Love from far away

Long-distance couples focus on communication

According to couples counsellors, long distance couples risk a lengthy ‘honeymoon phase.’
According to couples counsellors, long distance couples risk a lengthy ‘honeymoon phase.’
Emails are a modern form of letter writing. They can help keep a long distance relationship alive.
Emails are a modern form of letter writing. They can help keep a long distance relationship alive.

There are few things as sweet as the airport reunion. With couples reuniting everywhere, one must remember that the long-distance relationship was around long before the first airplane was constructed.

When Romantic era poet John Keats died of tuberculosis in 1821, he was over 1000 miles away from his lover and fiancée Fanny Brawne. Forced apart for most of their relationship, the couple corresponded by letter.

In more recent times, soldiers stationed overseas use modern technology, like email or Skype, to stay in touch with their other halves.

With the onset of the summer months, Queen’s students will also forcibly succumb to months apart from their significant others.

For Hannah May and Aidan Payne, this past year may have been the last time they shared an area code.

When the couple began dating in early 2011, it hadn’t yet occurred to them that, the following summer, they might be trying a long distance relationship.

“You have those love goggles where you don’t see anything wrong [and] don’t see that anything could [go] wrong,” Payne, ArtSci ’12, said. “And then at some point Hannah turned to me in the car and said we need to talk about us not seeing each other for months on end.”

It wasn’t the last time the two would try long distance. Following Payne’s graduation this past April, he will be moving back to Boston, MA indefinitely.

May said Payne’s absence this year will bring changes to her day-to-day life.

“For the past year and a half, he’s been a major part of my life here at Queen’s,” she said. “It’s going to be weird and definitely an adjustment to not have him there at school with me, and not nearby — I’m just going to miss him.”

The couple doesn’t plan to break up anytime soon.

“He’s the best boyfriend,” May said. “He’s so thoughtful — the craziest, the funniest. I’m never bored.”

Although May, ArtSci ’13 is remaining in Kingston come September, the couple doesn’t yet know if their separation will be permanent.

“We’ve talked about it,” Payne said. “I’m working in the film industry and so I can go between the two, but I’m not a citizen of Canada yet.”

While May is considering moving to the States in the future, she must endure the year without her boyfriend.

“I can’t just up and move,” she said. “Obviously if I could, I would.”

Payne said he plans to visit Canada as much as possible in the coming year.

“I’ve been trying to get film shoots in the Toronto area so that I can come up here on business-related reasons and then hop over to Kingston on my way back home,” he said. “That way I could see her for a bit and not lose money in the process.”

To compensate for time spent apart during the summer and school year, Payne and May said they will meet in New York City.

For most of the year, however, over 850 km will separate the couple. They plan to call and Skype as often as possible.

“Sometimes the timing doesn’t work out in the day,” May said. “But sometimes a short phone call or Skype call goes a long way.”

“We are getting an international texting plan,” Payne added.

“That’s romantic,” May said. “That’s like new media love.”

The couple agree that the long distance effort will be worth it in the end.

“There’s no one quite like Hannah,” Payne said. “I’ll go through whatever we need to go through in order to have her at the other side.”

To help their love thrive, long — distance couples can take an extra step and try alternative forms of communication.

English professor Mark Jones said love letters are an old-fashioned but effective way of keeping the intimacy alive.

When Keats was kept in isolation because of his illness, he and Brawne would exchange brief, undated letters from different sides of the duplex house where they lived. According to Jones, this was their version of today’s modern forms of communication.

“The same dynamics are going to apply, no matter what medium you’ve got,” he said. “You’re still going to have some form of communication that is … abridging distance.”

While love letters stand as a reminder of the distance between a couple, Jones said they also help bring them closer together.

“There’s incredible intimacy — maybe some things you can’t tell someone face to face,” he said.

While letter-writing is effective in long-distance relationships, Jane Sherwood, a Kingston-based couples counsellor, said that prolonged time apart can bring on an unnaturally long ‘honeymoon phase.’

She said couples who spend the majority of their time apart risk remaining in this stage longer than normal.

“You never have to go through the drudgery of everyday life, like dividing household chores and paying bills,” she said. “They may always have a great time when they’re together and they visit and then they go home to face all those issues on their own.”

The problem here, according to Sherwood, is that these couples may move too quickly into high-commitment situations like marriage.

“So the problem is … jumping too far ahead in the relationship too quickly because everything’s so rosy,” she said.

“Take some time to maybe live together or do some counseling together to discover where you’re at in terms of compatibility.”

Couples who are aware of an impending long-distance separation should come up with a plan, she said.

“It should be tailor-made to each individual couple,” she said. “Each couple should sit down and communicate clearly what their expectations are.”

In her own sessions, Sherwood said similar issues come up with long-distance couples.

She said that couples typically face issues around trust, expectations and a lack of communication, among other issues.

According to her, students make up a high amount of long-distance relationships due to summer separation.

Sherwood said student couples who live apart, but attend the same school, don’t have the same issues to worry about.

“They’re involved in all the nitty gritty of each other’s lives,” she said. “If they’re in daily contact, then I think they would move out of the honeymoon phase.”

So how do long-distance couples keep an intimate relationship together?

“I think visiting as often as possible definitely would be number one,” she said, adding that telephone and Skype contact should be done as often as possible.

It’s important to know, however, that one half of the couple will occasionally put other commitments, like work, school and family ahead of their significant other, Sherwood said.

“Don’t expect perfection during distance with each other,” Sherwood said. “Expectations can get too high; I think you need to keep a perspective that this isn’t going to be perfect.”

What to do while you're apart

When you go weeks on end without seeing your significant other, these activities will help keep the romance alive. Try some out with your partner, whether it’s a summer separation or a lengthier long-distance.

Synchtube is just one site that helps people on separate computers watch videos at the same time. Now you can share the experience of watching cat videos while you’re in different countries.

Read a book

Pick a book and take turns reading it to each other over Skype or phone. This is ideal for people in different time zones ­— you can fall asleep to the sound of each other’s voice.

Watch a movie

Download the same movie, start it at the same time and put Skype on its audio function. Now it’s like you’re watching a movie in the same room — annoying questions and obnoxious laughter included.

Send flowers

Find a florist in your partner’s area that will let you order over the phone. You can set a time and date for the delivery just in time for a special day, like a birthday or anniversary.

Mail a journal

Send a notebook back and forth, filling it with notes or artwork. When you reunite, it can act as a record of your time apart.

Get busy

Fact: some of us like sex. Don’t lose out — just get creative with your voice and your long distance phone plan. If you don’t want to leave things to your imagination, try Skype to skip the “what are you wearing” jargon.

— Janina Enrile

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