Choosing to maintain a long-distance relationship is common among high school students, college students, and recent college grads. Maybe it’s because you met online, or you stayed with a high school sweetheart that went to a separate college. Maybe you graduated and moved away for work but want to keep a relationship you had while in school. Whatever the case, why is it that these relationships seem to end when both partners are living in the same place, whether that’s again or for the first time?
There are many benefits to long-distance relationships that ultimately cause the demise of the relationship when they’re no longer long distance, but there are three key benefits-turned-barriers that really stand out: novelty, independence, and idealization. There’s a surplus of each of these when you’re apart, but they all go away when couples move close to each other.
Long-distance relationships thrive on novelty! It’s a key element in any relationship, not just long-distance ones. However, for most couples, novelty is high while you are falling in love, and fades pretty quickly unless you put in a conscious effort to do new things together or learn new things about each other. People in long-distance relationships can keep up the novelty much longer, which is a huge advantage for them. However, when they go from long distance to living in the same area, the novelty soon fades. They learn about your town and the nuances of your life quickly. They start to adapt to idiosyncrasies that made them fall in love with you. Those things are no longer so special. Without having to schedule in time to talk and time to visit and explore each other’s towns, you feel like something is missing, like it’s less exciting and less fulfilling. In large part, that’s because, well, it is. There used to be a surplus of novelty, and now it’s gone. As your relationship becomes routine, you start to miss the excitement of long distance.
Long-distance relationships allow for a lot of simultaneous independence and connectedness, which is really good. You don’t communicate as frequently as people in proximal relationships, so when you do, it’s considered special together-time. You don’t feel the need to be constantly texting them or being with them, and this independence makes you less likely to need your partner’s approval or presence in order to feel good. It’s a great thing to have, and you appreciate it, but you don’t need it. You’ve learned to live without your partner there, but really enjoy special together-time when you do have it. When you start living near each other, the relationship might feel like “too much.” You’d think that you’d love to have your partner around all the time because you miss them and enjoy their company, but in reality, you will start to feel like your bubble is being crowded in on, and that you’re losing a lot of the independence you used to have. You’ll start having to compromise on more decisions, and special together-time stops being so special. You have less time for your friends and more importantly, for you, and you’re not sure if that’s time you’re willing to sacrifice.
When your partner is so far away, you miss out on learning the details of their lives. You know, the things that might annoy you and make you feel uncomfortable. Since you have very limited time together, you idealize your partner. You see everything they say and do with rose-colored glasses, which is pretty typical of a new relationship, but this can persist even in long-term, long-distance relationships due to limited exposure to your partner. When you live close to each other, you learn more and more things about them and begin to realize they’re not as great as you had thought after all. Their faults become readily apparent pretty quickly. As you spend more time together, you don’t get a chance to “miss” your partner, which caused you to think about them more while they were apart from you, and also caused you both to do good things for the relationship.
When you and you’re partner begin living in the same area again, it won’t take long for your sense of independence to take a hit. It also won’t take long for you to wonder why this relationship is less thrilling now, and why your partner seems less ideal and more….normal. These three together really damage your relationship. When couples don’t work on making together time novel and special, maintaining boundaries, and having “me” time, what helped your long-distance relationship could easily end up breaking it when you’re no longer long distance.