Is a long distance relationship a viable option or does it only end in a break-up?


You know the story – boy meets girl, they go on a few dates (planning to keep it casual) but before they know it, they’re falling in love. Oops. General risk of heartbreak aside, this starts to get complicated when (as is the case for many university students) a cross-country or even cross-continental move is imminent come graduation day. Is a long distance relationship a viable option or does it only end in a break-up? Perdeby investigates.

A July 2012 statistic shows that there are 14 million people in the US who regard themselves as being in a long distance relationship. Furthermore, 32,5% of all college relationships in the US are long distance. This can partially be attributed to the fact that there tends to be a tradition of “going away to college” in America, but long distance still applies to plenty of South African university students – such as those in a relationship with an older partner who works in another city, or a younger partner still in school back home. The same set of statistics claims that 40% of all long distance relationships end as a result of the distance.

Although there tends to be a stigma that long distance relationships often end in failure, experts say there are certain things that can be done to increase the chances of such a relationship’s survival. Often the most obvious problem with a long distance relationship is the lack of physical closeness and intimacy, and this can eventually lead to one or both partners being tempted to wander. However, there are ways to ease this frustration. Candidly, clinical psychologist Dr Rob Dobrenski explains, “Loneliness will happen but it is important that you acknowledge and attempt to alleviate those feelings. Phone sex works wonders!”

Fortunately, technology is constantly progressing and long distance lovers have not been forgotten. For the, um, adventurous long distance couple, applications like Vibease for Android (iPhone version currently in development) can help lessen the loneliness of distance. The device allows one partner to experience various vibrations via a massager which is controlled by a second partner using the application on their phone. There is no limit to the distance between the two partners for the app to work, making it the perfect way for a long-distance couple to feel close.

But distance, of course, is more than just a physical concern. Without regular face-to-face bonding time, a couple can easily drift apart. Text messages get misinterpreted, phone calls get interrupted, and after a while, this can start to take its toll. Tom Scheve, writing for Discovery Health, points out, “A relationship can morph into a voice-and-text situation that assumes its own shape, making it somewhat strange when a couple actually spends time together in person after a long absence.” Video calling programs like Skype may help with this problem, although it still can’t truly substitute hanging out in person. For this reason, experts recommend visits as regularly as is possible. Psychotherapist Dr Barton Goldsmith explains, “Touching keeps the brain chemicals like oxytocin (also known as the cuddle hormone) and serotonin flowing through our brains and bodies. When you don’t get to connect, it’s harder to feel the love because you’re not able to produce enough [of] these happiness chemicals to make you feel good and most people start to look for ways to get their ‘brain-chemical fix’ from those who are physically available.”

A number of Tuks students interviewed expressed a positive attitude about long distance relationships. Third-year BA student AnjelicaLamprecht says, “I tried with two guys and it was harder than a normal relationship, but if you want it to work, it will. Now I’m in a mid-distance one – it’s a case of seeing him on weekends. We live in different towns and most people share this situation.” Considering that Pretoria is only an hour or two away from other towns and cities like Johannesburg and Potchefstroom, it does seem likely that such “mid-distance” relationships are fairly common. The reduced distance between such partners can make mid-distance relationships slightly more manageable than long distance relationships where weekly visits are not possible.

While it is clear that long distance relationships can be emotionally taxing, putting in the effort to keep the relationship alive can pay off. There are even some who may find a long-distance relationship ideal. In his article, Shreve writes, “There is one type of person who does well with long distance communication: the man or woman who truly values his or her own space (and a lot of it), but also wants to nurture a connection with a loved one.”

Perhaps one of the most vital things to take into a long distance relationship is, quite simply, a positive attitude. When asked if he would ever consider being in a long distance relationship, third-year LLB student Darius Zeederberg says, “I would. It’s hard work, but a great story to tell one day when it works out, not if it works out. I call it commitment.”

Illustration: Simon Kai-Garvie

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