Sarrah Jasmin explores the complexities of long distance relationships and how to make them work
Welcome to my fortnightly lifestyle column! To kick things off, I figured we’d start on one of my favourite topics to discuss: relationships. Particularly long-distance ones.
So coming from someone who’s been there, done it, not done it, re-done it, and come out the other end alive, I’d say it still is one of the hardest things to do, but surprisingly one of the most common, with over 14 million couples currently in a long-distance relationship. Out of those 14 million couples, a huge 33% of them are at university. But it’s not just college kids doing it – within the USA alone, nearly 4 million married couples are also making it work this way. But how?
Long-distance relationships are difficult for so many reasons. Most importantly, that you can’t actually see the other person. It sounds doable at the start, but when all communication, whether that be talking about your day, sexting, arguing, catching up, or simply sharing news, is all done via a screen, you can lose that connection that is present in face-to-face interaction. This is evident through multiple research studies carried out by American scholars Sahlstein and Stafford. Over a decade of research, has collaboratively confirmed that geographic proximity and regular face-to-face contact are crucial for romantic relationships in terms of understanding each other and simply having that emotional attachment.
Communicating through social media and phone calls can be manageable at the beginning, but over time, alternative options may become more attractive – why would you want to share important news over Whatsapp with someone you’ve not seen in 6 months when you can do it to someone right now, right in front of you, and feel validated immediately? However, it doesn’t mean you don’t love that person anymore. It’s just that over time, it becomes harder to not have that certain someone there, by your side.
Not being able to physically touch or see the other person means things can also get badly misunderstood, leading to one person in the relationship feeling off, which can cause a lack of ability to solve disagreements properly. Sometimes, all you need is a little physical touch, a hug or simply looking at them and saying sorry. Without these, arguments can spiral out of control, potentially causing underlying awkwardness for a longer period of time. As well as more frequent arguments, they also tend to be much worse, as things can be completely misinterpreted over text or phone, which lead to both people in the relationship feeling lonely and insecure, potentially leading to cheating, breaking up or just feeling extremely distant. All of this can be exacerbated by the most common issue long-distance couples face: insecurity. And when that bubbles to the surface, which it will, things can begin to deteriorate fast, especially if you already had a slight lack of trust in your partner.
However, contrasting research actually shows that long-distance relationships can actually be more positive than face-to-face relationships. In a study conducted by researchers from Hong Kong and Cornell, over 60 couples were asked to measure meaningful reactions, detailed conversations and intimacy through a diary. Results showed that long-distance couples felt closer to each other due to acceptance of their partner and effective communication of affection and intimacy. They also found that couples actually felt more secure, committed and intimate as they felt that when they had a conversation, because they knew time was limited, they spoke about real things and had their partner be extremely responsive and engaging in conversations.
However, as of yet, no research has been done to look at the difference between couples who started off long-distance and who started together but had to move away later on in their relationship, and whether it worked or not. I know for me, it didn’t!