Purdue News

August 8, 2005

Absence really does make the heart grow fonder, expert says

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Leaving your significant other behind while you attend college could actually bring you closer together, says a Purdue University romantic relationship researcher.

Mary Carole Pistole, an associate professor of educational studies, says that contrary to popular belief, long-distance relationships tend to last as long – and sometimes longer – as relationships in which partners live close to each other.

"Studies have found long-distance relationships tend to be more stable than geographically close ones," says Pistole, an expert in attachment theory. "It's counterintuitive, but many people do sustain these relationships."

Pistole says it is estimated that at least one-third of college students are currently involved in a relationship with someone who lives in another city or state, and even more have had such relationships in the past.

Long-distance relationships form because partners decide to attend different colleges, or one partner will graduate from college to pursue a career while the other is still in school. These relationships tend to have more longevity because they work differently than geographically close ones, Pistole says.

"People involved in geographically close relationships maintain them more through shared tasks, such as helping with household responsibilities. They may also do more things together, like shop, eat out, watch TV and see movies," she says.

This familiarity can breed boredom and a lack of interest in the other partner's life because they already feel like they know everything there is to know, Pistole says.

In contrast, couples involved in relationships where partners are geographically separated require a whole different approach to maintenance. Pistole says partners must expend more effort to stay involved in each other's life.

"Long-distance partners have more open communication, talk more about the relationship, have fewer trivial arguments, segment work and relationship time, and have high-quality time together, which might create a closeness not seen in those who see each other every day," she says.

Pistole says couples who live far apart tend to more heavily use e-mail, the telephone and simple notes to keep in touch. Partners who live close together tend not to do this as much because they see each other so often, she says, and have a tendency to take each other for granted.

"Couples who live far apart are more likely to spend time together before separating, talk about their partner in conversations, wear something that reminds them of their partner, display pictures of their partner, and kiss and hug their partner hello," she says. "People who see each other every day don't feel like they need to do those things."

CONTACT: Pistole, (765) 494-9744, pistole@purdue.edu

Writer: Kim Medaris, (765) 494-6998, kmedaris@purdue.edu

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; purduenews@purdue.edu


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