T he love life of Stanley Davidge, a year-old network administrator for a national restaurant chain, is absolutely extraordinary. Almost all day, Davidge, who lives in South Carolina, is in touch with his girlfriend, Angela Davila, who lives in Virginia and is job hunting. But, considering the fullness of human history, it is astounding that two people in separate places can keep up such a rich relationship without much financial or logistical hassle—and think nothing of it.
The new long-distance relationship
But the many forms that long-distance relationships take make them really hard to count: Couples married or not might live apart because they attend different colleges, they have jobs in different cities or countriesone or both of them are in the military, one or both of them are in prison, or one or both of them have moved to take care of an aging parent. Further complicating matters, these arrangements can be relatively short in duration or last for years.
Still, there are two notable indications that more couples may be living apart these days. First, in a government survey, the of married Americans 18 and older who reported that they live apart from their spouse rose from roughly 2.
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Some respondents could well have been thinking of the time they ed their partner while away on a business trip. The distance is still there, but it feels shorter and shorter.
B efore videochatbefore long-distance phone calls, there were letters. Written correspondence is how, historically, lovers have exchanged meaningful information over long distances.
As those nicknames attest, written expressions of adoration could be colorful and evocative. They could also, as a medium, leave a lot to the imagination.
But in those early days, lengthy calls to far-flung loved ones were still too pricey for many people. During this transatlantic phase of their relationship, they only wrote letters and never talked on the phone. The next major development in romantic communication, of course, was the internet.instant messaging, and videochatting, once widely adopted, made it feasible and affordable for couples to share even the most trivial details of their lives in real time, as often as they wanted. It was almost the opposite of writing a letter in, say, the early to midth centurythe goal of which was often to capture the most important things that had happened since the last letter.
Such mundane transmissions were what helped Jess Lam, a year-old dentist in Los Angeles, get through four years of long distance with her boyfriend. More analog interactions still hold appeal, though.
Stanley Davidge, the network administrator who watches TV with his long-distance girlfriend, says sending old-fashioned mail also helps them feel close. Alex Bettencourt and Frantz Salomon have been together for three years, married for one, and long distance the whole time. Bettencourt lives in Boston, Salomon in Jacmel, a seaside town in Haiti. They see each other about twice a year, text every day, and try to videochat once a week.
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The longest the couple has had to go without any contact at all is about a week—the inconsistency is a challenge, Bettencourt said, but it now seems normal enough. Obstacles to communication are also common for many military couples. Read: What life was like in America years ago. It seems obvious that it would be better to be able to communicate at the speed of the internet, rather than waiting on the Pony Express for word from your beloved.
You understand your communication networks for keeping in touch as being far superior to what came before. W hen a couple is considering going long distance, immersive and real-time communication technologies might make the distance seem more manageable. But a variety of larger forces—involving labor markets, geography, and gender norms—are also putting certain couples in the position of having to make that choice in the first place.
The apparent boom in long-distance relationships seems spread unevenly among demographics. One society-wide trend suggests that on the whole, couples are less likely to experience long-distance dilemmas than they used to: The percentage of Americans who moved between states in a given year decreased by more than half from the s to Nowadays, four-fifths of American adults live a couple of hours or less by car from their parents.
But something interesting is going on with the remaining fifth: Education and income are the two strongest predictors of moving far from home. This pattern, in combination with the large increase in the of women pursuing careers over the past half centurysuggests that geography might exert the most pressure on a particular type of couple —dual-income, well educated, professionally minded.
Read: The five years that changed dating. The pressure to live apart for work can be especially acute for younger couples who are still establishing careers, and the job market in academia—in which full-time jobs are both relatively rare and scattered about the country—is a telling case study. They would find the best job for their husband or their male partner, and they would take a lecturer job or something else.
Analyzing census data fromthe economist Marta Murray-Close found that married people with a graduate degree were more likely to live apart from their spouse than those who had only an undergraduate degree. Murray-Close has also found that there is a gender dynamic to these patterns: When men in heterosexual married couples have an advanced degree, as opposed to just an undergraduate degree, the couple is more likely to move somewhere together.
For women, though, having an advanced degree makes it more likely that the couple will live separately.
You definitely, in distance, develop two separate lives that you hope can come together at some point. She asked not to have her last name published, because of the sensitive nature of her work. G oing long distance is a convenient option for a certain kind of modern couple, but how well does it really work, romantically speaking, to live in different places?
Laura Stafford, the Bowling Green researcher, studied long-distance relationships involving one or more college students in the s.
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Stafford found that long-distance partners were more likely to idealize each other: They receive less information about their ificant other, and so their imagination fills in the rest, often in a positive way. Relatedly, they also tended to fight less.
These couples were more likely to avoid conflict and withhold their honest opinions. Indeed, Stafford has found that long-distance couples report being more in love than those in the same place. But the same things that help hold a long-distance relationship together make it harder to maintain once the geographic gap closes.
Many long-distance couples today are able to stay in constant touch wherever they are, and the communication technologies available to them allow them to share even the most mundane details—the sorts of things there was less room for in letters, long-distance phone calls, and incarnations of the internet.
Those mundane details can create closeness, while also letting people see a fuller, less idealized version of their partner. Crucially, this technological shift also gives couples more opportunities to talk about big stuff as well. But there are some things that communication technologies are unable to overcome.
Stafford notes that an important part of getting to know a partner is seeing how that person treats other people, and no amount of one-on-one videochatting would help in this regard. Many important determinants of long-distance-relationship satisfaction are often things that couples have little power over. Research has suggested that couples tend to be less stressed and more content if they know when the non-proximal portion of their relationship will endand if the long-distance period is a year or less.
And being coupled but apart can fundamentally change how people experience their daily lives, forcing them to negotiate an in-between state of being not quite alone and not quite together. Or if I was single, I would be going out more. The consequences of geographic separation can be felt even when a couple is temporarily in the same place.
It could be that navigating a long period of distance gives some couples tools that will help them deal with future conflicts, large and small. He sounded thrilled to be doing even little things like shopping for groceries with her, and thinks the fact that they stayed together bodes well for their future. But there are things that individual people can do to counteract the downsides.
I polled several researchers who have studied the subject, and their suggestions can be condensed to the following list: Communicate over a variety of platforms to make up for the constraints of each and write letters, which can serve as nice physical reminders of the relationship. Come up with a plan for how and when to have hard conversations. Share small, mundane details and, when possible, everyday experiences, such as streaming a movie together. Make time for both routine check-ins and spontaneous conversations.
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And remember that living together might be an adjustment. Popular Latest. The Atlantic Crossword. In Subscribe.