A Healthy Dose of Distance

Imagine sitting down for dinner at your favorite restaurant and you just ordered your favorite meal. It comes out and it’s just as you remember from last time; the savory aromas flirting with the air around you. You take a minute to enjoy the smell of the dish, working on your patience before diving in with a fork and knife in hand. Now, imagine having this same dish, at this same restaurant, every night. It will remain your favorite meal by a long shot, but perhaps it’ll lose that oomph that it used to bring as a special night out outside of your routine. You can draw a parallel from your favorite dish to relationships in your life. The relationships that are close to you will always mean something special, but a healthy dose of distance can not only reinforce your feelings towards those people, but strengthen and create more fulfilling relationships.

Two of the most common viewpoints in relationships are “absence makes the heart grow fonder” and “out of sight, out of mind”. Well, let’s break them down. Absence makes the heart grow fonder first and foremost helps us realize why we’re drawn to each other. It sparks the internal conversation of what is it that draws me to this person, what is it that I miss about this person? As humans, we commonly take for granted our connections with people and don’t take a step back to look at all the reasons they bring, or don’t bring, value to our lives. Having some absence in your relationship is a healthy way to help evaluate if certain relationships bring value and purpose to your life, or hinder you from growing and achieving your goals. Additionally, when you aren’t in contact with different relationships every day, it helps to prioritize and make the most of your time spent together.

On the flip side, the idea of out of sight, out of mind has also dominated the relationship landscape. Not having our significant other (or other relationships such as family) around “forces” us to create new routines without them in it. For instance, when students move away for college, their boyfriend or girlfriend may not be at the same school as them. As a result of being in a new place, they get involved with organizations and the social scene around them and build new friendships that may start taking priority. In situations where you are physically distanced from an important relationship in your life, it’s important to keep the lines of communication open and work to prioritize that relationship. The new normal of being separated doesn’t mean they can’t still be an important person in your life, it just takes a little more effort.

Which brings me to the next topic of temporal versus demographic distance. Temporal, or temporary, distance is intermittent and usually lasts no more than a few days. This builds into your ability to wait and how patient you are with your relationships. A few examples of exhibiting temporal distance are waiting for your significant other to come home from a weekend vacation, for him or her to show up for a date, and the ability to be patient even when frustrated or agitated. Patience is a key contributor to the effectiveness of all relationships, not just with someone you are romantically involved with.

Demographic distance on the other hand is a physical separation from a relationship that lasts between months and years. This type of separation is commonly found in relationships where one partner is in the military, away for school, or with a job requiring frequent travel such as C-Suite executives and jobs within the airline and cruise industries. Planning and communication is key here to make your relationships last through extended periods of time without having physical contact or connection. Although separation due to jobs and the military can be strenuous, adding a healthy dose of distance allows a variety of benefits for both partners such as:

  • Allowing room for you and your partner to have a valid perspective and be your own person
  • Encouraging you and your partner to still engage with interests and hobbies that were part of life before the relationship
  • Not becoming so close to your partner, and so absorbed into their life, that you fundamentally change who you are
  • Providing room for personal growth and establishing a strong sense of self (which studies show to be linked to higher happiness levels!)

After all, you first found interest in your partner, best friend, or sibling because you were attracted to who they were as an individual, and the personality they had independent of you. Adding a healthy amount of space into your relationships can foster stronger and more fulfilling friendships as you grow both together and independently.

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