What do people in a LDR miss?

LDR word cloud

According to our own background research on long-distance relationships, touch is the number one thing that the LDR couples miss when being away from each other.  Majority of our survey respondents listed terms such as touching or physical contact as the biggest issue in being away from their loved one. Words related to touching, such as hugs, kisses, and cuddling, were also common. Another notable area was comprised of words and phrases describing emotional intimacy, such as companionship, closeness, and togetherness.

So, what did the respondents say they do to cope with the distance? As you might guess, they heavily lie on technology: talking on the phone, sending text messages and following each other on social media were the most common ways to keep in contact. Staying in touch brings them comfort and certainty about their relationship, but they feel like mobile communication is not always enough. They also strongly felt that there is a place for iXu midst of the tech they already use, especially in times when they really miss their significant other.

In light of our research, we are confident of iXu being the solution for so many people not being able to be physically close to their loved ones. We cannot wait to roll it out!

Sharing everyday experiences

For most, being in a relationship means sharing your everyday life with another person. In a long-distance relationship, however, this can be tricky, especially if you happen to live in completely different time zones. And I mean COMPLETELY! I for one am already waking up when my partner has just gone to bed. Wishing good morning in the evening, wishing good morning back and waiting for a reply for the next nine hours has become our daily routine. But what about all the things that happen during those ten hours? I want to share those, too!

Frankly, I shamelessly bombard my boyfriend with messages throughout the day and expect nothing less from him when I am the one sleeping. The mornings are much nicer when I get to read about how his day was after I went to bed. Yes, I know it is not a perfect substitute for waking up next to him but I’ll take it!

And I have to say that waiting for his response for hours and hours has taught me patience, and that is exactly what I need in this era of instant gratification. It has also taught me to respect his time: I know he will reply whenever he has the opportunity to do that. I don’t expect him to be on his phone all the time ready to text me because I want him to have a life of his own.

It is not like I wait around for a response all day or report every minor detail of my life. I go to work, go to school, work out, clean, eat and do all sorts of stuff that I may or may not talk about. And that is ok. Even though sharing bits and pieces might help you both to more vividly visualize what the other person’s daily life is like, being in a long-distance relationship doesn’t mean that you have to constantly be reporting what you are up to. It is easy to take a snapshot of your life here and there, but constant texting might prevent you both from fully enjoying the things happening around you and perhaps rise negative feelings.

So sometimes it is good to focus on quality over quantity and take your time to think about what you want to say. Also, setting some guidelines might be helpful, so that you both know what to expect: some people like to be tagging their loved ones on cat videos all day long and some like to send long meaningful messages once a day – choose the way you feel comfortable with!

The little things that matter

Priscilla Du Preez

You might not think much about the things you have in your life before suddenly not having those things anymore. In a long-distance relationship you find yourself in this situation, constantly missing something. And it is not like you miss some crazy extravaganza romantic gestures. Nope. You miss the normal stuff.

It is actually kind of funny to find yourself missing just running everyday errands together like going to the grocery store. How awesome would it be to walk over to the store hand-in-hand and discuss options for dinner? Maybe end up having a hangry bicker over whether or not to buy dessert? Ok, maybe that does not sound like fun but right now I would happily change all the bicker-free yummies I’ve bought alone for the time spent squabbling over them together. Life is just too boring without someone challenging your opinions!

But being in a long-distance relationship does not mean that you cannot share these small everyday things, albeit the bittersweet feel to it. Of course, I would rather go to a store with my partner but it brings me joy to share my grocery shopping through videos and pictures of random products. Also, my boyfriend must have at least a thousand pictures of the same scenery as I am very keen on documenting the weather every morning on my walk to work. I have heard no complaints, so I intend to continue with it! And in return, my phone gets filled with photos of him cleaning and watering the plants. I honestly think I know the state of his house plants better now than I used to when we lived together.

In any relationship, it is easy to take a lot of things for granted or label them as mundane. The importance of these little things becomes excruciatingly evident when you lose them and have to find your own workarounds to deal with them. But going through these feelings makes me appreciate the small things so much more, and it feels so amazing when you get to experience them again. It is like living the early days of your relationship again with the tickling excitement and giddiness!

Staying in touch in a meaningful way

Photo by Christiana Rivers

Tiffany Field, the Director of the Touch Research Institute, has said in her Book Touch:

‘Touch is ten times stronger than verbal or emotional contact, and it affects damned near everything we do. — We forget that touch is not only basic to our species, but the key to it.’

As a person in a long-distance relationship, this is a claim I can’t really argue with. Touch is something that is highly irreplaceable as it is the most fundamental way to be connected to the surrounding world.

Tiffany Field also talks about ‘touch hunger’.  Totally relatable, isn’t it? Have you ever felt a hunger-like craving for physical closeness? I sure have, and sometimes that feeling can be overwhelming. For me, going to bed is the toughest. I am so used to falling asleep next to someone that a good-night text just doesn’t cut it – nor does surrounding myself with pillows to cuddle with. Believe me, I have tried!

I guess I should not be surprised by going through these feelings since we use touch to enhance and share our feelings with others. It also got me thinking, what does this mean in terms of my relationship? Am I doomed to eternal hunger for touch? That doesn’t sound like a nice destiny!

Luckily, the answer is no. As Aaron Ben-Zeév points out in his book Love Online, people in long-distance relationships can develop a strong and profound feeling of mental touching. It is as if you felt the words on the screen physically touch you. This idea gives me comfort – for now at least.

Interested in knowing more about the science behind touch? Gallace, A., & Spence, C. (2010). The science of interpersonal touch: An overview. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, 34(2), 246–259. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2008.10.004

Skin that longs to be touched

A summary of a news article on the importance of touch by Emmi-Liia Sjöholm, published in Helsingin Sanomat [Finnish daily newspaper] on May 1st, 2019. Original article here (in Finnish).

Over 200 people had responded to an online survey posted by the newspaper and they describe the feeling touch e.g., as physical pain, something that blurs the lines of your body or as suction on the surface of the skin. Two of these respondents are interviewed more closely, both of who talk about their own experiences.

Experiences of the lack of touch

Martti describes suffering from “chronic longing for touch”, despite being married. His wife experiences touch as tickly which has led to very minimal touch in their day-to-day lives, even though the relationship is great otherwise. Martti has grown into a hugger in his later years and hugs all of his friends and holds his grandchildren. This helps him cope with the lack of touch in his relationship.

Heidi is in a relationship where there is sex but no caressing because his husband perceives caressing uncomfortable. Both Heidi and her husband have had very little physical closeness as children, which she thinks is the reason for their present-day ambivalence towards touch. Heidi is determined to change the way their family functions and makes sure to hug her nephews. Heidi and her partner have decided to be in an open relationship where both can date and sleep with other people. She says that things in their relationship are better now, albeit the missing touch.

The meaning of touch in our lives

For a more scientific outlook, psychotherapist Tarja Santalahti and body therapist Tuula Styrman who coaches people in respectful touch are interviewed.

Santalahti emphasizes the meaning of touch in a person’s life: touch relieves stress and pain and is used in kangaroo care to maximize the skin-on-skin contact between the parent and the baby. She says that there are a lot of people in modern society who are not touched for weeks or even years. At worst, experienced lack of touch can burst out as aggression towards oneself or others. She also underpins the social meaning of touch: it is a form of communication and also not touching someone conveys a message. She perceives it very vital in a relationship as a lack of touch can drive couples apart.

Styrman shares Santalahtis views and talks about touch as a basic need. She says that most scientists argue that touch is the first sense to develop in the womb and the last that goes at the end of life. The older we get, the bigger the need for touch. At her work, she has noticed that especially slow and gentle touch has a huge nurturing effect.

 Tips for those longing for touch

Santalahti shared five concrete tips for those who want to increase the amount of touch in their lives.

  1. Ask to be touched. Allow yourself to touch yourself and pay attention to the sensations.
  2. Half-a-meter rule: a person’s intimate zone where others can only enter if invited to do so.
  3. Also, words can be used for touching and they carry a strong meaning.
  4. Keep in mind the culture and values of others when you are longing for touch. Tell about your values when you meet a new person.
  5. Remember that touch always comes with a message. A good touch is never a secret. It is positive, happy and beneficial.

 

Embracing technology

A message wishing me a good morning. A cat video shared with me on Instagram. A shaky video of a pair of sneakers flying on a running track. A voice message that it is impossible to understand due to trucks vrooming in the background. A message apologizing for the loudness. A 2-hour Skype call while cooking dinner and doing laundry.  A confused voice message telling me good night and good morning at the same time.

I have noticed that a long-distance relationship has made me quite tech-savvy. Even though some people might mistake me as a robot due to the number of chargers and wires I walk around with.

But you know what? I have happily embraced all these devices and apps because they actually help in having a sense of closeness in my relationship. It is amazing what you can achieve through different media outlets these days. I can communicate with my partner at any time of the day, whenever I feel like I want to share a moment with him. I can’t even imagine what long-distance relationships were like before the internet era. Snail mail? Maybe for special occasions. Expensive phone calls? No thank you.

We have come a long way, but I still fear that maybe I am a little bit of that aforementioned robot in my relationship. Why? Because there is no channel that allows me to truly express my emotions. Sure, I can (and do) use emojis and gifs and what-not, but they don’t really cut it, do they?

Being able to video chat is a step in the right direction because at least you can see each other. But ending the video call is the WORST! You just have to awkwardly smile and wave for goodbye. Or be like my boyfriend who tries to send kisses. But honestly, he mostly looks like a fish having a weird moment on dry land. So there we are, a weird fish and a waving idiot ending a Skype call. Oh, the intimacy.

I would say there is one crucial element missing in today’s digital communication. Can you guess what I am getting at?

You got it: being able to physically touch someone over the distance. How cool would that be?

Longing for belonging

“To belong is a fundamental human need”
– Baumeister and Leary (1995)

I came across an article way back from the nineties arguing that we all have a fundamental need to form and maintain close and meaningful relationships. That is, to feel like you belong. But it left me wondering – how to feel closeness and belonging from a distance? Do I feel like I belong in my long-distance relationship? For me, the answer was a definite, capital-letter, shout-it-out-loud YES, and here is why:

  1. We communicate daily. We text, send pictures, share links, call, video chat – whatever we can do to stay in touch every day! I start my days waking up to a message saying good morning and end it with one saying goodnight
  2. We share both the good and bad – and the boring. People feel connected by sharing emotions, and I really want to know how my partner is doing especially since I cannot physically be there to share these moments. For us, it is important to know what is going on in the other person’s life even when nothing is going on.
  3. We deal with normal relationship stuff. We talk honestly about our feelings. We tell each other we love and miss them, but we also let the other person know if we feel neglected or hurt. We might argue. Without all this, it wouldn’t feel real!
  4. We plan for the future together. We have smaller plans for spending some vacation time together in the near future, and bigger overall plans to be reunited for good!

But is it perfect? No, of course not. It is a real struggle to feel closeness when you cannot physically be close to each other, but you do whatever else you can to get that feeling. And luckily every day there is one day less until you meet again.

 

Psst… If you’re interested in reading the whole article:

Baumeister R. F., & Leary M. R. (1995). The need to belong: Desire for interpersonal attachments as a fundamental human motivation. Psychological Bulletin, 117, 497-529.

Coping with the distance

Telling people that you are in a long-distance relationship – let me tell ya, not my favorite thing. All those well-meaning sorry and sympathetic looks you get as a response are a clear sign of people mostly perceiving the distance between two people being as a barrier for a “real” love-relationship. Sure, having the Atlantic Ocean between you and your partner is not all rainbows and unicorns, but it has its moments, too. And for me, these moments get me through whatever hardships the distance brings.

  1. The extra distance makes me value the simplest things more than ever. I am not able to do the smallest things like hold hands, cook a meal or take a walk with my partner on a daily basis, which means that when I finally do, it feels extra-special.
  2. The commitment that the distance brings has made me even more certain about the relationship. If we can do this, we can do anything!
  3. I have learned to value the feeling of missing someone – and how flattering is it that there is someone who also misses you every day? Knowing how to cope with negative feelings is crucial in life, and a relationship is a safe place to practice.
  4. I have learned to be an individual in a relationship. The distance forces me to have my own interests and a close group of friends.
  5. Finally, there is always something to look forward to. I am always excitedly planning on a trip to go meet my partner or waiting for him to come over to meet me. And when we do – well, see my first point.

It is easy to dwell in the feeling of loneliness, but the thing is that you are not alone. A long-distance relationship can be just as meaningful a way of being together as any.

The key is to recognize all the good the relationship brings.