Going the Distance

Going the Distance

Valentine's Day

Think high-school sweethearts are a thing of the past?

Nearly two years after they were chosen the “Cutest Couple” of Winston Churchill High School’s class of 2004, Kelli Cissel and Ryan Haggerty are still going strong.

Kelli and Ryan first started dating in the summer of 2003, before their senior year of high school began. Kelli left for her freshman year at Miami University of Ohio, while Ryan went to Virginia Tech.

Both were well versed in the conventional wisdom for college freshmen — the myth of the “freshman 15” weight gain, and the belief that long-distance romances were fated to last no longer than one semester.

“We talked about it, and decided we were going to stay together,” Kelli said.

“We knew it was going to be hard, but we thought we would be able to stick it out [and] still have fun at our own colleges,” Ryan said.

UNLIKE LONG-DISTANCE couples in decades past, Cissel Haggerty could keep in touch through web cams, instant messaging and unlimited cell phone minutes. It helped, but it was too much of a good thing.

“Freshman year, I called him way too much,” Cissel said. She’d call him in the morning, then again on her way to class, then right after class. Later in the day, they’d both sit in front of their computers and chat on their web cams.

She felt homesick for much of freshman year. After her freshman year, Kelli transferred to the University of Maryland, College Park. And yes, Ryan was a factor. They’re still several hours’ driving distance from one another, but it’s better than a year ago, when they had to fly. She’d considered transferring to Virginia Tech, but she likes the way things stand.

“I think now it’s better that we didn’t go to the same school, so we can make some of our own friends,” Kelli said. “I’ve found a good group of friends here [and club] lacrosse keeps me occupied.”

PART OF THE KEY, each agreed, is striking a balance between communicating with each other and having lives of their own.

“I think we’re both more mature about it,” Kelli said. They still talk daily, but not as often, and they hardly use the web cam any more.

“We IM occasionally, after class, just to say hi,” Ryan said.

“We try not to isolate ourselves. While we have this relationship, we want to be social,” Ryan said. “We’ve been pretty much supporting each other to have fun going out. … I may not have the person I want by me most of the time, but I have my own group of friends.”

In-person visits happen about as often as last year. Kelli drove to Blacksburg, Va., once last semester, and joined Ryan for the Virginia Tech-Miami football game. Ryan came by bus for a weekend visit to College Park. They also have Thanksgiving and winter break to get together at home.

“We’re both still sticking with the sports that we do,” Ryan said. Both were year-round varsity athletes at Churchill. Ryan plays intramural sports through the year, while Kelli plays on a club lacrosse team at Maryland.

Each joins the other’s family for a summer vacation trip — Kelli went with the Haggertys to Hilton Head, S.C., and Ryan joined the Cissels on a trip to Dewey Beach, Del.

“I just think we enjoy each other’s company. … We really have no desire to find someone else,” Kelli said. “Also, we’re not crazy types of people.”