I went to college in Canada, and whenever I’d think about medical school, I’d romanticize how great moving to the United States would be in terms of opportunities and career development. However, in college, I was in a romantic relationship when I applied to medical schools in the United States, and with that, I was very cognizant that I’d have to be in a long-distance relationship for at least four years … unless my partner followed me to medical school. I used to tell myself that long distance wouldn’t be hard at all. People always said that the years in medical school fly by, so I felt confident that I could juggle a relationship and medical school simultaneously. I used to tell my partner, “What is four years to a lifetime with you?” Well … I was naïve. And I should have done my research about the challenges of long distance.
For many of us applying to medical school, it is a dream to receive that coveted acceptance letter. Our lives prior to this point have centered around the goal of being accepted. For many, sitting for the MCAT two to three times, doing a post-bacc or applying for multiple years reminds us of the rigorous journey it takes to become a physician. However, we forget to consider how our lives will change during that four-year journey to our M.D. once in medical school. For me, in undergrad, I sacrificed many hours with my friends on weekends just so I could study a little more for a final exam. I juggled three jobs at a time so that I could secure housing on campus and minimize my loans. However, I did not consider that managing a long-distance relationship during medical school would be harder than any of the obstacles I had overcome at that point. I honestly thought that it would be easy. How naive of me.
Before leaving for medical school, my partner and I had difficult conversations regarding how we would make the long distance work. Planning trips, figuring out time zones for phone calls and managing our fears were among the many challenges that we identified. We reached out to many of our mutual friends who had been long distance in the past. We only knew of two couples who were successfully managing long-distance relationships and were planning to close the distance within the next one to two years. However, the majority of people that we talked to were individuals who told us about their short-lived long-distance relationships. This was very scary for us to hear. There were doubts racing through my mind every single day leading up to me leaving for medical school. I wasn’t sure if I could do it.
Navigating the start of long distance was challenging, especially as I was adjusting to my first year of medical school and my first time living in America. Going from seeing your partner almost every day to every month or two is extremely difficult. But it was even more challenging to see that many of my classmates’ partners had come with them on their journey. Sometimes it was hard to be around happy couples while not being able to spend time with my significant other. I wanted to be happy too. Frequent phone calls helped, however, my love languages are quality time and physical touch. It was difficult not having my partner to support me on my hardest nights. But I know he did his best, and so did I.
My relationship lasted for one year of medical school before I decided to make the cut. Long distance wasn’t working for either of us, and there was still so much variability in my life. I didn’t know if I would be able to close the distance after medical school because the residency match process is so unpredictable, and looking that far into my future while in my first year of medical school was overwhelming. In the end, neither of us were happy, and it felt like we were pushing through in hopes of a better future in four years. In the end, I knew my optimism about closing the distance and returning to Canada was not realistic, so I decided to walk away from the relationship. Walking away was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do.
I have, however, learned so much after walking away from my relationship, which was really difficult. The relationships that I’ve made during medical school have helped me heal. I’ve learned the value of loving yourself. And, having the opportunity to date new people has helped me reflect on what I’m looking for in my next relationship. Over the last three years, I’ve watched some of my other classmates manage long distance flawlessly! I envy their strength and resilience. Some of them are getting engaged soon, and others will be closing the distance in residency. Although I am not one of the success stories, long distance has taught me that communication and trust are what creates a solid foundation in any relationship. And perhaps, if the stars align, I will get a chance to try again.
Column image courtesy of Neha Deo.
It can be difficult to balance relationships with medical school — not just a romantic one, but also those with our family and friends. With this column I hope to show a more vulnerable side of the challenges that come with balancing medical school and maintaining our personal relationships. If you are reading this and are feeling the same, just know you are not alone!