In December 2009, Jenny Farrell stood on the Thomas & Mack stage as the graduate student speaker, saying, “Today is an awesome day. I say the word awesome because I am a child of the 80s — like many of my fellow graduates.” She had been named the Outstanding Communication Studies Student that year and, with her master’s degree in hand, she became a lecturer in the department.
We talked to Farrell about why her speech focused on everything being awesome and how she got into researching the rollercoaster that is long-distance relationships.
P.S. You can watch her 2009 graduation speech. Thanks, YouTube!
What made you focus your graduation speech on the awesomeness of everything?
Graduating is such a happy experience, and I was very honored and excited to be chosen as student speaker. I also was learning how to teach communication courses as a grad student, and we know from basic public speaking that repetition and anaphora are easy ways to make your speech memorable and give it cadence and rhythm. So I went with everything “awesome.”
Your research looks at long-distance romantic relationships. What motivated you to look into this area?
I have been with my high school sweetheart for 22 years now. We have had moments of long-distance most of our relationship, between me moving away for college, and him serving in the Air Force and later as a military contractor. We have always been successful at long-distance maintenance, which surprises most people, and I started to wonder why this was the case. So I began researching what constrains long-distance couple’s communication — why is it perceived as being so hard?
How do you define a long-distance relationship?
I love when people ask this question! There is no amount of miles you live apart that magically equals long-distance. I agree with many other researchers that long-distance should be defined by the people in those relationships. All long-distance relationships don’t look the same. For example, there’s the traditional long-distance relationship where people live far away from each other (due to work, family, or school) or temporarily travel away from each other (like military deployments or other work travel). But there are also people who live near each other but can’t be face to face often due to issues like lack of transportation (no car, expensive gas, poor public transportation, rural areas), commitments (work, school, family), or working opposite shifts (especially in a 24-hour town like Vegas). I argue that people can even live under the same roof, share a bed, and still consider themselves long-distance due to not being physically around each other often. My husband and I have been there many, many times.
You teach a class called Issues in Interpersonal Communication: Relational Communication. What can students learn in the class that they wouldn’t glean from the course title?
This class is my new baby and I am so proud of it! COM 302 focuses on communication in the closest of all of our relationships. We cover the juicy, fascinating aspects of what we all need and want in our personal life: satisfying close relationships! Some example topics include attraction, secrets, love, lust, sex, cheating, conflict, deception, jealousy, forgiveness, break-ups, make-ups, online relationships, long-distance relationships.
I love this class, and have gotten great feedback from students. They get a lot out of this class that they can immediately turn around and use.
Why do you feel it is important to have this course as part of the communication studies curriculum?
COM 302 is a reminder of the incredible value of relational communication. Interpersonal communication forms the foundation for so many communicative aspects of our life — in the workplace, in school, and with loved ones. Part of earning a communication studies degree is developing and honing your “soft skills,” which as we know, are in high demand. Also, having successful personal relationships has been linked to better overall health, success, and life satisfaction, which are all life goals we want for our students.
An article in Axios states that flexibility in remote work has allowed long-distance couples to be together again. Do you see long-distance relationships changing?
First, the author of the article cites telework as potentially a “fix” for long-distance relationships. I don’t see these relationships as something that needs to be fixed. But I do agree with the overall argument that workers may be reluctant to move away from their loved ones to take a job position if they can easily stay and find remote work instead. It is a very interesting shift in prioritizing relationships over work, and any chance that boosts the importance of our close relationships is a positive one. However, as I mentioned earlier, I do believe we can face the challenges of long-distance relationships even when we live with our loved ones, so choosing to work remotely won’t necessarily eliminate the relational struggles.
What’s a fun fact about you?
Crooked pinkies run in my family. Me, my aunts, cousins, brother, grandma, and one of my children all have them!
How do you unwind or de-stress?
I used to hate gyms and working out but over the last few years, I have fallen in love with Pilates! I do mat Pilates four to five times a week, which really helps me stay sane. In cooler weather, I also enjoy hiking and exploring the desert. But no matter what I’m doing, I always add music to as much of my life as I can, so I am thrilled that concerts are happening again. Music fills my heart and soul; a beat that hits with meaningful lyrics can lift my mood immediately! When in doubt, dance and sing it out!
A new UNLV student asks for your advice, you’d say…
Get involved, meet new people, ask questions, form relationships, and enjoy this special time of learning and growth! Do all the things!