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Each night in the college computer labs, bleary-eyed students tap out forlorn letters to faraway loves, connected only by electric impulses and the thousands of miles of cable that carry them.

Telephones connect voices from campus to campus, but the long distance calls add up until the connection is shut off.

Many students live only for weekends or holidays to see their boyfriends or girlfriends again.

All across the country college life casts lovers apart. Availability of things like e-mail and internet chat rooms have made this long distance relationships more abundant than ever.

Unfortunately, the increase of long-distance romances results in loneliness and tension for many of the people involved in them.

"I've see more students dating people who live in other cities or states than ever before," said Penny Crary, director of the student counseling center. "Relationships are complicated anyway. Finding a partner you're comfortable with is not easy, but distance only makes things more difficult."

College life can make it even harder. Tuition bills eat away savings accounts, and before e-mail they could only rely on snail mail to carry their words to their beloved.

"People are even having computer relationships to get around that," Crary said. "Students can use e-mail to send a letter within minutes, and that seems to sustain a lot of relationships from campus to campus."

A computer lab consultant in Benedum Hall agreed.

"You should see it. On Friday nights people are still lined up writing e-mail to each other or talking in a chat room," he said. "You'd be surprised how many people do it."

Though communicating as often as possible is the best way to relieve strain on a relationship, the weaker ones still fall apart.

"Newer relationships seem to be the most difficult to sustain," Crary said. "There's no history, nothing to hold onto. But long ties and a previous commitment are usually the sign of a more mature relationship. I've noticed these have a much better chance of lasting."

.The Center Holds

Jen Campbell, a Pitt pharmacy major, slumps down on her bed in Lothrop Hall at the end of a bad day, and waits for the phone to ring. The second hand ticks by with the hour hand on her clock, but the phone remains silent.

The walls are dominated by photographs of her boyfriend, Joe Tota; her shelves are littered with ornate frames surrounding images of the two lovers. Some are of the couple together, some he stands alone, stoic and solemn in his Marine dress blues.

One of his many letters is tacked above her desk, and hundreds more sit in the drawer. The return address on each is a marine base in North Carolina.

The letters are the only thing to comfort her when she misses him.

"I can't call him," she says. "I never know when he'll be near the phone at his base. He has to call me, and sometimes I just sit here and miss him so badly. But there's nothing I can do about it."

Jen and Joe have been together for two years. She graduated a year ahead of Joe, and said it was bad enough leaving him for college. It was worse when he left for Parris Island last spring.

Soon he will leave for six months of duty in the Mediterranean. Jen won't see or hear from him during that time except in letters. Still, the two are planning to get married.

"He was gone for three months in training and all we could do was write," she said. "I was scared to see him after he got back because I was afraid he would have changed and I wouldn't know him. I don't know what it will be like when he goes overseas."

That change between two people who are far apart is the downfall of many long distance relationships according to Penny Crary.

"Sometimes you're not a part of the other person's life, and we are always changing," Crary said. "Two people far away from each other will change in different ways, ways that may make them unable to be together any longer."

But Jen and Joe compensated for their separate lives by writing - writing a lot.

"I wrote him a letter every day, just to tell him what was up and what I was doing," she said. "It was like keeping a days journal, just so weUd stay close."

She said Joe's training kept him from responding to every letter, but he managed to write her back three or four times a week.

"We don't write that often anymore, but he can call me now that he's out of training, and we talk as often as possible," she said. "It's nice to hear his voice, that brings you closer. But our phone bills are around $200 a month."

She said this is an incredible strain on her fiance because he just purchased a car - and an engagement ring.

"That's one of the problems with people who haven't got a steady career yet," said Penny Crary. "If two people who live in other cities have good jobs they can afford to call and visit each other. But college aged people donUt have that option, and itUs the little things, the small everyday details they miss."

The inability to see each other creates problems of jealousy and mistrust for some people. These two things often cripple an otherwise healthy relationship.

.Things Fall Apart

Bryan Niederberger has been in two long-distance relationships since he came to Pitt, and says both eventually collapsed.

"The first one was a high school sweetheart, and when they both graduated she went to Philadelphia, and he came to Pittsburgh.

"It worked out for almost two years, but when your relationship is based on phone calls and e-mail you start to lose a feel for what it was like to be with them," he said. "You just ... grow apart."

The other relationship was with someone Niederberger met on Semester at Sea.

"That fell apart just because we didn't have that much to talk about once the trip was over," he said. "I didn't know that much about her past, or what it was like in California where she lived. I'd been through a lot with my previous girlfriend, and it was much easier to commit to her over a long distance because we'd shared so much. With the other girl, we were virtually strangers once the trip ended."

Though he could stay in touch with his girlfriends rather easily through e-mail and phone calls, Niederberger said it just wasn't enough to sustain them.

"It was nice to get messages, but if there was ever a problem and one of them needed to talk about something, I didn't really know how to relate to it," he said. "I couldn't tell her what to do about a problem with one of her friends because I didn't even know the person. We simply lived different lives, and eventually stopped being a part of each other."

These are common problems facing long distance lovers. But in Niederberger's case, the break-ups were eased by the distance.

"We lived such separate lives that there were no friends to get caught in the middle of a messy break-up," he said. "There was no real loneliness because we were never together anyway, and we both just sort of moved on."

But some peopleUs lives are crushed if they cling too long to a relationship thatUs slowly dying. The inability to let go can turn to bitterness and rage that is only magnified by the distance.

Such is the case with "Roger," a Pitt student who asked not to be identified.

Like many Freshmen, Roger came to Pitt hoping his high school romance would last until he graduated.

Several e-mails daily, phone calls, and visits to his girlfriend's school kept the relationship healthy for a while, but Roger said his girlfriend's inability to deal with the time they were apart made the relationship a living hell.

"Yeah, talking over the phone or on the computer was impersonal, but that was enough for me. The problem was she constantly needed contact no matter what it was. If I didn't send her an e-mail at a certain time of day she would get angry, and we'd get in a fight," Roger said. "It was really hard to make up without being face to face, but it was easy to keep arguing."

She was insecure because Roger had had other very serious relationships, but her first had been with him.

"She saved herself for the person she thought she'd spend the rest of her life with," Roger said. "I was the first person sheUd ever been serious with, the first she'd ever slept with, and I think she was insecure about whether we would last."

Roger said the pressure she put on him to keep in touch with her often drove him away.

Things got even worse when Roger's girlfriend had to have surgery, and the long-distance kept him from visiting her.

"I just couldn't get away, and she was furious because of it," he said. "She didn't understand how hard I tried. Since she couldn't relate to the responsibilities I had here she never understood why I couldn't make the trip."

When she got back to school she slept with another man, to spite him, and Roger said his trust in her was shattered.

"I really loved her. I would have done anything for her," he said. "When we were together we could get through any problem ... but being apart like this made it impossible to understand each other anymore."

The two were strong enough to get through that time, but since then much minor arguments have slowly driven them apart.

After months of angry, tearful late-night phone calls and the long times between visiting each other the two decided to see other people.

"I was never really crazy about that idea, though," Roger said. "I only wanted her. I still do. I'm hoping we can get through all of this and finally be together."

After the toll this relationship has taken on the two lovers, he says those dreams of being together after he graduates are nearly gone.

But for every miserable experience one couple may have, there are some who survive the distance. Some even say it is one of the best ways of discovering whether two people are really in love.

"People only need to talk about the thigns that bother them, and things that they both enjoy and remember about being together," says Penny Crary.

"If the relationship will last, it can last on your words."