Good 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.