The Science of Long-Distance Love

Let’s just face it: most people either love or loathe the idea of long–distance relationships (LDRs). Often enough, relationships span across continents. And while this may fill us with a sense of connectedness throughout the world, it definitely doesn’t come without its drawbacks either. In a world that continues to globalize, it’s not just the case that our family and friends are spread across different countries. 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.

And what are you supposed to do when love doesn’t understand the concept of borders?

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.

But in reality, 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 might have to deal with at one point or another, because people are always coming and going.

A surprising amount of research has gone into long distance relationships. Not surprisingly, though, results are mixed. One study found that if the chances of you both ever living around each other in the future are low, there is a higher chance that it won’t work out.

On the other hand, another study, conducted by Ohio State University media professor Laura Stafford, found no significant differences in terms of relationship satisfaction between couples who were geographically far apart and those who weren’t. It suggests that time spent together may not actually play a central role in relationship maintenance, even if that seems to defy conventional thought.

The same study found that those who are in LDRs actually had higher relationship stability than those who were in geographically close relationships. Stafford noted that couples limited face–to–face interaction made greater efforts to improve communication. Initially, what the study hypothesized was that individuals in a long distance relationship would have a higher level of something called “romantic idealization” – thinking about their partners more often, having stronger romantic feelings than a typical couple, etc.

LDRs tend to be more stable than geographically close relationships, but there is a caveat. 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 a part, in addition to accumulated idealization, often lead to break–ups when the partners reunited.

It may simply be a case of quality of communication, as opposed to instant gratification through the frequency of communicating. Author Simon Garfield 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 that the intimacy withered because they stayed in touch by e–mail and not letter. According to Garfield, “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.”

If you are curious about what more science has to say, one of the best authorities out there on relationship research is a website called Science of Relationships. 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. Their infographic takes an interesting perspective on the emotional, financial, and geographic practicality of a LDR.

Featured image via Flickr

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About The Author

Michael Oghia

Michael Oghia

Michael is a TCK, Arab-American, and global citizen/nomad, currently based in Istanbul. Before moving to Turkey, he lived in the US, Lebanon, and India. He loves travel (in fact, airports make him feel at home), cultural discovery, and engaging Twitter conversations (@MikeOghia). He is the founder of LOVEanon, a blog connecting readers to relationship research and resources, with an emphasis on Lebanon and the Arab world. He is also a co-host of #TCKchat on Twitter, held on the 1st and 3rd Wednesday of each month at 10:00 AM and 10:00 PM, EST.


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  • Just Saying…

    People who describe themselves as nomads are usually priveledged cunts.

  • Michael Oghia (Ogie)

    Well, there is undoubtedly privilege involved.