Photo by Diane Arbus
Photo by Diane Arbus

Coming from New Jersey, where my home and parents are only an easy hour and a half drive away, my transition to college was easier than most—at least in theory. I didn’t have to get on any planes or cross any oceans to come to Princeton. I don’t have to brace myself for my first east coast winter, or work around a time difference to communicate with friends back home. Saying goodbye to my parents was a little bit sad, for sure, but excitement was certainly my dominant emotion. I wore my Princeton apparel constantly and obnoxiously over the summer and move-in day was one of the first (and probably one of the last) times I was able to wake up at six a.m. without an alarm. I was that eager to get here.

There was one part of my transition to college, though, that was not easy—saying goodbye to my sisters. As triplets, my sisters and I have a bond that is exceptionally close. Molly and Haley have always been my best friends. Although we are not identical, my parents insisted on dressing us alike for most of our childhood photos; I like to imagine that our first bonding experiences revolved around critiquing these fashion choices. We have an album filled with photos of us posed in yellow plaid jackets and pink berets—it’s lucky that we were cute toddlers and could pull that combination off. My happiest memories center around all the things we did together, whether that was acting out a very loose adaptation of Cinderella in our basement, perfecting the interior design of our Barbie Dream House, or trying to convince our parents we were really the Powerpuff Girls. Our bonding activities have since evolved to include binge-watching entire seasons of shows on Netflix and going to art museums in New York, but other than that, not much has changed since we were young. It’s not like I’ve never spent time apart from my sisters in my life. I got my first taste of separation in high school, when I attended a county magnet school instead of my town’s high school like my two sisters did. That was the first time when I felt like more than just 1/3 of the “Duggan triplets.” Yet nothing had really changed in terms our relationship. We would all return to the same home after each school day and eat at the same table. I could step out into the hallway and go just three feet in either direction into their rooms. They would pop into mine from time to time, and sit at the foot of my bed updating me on their days or distracting me as I studied. Even if I closed my door and secluded myself, I still always felt, and heard, their presences. When it came time to begin our collective college search, I tried my best to keep an open mind about the prospect of us being separated. We all wanted to study different things; I knew that the odds of all three of us all wanting to attend, and all getting into, the same college were slim. I told myself that I would focus on choosing the college that was best for me, and not be swayed too much by where my sisters were applying. Leaving for college still seemed distant enough; I figured I’d just wait and see where we all were accepted before worrying about the how far apart we’d be. I thought that my separation from them in high school probably prepared me well enough to handle whatever the distance between us turned out to be. At that point, I didn’t realize just how much I took our physical proximity for granted.

As fate would have it, my sisters both wound up at Boston College, which both my parents attended. I, of course, chose Princeton. Only after all three of us had committed did reality begin to sink in—I’d be staying in New Jersey while my sisters both went up to Boston together. There would be more than 250 miles separating us; that’s farther away than the International Space Station is from Earth! I was so excited to be going to Princeton, but so terrified of this distance. I imagined the worst case scenario: I’d be completely out of sync with them, and I’d miss out on so much in their lives. How could I ever hope to maintain the same closeness with my sisters? Molly and Haley, as usual, quickly comforted me, and assured me that we would not let that happen. Nothing was going to change, they told me. We set up a game plan—we’d text and Snapchat each other on a daily basis, and call each other at least once a week to more thoroughly recounts of our lives. Plenty of people deal with long-distance relationships of sorts. We could handle this. We’d be fine. We were certainly ambitious in our planning; in execution our communication has not been quite so regular, but there’s never been a point yet where I’ve felt horribly removed from them. Despite what my sisters said, things have in fact changed, but I’m adjusting. I’m getting used to making hour long phone calls a regular part of my week, and sending novel-length text messages when I need to tell them something big. They don’t need to give me live updates every second of every day for us to still feel connected.

I’ll admit that now and then I feel a little jealous that my sisters are together, though. They live on separate parts of BC’s campus, but still see each other frequently at marching band practice. They have the luxury of getting meals together, of going into Boston together, of going to the library together to study… of getting to see each other in person on a regular basis. Our schedules make it tough to always do a decent job of keeping up with one another. We have to plan around classes, band practices, and study time. Sometimes I’m kind of too tired to talk, or have too much work to do, and I just let a few days go by without calling them. Sometimes they do the same. I started thinking the other day that maybe this is what the rest of our lives are going to be like—trying to squeeze in time to talk to each other, hoping to get a chance to catch up on all the things we’ve missed in each other’s lives. Save for these next few summers and the times we’re home on break, we won’t be spending a lot of time living together anymore. That’s a weird thought for me to wrap my head around, because even now our separation only feels temporary— just a brief stretch before the next break brings us back together. But my sister Haley dreams of teaching at an American school in Japan after graduation. Japan is so much farther away than Boston, almost an unfathomable distance to me, so I can’t pretend that idea doesn’t scare me a little bit. I’m finally feeling that being a few states apart is manageable, but potentially having nearly 7,000 miles between us is an entirely different story. Much of this still seems so hypothetical, though, so far into the future; perhaps this is why I’m able to be somewhat enthusiastic about this idea and am not yet begging her to stay. Perhaps I also refrain from protesting because I know how important this is to her. I would love for her to make this dream a reality, and joke that if she moves there I would finally have an excuse to go visit her in Japan; I’ve always wanted to travel there. We get excited talking about the prospect of exploring the country together. Molly, too, considers working abroad after college, or moving to some other part of the country. The three of us spreading out around the world may not be my ideal version of the future, but what am I supposed to do? I can’t stop them from going wherever their passions take them, nor do I really want to. I try to put my fears aside and stay positive—our travels provide the opportunity for even more stories to tell each other and exciting moments to share. I don’t want the three of us to have all the same experiences—what’s the fun in that? I look forward to hearing all about their lives in new places; that’ll be worth the extra effort it will take to stay in touch.

Everyone else who has siblings eventually has to deal with something like this when they move out. If they can handle it, so can I. I know my sisters will always be there for me, no matter where in the world we end up. That’s not to say there won’t be plenty of moments when I miss having my sisters right next to me. During my first week at Princeton, I got a bit turned around trying to find my way from one building to another. I was suddenly reminded of the time when Molly somehow became hopelessly lost coming home from a friend’s house— which was only a few blocks away from our own—and Haley and I had to come to her rescue. I started laughing out loud at this memory, wishing I could turn to my sisters and have them laugh with me. Instead, I was relegated to sharing this moment over text. There’s no substitute for having them here with me. Yet when I get a pang of sadness from time to time when I think about how far apart we are, I’m also reminded why I love them so much in the first place. I’m able to appreciate every conversation we have, every text or silly GIF they send me, even more. I relish every time I get to hear their voices, and I already have the days marked on my calendar when they’re coming to visit. It’ll surely still take a while for me to fully adjust to this change, but I don’t see the distance between us as something I should be afraid of. I’m just as excited to see where their futures take them as I am to see where mine takes me. We’ll explore the world together, even as we go our separate ways. Distance won’t tear us apart— it’s just another adventure for us to embark on.

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