Going the distance: senior couples decide the fate of their relationship in college

Greta Cifarelli

As loud party music numbs her ears, her phone buzzes. The sound of people clinking drinks and mingling fades as she stumbles to a quiet place. It’s midnight in a fraternity house but her boyfriend is 3,000 miles away, awaiting a FaceTime call to check in on her day. As the end of senior year approaches, the dreaded long-distance relationship conversation looms over students. Does the love that prospered in high school outweigh any passive-aggressive text messages and perceived jealousy in college?

Danielle Kestenbaum, English teacher and Students Organized For Anti-Racism (SOAR) advisor, met her husband, Dave Kestenbaum, in her sophomore year of high school. They were together for six years of her high school and college career before taking about a five-year break and getting back together.

Starting to date her sophomore year, Kestenbaum and her husband pose at Prom.

“I always say it was like we were together [for] six years, but it was a hot mess of a six years once I went to college because we were never fully out of each other’s lives. It was very dramatic and very emotional,” Kestenbaum said.

Kestenbaum and her husband began discussing the fate of their adolescent relationship as she applied to colleges while he attended the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB). Now, about 16 years later, senior Roxanne Culhane had a similar conversation about her future plans with senior Hugh Stevenson, who she’s been dating since they met in a freshman year English class. Initially, they talked about doing long-distance as Culhane was looking at schools like the University of Colorado Boulder and Stevenson was hoping to attend UCSB. 

When decision day came, however, Culhane decided to go to Santa Barbara City College (SBCC) to save money and stay closer to home and Stevenson. Although being close will allow them to remain together, she explained that their relationship was not the only factor in choosing SBCC.

“Going to a city college in Santa Barbara isn’t just to follow him. I’m viewing it as my own journey, and I wouldn’t be doing it if it didn’t make sense to me,” Culhane said. “The idea of going to Santa Barbara was put in my head because he liked that school, but I wouldn’t have gone if, in the long run, it didn’t allow me to also grow as a person while continuing our relationship.”

“Molly,” a senior whose name was changed for anonymity, has been dating her boyfriend for about a year. While they are attending the same university in the fall, they have already mutually decided to end the relationship.

“I think that we want to start new chapters. I just think it would be very overwhelming to be meeting all these new people, rushing and having all these new classes, and on top of that, having a boyfriend. I think we’ll definitely still stay on good terms, but it [would] be difficult to be in a relationship while starting a whole new chapter of your life,” Molly said.

After getting back together in San Francisco, Kestenbaum and her husband remain in the Bay Area.

While they are not taking the same path, both Culhane and Molly have experienced unsolicited opinions on their respective relationships. They found that this was a decision they needed to make with their partner alone.

 “Most of my friends definitely say that it’s not a good idea to go into college with a boyfriend. But then also people who are in relationships in college have told me to just try it out and see what it’s like. I’ve heard a lot of different opinions, but I try not to let it sway my opinion too much,” Molly said.

Like Molly, Kestenbaum feels that graduating high school is an adjustment period. Without Kestenbaum’s breakup, she wouldn’t have been able to have unique experiences like studying abroad in Spain or moving to New York.

“I think it is really important to find yourself and make friends and relationships and have experiences separate from who you were in high school especially if you have a really serious relationship, no matter how in love you are or think you are,” Kestenbaum said. “I don’t diminish that. I always knew I was going to marry Dave. It was in my vows. I knew in my gut at 15 years old when I met him. But I’m so happy we had the time apart to grow apart to live different places, meet different friends, have different relationships because we’re not who we were when we met.”