The Benefits of Being in a Long-Distance Relationship, From Someone Who's Had 9 Of Them
"I would never date anyone who does not live along my subway line," one New York woman told my friend. "It is too inconvenient." Another friend restricts her romantic interest to the 10-block radius surrounding her apartment. With limitless options just a right-swipe away, why would anyone venture to foster romance from afar?
But hear me out: Dating long-distance isn't all bad. I would know — I have had nine (yes, nine) long distance relationships to prove it.
There was the high school sweetheart who lingered into college, the law student I met at a seminar from out of town, the Western gent discovered on a pit stop during my cross-country road trip. There was the high school courtship arranged by his Mrs. Bennet-like mother, the fellow intern from a summer program and few Europeans in between. So when that cutie revealed on the first date that he was "joining the Navy tomorrow," I gave it two and a half weeks max.
We're still together.
Could it be that I am an emotional masochist, entering only the most tortuous relationships that will stretch me the farthest? Far from it. Long-distance relationships aren't only doable, but also can be straight-up appealing depending on what you're — and what I have always been — looking for.
Striking out on your own: The biggest thing that makes LDRs great is the thing that makes any healthy relationship great: You get to have your own independent life that is then shared with someone else.
"There are some people that enjoy the long-distance part of it, which could essentially be what keeps their relationships going ... They want relationships, but they don't want them taking over their lives," psychologist Karen Blair told New York magazine.
There are more couples than ever thriving on that balance. Numbers vary, but some studies report nearly 75% of college students have been in a long-distance relationship; a Pew Research Center study found that of Internet users, 24% of those who've dated recently have used the Internet to maintain a long-distance relationship.
These days, far be it from me to long for my main squeeze or obsessively check my phone, waiting for an incoming text. I enjoy travel, have launched my own company and thrive on navigating social situations solo — as well as on the feeling that psychologists might call interdependence.
Casting a wide net — that's easy to relinquish: That I started long-distance dating a guy I'd met at a summer internship during college, or a man I met at a professional seminar, is no coincidence. Long-distance relationships seem natural when you consider that travel — for work, for pleasure, for family — is often spurred by a passion or interest, one that someone you meet in that destination may share.
Of course, finding a lifelong partner who shares values and passions can admittedly involve kissing a lot of frogs. But long-distancers won't need to pack their boxes and rebuild a new social circle every time one of them hops away. When my cross-collegiate relationship ended, I didn't have to explain the breakup to hosts of social media contacts or rebuild an entire friend group.
Deciding, not sliding: My current long-distance relationship requires cross-continental Google Hangouts with sketchy Wi-Fi signals, dinner dates on Skype, lost love letters that arrive two months late, car accidents en route to see each other, overnight bus rides, communication misunderstandings and plenty of delayed gratification.
It's a lot of conscious effort and decision-making that gets overlooked when young adults move into relationships and marriages. Sociologist Scott Stanley calls this "sliding vs. deciding," a process in which couples tend to slide through the important steps of a relationship without actively talking them through.
Making a conscious effort to "decide" and not simply slide can happen whether you're together or apart, but being in the same place doesn't necessarily make it easier. In fact, sociologist Pamela Smock told the Huffington Post that many couples actually "slide" into cohabiting.
Being apart not only accelerates intimacy and improves communication, as studies of long-distance couples have shown; we're also forced to talk through the big decisions. Sliding? That's not an option.
Distance FTW: Yes, long distance relationships mask a host of problems. "For me it was a nice escape from having to figure out how to function in a real relationship," one woman told New York's Maureen O'Connor for an article entitled "Could It Be That Long-Distance Relationships Are Actually Healthy?" It could be immaturity that really lies at the core, a half-hearted desire to commit.
But eventually, something will give — and couples who decide to stick it out are left better for it.