If you had asked me as a teenager if I would like to date my husband long distance before getting married, my answer would have been no. If you asked me the same thing today, my response would probably be the same. But that’s what happened, and it’s happening to more and more couples each day.
With the proliferation of technology, the increase in online dating and dating apps, and the overall transience of our culture, the number of people in long-distance relationships (LDRs) is increasing. Technology has enabled us to meet people outside of our physical proximity, which has vastly increased our dating potential.
About one in 10 Americans have used an online dating site or mobile dating app. And though the majority of Americans do not meet their partners online, this number has more than tripled since 2013. (Last year, 19 percent of couples surveyed indicated that they met online.) While the thought of sustaining a romance over long distance doesn’t thrill most people, more and more are willing to give it a try. And they’re finding out it may not be as bad as it seems.
A study conducted in 2014 found that those involved in LDRs actually feel more intimacy, have strong communication, and are generally as satisfied in their relationship as those in physical proximity. I can attest to this in my own experience. What helped my boyfriend and me maintain and cultivate our relationship while apart were several things: intentionality, frequent communication, regular visits, and knowing it wouldn’t last forever. Skype helped, too.
Distance eliminates distraction
Because my then-boyfriend and I were not anywhere near each other physically, we were challenged to get to know each other more deeply over the phone, via Skype, or through text messages. In our case, we talked almost daily. When on the phone, it was just the two of us, no distractions. I couldn’t look at a menu while on a dinner date or watch a movie in silence next to my significant other.
And we quickly realized that there’s only so long you can talk about superficial things like the weather. Our conversations inherently deepened to include meaningful subjects, and I got to know my boyfriend in a way I might not have been able to had we lived closer together.
Distance requires intentionality
A long-distance relationship cannot survive without intentionality, both with your time and purpose. It’s important to weave moments of connection into your schedule and coordinate times to talk — especially if you are time zones away.
An LDR also needs to have a goal. I would have never embarked on the thrill and sorrow of a long-distance relationship if I had thought there was no end in sight or no purpose to the pain caused by separation. You don’t date someone long distance because you think they’re cute, but because you are deeply committed to the relationship and could see this developing into something meaningful or life-long.
Before deciding to date while living cross-country, my boyfriend and I took time to think, discern, and pray. When we finally agreed to move forward, we discussed our expectations and were honest about our intentions. This was either going to be serious, leading hopefully to a life-long commitment, or it would end if either of us came to realize we didn’t want to be together long-term. Beginning an LDR forced my boyfriend and me to step back and truly ask ourselves about our goals and intentions.
Reconnecting physically is important
Furthermore, my boyfriend and I were able to see each other with some frequency. While this admittedly meant hundreds of dollars on airfare, traveling to see each other regularly reinforced our relationship and made it stronger. I know this is not the case financially or logistically for everyone, but making a priority of reconnecting physically when possible is incredibly helpful for increasing your confidence in the relationship, building lasting memories, and continuing to deepen your sense of togetherness.
Distance has drawbacks
There are, however, obvious drawbacks to dating long distance — such as not being able to see your partner whenever you feel like it. Travel is expensive and time-consuming. A study also found that those in LDRs tend to idealize the other. Because you are not living the nitty-gritty of life together, and because you only see each other sporadically, you may only be encountering the best of your significant other when you do see them. This is a difficult thing to surpass, but also something to be aware of.
And being physically apart is just hard. There were many days when I just wanted it to be over. What kept me going was knowing that this distance wasn’t going to last forever — it was going to end. Sometimes you just have to take it a day at a time.
Long-distance relationships are and always will be difficult. Negotiating distance, though, doesn’t necessarily spell doom for any couple, especially if you are committed to one another. Frequent communication, physical visits when possible, intentionality, and having a goal in mind help make long-distance relationships more bearable.
And the distance can benefit your relationship if it sharpens the focus of your discernment together — there’s no ambiguity when the cost is so high. Patience and intentionality can get you through the separation, and those virtues will serve you well after if your relationship has a future.