In high school, I met a boy. And in high school, I fell in love with this boy. He was smart, funny, kind, caring, attractive, and pretty much anything that I could want in a boyfriend. Besides the fact that he lived across the country from me and we were heading for long distance in six months, he was everything that I could have dreamed of.

Despite the 2,800 miles between us at home and the 131 miles between us when I was at boarding school and he was at college, we made it through his freshman year and made it to mine. I went to college with him on my mind and in my heart, determined that long distance was exactly what I continued to want and continued to need.

People always say that college changes you, but I thought that I had already had that experience. After all, I went to boarding school, and how much different from college could that be? Pretty different, I soon realized, and different enough that it changed my perspective a lot. I have realized that in order for me to be happy, I have to find myself and who I want to be before I can really be happy. 

I went to college looking for friends, not boys.

tea, coffee, beer
Madi Johnson

The greatest gift that being in a long-distance relationship gave me was a lack of distraction. I wasn't going out on weekends looking for boys to hook up with or to date. I went looking for friends, people that I love to spend time around and want to have in my life forever. My priority was building relationships with people, but not relationships of the dating sort.

I was less distracted from my work.

When me and my boyfriend attended high school together, it was easy to become distracted. I could see him every day and it was easy to choose hanging out with him over doing my pre-calc assignment. But with the distance, I had no distractions in the form of a boy. First semester is a whole new world in terms of work, and lack of distraction allowed me to do well.

I learned a lot about commitment.

In LDRs, it becomes easy to feel like your partner is simply a best friend, and not a significant other, because you lose the ability to truly be affectionate. It takes commitment, it takes time, and it takes a willingness to continue to do something hard. I learned a lot about my ability to commit and how I was willing to put myself through something hard for someone I love.

I learned a lot about myself and my habits.

I'm not really a people person, and it takes a lot for me to open up to someone and get to know them. I found that I relied much more on my boyfriend, at a distance, for comfort and help with my problems, than I did with anyone around me. I realized how easily it was for me to become isolated in a new environment, and rely on the old, rather than working with the new.

Distance really does make the heart grow fonder.

They say you don't realize what you have until you let it go, and every time I headed back to school or got on a flight back across the country, it felt as though my heart was breaking. Long distance allows you to truly appreciate a person, as the time you have together is usually so fleeting. It makes that time so much more precious and seeing each other much more powerful.

I became more independent.

I had to learn to do things on my own, to branch out and make new friends, and realize that I couldn't rely on the same person for everything anymore. I didn't have a constant person by my side to go to meals with, to go out with, or just to hang out with on a weekend morning anymore. But it allowed me to find my independence and find new people to do these things with.

My connections with my friends from high school became more important, and easier to keep.

Madi Johnson

I treat my friends from high school in almost the same way as I treat my long distance relationship, and it makes it so that when we see each other, we pick up right where we left off. There's no way that I would be able to dedicate so much time to these friendships if I hadn't learned how to do it in a relationship, and I am thankful for that and for keeping the friends that I have. 

I realized I could be okay without him.

What I realized is that, in a long distance relationship, you find yourself getting used to life without your partner. And that's okay because it prepares you for what might happen if you don't have them anymore. It doesn't mean that it makes it easier, or that you want them to be gone, it just means that you have the ability to pick yourself off and go on with life.

The most important thing that I learned from a long distance relationship is that no matter what, it impacts you. For me, I learned that in order to be with other people, I have to learn to be myself and not rely on someone else to help me with everything in my life. I learned that sometimes, the farther apart you are, the stronger you become.

Being in a long distance relationship didn't make my college experience better or worse, it just made it different. And I'm forever thankful for that. I wouldn't have my first and only love without it, and I wouldn't have learned as much about myself as I have now. Long distance isn't for everyone, but finding the right person can make it worth it, and can teach you something about yourself along the way.