Monica de Graaf sets her alarm for 4 every morning. Groggily and half asleep, she reaches for her laptop and logs into Skype. Across the ocean in Holland, her boyfriend does the same thing – except for him it’s 10 a.m. as opposed to the crack of dawn.
De Graaf, 21, and her boyfriend, Imad, 19, are a modern, long-distance couple. Though separated by the Atlantic and a six-hour time difference while she is interning in New York and he’s working in Holland, they manage to stay in touch and keep close by using technology, from video chatting to smart phone messaging to social media. While they can coordinate Skype only in the early morning, they can keep in constant touch through the day via Facebook.
GenY-ers like de Graaf follow their passions and change careers, which can often mean jetting off to far-off places and putting their love lives on hold – or putting them on a geographical hiatus. Thanks to technology, long-distance relationships have undergone a metamorphosis. The days of snail mail are long gone, and replaced by the immediacy of iMessage or Skype. This instant global communication means big changes for the LDR – on emotional, sexual and social levels.
Back in 2006, Marie Claire reported that there were about seven million long-distance couples in America alone and that number has been on the rise. There’s no doubt technology sooths some of the emotional stress previously caused by space, silence and the anxiety of checking the mailbox every day in hopes of finding a new letter. “Technology really helps us stay strong and become stronger as a couple even after long gaps apart,” de Graaf said. “Because of the technology we still can communicate just like before the separation.”
It’s not all rainbows and butterflies, however. De Graaf admits, “Skype can make the relationship also harder, because you can’t touch each other or give each other a hug or a kiss.” Though video chatting can provide instant gratification and a reminder that a loved one does exist on the other side of the screen, it can just as easily end in tears after the realization that yes, this person does exist, but there’s no way you can touch them.
Shellie Vandevoorde, a military veteran and certified instructor for family team building, wrote “Separated in Duty, United in Love,” a book about keeping a relationship strong regardless of being thousands of miles apart. Her focus might be guiding military couples through their long-distance relationships, but her messages are for all those in LDRs. She believes one of the biggest problems to arise out of technology is being lost in translation via e-mail or text, where words that would be tonally obvious if said verbally come across wrong when written down. “A wife may tell her husband how miserable and difficult it is for her because he’s away. The husband, by nature wants to fix things, but being away is out of his control and he becomes very frustrated,” she said.
Then comes the “why isn’t he/she texting me back” dilemma. Vandevoorde said, “If you call or text and your loved one doesn’t answer right away one may find themselves questioning ‘why aren’t they answering me’ and find themselves thinking negative thoughts.” Because it’s so easy to send a text, iMessage, or even a Facebook IM, it’s easy to forget that people do have daily activities to get through and can’t be glued to their iPhones. Impatience seems to go hand in hand with this instant communication.
James Dempsey, 24, a recent graduate of Louisiana State University has been in a LDR with girlfriend Karin Schultz, 20, for more two years. The couple met only a few days before Schultz was packed and ready to fly to New York for school, but though long-distance from the start, they’ve survived because of technology.
Dempsey admits that technology isn‘t all pros, though. “In the beginning I struggled with the pictures of her from going out when I didn’t know ‘how’ good of a night she had or saw guys clearly flirting with her on Facebook,” he said. He also admits that his own social life is affected as well, as he often schedules hang outs around when his girlfriend is available for a chat. “Sometimes I excuse myself from a social environment or I delay going out until we speak and she goes to sleep,” he said. “But minus the initial ‘bro teasing’ that occurs, my friends are pretty understandable with the situation I am in.”
Schultz, 20, Dempsey’s girlfriend, said technology has been a godsend to their relationship, especially when she studied abroad. “Through iMessage and Skype we were able to talk every day,” she said. “It may have just been a hi and goodnight, but it meant we didn’t feel like we were completely left out of the other’s life.” She does confess, however, that she falls victim to the “why isn’t he texting me back” inevitability.
There’s one thing caused by distance that technology can’t really substitute though, and that’s physical intimacy. Though Schultz and Dempsey don’t turn to phone/Skype sex as a means of feeling sexually connected while apart, it’s no secret that other couples do: sexting, Skype sex, phone sex, you name it, have become part of the LDR vocab. In a 2012 iconographic for BestCollegesOnline.com 200 college students were surveyed and 78 percent admitted to receiving sexually suggestive images via text while about 66 percent said they sent them. Though this technological sex trend isn’t unique to LDRs, USA Today reported in 2010 that half of college students are in long-distance relationships and up to 75 percent will be at some point. This would suggest there is a whole lot of sexting going on, LDR-related and otherwise.
Up until now, LDR sex has been associated with the naughty skype session and exchange of naked pixs, and now adult toys might be added to that equation. A new sex toy specifically marketed for those in LDRs was released this year called LovePalz. They’re a set of two vibrators with motion sensors that carry your partner’s movements via blue tooth, detecting thrusting speeds and sending vibrations to their counterparts with the aid of an app that detects the movements, and allows for video.
Kris Jen, the marketing and PR director for the product, said, “People use Skype or Facetime for face-to-face, word-to-word or oral communication. However, those interactions are not enough for people to show feelings, so we wanted to offer an innovative alternative and show a whole new level of fun.” Whether the product will really make it big remains to be seen, but if it is, LDR sexy time might be about to have a lot more to it than naughty pixs.