What is love? Love is a special chemical reaction that takes time and effort to maintain between two persons. Gary Chapman stated early on in his book that there are two stages of love (23-30). Stage one being “The Obsessive Stage” and stage two being the “Covenant of Love” (Chapman 23-30). Stage one is pretty self-explanatory; this is the stage where couples are blindly in love and they fail to see the reality that everyone else sees. It is sometimes called “passionate” or “obsessive” love (Chapman 27). During this stage, couples usually move in together or get married. Stage two is very different than stage one because in covenant love, passion must be fed and nurtured; passion will not continue to flow simply because the couple is in love (Chapman 27). An example would be the lives of a married couple. It is common for couples to argue about little things during everyday life. This is where time and effort comes in play for maintaining a relationship. We will call this relational maintenance. “Some defined relational maintenance as those behaviors that are necessary to keep a relationship stable or consistent; in other words maintaining a certain level of intimacy and closeness” (Wright and Webb 99). According to Chapman, the five love languages are “#1 Words of Affirmation”, “#2 Gifts”, “#3 Acts of Service”, “#4 Quality Time”, and “#5 Physical Touch” (35-126). The five love languages play a vital role in relational maintenance. Exercising these love languages is just like greasing the gears in an old machine. They may be easy tasks for couples in geographically close relationships (GCRs), but it is a challenge for couples in long-distance relationships (LDRs). LDR couples rely on communication technologies to connect with their partners, whether it is through social media, text messaging, or video chats. Each of these platforms provides a good channel for LDRs to thrive. Although Facebook, text messages, and video chats can help maintain long-distance relationships to an extent, it ultimately hinders the development and longevity of a romantic relationship.
Facebook was established in 2004 and it is one of the most popular social networking sites (SNS) available to the public. “Facebook features include a profile, status, friends, photos, shares, events, notes, groups, messages, an account setting, and a privacy setting. Facebook also offers a possibility to find a person from your Yahoo or Hotmail address list that has a Facebook account. A minimal Facebook profile only tells a user’s name, date of joining, school, status, and e-mail address” (Sheldon 41).
Facebook popularity is growing exponentially and the motives for using this platform varies between everyone. According to Sheldon’s research, the number one reason for using Facebook is relational maintenance (45). Sheldon surveyed 173 college students and most college students used Facebook for maintaining existing relationships. “Their motives include behaviors such as sending a message to a friend, posting a message on their friend’s wall, staying in touch with a friend or getting in touch with someone who is difficult to reach” (Sheldon 50). Since people use Facebook for relational maintenance more than any other functions, how does it relate to maintaining a romantic relationship, specifically for LDRs? Couples tend to only use Facebook in the early stage of a relationship, usually during the initiation and “getting to know each other stage” (Robards and Lincoln 3). “As a relationship becomes more intimate, the platform for intimate exchanges shifts from quasi-public disclosures to Facebook messenger and eventually moving off the site to texting, speaking on the phone, and in person” (Robards and Lincoln 3). This was how my previous long-distance relationship began. We got to know each other through Facebook and as our relationship progressed, we eventually stopped using Facebook to communicate and moved on towards other methods. She traveled half way around the world from Taiwan to visit me in Los Angeles for a month. During that month we were experiencing “obsessive love”. Even though we stopped communicating through Facebook, we still shared the same Facebook activities such as posting pictures and statuses about each other. Looking back at it now, I don’t know why we posted so many photos of each other. What did we need to accomplish with all those posts and statuses? We didn’t need to prove anything to anyone. My only explanation is we were feeding our own vanity. Being in the stage of obsessive love induced us to do crazy things like posting over 20 pictures in a day. People create desirable identities on SNS and try to become popular among their friends (Utz et al. 512). For example, users deliberately post pictures that make them look cool and popular (Utz et al. 512). The purpose was purely to show-off my girlfriend at the time. Each “like” we received on the post was like a shot of dopamine to our brains. Sharing things online about us online definitely created a positive feeling, but that can change. “A characteristic of SNS is that they increase the amount of information that individuals receive about their partner (Utz et al. 512). Postings and comments on an opposite sex’s profile or posting pictures of friends gathering can induce jealousy. I posted a picture of my Navy Ball date on Facebook, and then my ex got jealous and deleted all our photos on Facebook and proceeded to delete me on Facebook. Eventually she did add me back. Overall, Facebook is just not a suitable platform for LDRs since it leaves room for suspicion and jealousy.
As stated earlier, we moved away from using Facebook to communicate as our intimacy grew. We started texting each other regularly through the Line app and it became our go to communication technology. Texting is a quick and convenient way to convey short messages such as “Good Morning” and “I Love You” (Neustaedter and Greenburg 3). Short chatting sessions can also be accomplished via text messaging. The main purpose of the Line app is convenient, however, there are two major downfalls communicating through texting. One, it is impossible to interpret the emotions and tones of your partner. Two, major time zone differences face availability issues and it can cause a slow down in response time. Due to these two reasons, chatting through text messaging is convenient but impractical. We might be better off calling each other on the phone, talking on the phone may not be impossible, but the time zone difference does not help with the situation at all. Text messaging is convenient because we can still talk to each other even when we have things on hand that needs to be taken cared of.
Aside from the two mentioned downfalls, these downfalls also indirectly facilitate other issues in a LDR. It is common to see couples in a relationship complaining or fighting about their partner not responding fast enough to a text message. Although we both know that we are in a LDR and the 13 hours time zone difference can compromise our responding time. For some people, compromised responding time can lead to another issue, repetitive and constant text bombarding. I made this mistake with her during our relationship. In the Line app, it will show “read” if the receiving side has opened the app and read the text. There was a few days when she has not read or responded to my text messages and being as naïve as I was, I bombarded her with text after text. Eventually we got into a huge argument about this situation and it was stupid. So ultimately text messaging is not a suitable way to chat during a LDR. Perhaps a communication technology that allows a couple to see each other’s faces and read each other’s facial expression for emotional clues will be a better alternative for LDR couples to connect.
A video chat system will accomplish just that. Skype is my number one software for this task. In a LDR, a couple’s favorite thing to do is to be able to see each other. “Studies have shown that feelings of ‘being there’ are one of the largest benefits of video chat systems and such systems make people feel closer to the remote person than other computer-mediated communication (CMC) technologies” (Neustaedter and Greenburg 2). LDR couples like to see each other, share daily activities, and engage in intimate activities such as virtual hugging and kissing through video chat systems like Skype. Other than sharing daily activities, couples also watch their partner fall asleep over video chat or engage in sexual activities (Neustaedter and Greenburg 6-9). However, despite these benefits, the time zone differences for LDR couples can make the timing for a video chat session difficult. My ex is four years older than I am, so during the day she had to work and I had classes all day. However, due to the 13 hours time zone difference, she would be heading to bed by the time I wake up and vice versa. We would have to plan on a time when our free time overlaps. We usually only get two to three hours of overlap if we were lucky, unless it was during the weekend then we will have more time. We loved the time we were able to spend together, but there is another downfall of this, the time we spent together on Skype compromises my own social life with people around me, especially during the weekends. In the research done by Nuestaedter and Greenburg, “participants said they compromised the time that they spent with other family or friends, and would instead spend the majority of their spare time with their partner” (6). When we had more time during the weekend we sometimes would also engage in sexual activities, but there is always a sense of guilt afterwards. Like Chapman’s book stated, one of the love languages is physical touch, and even though cybersex seems like it has brought us closer, there is no real satisfaction or connection (107-26). Even though video chat systems have the ability to mimic face-to-face communications, it can only be done to an extent.
In conclusion, Facebook is a great platform for connecting with new people and getting to know them, but it ultimately gives the opportunity to induce jealousy between couples. Although it is a great way to stay connected with new people, it is not the best way to stay connected with your partner because there is so much happening on Facebook, so it is hard to focus on one person when there are so much mixed elements. Text messaging in a better way to stay connected with your partner than Facebook because there are no other elements to distract you; there is only one person you need to focus on. The only downfall to text messaging is that it is impossible to interpret the tone and mood of the partner. Text messaging between LDR couples faces the risk of misinterpretation and potentially an argument. In my opinion, video chat systems like Skype is the best communication technology for LDR couples to stay connected, but it can only achieve so much. These three communication technologies can only fully satisfy the “words of affirmation” love language and maybe “acts of service” depending on the situation. How can a normal relationship be successful when only one or two of the love languages are exercised? Let alone a LDR. In order for a relationship to last and develop, all five of the love languages need to be applied in real life for different settings and times.
Chapman, Gary. “The 5 Love Languages for Singles.” Jaico Publishing House, 2009, pp. 23-107.
Neustaedter, Carman, and Saul Greenberg. “Intimacy in Long – Distance Relationships over Video Chat.” Department of Computer Science, University of Calgary. Aug. 2011. prism.ucalgary.ca/bitstream/handle/1880/48735/2011-1014-26.pdf.
Robards, Brady, and Siân Lincoln. “Making It “Facebook Official”: Reflecting on Romantic Relationships Through Sustained Facebook Use.” Social Media + Society, vol. 2, no. 4, 2016, Sage Journals, doi.org/10.1177/2056305116672890.
Sheldon, Pavica. “Student Favorite: Facebook and Motives for its Use Student Favorite: Facebook and Motives for its Use.” Southwestern Mass Communication Journal, vol. 23, 2008, pp. 39-55, www.researchgate.net/publication/273145319.
Utz, Sonja, and Camiel Beukeboom. “The Role of Social Network Sites in Romantic Relationships: Effects on Jealousy and Relationship Happiness.” Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, vol. 16, no. 4, 2011, pp. 511-27. Wiley Online Library, doi:10.1111/j.1083-6101.2011.01552.x.
Wright, Kevin B., and Lynne M. Webb. “Computer-Mediated Communication in Personal Relationships—Chapter Six Relational Maintenance and CMC.” Peter Lang, 2011, pp. 98-114.