Illustration by Luke Hampton.
Like it or not, technology, social media, and constant connectedness are defining aspects of our generation’s identity. We utilize technology in nearly all aspects of life— and relationships are no exception. Smartphones, texting, free long-distance calling, and applications like Skype allow couples to stay in touch whenever and wherever, making technology particularly relevant to those in long-distance relationships. According to fivethirtyeight.com, a whopping 75 percent of American students report being in a long-distance relationship at some point in their college career.
Today’s long-distance relationships (LDRs) look vastly different than they did for couples thirty, twenty, and even ten years ago. Long gone are the days of snail mail and waiting by a landline for a pre-planned phone call. Even email is antiquated at this point. Today, couples attending far-off schools can communicate as often as they want through a variety of means. The formats of most popular social media, including Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and Snapchat encourage users to share a constant stream of information. Media like texting ensure continuous conversation, while FaceTime and Skype allow for face-to-face communication and longer exchanges.
As someone in a long-distance relationship, I am grateful that I can connect with my boyfriend in such personal, convenient ways, but it’s a mistake to think all this technology optimizes communication or makes LDRs easier. When staying in touch is as easy as pressing a button, couples get into the habit of communicating through fragments of information all day long.
Regular contact and intimacy are important for maintaining healthy relationships, but being too digitally close can create an illusion of togetherness that ultimately serve to overly-complicate these relationships.
For one thing, methods of digital communication can be isolating; constantly disrupting our day to post, update, or send a text makes it difficult to fully appreciate and participate in independent life away from our partners. For example, there are apps designed specifically for couples in LDRs; apps like Couple and Avocado boast of the intimacy they provide. Users can create a shared timeline in which they post videos, photos, sketches, and voice messages for their significant other’s eyes only. The app Couple even has a feature called “Thumbkiss” that touts “real-time interaction”: if both people touch their phone screen at the same time, their phones will vibrate.
The Time article “How Skype is Sabotaging Your Long Distance Relationship” asserts that our generation’s “hyper-connectivity” is a “double-edged sword.” While previous generations were forced to develop separate lives outside of relationships, iPhones, apps, and various social media platforms allow for minute-by-minute updates that make it easy for couples in LDRs to isolate themselves from their lives outside of relationships. Receiving constant updates on a partner’s life also detracts from more meaningful, sustained conversations that might take place on the phone or Skype later.
The article’s author elaborates on her own long-distance relationship:
“Sometimes my boyfriend and I don’t know what to say to each other on the phone at the end of the night. He already knows the stories I’ve written that day because I’ve tweeted them. I know what new quote they posted on his quote board at work because it popped up on Facebook…”
She goes on to say,
“So in some ways I envy my parents who were far enough away from one another to form separate lives. They didn’t feel guilty when they missed a text or let down when a Snapchat went unopened.”
We should be smart about how we use technology. Why not save up our anecdotes for a more meaningful phone call or hold off on emailing photos from that hiking trip until we can be with our loved one in person? While today’s couples should certainly not deny themselves the convenience of modern technology, we should take a hint from the long-distance relationships of old and remind ourselves that space is valuable. Time spent apart makes us value the time we do get to have together. When we have room to develop fuller, richer lives, we learn to appreciate the present. We become our best selves—for us and for those we love.