"Absence makes the heart grow fonder" is one of those obnoxious, inspirational quotes told to couples in their first long distance relationship. Oh, your boyfriend of three years is going to college out-of-state? You can do it! Distance makes the heart grow stronger.
It would be a nice sentiment if the speaker wasn't really thinking: I give them four months. Six, max.
However, a study in the Journal of Communications has shown that absence might truly make the heart grow fonder and that couples who participate in a healthy long-distance relationship can have more meaningful interactions than couples who see each other daily (To read the Huffington Post article, click here).
Science aside, my husband and I both agree that the year and a half of long distance did the most to strengthen our relationship. When we had to work for it (Skype, email, video messages, etc), we treasured what the other person said more.
Every time I tell someone that doing the whole "long distance relationship" thing actually strengthened my relationship, they laugh. Or look skeptical.
I don't blame them.
But before you judge your friends in long distance relationships, check out these nine ways that long distance relationships can help, rather than hurt, a couple:
1. The knowledge that if you survive the distance, your relationship can survive anything.
Once upon a time, boy met girl, they fell in love, and lived happily ever after in the same house for the next three generations.
That was then. This is now.
Between study abroad, job transfers, the "two body problem," and a million other reasons for couples to live in different cities, long distance relationships are becoming a viable alternative to breaking up.
According to a study done by Cornell University (see a longer article on the Huffington Post here), between a quarter and one half of college students are currently in a long distance relationship. I believe that.
However, as anyone in college can tell you, most of these relationships do not last. Between late-night "study sessions," parties, and "break-vember" (the nickname many college students give the first November of their freshman year -- most high school sweethearts call it quits around this time), successful long distance relationships are few and far between.
And I'm sure that means a lot of things, but to most of my friends in long distance relationships, it means that if they can survive the distance, they can survive anything.
(For more, check out: The Hardest Part of a Long-Distance Relationship: 12 steps for making it work)
Photo taken on our wedding day by Jade Piece Photography
2. You don't have to be presentable all the time -- you can have off days.
No one can judge you for having off days because the love of your life lives halfway across the world. It's like a "get out of jail free" card for social interactions.
3. Long distance relationships are a lesson in effective communication.
Early in my married life, I realized I could spend months living with someone without having a "real" conversation. If Ryosuke and I didn't specifically set aside time to have a heart-to-heart, we could go days, weeks, or even months without talking about how he really felt when I put my feet up on his chair during dinner (hint, he didn't like it).
Dr. Crystal Jiang, of the department of communication at the City University in Hong Kong, claims, "Long-distance couples try harder than geographically close couples in communicating affection and intimacy, and their efforts do pay back." (You can read her full transcript here.)
A similar study by Cornell University revealed that while couples in a "normal" relationship tend to have more daily interactions than couples in a long-distance relationship, the couples who had hundreds of miles in between them tend to have longer, more meaningful conversations. The university told 63 heterosexual couples, half of which were a long distance relationship, to keep a communication diary and spend the next couple weeks completing questionnaires about their relationships. The distance between the couples varied between 40 and 4,000 miles. Those in a long distance relationship reported feeling a stronger bond than couples who lived in the same city. They also claimed to feel their partners shared more of their thoughts, feelings, and emotions. To be fair, I'm not exactly sure how one measures the amount of emotions their partner shares, but you can see the full Huffington Post article, here.
4. For it to work, both parties must be equally committed.
Long distance relationships do not work if both people are not equally committed. And the advice I give all new couples: if you are not 100 percent committed to making it work, don't even try.
If you're not committed, the hours of Skype and long flights just don't seem worth it.
5. They force you to be independent in your relationship.
We all know those people who lose themselves in a relationship. They become an extension of their significant other and, to be honest, lose that special "spark" that made you want to be friends with them in the first place.
Couples in long distance relationships rarely have that problem -- because it is difficult to live vicariously through your significant other when you don't share a zip code. Living apart from your significant other or spouse is a great way to preserve the essence of who you are even though you are in a relationship. You have your own friends, jobs, and social life. This is especially critical for younger couples (high school and college age) who haven't yet cemented their independence in the "real world." (For more, check out: The Four Stages of a Long-Distance Relationship: Surviving the Separation)
6. You get really good at planning.
Remember when I said that long distance relationships require communication? A lot of that communication comes in the form of elaborate planning, and not just visits, but long-term plans. And if practice makes perfect, most long distance couples have gotten the complications of planning down to an art.
7. The relationship is more than physical.
You can't have a "friends with benefits" long distance relationship. Long distance relationships are more like "friends without benefits."
However, as painful as celibacy may be (and believe me, it can get hard -- no pun intended), you rarely have to worry that your significant other is only putting up with you for sex.
By definition, long distance relationships are anything but physical.
Really, just read any of the comments from love-struck long distancers on this post. Or this post. Or this post. They throw around words like "soulmate," "other half," "meant to be together" and "love of my life" like nobody's business.
One year, I made my long-distance (Star Wars-loving) fiance R2-D2 chocolates
8. Both parties get plenty of "me" time.
When we lived apart, I could get my "me" time whenever I needed... but now that we live together, I have to send my husband on errands to get my "me" time.
9. It is full of exotic travel and adventure.
Every time my significant other came into town, I got to do all the touristy things that locals skip over. Our days were filled with beer factory tours, Tokyo Disneyland, hiking a mountain, taking rowboats out on the lake for a romantic lunch and exploring the city.
We would see each other twice a month -- but it was more than "seeing each other." Each weekend visit was like a mini-vacation. Now, happily married in a small apartment, we miss those days when we had an excuse to pack up and leave for the weekend.
Next time you meet someone in a long distance relationship, just remember...
Long distance relationships are not for the faint of heart. They are full of meaningless arguments, jealousy, sleeping alone, and second-guessing whether it is "really worth it."
I did it for two years -- and then I married the man. Yes, being in a long distance relationship is difficult, but when it is with the right person, it isn't half bad. It taught us a lot about ourselves, things we might not have figured out otherwise.
So next time your friend tells you about how her and her boyfriend will be doing the distance during his first year of college, don't count them out just yet. Who knows what will happen. They might just make it after all.
This article originally appeared on the blog "How I Became Texan" as a longer, more comprehensive list:
13 Surprising Benefits of being in a Long Distance Relationship
Follow Grace Buchele on Twitter: www.twitter.com/Texan_in_Tokyo