Does Distance Really Make the Heart Grow Fonder?

Relationship Rules
23 Apr 2023
8 min read
Can Our Hearts Stand Long Distance Relationships?

“Absence makes the heart grow fonder” is a saying almost as old as time. It means that when you and your loved one are in long distance relationships, you yearn for each other. And at times, it can be even more than when you were together.

Is this true? Actually, there is some research on this topic. The Cornell University study showed that the relationships that rely on long phone or video chats could actually become stronger. But how to know if this works for you? Here are the things to consider.

How Can Long Distance Relationships Get Stronger?

The research conducted by Jiang and Hancock (2016) suggests several reasons why a long-distance relationship can actually be a more successful than that of a couple that are not geographically separated:

  • Their communication is deeper,
  • They have space and time to idealize their partners,
  • Their relationship generally lasts longer.

People in Long Distance Relationships Have More Meaningful Interactions

Think about it: if you are around your partner every day, what do you mostly talk about? Likely, you discuss where to eat or what chores to get done. If you try to keep a diary of one week’s worth of conversations, how many will relate to keeping your romance alive? When you see each other every day, it’s hard to find the time on such things.

Why do you talk so rarely about joys or your relationship and making your hearts grow fonder? Because you are basically taking your relationship for granted.

Partners in long distance relationships do not have the “luxury” of such mundane stuff. Their effort and focus must be on keeping their relationship strong and significant despite the distance between them. When long distance partners communicate, they need to make the most of spending time with each other.

Fortunately, access to newer technology provides partners in a long distance relationship with more channels for real-time physical intimacy. And when there are phone calls between these partners, they often include relationally intense topics, rather than just the mundane topics between partners who see each other every day. Sexual intimacy is foremost on their minds.

People in Long Distance Relationships Tend to Idolize Their Partners

When couples are together all the time, they settle into routines. Because of that, it’s easier to see the partner’s faults and become irritated by little things, like not putting the cap back on the toothpaste.

Long distance makes all of these little flaws invisible. The focus is solely on physical or sexual intimacy and the amazing ways that the communication builds it. Partners see the bigger picture of the person they love – and it makes the heart grow fonder. There is no time to spend time on those little flaws.

There’s nothing wrong with idolization of a partner in this case. Seeing the ideal image of a person, especially a love partner, let you stay focused on all of their good qualities. And it makes the heart grow fonder, which is not a bad thing at all.

Distance can strengthen physical or sexual intimacy

People in Long Distance Relationships Communicate Longer

When people in a relationship are in the same geographical space, their communications are relatively short. They know there are plenty of opportunities to make a romantic connection. They talk about a whole host of things when they phone or text. Even when their love is new, their good morning and good nights chats are relatively short.

When a partner is in a long-distance relationship, that person doesn’t want to talk with their partner about the mundane things of life. They care about psychological closeness and future plans, both short- and long-term. They want to talk about how soon they will be together and in each other’s arms. And if they video chat, they may have lengthy communication. It may involve pleasuring themselves if that is sexy and intimate talk. They might even binge watch a sexy movie together or make up fantasies about what they will do when they are together – again, just putting more effort into keeping that psychological closeness while they are separated.

Related reading: How to Be a Better Lover – Inside and Out

With rarer talks, their duration becomes longer. This is how the intimacy developed during long distance communication makes partners feel close and safe in their love. And yes, it’ll make the heart grow fonder.

When “Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder” Has Its Limits

The modern term, “absence makes the heart grow fonder” actually goes all the way to the Roman poet, Sextus Propertius. The earliest version was, “Always toward absent lovers love’s tide stronger flows.” It was later refined by a 19th century writer to, “Tis absence, however, that makes the heart grow fonder.”

But are there limits to a long distance relationship? The answer is yes in some cases. When long distance couples have too much distance and too much time apart, one partner or both may feel that relationship weakening. Let’s take a couple of examples here.

It's hard to maintain long distance relationships in college

College Students Separated by Long Distances

Two college kids in their early twenties have fallen in love. Both decide to attend grad school at opposite ends of the country or world. One enrolls in Yale University, and the other travels to the Princeton University. They vow to keep their love alive, and in this age of technology, they have plenty of means to do that. Communication is quite easy, even from a dorm room.

But they are both young and want a social life where they are. Over the course of time, one or both begin to get out with their peers more and more, and their communication frequency declines. They are basically a world apart now and, because of limited financial means, may not be seeing each other for a number of months.

Moreover, one or both may develop feelings for someone in their own locations. The relationship begins to falter, they miss each other less and less, and are not as excited when they do call, text, or video chat. It’s kind of the beginning of the end here, as they begin to miss each other less and experience a change in their feelings, as they start focusing on their growing local romantic relationships. This is kind of bound to happen as the distance is great, the time apart too long, and the age pretty young.

“As humans, when something is not new or novel or different, it commands less of our attention. It’s everything from partners to food.”

Joshua Klapow, Ph.D, a clinical psychologist

Thus, the revised saying, “Absence may make the heart grow fonder, but too much absence can make the heart grow weary.”

Military Couples Facing Distance

Military couples’ lives are complicated, and there can be big challenges for their relationship. One partner can be deployed across the world for more than a year. And they must then try to keep their relationship alive and well. That will require higher levels of commitment and lots of effort to keep a romantic connection strong.

The physical intimacy is gone during a long absence; one partner may become overwhelmed with their responsibilities and personal challenges in their separate environments. And they may look for a local connection who is sharing responsibilities that address their self-care needs. The problem is those new relationships can come to replace the intimacy they have had with their partner.

The main reason for infidelity in the military community seems to be the long absence of a partner. While partners commit to staying focused on their significant other, life apart gets in the way, and those relationships suffer. Humans have a need to find support while they try to balance lives alone and long-distance relationships they have. They may discuss these challenges before separation and even commit to fully loyal behavior. But as time marches on, humans are only humans, after all. Life becomes tough to navigate, and falling into a relationship that is local and present can easily happen.

“When we’re supported by partners, we feel safe to be ourselves. And when we’re ourselves and have our individual needs met, we’re better partners.”

Irene Fehr, sex and intimacy coach

The crux of the matter is this: absence makes the heart grow fonder until the pain of separation causes someone to look locally for emotional connection. This is not to say that the couple will not renew their relationship once together again. In fact, most expect that the love they have for each other is re-kindled because it never died.

A Newer Study May Shed More Light on the Absence Thing

There is a newer study completed on prairie dogs, no less. After observing these little mammals for a year, Zoe Donaldson realized that few mammals mate for life. She studied actual brain changes when these little critters first met and mated (began their relationship) and then lived together during a 20-day period. Then, she separated the couples and reunited them, studying changes in the brain during these periods. And she saw evident neural foundation that calls couple to reunite.

“In order to maintain relationships over time, there has to be some motivation to be with that person when you are away from them. Our is the first paper to pinpoint the potential neural basis for that motivation to reunite.”

Zoe Donaldson, assistant professor of behavioral neuroscience at Colorado University-Boulder

So, does absence make the heart grow fonder? Apparently so.

Can Absence Make the Heart Grow Fonder in Your Relationship?

Being apart can be tough when you’re in love, but you can still make that time matter by staying in touch in meaningful ways:

  • Keep calls, texts and video chats regular. Don’t dwell on unimportant stuff.
  • Be supportive when either of you has had a bad day/week.
  • Reassure your partner of your love with every call or text.
  • Use that last call of the night to give each other the best dreams – the content of that call is whatever both of you see as the best way to do that.
  • Send surprises to each other – from cards or small gifts.

So, it appears that absence makes the heart grow fonder if both of you want it to.

Love&Sex Expert
Cherie Hamilton
I’ve always been inspired by women who are outgoing, very sure of themselves, and not afraid to be who they were, including their sex lives. Under their tutelage, I gradually shed my old self, hung out and socialized with them, and, over time, became the empowered, self-confident, and sexual woman I am today. Happy to share my insights with other women today!
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