Two men embracing.
Photo: Camila Kukulski

Long-distance love: How Ryerson students maintain intimacy miles apart

In Features, Love & Sex /

By Stefanie Phillips

A lot has changed since Alysson Bernabe’s parents were in a long distance relationship (LDR) in the ‘80s. When Bernabe’s dad immigrated to Canada in 1981, he left his wife in the Philippines while he worked to save enough money for her to join him. But during the two years it took to make his wife’s trip possible, the couple committed to a LDR. They sealed handwritten letters with love and sent them once a month, only calling each other occasionally because of the high cost.

“I don’t think that would work [for me],” she says. “I don’t think that’s possible at all.” Almost three decades later, the third-year theatre production student finds herself in a LDR of her own. Thanks to our digital world, hers has fewer limitations, creating more ways to explore intimacy with your partner.

After meeting on OkCupid, Bernabe and her boyfriend clicked immediately. She told herself she wouldn’t get attached—he would eventually have to move back home to Paris, France. But when it came time for them to part ways, neither of them wanted to end their relationship. Together, they agreed to make a committed attempt at dating long distance.

Being the first generation to grow up with the internet has changed the nature of millennial relationships, especially those that are separated by plane rides and long drives. In many ways it’s made the thought of trying a LDR a little more appealing.

In fact, as many as 75 per cent of all university students will find themselves in a LDR at some point during their education, according to a 2012 study by Purdue University.

After making that decision two months ago, Bernabe joined the ranks of her fellow Canadians, texting her way through the honeymoon stage with love, lust and a lot of technology. But she admits it’s hard to stay intimate from 6,000 kilometres away. They can video-chat, talk on the phone and text all they want to keep their communication strong, but it’s the erotic fantasies which are hardest to fulfill. In order to keep their flame burning, sexting and exchanging nudes have become necessary.

“I feel that it is an important part of a relationship,” she says. “I like it because you know he still wants you, you know that he still wants to see you, that he really wants to see your body,” she says. “It is sexy.”

It’s safe to say the exchange of erotic language dates back to the 18th century when Napoleon sent love letters to Josephine using Quill, signing off with the sensual salutation, “A kiss on your heart and one much lower down… much lower.”

 
“I like it because you know he still wants you, you know that he still wants to see you, that he really wants to see your body,” she says. “It is sexy.”

 

The infiltration of sexting into our everyday life has made it feel like an expectation for some people, one that leaves them feeling vulnerable.

But for Sophie de Francesco, being on either end of the sext exchange makes her feel uncomfortable. Since high school, the fourth-year early childhood studies student has been in three LDRs. The first lasted four months when her boyfriend at the time was living in Iran. She felt pressured to send nudes, even though she didn’t always want to. The same pressure intensified in her second LDR when her partner left for a month to travel to Thailand. With her current boyfriend, de Francesco says she hasn’t felt the same kind of pressure because they have established boundaries.

“My body is something that’s personal,” she explains. “You need to be here to experience my body … it’s something that I think he and I should share together instead of something him just having.” The pressure, she says, also came from “societal expectations” that made her believe it was a normal and necessary part of any LDR.

For some, sexting is a good way to connect, but for others, they prefer using technology in different ways to enhance their relationship.

Cynthia Loyst, co-host of CTV’s The Social and founder of FindYourPleasure.com, says this expectation largely comes from the presence of pornography in the learning and exploration stages of defining your sexuality. As the internet grows, pornography continues to be the main driver in creating a person’s sexual fantasies.

 
For some, sexting is a good way to connect, but for others, they prefer using technology in different ways to enhance their relationship.

 

“People may look to their partner and want them to or hope that they might send a video or a visual that reminds them of some of their fantasies,” she says. “But there’s so much more to sex than just nakedness and pornographic images.”

Loyst says, for the most part, technology is a “friend” for couples dating long distance, but she advises them to set boundaries to ensure that all exchanges are consensual. If sexting and nudes are outside of your partner’s boundaries, finding creative ways to play into your partner’s curiosity is the way to go. 

“It’s about being clever with your dialogue as opposed to just sending a random photo,” she says.

When Bernabe misses her boyfriend, she admits it’s the creative messages that remind her why she decided to date long distance in the first place. The other day her boyfriend was sacrificing sleep in order to talk to Bernabe throughout her day. She was pleasantly surprised when she saw a phrase in French pop-up in her messages with the instruction to type it into an online translator. When she clicked translate, “I miss you” appeared on the other side in English.

“That made me so happy,” she says. “I’m just thankful that there’s someone on the other side that truly cares about me.”

Leave a Comment