Like millions of Americans, I have indulged in the world of online dating and all the baggage that comes along with it. I had a friend once say that the baggage is fine, you just need to figure out whether or not the bags are from Conway or Bergdorf-Goodman. Personally, I wasn’t 100% committed to the methodology of online dating, and I was tired of the failed dates, so I was ready to throw in the towel. Well, it turned out that right when I was ready to give up, I met someone in person. The only catch is that he lives over 2000 miles away. One step followed the other, and the next thing you know, I was in a long-term committed relationship. This certainly wasn’t my intention, since I was deeply committed to finding someone who lived in the area. I spent the last several years traveling across the U.S. and abroad and always lived in transient cities, so finding someone who wasn’t three months away from packing up and shipping out had proved quite difficult. Nonetheless, my luck didn’t change, but my partner and I were interested in exploring the facets of a long-distance relationship. Jump ahead some time, and we are still committed and doing quite well. So you may ask: What are the secrets of keeping this type of relationship interesting and sustainable?
First, it’s important to explore the nature by which any relationship sustains itself. Common themes of trust and communication always become the litmus test to gauge the strength of any relationship, but other elements such as boundaries, distance, and intimacy are just as important and are useful qualifiers when questioning the sustainability of a long-distance relationship.
Almost everyone can agree that trust trumps most factors in any relationship analysis. You definitely would not stay in a committed relationship if you did not trust your partner, right? Let’s look at what happens to trust in a domestic relationship: You may or may not see your partner every day, but there is inherent trust between you two that exists, and with work, strengthens with each day. Consider, however, all the variables involved when living in close contact with each other. There are certain expectations that are set up regarding where you need to be and when. There is also a certain level of control that is managed or mismanaged in terms of trusting your partner.
To be clear, this is not meant to be a blanket statement about over-bearing partners trying to control the other. The objective is to point out all the variables involved in trusting your partner when he or she lives in close contact. These same variables are almost non-existent in long-distance relationships, as couples have a certain level of mutual trust where issues of control cannot exist for the mere fact that your partner is hundreds or thousands of miles away. Your trust in your partner, therefore, is sealed by the freedom you have from living so far apart.
Certainly, all relationships are founded upon the principal that the other will do the right thing, but perhaps long-distance relationships better help to foster this idea, because you have committed yourself to a relationship whose core existence is based on faith. It’s much easier to fact check your trust with your partner if he or she is within close quarters, but in long-distance relationships, this trust is a given.
Communication is also key for any relationship, yet everyone finds that time and again, it becomes an issue in the evolution of his or her relationship. There have been some studies conducted which show that people in long-distance relationships actually communicate more than couples who live in the same city. How could this be, and why should I be more inclined to communicate more openly with a partner who is 2000 miles away? I think the short answer is, you don’t have a choice. In a long-distance relationship, you don’t have the opportunity to go to the movies with your partner, host friends for dinner, or take a walk through the park. In fact, all you can do is communicate via your preferred means of contact, be it FaceTime, Skype, texting, etc. I personally text my partner every day, and we usually have a FaceTime call every night. We are committed to keeping in touch on a daily basis because we don’t have the “luxury” of physically seeing each other. For those in a long-distance relationship, your lines of communication are always open, so you constantly have the opportunity to discuss personal subjects that are important in sustaining any relationship, without the other distractions or variables that exist when your partner lives in the same city.
Boundaries can either be physical or intangible, such as having emotional boundaries. It seems clear that long-distance relationships facilitate open lines of communication, which is important in any healthy relationship. What about the physical boundaries? This subject is difficult to explore, but one must ask the question if it’s better to maintain physical boundaries while dating. Specifically, I am referring to housing choices for couples. Is it better to live together or maintain separate households when dating? If it’s better to have separate households, then do long-distance relationships have an automatic advantage? Let’s take a closer look as to why couples would choose not to live under the same roof.
Monotony could evolve as couples’ lives become more intertwined, and the spontaneity and excitement that existed at the start of the relationship could waver as couples make the step to live together. Some long-term couples have kept their respective homes and decided against sharing the same space, and certainly there is a growing minority of new couples who are trending this way as well. Do variables such as what’s for dinner or bills get in the way of a healthy relationship when couples share a space?
For long-distance relationships, the physical boundaries are clear and evident, so the time spent away from each other often builds a stronger bond as you have more of an opportunity to miss the other person. Since you spend the majority of your time separated from each other, the time that you do have when you are close is usually a passionate affair without the mundane variables. We generally appreciate something more once it’s gone, so perhaps the same holds true in long-distance relationships. The physical boundary that is rarely breached actually could help in sustaining a closer bond, and we may have an answer to the question of whether or not the heart grows fonder with distance.
Lastly, intimacy is always debated in long-distance relationships simply for the fact that these couples have fewer opportunities to be sexually intimate. Does this help or hinder the development of the relationship? It’s impossible to tell, but worth exploring the nuances of intimacy. Most people agree that sexual intimacy is important in a healthy relationship, but how well do couples maintain their emotional intimacy when the sex is good? Long-distance relationships as discussed earlier seem to foster open lines of communication, so in fact, those couples could develop a strong intimate relationship before even having sex. Even when sex becomes part of the relationship, and hopefully is good, these couples will have already maintained a strong intimate connection that exists outside the bedroom and can lead to a sustained relationship.
In the end, there is no right or wrong way for couples to establish their relationships, but there are inherent benefits that exist in different relationship models.
Here’s hoping my long-distance relationship will stand the test of time.