Long Distance Relationships – can technology help to bridge the gap?
Long-distance relationships are nothing new, but there’s an increasing array of technology available to help us bridge the gap.
The days of sending handwritten letters to your loved one are long gone – ink has been replaced by WiFi and 21st-century romantics are turning to apps and social media platforms to stay in touch and keep the spark alive.
But can technology ever replace the intimacy of a face-to-face relationship?
Getting into a long-distance relationship
John, 59, has been with his husband for 23 years, yet the couple spent the first 18 years of their relationship apart.
“We met in a London sex club in the summer of 1996,” recalls John. “Neither of us was looking for a relationship but we just clicked.”
The pair lived 80 miles apart from one another, and their busy professional lives meant they were initially unable to live together.
Also separated from his partner because of work is Peter, 27, who spends long periods of time on deployments with the Armed Forces.
“We met through mutual friends,” says Peter. “I’m away abroad quite a bit with work. He knew about my job when we met, and is thankfully very understanding of being apart for so long.”
Alex, 23, has had two long-distance relationships.
“My first partner I knew from back home, and we both moved to university. I was in Leeds, he was in Manchester so we saw each other when we could,” explains Alex.
“My second boyfriend I met through a dating app,” he says. “Weirdly, that guy was also based in Manchester and also spent a lot of the year in the Middle East with his parents. Meanwhile, I was still in Leeds.”
Alex says he used “basically any social media” during his long-distance relationships, including platforms such as iMessage, FaceTime, Snapchat, Instagram, and Twitter.
Although technology helped him stay in touch with his partner at the time, he agrees that there are limitations.
“I think I always struggled with the distance more than he did,” reflects Alex. “He was very independent and enjoyed time by himself, whereas I always wanted to move our relationship to the next level.”
Peter echoes Alex when it comes to using various social media sites to keep up-to-date with his partner’s life during his time overseas.
“It helps me feel like I’m still in the loop with what’s going on in his life, and I think he feels the same way,” says Peter. “It’s not perfect and there are times I just want to hug him, because I miss him so much, which is a feeling that looking at his social media will never be able to satisfy.”
At the time when John’s long-distance relationship started, social media wasn’t even available.
“We phoned daily and met up twice a week,” recalls John. “Because of our circumstances, we couldn’t use our own homes – we met up in London, at the sex club or a gay sauna, so that we could be intimate.”
Even when the internet began to take off, the couple kept to their daily phone calls: “We never used other forms of communication. I think it’s because we felt they wouldn’t be as intimate.”
Sexual intimacy can also be created through the use of technology. Alex agrees, saying he would send pics to his first partner.
Was he worried about these pictures being shared elsewhere or his account being hacked? “Probably not as much as I should have been,” he says. “I wasn’t necessarily ashamed of doing it. We were two consenting adults in love, so it didn’t seem to bother me that much. I think my ex did worry though.”
Peter also sends pics and videos to his partner, yet agrees there is no replacement for sex.
“If ever I’ve dreamt of my partner and me, or remembered about a specific time we were having sex, I will often send a lengthy description over WhatsApp,” he explains. “I suppose it feels kind of awkward to admit, but in the context of our relationship it just works and it keeps the spark going.”
Are long-distance relationships sustainable?
Alex thinks the notion of having a common end goal to the relationship is important in a long-distance relationship. He says that his second relationship ended just short of the pair moving in together.
“If both parties are happy with the distance and the ‘part-time’ nature of seeing each other then that can work too,” he rationalises. “But, in my experience, long-distance relationships involve incredible highs when you see each other and some dark lows during periods of being apart.”
Peter echoes Alex’s sentiments about having a common goal. “It can be challenging. I think we’re both looking forward to moving in together and getting on with our lives after I’ve left the Armed Forces.”
John and his now husband bought a house together, even though the pair were still living apart, in order to resolve challenges in their relationship.
“The distance led to issues around trust, but they were overcome when after two years we bought a joint house together,” he says. “It didn’t help the long-distance problem, but it was ‘ours’ and it meant we could be in our own space at weekends for the first time.”