Long-distance relationships have been around for a long time. At one time in history separation by ten miles would constitute a long-distance relationship and contact would be done via handwritten letters. Much of the courtship between poets Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Robert Browning was conducted via love letters, which are wonderful to read! They fell deeply in love through the written word. They ended up marrying happily and the success of their initial long-distance relationship is the subject of books and movies.
Air travel, phones, computers – all the advances of the last 100 years have made loving over a distance even more possible—even easy. I know a bi-coastal couple—he is a professor at UCLA Berkley and she is a professor at Mt. Holyoke in Massachusetts. They’ve been married for 12 years and somehow it works.
But it’s online dating that has really changed the face of relationships. What was once considered “normal” – two people who live in the same town, or the same house — is now just one of many ways that a “normal” relationship can look. Geography is no longer a real obstacle… that is, if both parties are willing to deal with the challenges inherent in physical separation. It is estimated that nearly 4 million singles are in long distance relationships worldwide.
You don’t have to look at geographic separation as an obstacle to be overcome. There are actually some advantages to doing the long-distance thing, especially at the beginning.
- Early on in a relationship, the additional space of physical distance allows the relationship to grow slowly. Long talks on the phone allow you to get to know one another without physical chemistry being a distraction. By the time you get together in real time, you already know if there is a connection between you, and you can move on to finding out if the connection is physical too. In fact, there is evidence that people who fall in love long distance are even more likely to find each other sexually attractive when they do meet than they might have had they met as strangers.
- With a long distance relationship, you both can preserve your own individuality. You are both adults – you have families, careers, lifestyles that you can maintain while pursuing a relationship comfortably over a distance.
- There is a certain romance to reaching out long-distance. The creative and thoughtful ways you come up with to stay in touch add a specialness to each connection you make. Sending little gifts, emailing funny “I miss you” e-Cards, or sending a late night text for the other person to wake up to are just a few ideas. Enhanced communication skills are a potential side benefit to long-distance dating!
- The excitement stage of new love can last even longer with the addition of geographical distance. You experience anticipation about every visit, and all the chemicals your brain produces when you are in a state of expectation can be very intoxicating.
- Due to the above—a constant state of anticipation and expectation – every time you are together is bound to be fairly intense, because there is an end-point that enhances every precious moment.
- If you can successfully maintain a long distance relationship, even if only for a short time, you will create a strong relationship foundation. If you plan to move forward to commitment, you still have to figure out the “day-to-day” aspects of your relationship, but you know what kind of bond you can have because you mastered separation.
Now it’s time to face the fact that yes, there are also disadvantages to a long-distance relationship. Your job is to figure out the balance and whether it will work for you.
- The challenge in any relationship – figuring out relationship expectations – is the same when you are dating long-distance. In fact, that challenge is even greater when you are separated geographically. It is vital that you are both on board and communicate needs and wants. Are you dating for fun? If so, is it worth the time, energy, and money of long-distance? Are you dating for a long-term committed relationship? Be sure you are on the same page before you take on the challenges of long-distance dating.
- As wonderful as long phone chats, sharing emails, and flirtatious texts can be, it is difficult to truly communicate without eye contact and touch. FaceTime and Skype help with those challenges, but when communicating over a distance, tempers can flare or feelings be hurt in ways that could be easily avoided with a touch, hug, or prolonged eye-gaze (something hard to maintain on a screen).
- The work required to stay connected is harder if you are long distance. Are you willing to schedule time to be available and do the work to stay connected? What about travel – can you take turns, or will it all fall on one of you due to work or other commitments. Is that okay with both of you? Don’t just assume you are in sync with one another – check to be sure.
- Is your relationship realistic? It is super fun to have multiple “honeymoons” every time you get together, but does it feel real? Do you ever have a chance to figure out what daily life would be like together? For a long distance relationship to make the shift to close-distance, commitment, even marriage, it is important to have a sense of the “everyday” – not just the “special.”
- Trust. Are you monogamous? If so, will you have trust issues based on either real or perceived indiscretions? Of course close proximity offers no guarantees, either. But if either of you is the jealous type, separation can be a huge drag. If you agree to see other people, how does that affect your relationship, your trust, and the way you manage the connection between you?
- There are obvious sacrifices that must be made to date long distance. Except during the magical times you are together, you will be sleeping alone, waking up alone, and making coffee for one every morning. Waiting for the next phone call or visit takes patience and can be demoralizing when you are feeling lonely or simply miss each other desperately. If you’re okay with all of the above, and any other sacrifices you need to make to be in this relationship, it could work!