Elna Albano and Robert Bennett didn”t hesitate to start a relationship when 360 miles separated them, and they didn”t hesitate when the distance grew to seven times the size three months later.
The couple first met at a writing camp in Albano”s hometown of Island Park, Idaho, before their junior year of high school. Albano was dating someone else at the time. Still, she recalls pointing out how good-looking Bennett was while walking with a friend.
“We hit it off right off the bat,” Bennett said.
The two created a strong friendship after their first encounter. However, she said the fateful and “time-stopping” moment came much later, when Albano met Bennett in a coffee shop in his hometown of Boise. They made it official in May 2014.
Their relationship was a long distance one from the beginning, but when she moved to Moscow and he to Washington D.C. to further their studies, it took the long-distance love to a new level.
“We never really thought of ending it because we were both going other ways,” Albano said.
Albano is a sophomore interior design major at the University of Idaho and Bennett studies justice law and criminology at American University.
In a way, Albano said their universities are as different as they are – UI is a big campus in a small town, and American is a small campus in a big city.
Albano said when they talk about the differences, they note their personal organizational styles are different, too.
“Seeing her apartment and everything, how she has it decorated, her passion for interior design, I get to see that,” Bennett said. “I get to see more what she holds close and true.”
Bennett, a self-proclaimed less-than-tidy person, said Albano always gives him a hard time when his belongings enter her neat apartment.
“I come with my suitcases immediately covering half the room,” he said.
Albano said being apart allows each of them to grow as individuals, which has only strengthened their relationship.
“It”s even better when we”re together,” she said.
Bennett said when Albano visits him in D.C., it”s easy to jump on the metro and spend the day sightseeing. Whether it”s visiting national monuments or going to brunch at their favorite place in the Adams Morgan D.C. neighborhood, he said they always have fun.
“Any time we”re together, it”s pretty much an adventure,” Albano said. “We always try to pack as much in as we can.”
Near or far
The pair passed the summer before college with trips back and forth, Bennett said.
“On the rare occasion we did get to see each other, it was the highlight of the month,” he said.
Now the couple passes the time with frequent communication through multiple means.
“We text each other, we Snapchat, we recently rediscovered Words With Friends,” Bennett said. “She”s kicking my ass with that.”
Albano said they struggled all of freshman year to work out a communication system to combat the three-hour time difference, which she said is probably the most difficult challenge.
Albano said there were a lot of tears on her part freshman year, but they”ve since worked out the kinks in their communication plan, which includes nightly FaceTime calls.
“We finally kind of got a system down,” she said. “He probably stays up a little later than he should.”
Yet Bennett said the late nights simply make him a normal college student. The pair also keeps track of each other”s schedules and check in periodically, he said.
“She asks me about those things throughout my day and I try to do the same for her – whatever her grocery list is, or small things like that,” he said.
For Albano, the only way to combat the distance is frequent communication.
“I won”t say it”s been easy, because it”s been really hard,” she said.
Bennett takes refuge in his busy schedule and in sleep.
“I really became, it if was possible, a bigger fan of sleep,” Bennett said. “That just lets me press fast forward for eight hours or whatever it is.”
She said some couples may struggle without verbal reassurance of their relationship, something she said Bennett has no problem providing.
“He really shows his love for me,” she said.
Although they went about four months in between seeing each other freshman year, she said since then, one of them will make the effort to make a cross-country trip every one or two months.
In fact, Bennett surprised her last Valentine”s Day with a last-minute trip to Moscow.
“I made kind of a spur of the moment decision last year to buy a ticket a week before Valentine”s Day to come see her. That was kind of ill-advised by my parents,” he said.
This year, Bennett is repeating the Valentine”s Day trek, but with more than five-days notice.
When it’s right, it’s right
When deciding to pursue a long-distance relationship during their freshman year of college, the couple faced some questioning bystanders. Bennett”s grandma was among them.
Bennett said a picture of Albano came up during a photo slideshow at his home when his grandma was over.
“”Wow, she”s really beautiful. Who”s that?”” Bennett recalled his grandma saying. “”She”s going to leave you in like three weeks.””
Yet the two have stuck it out.
“We”re both really even, I think, and we complement each other very nicely,” Bennett said. “Neither of us have the power in the relationship.”
At a time when most couples are breaking up, the pair stuck together.
“He helps to keep me grounded,” Albano said.
Albano said she was told she wouldn”t be able to experience college while in a relationship, especially a long distance one. But for her, the definition of the college experience doesn”t include partying and dating multiple people.
Even so, the couple faces their own challenges.
“Don”t listen to people who are trying to tell you “you can”t do it,”” Albano said. “You are the only people who can judge if you can do it.”
Nearly two years into their love story, they both said it was the right decision for them.
“Don”t be afraid to go for it if you think it”s right,” Albano said.
Katelyn Hilsenbeck can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @Katelyn_mh