Why a long-distance relationship is like an endurance race, and how your love can pass the test of being apart
Being apart helps couples develop a different kind of intimacy than one built on pure physical attraction, and can strengthen bonds. But a long-distance relationship that starts online can give two people a false sense of attraction
You often hear people say, “If you want to live together, you must first learn how to live apart.” Almost in the same breath, the same people will probably tell you that long-distance relationships often fail. So which should you believe?
Besides building an intimate, loving, and trusting bond between two people, a good and healthy romantic relationship should also give couples room to grow together as well as independently. It’s often advocated that we give our partner ample space to avoid stifling them.
Being in a long-distance relationship is like taking part in an endurance race that stretches and tests your human capabilities. The distance and time apart constantly put your love to the test, challenge your trust of, and commitment to, each other, and sometimes push your patience to breaking point.
But if it all goes well and you both manage to survive the challenge, it can also act as a catalyst to create emotional synergy so that both parties emerge better and stronger as a couple.
Valentina Tudose, a relationship expert at Happy Ever After, a dating agency, examines the pros and cons of long-distance love.
“Long distance relationships (LDRs) are a great opportunity for a couple to take it slow and spend time focusing on discovering how compatible they really are. This means they can explore if they have a common vision of life, whether they have similar values and expectations, and it also helps them avoid making relationship decisions based on chemistry and physical attraction alone.
“It is also very helpful to develop great communication skills and avoid making assumptions. The distance needs to be filled with words and questions, and it provides a different context for love that can be very beneficial to the couple developing a very different sense of intimacy vs when they spend every moment together being blinded by physical attraction.”
But long-distance affairs also have many pitfalls, she says.
“One of the big challenges in any relationship is establishing trust and being confident that the partner is true to their word. In the case of LDRs that start online (i.e. couples that have not met in real life) there is a danger; a false sense of attraction and chemistry can lead to heartache and disappointment when that apparent connection doesn’t translate into real emotional and sexual compatibility.”
As for whether a long-distance relationship can serve as a good alternative for people who value their independence, Tudose is doubtful because it only fulfils temporary needs.
“The reason most people want to have a partner is to spend time with another person and be able to share experiences with a like-minded spirit. Even the most independent people, who require a lot of “me time”, need partners with whom they feel intellectually, emotionally, and sexually connected.
Therefore, LDRs tend to be short-term solutions that need to lead to the ultimate goal of a life together.”
If long-distance relationships can only fulfil short-term needs, Tudose suggests couples can treat them like a waiting room where they can eventually find the right partners.
“I feel LDRs are like a waiting room for a life together: a waiting room in which the partners are able to test each other and determine if their individual requirements for an ideal relationship are being met. It also provides an opportunity to create a powerful foundation for what is going to follow.”
Occasionally, there are people who choose long-distance relationships when they are not ready to dive into a committed relationship; this could be due to a negative experience in the past. To them, keeping a remote relationship is like a practice run, but the investment is less risky than a real relationship, she says.
On the provocative question of whether a remote relationship is equivalent to an open one or if both can co-exist, Tudose says: “Not necessarily. Some are implicitly or explicitly non-exclusive for reasons such as feeling too soon to be committed, or partners agreeing not to deny their sexual desires in the absence of the other partner. But there are many long-distance relationships that happen because committed couples are forced by circumstance to live apart for a while.”
With our world getting smaller and smaller, that physical distance is no longer an absolute barrier to love or enjoying sex with your partner. Couples can dabble in some old-fashioned phone sex, take part in sexy video Skype calls, or use remotely activated sex toys.
Long-distance relationships no longer mean abstinence or straying are the only options to enjoy a vivid and exciting sex life. In some cases, the distance can reignite the spark that may have diminished due to familiarity or boredom.
Therefore, the lack of physical intimacy and instantaneity in everything you want to do with your partner could be viewed as a positive challenge; it helps to redefine love, trust, understanding, respect, and everything else required to sustain a healthy relationship.
At the end of the day, it really depends how you handle the distance; you can view it as an obstacle or an opportunity to grow together while apart. If you decided to take on the latter challenge, the bond between the two of you will have a chance to flourish and last the distance.
Luisa Tam is a senior editor at the Post
How to make a long-distance relationship work
1. Manage expectations (How often will you meet up?)
2. Define boundaries (Is it open or exclusive?)
3. Check compatibility and that each meets the other’s requirements
4. Have a clear deadline for when the long-distance relationship will end
5. Be in constant communication
6. Have a life outside your long-distance relationship
How to prepare yourself
1. Know exactly what kind of relationship and life you want
2. Be clear about what’s non-negotiable, and potential changes in your relationship
3. Be emotionally secure, not needy
4. Be a great communicator
5. Be open to sharing and allow yourself to be vulnerable
6. Have realistic expectations
7. Show honesty and a capacity for self-disclosure
(Advice from Tudose)
Illustration: Marcelo Duhalde