"Distance lends enchantment to the view." -Mark Twain
THE INTRODUCTIONElite Daily:
We all love finding peace in old, familiar adages.
Although sayings like “the early bird catches the worm,” “two wrongs don’t make a right,” and “don’t count your chickens before they hatch” might sound too cliché for comfort, they calm us down during those moments in which we might feel confused about something in our lives. They reassure us that someone else out there has already figured out the right thing to do — and, most importantly, they’ve already created a convenient saying for it — so we should just listen. Regardless of how right or wrong the adages are, we repeat them to ourselves over and over again, as if repetition will somehow confirm their truth.
But what happens when two common adages completely contradict each other? What happens when you can’t respond to one of the most confusing moments of your entire life with one adage all neatly tied up in a bow, but with two? Which one, then, is the truth?
“Absence makes the heart grow fonder” and “out of sight, out of mind” are two common sayings we associate with romance that has been forced apart by distance.
It's long been taught by the book of love, but now scientists suggest that absence truly does make the heart grow fonder, particularly when it comes to intimacy.
According to a new study published by the Journal of Communication, couples in long distance relationships have more meaningful interactions than those who see each other on a daily basis, leading to higher levels of intimacy.
The study, co-authored by psychologists Crystal Jiang of the City University of Hong Kong and Jeffrey T. Hancock of Cornell University, also suggests that individuals in such relationships are more likely to idealize their partners.
Jiang says that the major difference between long distance and geographically proximate relationships is that long distance lovers have limited face-to-face interactions. In an effort to keep the romance alive, couples will engage in more frequent communication and discuss deeper issues, such as love, trust and future plans.
"Besides communication frequency, they also adapt their messages, for example, by focusing on more limited but relationally intense topics," Jiang, who is based in Hong Kong, wrote in an email to USA Today. "The intimacy developed here is a psychological closeness – it doesn't include physical or sexual intimacy."
The 63 heterosexual couples cited in the study were in their early twenties and had some ties to Cornell University, whether as a student or the student's partner. Most long distance pairs had been separated for 17 months, typically because they attend different schools. The researchers asked participants to fill out one week's worth of daily online surveys regarding the quality and quantity of communication they had with their significant others.
Researchers found that most of these interactions were via text, and that although long distance couples reported fewer interactions per day, they used more channels of communication, including video chats and phone calls.
According to Jiang, about 25 to 50 percent of college students in the United States are currently in long distance relationships, and around 75 percent have been in one at some point in their undergraduate careers. With Skype, FaceTime and other advanced means of digital communication, she says, its easier to connect with your sweetheart when he or she is a state away, across the country or even on the other side of the world.
"As a researcher, I'm not surprised with the results because it can be explained by the adaptive nature of human communication," Jiang wrote. "But for the general public, I bet they are surprised. One of the reasons is that they strongly believe long distance relationships are challenging."
Previous research has done little to make people believe these situations can work. In fact, one 2010 study suggested successful romances require regular face-to-face contact to succeed.
A study by Lisa Diamond and her colleagues looked at 42 couples either married or living together before, during, and after a short (4-7 day) separation. Similar to children being separated from their parents, couples can go through similar experiences of separation distress. Researchers found that separation changed the quality of couples’ daily interactions and increased negative feelings, levels of stress, and even sleep problems.
The good news about temporary separation was that most of the distress from partners leaving rebounded when couples reunited (although some extremely anxious individuals seemed to require more adjustment after coming back together as well). So, while absence doesn’t always make the heart grow fonder, the negative effects of separation are often just temporary.
With the advent of new modes of communication in the past ten years, long distance relationships, long considered less than ideal scenarios, have come to be viewed as more manageable, says Gail Saltz, a psychiatrist with the New York Presbyterian Hospital who is familiar with the study.
"All this technology has made it seem more doable, but also for the twenty-somethings, the reality is that we're in a world where people increasingly move around to get jobs and internships," Saltz says. "The rise in long distance relationships is a function of technology, the job market and the social environment -- the world is being perceived as an ever-shrinking place."
Susan Whitbourne, professor of psychology at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, who studies long distance relationships, says that these findings make sense in light of what scientists know about human behavior.
"When you're not there with the person every day, you're not seeing their highs and lows, and you're not exposing them to your feelings," Whitbourne says." You can create an ideal image of your significant other which builds intimacy."
If anything, the results should give hope to young couples embarking on these types of relationships, she adds.
"People are more mobile now then they have been in the past, especially in college," she says. "You could be in South Africa and your boyfriend is here in the States, but you really can keep it going."
"In response to calls to recognize that both face-to-face (FtF) interaction and technologically mediated communication (TMC) often occur in the same relationships, we introduce a communicative interdependence perspective with a central tenet that relational closeness is associated with interconnections among modes of communication. We examined this perspective with a focus group study (N = 17) and a more extensive survey (N = 317). Consistent with the communicative interdependence predictions, relational closeness was associated positively with integration between FtF and TMC and negatively to difficulties transitioning between modes. Also, discussing topics only via technologically mediated channels was inversely associated with closeness and satisfaction, whereas discussing topics only in person was positively related to closeness and satisfaction."
"In some ways, long-distance relationships are a bit easier, at least for desire, perceived satisfaction, and not having to deal with day-to-day life," explains Kristen P. Mark, director of the Sexual Health Promotion Lab at the University of Kentucky. "Sure, you miss your partner and ache to see them again, but that ache is exactly what fuels the desire and passion in the relationship. Missing out on the mundane allows for your relationship to flourish on the ups of life without having to worry about paying the bills, what to cook for dinner or getting the kids up and out the door in the morning."
On the other hand, technology can make it easy to present your partner with only a surface façade and mask your true feelings. People in long-distance relationships would do well to be as honest as possible with their partners, and themselves, to ensure that their romance has the depth to last when they become geographically closer.
"Putting some 'distance' in your relationship can be helpful, even if you aren't in a long-distance relationship," Mark says. "Using space apart to fuel sexual desire or reignite spark is a useful strategy when daily routine becomes monotonous. It allows for you to miss one another and realize why you've got each other in your life in the first place."
» Toronto's Number 1 Date Doctor: "Why Your Relationships Don't Last"
» "The one thing “bad boys” do right is they give us enough space to miss them."
» Study: "The self-fulfilling nature of positive illusions in romantic relationships: love is not blind, but prescient."