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Managing the distance

By Kimberly ElworthyThe Cord

WATERLOO, Ont. (CUP) – Love is worth a lifetime of dedication. It is the rare light at the end of the dreary tunnel on the banal journey through life.
One would not have an epic love story without the necessary physical distance between two lovers challenging their devotion and tearing their hearts into pieces every second they are apart.
However, in a contemporary context, long-distance love stories are no longer defined by romantic letters, but by the prevalence of communication technology.
University is the optimal place to find long-distance relationships mitigated by technology. In order to follow one’s dreams and expectations, one is often driven out of one’s hometown, sometimes even one’s country, to pursue an education.
The long-distance relationship is practically inevitable, especially for university students, but all too often those immersed in technology in an attempt to keep in touch with their significant other become obsessed with the standstill their relationship comes to when they find themselves far apart.
By using communication technology and participating in online arenas, couples can further their connection and allow their relationship to evolve. However, technology can transform a relationship and has a tendency to foster hardships for the couple.
This seemingly artificial environment has drastically altered what it means to be in a long-distance relationship.
There is now unlimited access to cheap technology that can bring lovers in front of each other immediately, at least within the world of cyberspace.
It has also created a new realm where couples meet online first.
Kiri Ipsen, a student at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ont., met her Australian boyfriend, Brad, online and, to the dismay of her family, united with him overseas when she moved there for a one-year exchange.
“My mom thought that I was going to be kidnapped or murdered. My friends thought I was nuts,” she recalls.

How has technology changed our relationships?
Dr. Alexandra Boutros, a communications professor at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ont. explained her unique outlook on how technology has affected our most intimate relationships.
While it’s tempting to say that new media and new technologies are how people interact, she believes the key change is that technology – and therefore the ability to communicate – is never turned off.
“Part of what new technology has changed for us isn’t exactly how we interact with each other … but it’s the time and the scope, it’s the pace of our lives that has changed,” she said.
Constant access to partners that are further away can sometimes lead to obsession, as it can be addictive to want to know information about what is going on in the lives of loved ones.
“One of the most significant reasons we do choose to always be on call is for the idea that access to information, even the smallest amount of information, signifies status and power,” said Boutros. “Having access to information all the time is a type of power and it is very addictive … It becomes very difficult to say, ‘Oh, I don’t need to check Facebook today.’”
Couples who do choose to not partake in the latest technology often face alienation from peers for not participating in this shared social experience.
“The problem is with people who choose not to engage in mobile communication … (They) find themselves making this choice within a social environment. They are not passively choosing not to have a cell phone, they are making a statement,” said Boutros.

When Facebook rears its ugly head
It’s not uncommon for couples to check each other’s Facebook page (or even sign on as them) just to make sure everything is as they expected. But in long-distance relationships, Facebook can act as a policing system, which can lead to impromptu fighting.
Laurier student Alison Price found out that a past boyfriend had been secretly keeping in contact with his ex-girlfriend when he left his Facebook account active on her computer.
Now, she says she and her current boyfriend talk on the phone and rarely use Facebook for communication.
Like Price, many couples avoid having Facebook relationships or find that snooping means there’s mistrust in the relationship.
Jessica Botelho is an international student at Laurier. She has been in a long-distance relationship for two years while her boyfriend, Jonathan Perry, goes to school in Chicago.
“I’m not worried, if you’re doing stuff like (snooping Facebook) it’s because you’re worried,” said Botelho. “You don’t trust that person,”
It’s important to understand why people feel the need to publicize their relationships on this social networking tool and how it affects the way people interact.
“Saying that you have a relationship on Facebook is a way of validating that relationship,” Boutros explained. “It’s our way of saying: ‘This is true.’”
“We gossiped about people before Facebook, we worried what our partners were doing at work … but with Facebook we have to re-negotiate these issues. We have to decide what we are going to keep private and what is at stake in making the relationship public,” she added.

Physical distance
Even though the world may feel as if it’s shrinking due to communication technologies, it’s important not to forget that physical distance still imposes limitations on the accessibility of one’s partner.
Travelling is a large component of maintaining relationships, which takes time out of already substantial schedules – especially for university students. Transportation and time are important elements in the reality of a long-distance relationship.
“In the past, I have taken buses down to Chicago which were ridiculous 24-hour trips,” said Botelho. “I’ve also taken a flight to Chicago. It’s a lot faster and you end up spending more time together.”
Price also mentioned an added stress in finding the time to visit her boyfriend.
“The first thing I do as I’m leaving is try to think of the next time I can figure out my life to get back up to (see him),” said Price, who normally takes the Greyhound to see her boyfriend four hours away.
Tomlinson finds that, although she and her boyfriend don’t live very far from each other and have vehicles, it still becomes hard to make time.
“His work schedule is weekends … and I can’t really go home in the week,” said Tomlinson. “We both have jobs and working around those schedules and my school schedule. It’s really hard.”
Distance took on an entirely new level for Ipsen, who met her boyfriend on the social networking site RSVP before her exchange to Australia.
“We first started on MSN, which lasted maybe a bit over a week. We went from there to Skype, so we knew what each other looked like,” said Ipsen, who explained that speaking online made the transition to physical contact much easier.
“When we met it was weird,” Ipsen said. “I thought I knew him so well. The first time we spoke it was for over 14 hours (on MSN) and then, after that, a few hours every day.”
After their year together in Australia, Brad immigrated to Canada where they both now live in Hamilton. He works full-time while Ipsen is in her fourth year at McMaster University.

Keeping intimate
Trying to keep the spice alive and diminishing the possibility of wandering eyes can dominate the minds of long-distance couples. Our long-distance interviewees explained the intricacies of how technology can play a critical role in the upkeep of intimacy. Stay creative and read these suggestions.
Phone sex is best executed when one person tells the other what they like done to them by the other person. Include your vibrator or just manually masturbate; moaning is always helpful, but being focused is important. Laughing can ruin a good phone sex session.
“If you’re going to have phone sex you might as well do it over Skype so you can see something,” said one interviewee, who preferred to remain anonymous. “It’s nice to see him getting turned on. I do a strip tease. I have a vibrator and we both masturbate at the same time.”
Or you could send photos over cell phones or e-mail.
“This one time when I was younger and we started dating I took this picture in my bra and I sent it to him. Then his dad transferred files from my boyfriend’s computer to his computer. One day I’m sitting in the living room and I see this bra picture go by on the slide show … No one saw it but I was mortified.”


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