Thursday, December 1, 2011

To Date Long-Distance or Not: That Is The Question

Saba7o LOVEanese! Let's just face it: most people either love or loathe the idea of long–distance relationships (LDRs), especially if you're an internationally-minded Arab or a third culture kid (TCK). Often enough, our interpersonal relationships span the continents. And while this may fill us with a sense of connectedness throughout the world, it definitely doesn't come free of its drawbacks either. In a world that continues to globalize and become more interconnected, it's not just the case that our family and friends lie in different countries. In fact, our affinity for travel, discovery, and connecting with others means that who we fall in love with (and where) has the potential to create difficult situations. I mean, what are you supposed to do when love doesn't understand the concept of borders?

For anyone who isn't familiar with the concept of a TCK (Luchunyu / Via and BuzzFeed)

It's like something out of a movie. You meet someone, you have an amazing experience together, and then, surely enough, it's time to go. It's the life of a nomad, a global citizen. Or simply, it's a product of the present. Either way, long–distance is tough to do (just as it's tough to say goodbye). I can tell you from experience that it isn't easy. I did it while in high school, and it was so difficult then (and mind you, it was with someone in the same state, not to mention same country), that I promised myself I'd never do it again (even though I did). 

But this is the real world, and in particular, this is the Arab world! We're always moving around. Moving to the Arab Gulf; to Africa; to America for work. We go to university abroad, come back over the summer. Go to grad school abroad; come back for Christmas, for Eid. In the age of globalization, LDRs are something almost everyone I know of (Lebanese or not) have to deal with at one point or another because people are always coming and going. And many of these end up being international or even intercontinental relationships, not just intra-country relationships. 

Are LDRs really worth it though? What does relationship science have to say?
There is much research into LDRs, and looking into the studies that exist, you find that the results are mixed:

1. In one study, Maguire (2007: 415) found that individuals in her sample "who were uncertain about ever living in the same city as their partners were significantly more distressed, less satisfied, and rated communication coping strategies as less helpful than those who felt more certain about reunion." Meaning, if the future isn't looking to bright for you in terms of ever living around each other, there is a higher chance that it won't work out.

2. On the other hand, Guldner and Swensen (1995) found no significant differences between long–distance couples and couples who were proximately close together when considering the amount of time spent together and relationship satisfaction. "This suggests that the amount of time a couple spends together does not itself play a central role in relationship maintenance" (p. 313). Remember, too, that if you have good communication in your relationship, although you aren't physically close, you may be spending more good, quality time communicating with your partner.

3. Lastly, to give all of you who are in a LDR some more hope, Stafford and Merolla (2007) actually found that among their sample, those who are in LDRs actually had higher relationship stability than those who were in proximately close relationships, despite having limited face–to–face interaction. What they predicted was that LDRs have a higher level of "romantic idealization"--that is thinking about them more, having a higher frequency of romantic feelings, and what included being "idealistic distortion, romantic love, relational reminiscence, perceived agreement" (p. 37). However, they also found that "satisfaction with communication was more pronounced in LDRs than [geographically close relationships]. Idealization was also associated with infrequent face–to–face communication. [LDRs] were more stable than geographically close distance relationships as long as [LDR] partners remained geographically separated, but [LDR] partners were likely to terminate their relationship upon becoming proximal. Longer absences between face–to–face visits and extreme idealization during separation predicted instability upon reunion" (p. 37). In other words, LDRs tend to be more stable than geographically close relationships. However, this is only true as long as LDR partners remained geographically separated. Like the first study's findings, the partners were more likely to end their relationship when they started living close together again, in part, because long periods spent apart in addition to idealization often leads to breakups when partners reunite.

So, as long as you are apart, you will most likely be better off than when you are close together because then the level of idealization will decrease. This makes sense too because even if you're talking every day, you don't notice their little habits. These habits may end up really frustrating you. And it is so true: it's the little things in life; the little things that both make you happy and upset you. Over time, little things build up into big things, and then they can erupt like a volcano. At least there is the potential for this unless you communicate openly and honestly. On a related note, however, it may simply be a case of quality of communication as opposed to instant gratification through the frequency of communicating. For example, author Simon Garfled commented on a long–distance relationship between his 25–year–old son and a woman he met and liked while on holiday in Portugal, stating the intimacy withered because they stayed in touch by e–mail, not letter, he claimed. According to Garfled, "The problem was, this was all too instant. He would write, she would reply, and then he'd be obliged to write again, probably on the same day. But there was nothing significant to report, and so the whole thing fizzled out almost as soon as it began."

Just bear in mind, though, that one of the biggest limitations to these studies are that they are often focusing on specific populations (such as university students) that may not be representative of the general public, much less TCK's. Some of the research was also conducted almost 20 years ago when the way we connect was arguably different from how we do today. Regardless of whether or not LDRs are worthwhile, the fact is that TCKs will most likely to continue to enter into long–distance relationships, as it is often unavoidable. One of the best authorities out there on relationship research is a website called Science of Relationships (SofR). It is written, edited, and managed by a group of relationship researchers, and provides scientifically–based and reputable information about a range of issues, including LDRs.

SofR has four specific articles related to research about LDRs. The first is a response by Dr. Tim Loving to the question of whether LDRs were rewarding. In the end, he doesn't really explicitly conclude that they are or aren't, but they come with both positives (such as idealization and novelty), as well as challenges. The second and third is a two–part series entitled "Does Distance Matter." The author here presents evidence arguing that in general, "LDR dating partners are not significantly different from geographically close Relationship (GCR) dating partners in terms of how close, affectionate, and nurturing they are with each other, and they are no more likely to break up over a three–month period." She also presents research that finds LDR dating partners "actually report being more in love with each other and engaging in higher quality communication than GCR dating partners." She asserts that these findings indicate that "LDR and GCR dating partners are more alike than different in terms of a number of important relationship characteristics." Lastly, you can check out this infographic SofR posted with even more information:

An additional source for really great information on LDRs (that is well-researched and from an expert source as well) is this blog post from sex and relationship researcher, Dr. Justin Lehmiller, who also writes for SofR. He says that "The best research-based advice [he] can offer is to communicate—and to communicate frequently. He also cites multiple studies on LDRs and I encourage anyone interested in LDRs to read his words directly from the source.

What if I'm currently in a LDR?

Don't worry; you're not out of luck, and you don't have to cancel your Skype date. While the outcomes may be uncertain, there are multiple resources out there that try to make it a bit easier for you. For instance, SofR offers four good tips to navigating LDRs. Another is this cool infographic on the evolution of long–distance dating. I also suggest this helpful guide from Dr. Terri Orbuch with some great step–by–step instructions.

In any relationship, regardless of distance, communication is key! And we've come a long way, even since 2005 when I was in a LDR in high school As I have mentioned, how we communicate (or at least the media available), allow for multiple ways to help people stay in touch—especially in digital age. For instance, this website gives 10 tips for how to stay in touch with 10 types of technology. You can also now send text messages (SMS) to each other for free! There are three good sites that I found that review tons of different free SMS services (especially good if you have an international romance). This site has a good "top 10" and is a reputable website. In case you want more options, you can check out this website with 35 options, or this website with 10 others, or this one with more options as well. Some are listed more than once, but altogether, there's roughly about 40 options or more to choose from! And don't forget to check the comments section for even more. AND as a bonus, check this out. It's all about the art of texting, specifically focusing on LDRs. In case all of that wasn't enough, if you're in Lebanon, the two Lebanese mobile operators, Alfa and MTC Touch, also offer a free, practically unlimited Web-to-SMS service that can be used anywhere in the world to reach any phone in the world! Of course, smartphones and services like WhatsApp are so ubiquitous now that this might even be behind the times.

Additionally, you can now take advantage of FaceTime, Skype, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Snapchat, Telegram, Viber, Google Hangouts, Signal, social networking sites (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Reddit, LinkedIn, Tumblr, Google+, Pinterest, StumbleUpon, Flickr, Foursquare, Zomato, Path, etc.), email, apps such as Pushbullet or Join, laptops and smartphones with built-in mics and cameras, blogs, personal websites, online gaming communities, streaming a Netflix / HBO Go / Hulu / Amazon Prime series/movie or YouTube video together at the same time, and the list continues to grow! There are just countless ways to stay in touch, and the amount and type of apps available keep growing.

Communication tools aren't the only additional resources available. I also found a couple of really nice and encouraging articles about LDRs, one on CNN, another on the New York Times. But these don't really give too much advice. They just offer reassuring anecdotes. On the other hand, so much has been written about LDRs, especially in the digital age and globalization. This includes an entire guidebook. I found many good resources for LDRs though on other sites. One of the best one I found was an entire website dedicated to long-distance relationships called Loving From A Distance. It has some great advice, links to resources and articles, and nice information for anyone in a LDR. I also found many lists giving advice about LDRs. By far, the best one giving point-by-point tips is this one. It's (conveniently) so on point! And it gives much better pointers than I could ever muster. Some other interesting point-by-point websites are this one and this one, and this one is a "do's and dont's" list, although this list is ever better. Lastly, this e-how article offers a bunch of resources that you can use to help make your LDR better like advice how to take better photos for your partner, links to flower-sending services, how to write love letters, etc.

In sum, I can tell you in my experience that if there's no way for you and your partner to see each other semi–often, it will be harder. Communication tools have gotten better, but there is something great about having someone close to you, next to you, with you. Able to touch you, kiss you, feel you. Proximity is very important to a relationship––they learn your habits, how you work, what makes you tick on a day–to–day basis, as well as get to know their friends (all of this vice–versa too for them with you). But on the other hand, having someone far away means you have to work harder. It means you have to set time aside just for them. And a plus side of LDRs is that you really enjoy talking with/spending time with the other person. It requires so much trust, and honesty, and openness. Distance may make the heart grow fonder, but only if that distance isn't prolonged. As one of the writers of SofR notes, a realistic chance of both partners living close together and the ability to visit each other occasionally can really make a big difference in how they manage the distance.

In the end, you and your partner have to decide what's the best thing for you both. Also bear in mind that some of the tips or advice may or may not be relevant to your relationship. There are a lot of variations to LDRs, and it definitely is different if they are a one- or two-hour car/train ride away in the same state/region vs. a flight away on a plane to a different country that is in a different timezone. Overall, though, TCKs especially will most likely to continue to have to face the positives and challenges of long–distance relationships. I only hope now that at least the reality of LDRs are more grounded, even if your thoughts and heart are up in the air.

What is your experience with long–distance relationships? Is it something you experience often as a TCK? As an Arab? Share your thoughts and stories in the comments below!

Spread the love,

Authors Note: A condensed version of this post was published on Gate37 online magazine on October 20, 2014 (Link)


Guldner, Gregory T., and Clifford H. Swensen. 1995. "Time Spent Together and Relationship Quality: Long-Distance Relationships as a Test Case." Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 12(2): 313-320.

Maguire, Katheryn C. 2007. ""Will It Ever End?": A (Re)examination of Uncertainty in College Student Long-Distance Dating Relationships." Communication Quarterly, 55(4): 415-432.

Stafford, Laura, and Andy J. Merolla. 2007. "Idealization, Reunions, and Stability in Long-Distance Dating Relationships." Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 24(1): 37-54.

Also see:

Knox, David, Marty E. Zusman, Vivian Daniels, and Angle Brantley. 2002. "Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder?: Long Distance Dating Relationships among College Students." College Student Journal, 36(3): 364-367.

Stafford, Laura, Andy J. Merolla, and Janessa D. Castle. 2006. "When Long-Distance Dating Partners Become Geographically Close." Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 23(6): 901-919.


  1. I read a article under the same title some time ago, but this articles quality is much, much better. How you do this..
    Long distance relationship

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