My Digital Romance: Why Long-distance Relationships Thrive With Tech
With the rapid and vast adoption of technology in today’s world, Noreen Shazreen explores how long-distance relationships can thrive in this digital age.
Long-distance relationships often resort to video calls as a means of staying emotionally connected to one another. Photo by Noreen Shazreen.
Hype Issue #54
January 21, 2022
In the Academy Award-winning film Interstellar, we learn that love transcends space and time and that it can triumph regardless of the distance that keeps us apart.
Though love is an abstract concept that changes with time, it remains a universal feeling that all mankind seeks in order to survive and thrive on Earth.
While every relationship has its own set of difficulties, long-distance relationships prove to be especially challenging in this golden age where one may be geographically separated from their loved ones due to a variety of concrete reasons, including career opportunities, educational pursuits, and obstructions imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
With time zone differences, expensive plane tickets, and visa restrictions coupled with the pandemic, the odds of maintaining a relationship may seem insurmountable. In a time when long-distance relationships have become more prevalent in society today, how did these relationships develop in the first place?
The Evolution of Long-distance Relationships
Historically, long-distance relationships were documented as early as the 17th century, long before the onset of families and couples were separated by the pandemic’s restrictions. As a matter of fact, one of William Shakespeare’s most popular plays, Romeo and Juliet, features a long-distance romance as a major theme.
The star-crossed lovers were fictional pioneers of long-distance relationships as they encountered various obstacles including distance, family feuds and death; all of which contributed to their arduous relationship. Challenged by the brutal rivalry between the Capulets and Montagues, Romeo and Juliet did everything in their power to achieve their union against all odds.
Ingesting a poison that mimics death, Juliet lies on her deathbed in an attempt to escape an arranged marriage. Photo taken from Medium.
In the 1860s, long-distance relationships were also prevalent during the American Civil War as men had once believed that it was their duty, honour and responsibility to serve the country.
Isolated from the world beyond their regiments, they were unable to provide their families with information about the war, making letters an indispensable form of communication.
During the American Civil War, soldiers and their families, many of whom were illiterate, wrote letters to ease their fears and express their love. Photo taken from Virginia Center for Civil War Studies.
Nevertheless, communication methods for long-distance relationships have evolved since the start of globalisation. With the advent of social media and technology in the 21st century, people are now able to remain connected with one another easily despite their geographical differences.
Through inventions like the Internet, smartphones, as well as social media platforms like Instagram and TikTok, communication has become increasingly accessible.
As technological advances have drastically transformed the way people interact with one another, what will this mean for current and future generations of long-distance relationships?
Long-distance Relationships in the 21st Century
According to Big Think, long-distance couples in the 21st century have an advantage as they have a plethora of tools at their disposal to bridge the gap and maintain a close relationship.
In the age of technology, couples have the luxury of sending love letters instantaneously via direct messages, sending spontaneous selfies at the click of a button, and can even hear and see each other virtually through FaceTime.
Anna Wee, 22, a student, has been dating her boyfriend for nearly eight months. However, the majority of their time together was spent miles apart after he moved to Milan, Italy to pursue his studies.
“We met while he was doing an exchange [programme] in Singapore. Initially, we weren’t planning to have a serious relationship because I knew he was going back. But I guess we just kept talking and eventually accepted that we were going to go long-distance,” she shares.
Anna (left) visited Europe to spend more time with her boyfriend after months of being apart. Photo courtesy of Anna.
Anna attributes the close bond that she shares with her partner to social media. Using applications such as Instagram and FaceTime has helped them stay in touch, while instant messaging platform Telegram serves as their main method of communication.
Having lived apart for several months, the couple did not have the privilege of celebrating their milestones together like every other proximal romantic couple.
Nevertheless, Anna and her boyfriend bridged the gap in their relationship through regular updates via text messages, and have even made it a routine to schedule a call at least once a day to remain active in each other’s lives.
“The daily calls helped me feel like I’m a part of his life. [It is also a way] for him to schedule me into his day. I feel like this is just a means of making us prioritise each other more,” she adds.
In contrast to most proximal couples, Anna could only communicate with her partner through text messaging and regular video calls. Photo by Noreen Shazreen.
According to a HYPE survey involving 100 respondents aged 16 to 30, 44 per cent of respondents were not open to long-distance relationships, while 68 per cent of them did not have any close friends who are currently in one.
To some, long-distance relationships are sometimes viewed as a risky venture because of the distance involved.
With a cultural belief that long-distance relationships may fail due to the sheer magnitude of challenges they present, youths often shy away from them, citing reasons such as the possibility that their partner will cheat on them, the time differences, and the lack of physical intimacy.
“[Physical connection] was quite the struggle for us the longer we were in the relationship. The deeper the connection we built, the more we craved [to see each] other. However, this craving had fuelled the passion even more when we met again,” says Anna.
[Physical connection] was quite the struggle for us the longer we were in the relationship. The deeper the connection we built, the more we craved [to see each] other. However, this craving had fuelled the passion even more when we met again.
Having spent a full month in his company, Anna feels that the transition to doing long-distance again will be challenging as she has grown closer to her partner. Photo courtesy of Anna.
Although communication has been made easier with technology, there are still limits to the degree of intimacy one can enjoy with their loved ones. As Gary Chapman explained in his Five Love Languages theory, the key to maintaining healthy relationships is understanding how to express love to your partner in their preferred way.
Essentially, this theory states that people communicate and receive love in multiple ways and that most people have a preferred love language. Physical touch, words of affirmation, quality time, acts of service, and gifts are among the five love languages.
“A lack of [love language] may result in one to seek that need elsewhere,” says Mr Kai Faisal, 27, a youth participant from our survey. “Plus, a very healthy communication habit not just involves calling or Zooming, but also sending physical gifts and whatnot through mail.”
However, it’s also necessary to acknowledge that long-distance relationships encompass more than just romantic attachments, but also friendships and family dynamics.
Student Angeline Choo, 19, moved to Adelaide in January 2019 to further her studies. With social networking platforms such as Instagram, WhatsApp, and Snapchat, she has been able to stay connected with her Singaporean friends without worrying about losing touch with them.
Snapshots of Angeline spending time with her new friends in Adelaide, Australia. Photos courtesy of Angeline.
Nonetheless, Angeline acknowledges that social media conversations differ from face-to-face interactions. “Although my friends and I text each other ‘I’m always here for you’, it hurts to type that out knowing that I can’t be there like they physically need me to be and vice versa,” she says.
Several studies have shown that voice calls are important for long-distance relationships as they serve as an alternative to face-to-face contact. The act of hearing someone’s voice can strengthen friendships and foster an emotional connection, especially if they are physically absent.
“Audio and visual familiarity helps me connect easily with my friends as it almost replicates an environment as if my friends are there with me,” she adds.
Angeline (extreme left) misses her Singaporean friends after being unable to meet them for two years due to her studies abroad. Photo courtesy of Angeline.
Similarly, the same struggle is echoed for Ms Lia Ananda (not her real name), 32, a foreign domestic helper who moved to Singapore in March 2018.
While most people have been able to ride out the storm with their loved ones, Ms Lia Ananda was unable to visit her family back in Lombok, Indonesia due to border closures and travel restrictions.
“I feel upset because I haven’t been able to visit my family back home after more than three years. I feel disconnected from them as I haven’t been able to see them in a long time,” she shares in Bahasa Indonesia.
In order to stay in touch with her family, Ms Lia Ananda relies heavily on social networking service WhatsApp to set up regular video calls with her daughter, her older sister, as well as her parents.
“The regular video calls on WhatsApp help alleviate my homesickness. I also appreciate that I could see their faces and hear their voices,” she adds.
The regular video calls on WhatsApp help alleviate my homesickness. I also appreciate that I could see their faces and hear their voices.
Ms Lia Ananda misses being physically in contact with her family and having the opportunity to spend time with her daughter during her vacations. Photo by Noreen Shazreen.
Having video calls with her family has given Ms Lia Ananda the strength to work harder and endure the challenges of being alone in Singapore. “I would also give words of encouragement to my youngest daughter so that she has the strength to work hard in school,” she says.
Certainly, communication techniques in long-distance relationships have been made easy with technology. While social media has helped bridge the gap for long-distance relationships in the 21st century, a certain level of effort must be devoted to preserving a lasting, meaningful relationship.