In episode 9, season 2 of The Carrie Diaries, Carrie and her boyfriend Sebastian briefly enter into a long distance relationship. Carrie’s boss Larissa (who has just declared her love for her engagement ring to be greater than her love for her fiancé) discusses long distance relationships with her:
Carrie: In three months I’ll still be dating Sebastian. I know long-distance can be challenging.
Larissa: Sorry, but the moment that taut, muscular Goldilocks packed his bags, that relationship was doomed.
Carrie:You’re wrong about me and Sebastian. We’re gonna be--
Larissa: You’re gonna be the exception, yeah. That’s what everyone says. But first it’s a few missed calls. Then it’s a few missed weekends. Then, you’re not bothering to call at all.
Carrie: Well, that’s not gonna be us.
Larissa: Or worse, one of you moves for the other.
Carrie: Why would that be worse? That would be great.
Larissa: Mnh-mnh. Moving puts way too much pressure on the relationship. After that, they start resenting you for every little thing that goes wrong….
Carrie: Well, both of us are still in high school, so I don’t think either one of us will be moving anywhere for each other.
Larissa: So then it’s the slow ride into no relationship for you two. That’s a shame.
The general population has some good points on this one. Long distance relationships are hard. There’s no question about that. If a couple isn’t meant to be, a long distance relationship where you no longer have physical or sexual interactions occurring regularly will cause relationships that are only built on physical chemistry to implode really quickly. The reality, though, is that the vast majority of those relationships would have ended eventually. The trial of the distance simply speeds up the breakup. My first college roommate was dating her high school boyfriend long distance for the first few weeks of school. She went home to visit one weekend and found condoms in the glovebox in his truck; she was on the pill so they no longer used condoms. That was the end of what was already a very unhealthy relationship that wouldn’t have lasted for long anyway. The physical distance just helped bring about a swifter end.
For me, the reality of the long distance relationship wasn’t what I’d expected. It was hard and painful, but it was doable. Neither of us was tempted to cheat, and our growth really continued along a similar pattern at that point in our lives. We were two bright, intelligent and communicative people. We turned to letter writing and eventually email to fill the distance. Phones existed, though the amount we spent on long distance bills (especially for the two years they were at higher in-state rates) was unbelievable. I often wonder how different things would have been for us in today’s day and age of cell phones with unlimited long distance and texting for $25 a month!
The bigger problem for us with long distance was something that I didn't see then but which actually was a huge red flag that would play out later in our relationship. Hindsight is always much closer to 20/20 than the present moment! The problem was that my ex actually didn’t mind the distance between us. He liked having a girlfriend who only stopped by once a month. He got all of the perks of a romantic relationship but far less responsibility or the feeling of being tied down. The space between us was actually an asset that never bothered him much. For me, however, it was devastating to be apart from him so much. I hated that I was always the third of fifth wheel in the group of friends I hung out with because my boyfriend was in another city or state. In retrospect, I realize that the long distance relationship actually may have kept us together rather than breaking us apart like it did for many others. The freedom my ex got during those long distance years was exactly what he needed even though it was horrid for me. Twenty years later when we ended our marriage, he was actually very excited about having his own place again whereas I was initially not happy about the idea of living alone. For all the horror stories and warnings people felt all too free to give us about long distance relationships, no one warned us that it might help keep us together when we might have been better breaking up!
Long distance relationships are hard. If there was another option, I wouldn’t advise people to choose the long distance except for short time periods or extreme circumstances. However, couples have been engaging long distance relationships for millenia: Military personnel and their spouses are a prime example. The bottom line is that long distance relationships are just not fun. The hot passion of reunions is fabulous, but the price to pay for it is just not enough to compensate for the pains of absence. A long distance relationship will help a couple discover the weaknesses of their relationship at a much faster pace than they would otherwise discover those issues. But when you take into account how many relationships break up over the course of a lifetime, both before and after marriage, a relationship ending during a time of long distance is not that much of a surprise. Long distance relationships just get a bad reputation for the wrong reasons.
© 2015 Elizabeth Galen, Ph.D., Green Heart Guidance, LLC