With her boyfriend 7,000 miles away, one Ohio University freshman reflects on the ups and downs of a long-distance relationship.

Amal Afyouni and her boyfriend, Christopher Ratheram, have a problem.

They aren’t disagreeing on what sitcom to watch on Netflix during date night, nor are they a young couple having their first fight. In fact, the two are very much in love.

They’re also 7,000 miles apart.

The couple met in the 11th grade through mutual friends at a high school party — a fact almost too banal for their current situation.

Afyouni, who is Palestinian-American, was born in Texas but later moved to the United Arab Emirates, where she attended school in Dubai. It was during that time that she first met Ratheram, a Scotland native, who was also studying in Dubai, albeit at a different high school.

Flash forward a year, and an ocean lies between them.

While Afyouni has since returned to the United States to begin her freshman year studying economics at Ohio University, Ratheram has remained in Dubai to complete his senior year of high school, which Afyouni bypassed through early graduation.

“We’ve always kind of had a rule,” Afyouni said. “Education comes first.”

While couples who could find themselves in such extraordinary circumstances may lament the distance, Afyouni and Ratheram have learned to embrace it.

“I think the coolest thing is that it kind of shows that we don’t become too attached to each other,” Afyouni said. “I mean that’s not a bad thing. … I know that some couples can’t do anything at all. They can’t leave each other. Whereas with long-distance, we can have our own lives. We don’t always have to be together.”

Ratheram, whose family and friends have supported his decision to maintain the relationship, says he has learned to treasure the little time he has with his girlfriend.

“You learn to appreciate that person a lot more because you understand that you’re not going to see that person every single day,” he said. “Your time together is very limited, and I think you just value that time so much more, and you sort of care more about that person,”

The relationship isn’t without its problems, however. With an 18-hour plane trip keeping them apart, Ratheram and Afyouni know the frustration of distance all too well.

“If I’m having a bad day, I kind of need him here — like I kind of need his actual support,” Afyouni said. “I guess that just kind of sucks. Like, he’s never here physically. He’s always here mentally and stuff whenever I need to talk to him. Even if he’s sleeping, he’ll wake up to talk to me. It’s just that not having him here physically makes things a lot more difficult.”

Though the physical distance is a problem that is not easily solved without an expensive plane ticket and a lengthy journey, modern technology has made Afyouni and Ratheram’s situation considerably more bearable, as it has for countless long-distance couples across the world.      

In a 2013 study, researchers at Pepperdine University examined the effects of computer-mediated communication on the maintenance of long-distance relationships, using platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Skype as the basis for their observation. After surveying a diverse sample of couples, their findings supported the evidence that modern technology has made long-distance relationships both more feasible in the first place and more successful in the long run.

Though Afyouni and Ratheram had decided to separate briefly during the summer, with Afyouni having made the decision to move to the United States to begin college, they soon found, as Afyouni put it, that they “kind of needed each other.”

“There’s no doubt in my mind that I want to stay with this girl,” Ratheram said. “Because I love her. And regardless of where she is, I love her for the person she is.”

Is there a secret formula for long-distance success? To Afyouni, whose past experience with an unsuccessful long-distance relationship ended in a breakup, the top three essentials to making it work are communication, openness and effort.

Ratheram, however, added that patience is much more than a virtue within such a complex relationship — it serves more as an anchor, he suggested — especially considering the nine-hour time difference.

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“I think it works. It’s not horrible. I thought it was going to be a lot harder,” Afyouni said. “I never expected us to be able to work it out this well and for us to be able to talk as much as we do. We at least talk for … two, three, four hours of the day.”

With semester exams finished, Afyouni boarded a plane to Dubai, where she was once again reunited with her long-distance lover — even if it is only for a month.

“When you haven’t seen that person for so long, you just realize how much you actually did miss them,” Ratheram said. “When you see that person up front … all I want to do is squeeze her to death and tell her that I love her.”



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