Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

Are Long Distance Relationships Deeper?

Long distance relationshipGood news for those of you in or about to begin long distance relationships: a new study suggests that couples who live far away from each other may have deeper, closer relationships than those who don’t. Researchers asked 63 heterosexual couples, mostly college students around 21, half of whom lived together, and half who had been in long distance relationships an average of 17 months, to keep a diary of interactions with one another for one week. Although couples in long distance relationships interacted fewer times a week, researchers found that their interactions were more meaningful.

One reason interactions may be more meaningful among LDR couples is that they “tend to reveal more about themselves in each conversation and to idealize their partner’s response to each piece of self-disclosure. They also spent more time on each interaction. Such disclosures and idealizations, studies suggest, are the building blocks of intimacy.” Hmm. I buy the argument that self-disclosure can lead to greater intimacy, which is a good thing. But I wouldn’t think that idealization is the answer to a long-lasting relationship. Sounds a little like a building block for major disappointment, if you ask me. What happens when you build someone up in your mind and then you move closer together and realize he has a crusty bathroom sink and a wandering eye like the last guy you dated (and eventually hated)??

At any rate, the couples in the study who saw each other all the time were less forthcoming in their own disclosures, and more realistic about their partners’ responses, leading to less meaningful exchanges. Why is that the case? Researchers think one reason could be that “communicating with somebody without having to worry about decoding their body language made them braver and more forthright. Or it could be that having only limited access to their partners made them want to use the time more meaningfully. Or it could just be that when they had the chance to communicate with their partner they made it a priority and turned off the TV, looked away from social media or stopped multi-tasking.”

Having started my current relationship (now marriage) long distance, I can say that I DO think that the distance between us did help create a deeper intimacy more quickly than if we’d lived in the same city. Because our interactions — and certainly our face-to-face visits — were rarer than same-city couples, we made them count and probably shared a little more about ourselves (and our hopes and dreams and all that jazz) than we would have otherwise. There’s almost a safety in distance. If it doesn’t work out, at least it’s a lot easier to disengage and de-tangle your lives since they probably weren’t all that entangled in the first place.

But, I think that kind of closeness established in early months of LDRs can only be sustained for so long. Eventually, if a lens of reality isn’t focused on one another, an LDR can become a kind of smoke-and-mirrors affair, destined for doom once the facade is lifted and the couple can finally clearly see each other as they really are and not as how they’ve been idealized. Best to have an end date and get to know one another in a more realistic way once you’re in the same city before you start planning marriage or decide you’ve met the love of your life.

[via Time]

37 comments… add one
  • theattack

    theattack July 18, 2013, 12:35 pm

    Love this, Wendy! I’ve always said this, and no one ever believes me. The several years we spent apart helped us become a better couple. I probably wouldn’t have initially been into my husband as much if I got to know him next to his crusty bathroom sink and his stinky gym shorts. It turns out that those things don’t matter so much, but the ability to overlook them in the beginning gave me the opportunity to get to know a man who’s a beautiful fit for me.

    When you’re with someone in person, conversations tend to be mostly about trivial things you see around you, but when you’re long distance, you run out of that stuff more quickly and end up really getting to know each other.

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    • avatar

      GatorGirl July 18, 2013, 12:47 pm

      Our long distance phase 110% made us a stronger couple. (Drink!) We where both forced to up our communication and have meaningful discourse, rather than just watching a show or hitting up a bar. We also where forced to say what we mean rather than use body language or the like to get our point across. Horray LDRs!

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    • avatar

      Morgan July 18, 2013, 2:07 pm

      Agree absolutely. My boyfriend and I were long distance after we’d known each other about 6 months, and again after about a year and a half. That first experience really solidified that it was a serious relationship, and both definitely made us stronger as a couple.

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  • avatar

    kerrycontrary July 18, 2013, 12:50 pm

    Yup this is great! I think that my boyfriend and I are awesome at communicating now because we were long distance. We’re able to talk about anything, trivial or serious, because talking on the phone/skype was our only way of working things out when weren’t together. We also did prioritize our time. Like we went on a lot more dates than other couples I know who slip into the watching tv/doing separate things in the same room routine. When you only see each other 4-5 days a month you don’t want to waste time doing something you can do apart. I’m so glad that we’re not long-distance anymore, but long-distance isn’t all bad like some people claim it is.

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    • avatar

      GatorGirl July 18, 2013, 12:58 pm

      I always called it our “vacation relationship” rather than a LDR because we always did little trips and super special things when we saw each other (usually a weekend every 4 to 6 weeks). We still make a point to do special stuff regularly, which I love 🙂

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        kerrycontrary July 18, 2013, 1:13 pm

        That is true. Yeh we do a lot of day trips and activities. We hardly ever have a weekend where there isn’t some sort of planned/special activity even if it’s just taking a hike or going to an orchard.

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  • Miel

    Miel July 18, 2013, 1:01 pm

    I don’t think LDRs are made for everybody, but it definitely works for my boyfriend and me (long distance for our whole relationship). Our Skype conversations are definitely an important part of our dynamics, and it helped us building strong communication skills. We sit in front of our computer, looking at each other and talking for an hour every day, without the possibility to do anything else than talking. It’s very different than shopping together, or watching tv, or eating dinner together.

    It’s to the point that when we spend time together in person, we usually recreate the “skype setting”. It’s usually taking a walk around the block or going on a road trip, but we both crave those moments where “we are together with nothing else to do than talking to each other”. No cellphone, no tv, no grocery list, no dishes to wash, no other persons talking.

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  • bagge72

    bagge72 July 18, 2013, 1:22 pm

    This is great, but this was a done with a very small percentage of people, and to top it off, it was a bunch of 21 year olds. Most of the couples I knew at that age were douche bags to each other if they lived near each other, because they were out getting drunk with each other all of the time, and doing stupid shit, and the ones that did have long distance, stayed at home more often, because there SO wasn’t there. I only have a very small amount of friends that are still with the person they were with at 21, but none of them were long distance, so I really don’t think that study really proves much. Now do that study with people age 25 and above, and a lot more people, and you might have something here.

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    • avatar

      GatorGirl July 18, 2013, 1:27 pm

      Good points.

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    • Skyblossom

      Skyblossom July 18, 2013, 1:31 pm

      Good point. Even with this set of 21 year olds we don’t know whether the long distance relationships will be more lasting than average. All we know is that they seem more meaningful in the present.

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      • bagge72

        bagge72 July 18, 2013, 1:51 pm

        Right, and I have had friends start LDRs at a later age, and to me they have seemed to work out the same as people who aren’t in them, some have gotten married some haven’t. I really just think it depends on the people in them.

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    • avatar

      bethany July 18, 2013, 2:01 pm

      I had a long distance boyfriend when I was 21. I cheated him left and right. Oops.

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    • avatar

      kerrycontrary July 18, 2013, 2:56 pm

      I started dating my SO when we were both 21 (turned 22 shortly after). I think I was over the whole being a douchebag to the person I was dating thing by that point so it wasn’t an issue. But I can see what you are saying.

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    • avatar

      lemongrass July 18, 2013, 2:59 pm

      I had a long distance boyfriend when I was even younger- 19. I’m married to him.

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      • othy

        othy July 18, 2013, 3:05 pm

        I’m married to the man I was in LDR with from ages 17-20.

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  • iwannatalktosampson

    iwannatalktosampson July 18, 2013, 1:48 pm

    I can definitely see how it could be beneficial. You can’t really just jump each other’s bones. You HAVE to get to know each other – because what else are you going to do? Whereas when you’re seeing someone really frequently it’s really easy to just bang each other all the time. BUT I have to say that I can’t imagine being in a LDR. I am needy as shit and want to see someone I’m dating all the time or I will find other ways to occupy my time. Like by dating other people. I think I would feel differently if I was dating someone and then it BECAME long distance – but to start out that way? No way. Not for me.

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    • avatar

      GatorGirl July 18, 2013, 1:58 pm

      I def agree about starting out as long distance…I don’t get it. We where in the same town for 8 months then long distance happened. It was enough of a honeymoon, jump your bones phase that the transition was pretty easy. I don’t think I could go from the start as LD.

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      • CatsMeow

        CatsMeow July 18, 2013, 2:20 pm

        Wendy did it!

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      • avatar

        GatorGirl July 18, 2013, 2:34 pm

        I know, I started writing that, but stopped. I’m glad it worked for Wendy, and theattack, but I’m 99% sure it wouldn’t have worked for us. That’s what I mean by “I don’t get it” because I don’t think it would work in practical application for me.

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      • CatsMeow

        CatsMeow July 18, 2013, 2:43 pm

        Oh, I totally understand. I’m actually trying to be optimistic because (making this about me), I have a crushy on someone that lives far-ish away.

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      • theattack

        theattack July 18, 2013, 2:53 pm

        You can do it, Cats!

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      • avatar

        lemongrass July 18, 2013, 3:01 pm

        We were long distance (short long distance- 3 hours) from the start. I didn’t think about Mr. Grass as a potential boyfriend for that reason but then my now SIL and MIL put it in my head and voila.

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      • theattack

        theattack July 18, 2013, 2:25 pm

        We only met each other in person briefly before we started an LDR as teenagers, then we continued a long distance friendship for years. When we finally started dating again, he came to visit me for a month while he was studying for the bar and then we went straight back to long distance again. I would say we started as long distance. I almost think it was easier that way because we didn’t have a past to pine away for. All we had was the future to look forward to and work toward together.

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    • Copa

      Copa July 18, 2013, 2:40 pm

      How far is far enough to be considered LDR? An hour (driving)? That’s how far my boyfriend and I are and he considers it long distance. I don’t. I don’t see him every day — weekends and sometimes during the week — but it’s fine with me at this point in our relationship. Sometimes I’m all, “Bahhh, this sucks!” on days I want to see him but can’t. But then I’m reminded of people who live in big cities who sometimes have to travel an hour across said big city to see an SO, and I realize an hour isn’t a huge deal.

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      • avatar

        bethany July 18, 2013, 2:45 pm

        An hour isn’t long distance to me. But that’s because I live in a city where driving 15 miles can take an hour!

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      • Fabelle

        Fabelle July 18, 2013, 2:46 pm

        I wouldn’t consider an hour long-distance at all—maybe 3 hours?

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        GatorGirl July 18, 2013, 2:47 pm

        I would not consider an hour a LDR. It’s not really short distance, but it’s exponentially easier than say the 900 miles apart (16+ hours in a car) that we where. My opinion is biased of course. I personally would probably say anything over 2 hours.

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      • theattack

        theattack July 18, 2013, 2:53 pm

        I generally say over 2 hours too. Another standard is that if you’re close enough to meet up during the week at all (barring vacations and trips and stuff), you’re probably not long distance.

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      • Copa

        Copa July 18, 2013, 3:07 pm

        Yeah, I have no idea what the typical cutoff is. All I know is that I didn’t think I was in a LDR and was surprised to hear my boyfriend refer to it as such, haha. I mean, yeah, it’d be nice if we lived closer so we could see each other without planning ahead, but for now, it works.

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      • Lindsay

        Lindsay July 18, 2013, 3:17 pm

        Yeah, I wouldn’t consider an hour long distance. Especially being one of those people who has to travel at least an hour to visit certain friends in my city.

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      • iwannatalktosampson

        iwannatalktosampson July 18, 2013, 3:25 pm

        An hour of driving can be like – to the Denver suburbs in rush hour, haha. I would totally consider it long distance. Colin currently lives 5 blocks from me and is going to be 12 blocks starting in 2 weeks and I feel like I’m dying inside. I am so spoiled. I don’t think I could even date anyone that lived in like a different neighborhood. Too much effort and planning.

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  • avatar

    bethany July 18, 2013, 1:56 pm

    I really agree with Wendy’s last paragraph. I think when you see someone all the time, there’s maybe more “real life” stuff that can get in the way of really talking and listening and understanding the other person. When you’re in an LDR, you probably set aside time to really talk to and focus on the other person, which is great. Also you tend to make your time together count. But, again, like Wendy said, if it goes on too long, it can also lead to the smoke and mirrors sort of “relationship”.

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  • landygirl

    landygirl July 18, 2013, 2:02 pm

    I’ve been in both LDRs and same city relationships and I’ll take same city relationships anytime.

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  • Lindsay

    Lindsay July 18, 2013, 2:15 pm

    I don’t doubt that LDRs can be really good, but this study (like every other study) kind of bothers me. I think it’s just hard to quantify this stuff, especially based on journal entries. Sounds very subjective. Also, it’s possible that communication just happens different when you see someone every day. Like what might involve a purposeful, sit-down talk in an LDR could have been resolved or addressed offhandedly while cooking dinner in a same-city relationship. Or it’s less likely to get lost in your memory of what happened that day when it’s a special day or conversation instead of one of the dozens of hours you spent together that week.

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    • bittergaymark

      bittergaymark July 18, 2013, 11:21 pm

      Especially since people in LDRs are going to have hours upon hours to spend pining away for one another in their journals…

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  • bittergaymark

    bittergaymark July 18, 2013, 11:19 pm

    Eh, I think when you are in a LDR so much of it is a fantasy as it’s all in your head. I’m sure it works for some, but the idea that long distance relationships are inherently deeper sounds like wishful thinking by those involved in LDRs… It’d be like me publishing a study proving that male homosexual relationships are not only the most sexually satisfying — but also the deepest on an intellectual and emotional level. Sure, I could easily totally skew the data that way with some creative research management, but it wouldn’t necessarily make it true… Then again… It IS true…

    😉

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  • avatar

    Brigitte July 19, 2013, 5:35 am

    I started dating my husband when I was 23 and he was 22. We were living in the same house as roommates in grad school, but he was just doing a semester away from his program, so we were in the same house only for 4 months or so. After that, he moved back to another country maybe 3hrs away by train (Europe is tiny!) and we stayed together for another 7montjs like that, sending messages back and forth, with nightly chat dates online, and one of us would travel to see the other every other weekend. When I finished my MA and moved back to Canada at the end of the summer, we knew we wanted to be together for good, so we talked about how that would be, with an ocean and 6hrs time difference between us.
    We were in touch all the time: messages, chatting, emails, calls… Just all the time. Messages worked better because of the time difference, but he’d stay up late to chat when I’d get home from work, and is stay up late to chat before he’d get up for school in the morning. It was 9 very long months before he was finally done and he was able to board a plane (for the first time!) to come and visit. I got to visit him 3 months later for 2 weeks, and 7 months later, I moved to Europe to start our life together. That was 8 years ago, and many of my friends are Canadians/Americans who married locals and all were long distance at some point, and almost all of them have much stronger relationships because of that long distance element that tought us all how to communicate better, and how to make our sponsors a priority in our lives.

    I don’t think we idealize our partners because of the long distance… But maybe we all present our selves as the best version of ourselves, and after spending time projecting more wit or confidence or whatever, you just become that.

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