boost your self-esteem and in general, make you feel happy, while negative relationships can bring you down emotionally—you can get depressed and distracted from things that are important to you.

Of 567 students polled by Student Health 101, about half said they were in a relationship with someone at their school, and about a quarter said they were in a relationship with someone from their hometown. About 40% said they will be apart from their partner this summer, and 90% of all students polled said that being apart can put a strain on a relationship.

Stay in Touch
When you’re apart from someone you love, communication is especially critical. Dan Chen, a junior at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, will be apart from his girlfriend this summer. Chen will be in Hong Kong while his girlfriend will remain on MIT’s campus.

“It’s important to stay in touch,” says Chen. “Schedule a time to chat and coordinate what times you’re going to talk to each other.”

Although Ellen Weaver, a student at Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti, has been apart from her significant other because he is in the military, stationed in Kansas, the couple keeps their relationship alive through texting, Web cams, and phone calls. “Send little messages like how are you, good morning, what’s your day like, and always say good- night,” says Weaver. “My relationship started in the summer and has been going for almost two years. Even with the restrictions on time we get to physically spend together, we make our relationship worthwhile with frequent communication.”

Jessica Lubin, a senior at New York University in New York City, has been dating her long-distance boyfriend for the past two years. She recommends that long-distance couples be mindful of each other’s schedules. “We ask the other, what's your schedule for the rest of the week,” she says. “This really helps us gauge when a good time to talk is and just keeps us in the loop about what each of us is doing in general. If I know James is going to be in the library all night, I don't get upset when I can't talk to him right before I go to bed.”

Students polled also gave these recommendations:
- Write love letters to your partner.
- Plan “dates.” Even if you are far apart, make time for your partner, such as watching a movie or show together online or over the phone.
- Make at least one or two “check-in” times to keep in touch with your partner every day or so.

Breaking Up Can Be OK
While distance can make the heart grow fonder, it can also lead some students to become emotionally distant. Andrea Alemañy, a senior at Syracuse University in New York, was dating a college boyfriend while they were in different cities for the summer. Alemañy was working at a journalism internship in Washington, D.C., and her boyfriend was working as a waiter in Fairview, New Jersey. Even though Alemañy enjoyed being with her boyfriend, who visited her three times throughout the summer, their relationship began to unravel during that time.

“We wanted different things,” says Alemañy. “I wanted to focus on my internship and friends, and he seemed to want things to be more serious.”

“If you’ve tried to make a go of a relationship, and it’s not working—either because of personality conflicts, disparate goals, or more serious issues like abuse—then breaking up is definitely the healthy way to go,” says Diane Mapes, author of How to Date in a Post-Dating World. “Breakups can be upsetting—even if you’re the one doing the breaking up, but it doesn’t mean you should avoid them. If you do, then you have to deal with the stress of a failing relationship on a daily basis.”

Senior Jillian Pagliei had just started dating her boyfriend during the summer after her junior year at Moravian College in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Because they were both from the same hometown, Pagliei expected her relationship with her boyfriend to be simple and fun. “It was a lot harder than I expected,” says Pagliei. She worked nights while her boyfriend worked the day shift.

Unlike Pagliei, her boyfriend had a curfew on the weekends, which made seeing each other difficult. While Pagliei struggled to manage her busy schedule, her boyfriend started to ask for more of her free time.

“He was very insecure,” says Pagliei. “If I was talking to my friends on the phone, he needed me to pay attention to him.” Pagliei recalls feeling a lot of stress and anxiety during those summer months: “He put a lot of pressure on me to make him happy. I didn’t find him very flexible, and that made things difficult.”

Eventually, Pagliei chose to break up, and it was a decision she did not regret.

The Summer Fling
Summers are notorious for the short-lived romance. You may find yourself on a vacation, at the beach, or traveling. While having fun in a new environment, you may make a romantic connection. Your time together may be short, but the relationship can still be healthy if you protect yourself and keep a realistic perspective. The relationship can boost your self-esteem, and you may actually meet someone interesting and wind up doing fun things together—sailing, going to museums, hiking, whatever. If you’re expecting to find the real thing, you can get your feelings hurt. Try to enjoy the time together without expectations and then when it’s time to part, if it feels like a strong connection, get contact info so you can potentially stay in touch. Remember to always protect yourself from any sexually transmitted infections. Diane Mapes says that you always have to communicate and pay attention to what the other person is saying so you are clear where the relationship is heading.

Take Time to Meet New People
Even if you’re not in a relationship or not looking for romance, you can take time to socialize and meet new people, says Dr. Ramani Durvasula, a clinical psychologist and professor at California State University, Los Angeles. She recommends participating in an activity in order to stay positive and upbeat.

“If you’re taking classes during the summer time, see what activities are on campus,” says Dr. Durvasula. “A lot of college campuses offer special events for their summer students.”

Consider signing up for a sports league, joining a gym, or taking a recreational cooking class. “A lot of those activities interacting with other people offer growth and can improve your self-esteem as well,” says Dr. Durvasula. Janessa Parlett, a senior at West Chester University in Pennsylvania, likes to go to bookstores to meet new people. “I’ve met a lot of interesting people at Barnes & Noble,” says Parlett. “I’ve even reconnected with some of my high school friends in there.” Rachel Hodas, a senior at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, met her boyfriend, Jordan Solomon, a senior at nearby Temple University, while playing in a volleyball game when they both worked as camp counselors the summer after their freshman year of college. “We got along so well,” says Hodas. “We started out as friends, but it became something more.”

The Love Doctors Are In
Dr. Ramani Durvasula, a clinical psychologist and professor at California State University, Los Angeles, and Dr. Richard Shadick, director of the Pace University Counseling Center in New York City, offer a few tips on how to handle your romances during the summer.

- Communicate. Communicating your feelings and expectations is always key. If you’re only looking for a long-term relationship, you need to communicate that. If a partner is only interested in a short-term or casual commitment, you need to know that.
- Be open and honest with your feelings. Understand each other’s wants, and respect each other’s wishes.
- Use technology to stay in touch. Skype, video chat, and Facebook can help you communicate with your partner when you’re apart.
- Try something new. Doing things together that you haven’t done before can be a bonding experience. Plus, physical activities like soccer, kayaking, surfing, or swimming can be fun. Make the most of your time together.
- Be safe. Make sure to take precautions against sexually transmitted infections if you're sexually active.

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