UTPA students on long-distance relationships

Jose Gonzalez, a sophomore at UTPA, usually watches 21 Jump Street with his girlfriend of seven months, Maria Martinez. Once the show is over, the high school sweethearts chat about their day over some popcorn, and an hour goes by before they end their Skype date.

According to a 2012 study by Statistic Brain (SB), 14 million American couples say they are in a long-distance relationship. SB’s research suggests 32.5 percent of those 14 million couples are college students.

Gonzalez, a biology major, explained that not being able to see Martinez is difficult, since she attends school at St. Mary’s University in San Antonio, but he believes the distance is somewhat of an advantage when it comes to trust.

“I know besides talking on the phone, prayer and reading the Bible together over the phone really helps keep our relationship strong,” the 19-year-old said. “The love we have is really strong and distance doesn’t make it feel any less.”

Along with Gonzalez and Martinez, Los Fresnos High School sweethearts Itzayana Sanchez and Ezekiel Silva also found themselves joining the 32.5 percent when Silva got accepted to Texas State University in San Marcos in January 2013 and Sanchez made herself at home at UTPA’s Troxel Hall dorms last August.

“I miss him. We miss each other,” 19-year-old Sanchez said. “But it’s not hard because I know I’m gonna see him soon and I’m not looking for a guy. I trust him.”

Before Sanchez and Silva became an ‘item,’ Silva contacted Sanchez through Facebook Messenger and asked for her number in October 2011. The couple became official soon after and have been together for one year and 10 months.

“In high school, we would write letters to each other,” said Sanchez, a pre-pharmacy chemistry major. “And now that we’re in college, we have this journal that we write in to each other, but with school going on, (Silva) hasn’t mailed it back in a while.”

While Sanchez puts a care package together, stuffed with Hershey’s Kisses, Starbursts and a love letter for Silva, Martinez finishes some last-minute studying in San Antonio before pressing speed dial 5 for her goodnight call to Gonzalez.

Martinez believes modern technology plays a major factor in keeping her relationship strong.

“It’s nice hearing (Gonzalez’s) voice, even though he’s four hours away,” the 18-year-old said. “Technology helps us communicate. Period. Even if it’s just a simple text and a kissy emoji, we’re happy.”

VIRTUAL HEARTS

The couple finds a variety of ways to keep their relationship fun and exciting, despite the separation, by using the technology that’s available to them.

Researchers from the City University of Hong Kong and Cornell University found that couples who live apart have more meaningful interactions than those who see each other daily –  by communicating through phone calls, texting, emailing and video chat.

“We try new things, such as different types of dates, like Skype dates,” said Silva, a criminal justice major. “Another big thing that keeps our relationship interesting is planning what our relationship will be like in the future and planning future goals together.”

The couple has discussed marriage and according to research group SB, 10 percent of all U.S. marriages start as long-distance relationships, but that’s only 2.9 percent of the population. On average, 40 percent of all long-distance couples will break up with in a four-and-half-month period.

Researchers at Pew Research Center surveyed 586 long-distance couples and found that 49 percent have used dating sites and applications.

Martinez, a St. Mary’s dietetics major, explained how smartphone apps such as Couple, a mobile app which provides a messaging service for two people, have made communicating fun.

According to Loving from a Distance, a website with ideas and activities for people in long-distance relationships, a long-distance couple will visit each other at least once a month. However, Gonzalez and Martinez don’t have the luxury of hopping in their cars whenever they please.

“I wish I could visit more often, but I don’t have the privilege of having a car,” said Gonzalez, a biology major. “I was able to visit (Martinez) twice last semester, and one of those was a surprise visit. I still remember the shocked expression on (Martinez’s) face….it was priceless.”

Gonzalez explained that the trip was only meant for Maria Martinez’s parents, but he thought it would be a good opportunity to see his girlfriend.

“I was so happy that I was actually hugging him and not looking at him through a computer screen,” Martinez said. “It was truly the sweetest surprise ever.”

In line with Physics Universe (PU), short-distance commitments come with the advantage of the couple seeing each other every day. The analysis shows that as the relationship progresses, being hand-in-hand all the time can make things feel unnaturally rushed, somewhat like meeting the parents too soon.

GOING THE DISTANCE

Individuals who are in long-distance relationships – or have a respectable distance between them every day – look forward to big weekend dates and stolen opportunities that they usually wouldn’t be able to do, according to PU.  

“I think our relationship has gotten stronger as a long-distance one,” Sanchez explained. “We don’t argue as much, because when we do see each other we try to enjoy the little time we have together.”

Both couples agree that there are several disadvantages to being in a long-distance relationship, such as failed phone signals and the absence of physical interaction, but they don’t let such factors affect their relationships.

However, each couple holds a different perspective when it comes to their mate. For Silva, there are many elements that have contributed to his lasting commitment.

“Honestly, I think a big factor is that we haven’t had sex and I know that’s a lot to take in,” he said. “Sex can make you very attached to someone and it’s a very emotional thing, so I think that plays a big part in keeping our relationship strong.”

Gonzalez believes the only way of truly coping with the distance and maintaining faith throughout the absence is through prayer and knowing that he will be reunited with Martinez soon enough.

“The (phone) signal fails and we don’t get to see each other physically, but you have to overcome that,” he said. “Our trust in the relationship grows stronger. If we ever have to be apart for something, we know without a doubt we’d get through it because we’ve already gone through so much more.”

LOVE STRUCK

As Valentine’s Day approaches, the couples anxiously plan their Skype dates and await the care packages they put together for each other.

On average, a consumer will spend $116.21 on Valentine’s Day gifts with 61 percent of the American population celebrating the chocolate-giving holiday.

Despite heavy prices, Gonzalez and Martinez are excited for Valentine’s Day this year, something neither of them could have said a year ago.

“This will be the first Valentine’s Day that I’ve actually had someone to share it with,” Gonzalez said. “I know we won’t be able to physically see each other, but that’s okay. The fact that I’m spending it with (Martinez) makes it perfect.”

A quick visit on Valentine’s Day doesn’t seem to be in the cards for Sanchez and Silva, either. Nevertheless, this will be the couple’s third holiday spent with each other and the pair is looking forward to being reunited during Spring Break.

“Being away from (Sanchez) can be tough,” Silva said. “But it also makes it more exciting when I finally get to see her.”

As the semester wears on, the couples anticipate summer 2014 and fully intend on spending as much time as possible together before heading back to school in the fall.

For Gonzalez, it looks like his relationship will no longer be a long-distance one because Martinez will be coming to UTPA in the fall.

“It’s not that we can’t handle the distance. We can,” Martinez explained. “But we talk of a future together and being in a long-distance relationship isn’t the best way to start off that future…being back home and going to school with (Gonzalez) is something I intend to make the very best of.”