Can College 'Kids' Make Love Last?

College means meeting new people, but does it mean having to say goodbye to old loves?

Jackie Tarantola, 21, and Jason Stephens, 23, both from Huntington, N.Y., met through friends in high school and had an instant connection.

Even though they went to different colleges and are two years apart in age, they've been together for six years. But the road wasn't always smooth.

"We definitely went through that time where things just didn't match up at all. The divide between our priorities was too big to stay a couple," said Stephens, an alumnus of Quinnipiac University in Connecticut.

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Tarantola, who is going into her senior year at the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania, says she always knew that their rough time was only a "break."

"I dated during the year off, but no one could ever measure up to how great Jason is," she said.

But not every young couple is as successful as Stephens and Tarantola at going that extra mile.

Dr. Susan Harper Slate, a psychologist based in Santa Monica, Calif., whose specialties include relationship issues, says long-distance dating is hard when there is a strong sense of attachment and then a sudden shift in the opposite direction.

"It's very hard to do. If the bulk of the relationship is based on long-distance, it can be difficult because you may not have a realistic sense of how the two of you are in day-to-day settings," she said.

Indeed, many other couples that started out in high school have not been able to adapt to the long distance obstacle, as one junior at Northeastern University in Boston found out.

Carla and her ex hail from Atlanta. They each went their separate ways after high school, she traveled to Boston and he stayed at home to go to school.

Even though they visited each other as much as possible, the situation became difficult.

"We ended up staying together, thinking it would work out," she said. "It actually made my freshman year away really difficult because I missed my boyfriend, so I would stay in all the time just talking on the phone and not making friends or meeting other people. I feel like my first year in college was wasted. I'm sure he would say the same thing."

Carla also said there were a lot of trust issues in the relationship, since they were so far apart. After two years of dating, her boyfriend broke up with her, and even though she had a hard time getting over him, she has since been able to cope.

"I have met incredible people in school. I have a bunch of girlfriends, dated around, and I've realized what I want and don't want. We stopped having things in common, and you can't hold on to something that isn't there," Carla said.

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Other young couples who do go to the same college find those long months at home to be the problem.

Joe, an upcoming senior at The College of New Jersey from Tom's River, N.J., had a girlfriend at school from Lodi, N.J.

While the couple was inseparable at school, the two-hour distance between Tom's River and Lodi proved too much to handle.

"We both like to go out and party, and I just wasn't able to handle not being with her all the time," Joe said. "I just couldn't trust her while we were apart, and she couldn't trust me. By not trusting each other, we just fought all the time and it didn't make sense to go through our summer being angry all the time."

Although long-distance dating can be rough, Slate says she has seen it done successfully. She also says it can also be good for keeping one's individuality during those formative years.

"Sometimes when couples get started they tend to not see other friends," she said. "Long-distance dating actually works well in that regard since people can continue to keep other attachments and other activities."

Boston College sweethearts Alana Greer, 21, from Miami and Ted Dunlap, 22, from Dallas, said their ability to keep their individuality has actually helped them survive their distance.

"It's always an adventure to compare our experiences and friends," Greer said. "Salsa music and country aren't usually on the same iPod, but I think we each bring something unique to the relationship that always keeps us on our toes."

Home is not the only place keeping Greer and Dunlap apart. They have already survived study abroad semesters all over the world. Currently, he is in California and she is in New York.

"It's less of how many hours we are away from each other and more about how many time zones," Greer said. "We have actually met in airports during layovers that happen to put us closer than we usually would be. It's nice to have a partner who understands and supports me through this scattered time in my life."

Greer says the hardest part about being away from her boyfriend is missing out on all the big events he goes through, and vice versa. But when they can't be there for each other, they "try to make sure the other person knows how much we want to be" by sending each other packages or postcards.

"Communication is really what has saved us — in a long-distance relationship it's your lifeline," she said.

Slate agreed that much depends on how many times a month a couple can see each other, as well as the access they have by phone or through e-mail.

"There has to be a lot of contact and a lot of trust," Slate said. "You really have to understand the parameters of the relationship to be successful."

As for Stephens and Tarantola, they look back on their time apart as healthy.

"It's perfectly normal, I feel, for any couple to break up when they start at an extremely young age. This way both people in the relationship come back thankful that they have each other," Stephens said.

And six years later, they both understand that they are in it "for the long haul."

"When the going gets tough, we just remind each other that college isn't forever," Tarantola said. "One day we will look back on these years of long distance and say, 'We made it.'"

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