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Dating through a screen: Has technology affected long distance relationships?

Jason Hendriks

Fri Sep 14 2018


Long distance relationships can be challenging. You are both miles apart, either due to work or studying abroad. This means that physical contact and talking face-to-face is not a possibility anymore. Do you wonder then, if your relationship can really survive when you both live at different parts of the world?  

20 years ago, when my mum was studying in Indonesia whilst my dad was studying in Melbourne, they’d write letters once a month. Talking to each other on the phone is easy now but it used to be a luxury. My mum remembered, “every Sunday night at 10 pm, I would finish church and your dad would find a payphone [and] he had to buy a payphone credit card for it.”

But now we live in a time where waiting for a text reply can feel like an eternity. Instant messaging apps such as Whatsapp and Facebook Messenger allows us to quickly talk to our partners anywhere, and at anytime. Where my mother would patiently wait for a picture and a paragraph, we agonise when the the status to our text says ‘read’ but then there’s no reply. How has this shift affected long distance relationships nowadays?

I talked to two of my fellow friends who are currently in a long distance relationship, to see how well they are doing.

Maurine Tanzil, who’s currently studying at Deakin University, has been in a long distance relationship since 2015 with Aldi, her boyfriend who’s in Indonesia. She primarily uses the messaging appLine to chat, because she can send funny stickers and emoticons.

“Sometimes you can’t really express with just words, and the stickers help with that emotion. I’ve got a ton of stickers. I would cry if my account’s gone,” Maurine says. Along with messaging apps, she also uses Instagram to tag her boyfriend in hilarious posts or posts about mouthwatering foods, to add more humour into their conversation.

Moreover, Maurine utilises online games such as PlayerUnknown’s Battleground (PUBG)  as a way to spend some fun time together. “In PUBG you can do voice chat, so we can talk together while playing, or we play those mini-games from iMessage,” she said. Although playing games with her boyfriend does sometimes end in fights, Maurine is glad to have this connection which makes her long distance more bearable.

Similarly Jennifer Britney, an Indonesian student studying at Le Cordon Bleu, who recently got into long distance relationship with Yoca her boyfriend two months ago, Facetimes or Skypes him every night. Once in a while, they watch the same movies at the same time using Rabbit, a web application that allows you to watch videos with anyone around the world together.  “We’ll Facetime when we’re on the way to something, and just ask where each other is going, or how our day was,” she says.

Jennifer is grateful for technology that enables instant connection, like messaging and calls. Venturing into a distanced relationship was challenging for her because they were inseparable in high school. “I really miss my boyfriend so now we send each other a selfie or at least one image to each other every day.”

Digital technologies today try to overcome physical boundaries. The Apple watch gives an option to send your heartbeat to your partner. There’s even an app that allows you to send kisses via a device attached to your phone. With copious options available, isn’t it safe to say that long distance shouldn’t be a problem anymore?

However, not all relationships have to rely on how available you are. Maurine and Jennifer both agree that trust is especially important when dealing with long distance relationships.

For Jennifer, doubt isn’t in her vocabulary as they both are loyal to each other. “I trust him and he trust me, it’s important to have that especially when you know that you can’t be with each other all the time.”

But Maurine, whose relationship has matured shares some other challenges that she experiences, “I’ve always seen my other friends here [In Melbourne] with their boyfriends and girlfriends, and I envy how the can hold hands closely while I just stand as a third wheel.” She also believes that Instagram can be a double edged sword. “When you see your boyfriend in multiple pictures or videos with another girl, wouldn’t you wonder who that person is?” Maurine says, as she recounts the one time she found something suspicious and had to confront her boyfriend.

“You find more about that other person on Instagram, more photos until you can prove to yourself what you think is happening even though it may not be true. Instagram is great for that. Thankfully I don’t do that anymore,” she added with a sigh.

When you think about it, the constant connecting qualities of internet technologies extends our desire to be involved with our long distance partner. There is an emphasis towards the need to know where your significant other is when you are away for a long period of time. Understanding that with geographical distance, he/she won’t be able to respond right away is a good sign of trust. But be wary when your significant other starts “ghosting” you for a long period of time.

Because communication is the biggest bond in a long distance relationship, remember to keep your communications open. Talking to each other isn’t just a way to prove your loyalty, it can bring out dialogues and are considered a normal part of every relationship. At the end of the day, you date someone you can connect emotionally with, and you feel comfortable in sharing your thoughts and opinions with him/her. Good communication will keep that emotional bond strong.

Of course, one upside to a long distance relationship is how absence even in this digital age, makes the heart grow fonder. When asked about the next time she will meet her boyfriend Maurine responds nonchalantly, “the moment I left for Melbourne, I subconsciously start a countdown for the next time I can meet him. I’m so excited when I’m on the airplane back. But when I actually meet him again, it doesn’t feel as crazy, because we’ve always been talking.”