Sexting, overcommunication and misunderstandings: How to maintain a long-distance relationship in the internet age

Technology and greater mobility have improved many aspects of living in a different place from your partner. Even so, the path is thorny and only if it is navigated correctly is a common horizon possible

Cómo llevar una relación a distancia en la era de Internet
A scene from the movie '10,000 KM', where a couple navigates a difficult long-distance relationship.Broad Green Pictures / Everett Collection / CORDON PRESS

Marianne and Connell are sitting on the floor opposite each other: he has decided to go to New York after winning a literature scholarship, but she does not want to give up her plans and her life in the United Kingdom. After years of comings and goings that captivated an entire generation, the main characters in the miniseries Normal People ―an adaptation of the book by Sally Rooney― maintain a dialogue that is difficult to forget: “I’m leaving,” says Connell. “And I will stay. And we will be fine,” she responds. Indeed, it is possible that, as in their case, there is no possible future if the relationship is long-distance. However, others decide to try it and many times nothing goes wrong: “The key is that the values of both members of the couple must be compatible and that decisions are made as a team to be able to lead a common life of any kind, either from a distance or in person” says Silvia Sanz, a psychologist, sexologist and writer.

Certainly, in modern love, long-distance relationships are the order of the day. A set of unfortunate circumstances such as job precariousness and a chain of economic crises, and other more favorable factors such as the fight for one’s dreams, often force us to temporarily part ways. Today this distance is not perceived as it was in the Odyssey, where Penelope spends her days knitting and waiting for Ulysses to return from his journey; nor as in all those war movies in which the man goes to war, sends letters and doesn’t know if he will return. Nowadays people make video calls, engage in sexting and even cook the same recipe at the same time: “Thanks to technology and the ease of travel, we are more likely to accept having long-distance relationships. At this moment we are more willing to leave our home if that means having a higher quality of life or working on something that we have studied for. Furthermore, as the time to start a family has also been delayed, it is more likely that people will opt to focus on their careers,” says Montse Cazcarra, a psychologist, couples therapist and writer.

It’s still not a bed of roses (but it’s less thorny)

Although these relationships are more frequent than they were decades ago, according to Silvia Sanz they continue to pose complications such as jealousy, difficulty managing arguments, and the feeling of loneliness. Fortunately, there are now tactics and tips to alleviate them: “Love and the flame of passion can be maintained thanks to all the digital media we have at our disposal. On the other hand, when there are communication problems, it is essential to find the right time to address them and try to make video calls so as not to misinterpret the tone of the messages. You also have to try to maintain constant communication and reinforce everything that unites the couple,” advises the expert. Of course, it is important not to become obsessed with being in permanent contact, falling into controlling and toxic overcommunication.

Despite this long list of responsibilities, there are those who know how to appreciate the positive side of this time apart: “It is possible to see the kind side of this if the two people are very jealous of their independence. In other cases, it can help you miss each other and relive that honeymoon you had at the beginning of the relationship,” says Cazcarra.

However, she warns, this kind of relationship remains more a question of resignation than personal choice: there is just no other option. A 2022 study by 40dB for El PAÍS and the radio network La SER, The perception of love, showed that younger generations are more willing to move for their partner: 72.4% of Generation Z and 62.1% of Millennials would live in another city for love; 55.8% of Zs and 46.2% of Millennials would move to another country. However, only 57.1% of Baby Boomers would change cities and 40.5% would go abroad. This gap does not seem to be due to a lack of interest, but rather to economic conditions.

Is technology the solution?

Regardless of the decade in which you were born, a relationship of this type requires greater involvement, since it forces you to create intimate moments that cannot arise spontaneously. Although the means exist, personal will remains crucial: “A couple can chat while making dinner, but from a distance that space for sharing does not exist. Since these types of situations do not exist that allow us to connect organically, we have to make the effort to seek them out,” says Cazcarra.

Furthermore, the need for this type of contact may be different for each member of the relationship, since the eyes of the person who leaves sometimes see very different things than those of the person who stays. A good example of this are the main characters in the movie 10,000 km by Carlos Marqués-Marcet: Alex has obtained a scholarship to go to Los Angeles and receives many more stimuli than Sergi, who stays in Barcelona. Many times they do not agree, they regret the time difference, they argue and they are disappointed, but, at the end of the day, they try to find solutions and make an effort to have moments of intimacy. The situation is not easy for either one of them: “Although this perception is relative, it is true that for those who leave, everything is new and they can experience uncertainty as an adventure, but also with anxiety about losing what they know. On the other hand, for those who stay behind, everything remains the same and, although in principle it is more comfortable, the person with whom they shared their daily lives is missing,” explains Sanz.

In short, is there a magic formula, besides apps for couples, goodnight messages, eternal calls and watching the same streaming series? The ingredients in the recipe are probably variable, but for many the key is having an end date: “Distance relationships can be postponed for more or less time depending on each person’s decisions and life’s difficulties, but it is important to define an end horizon. It is essential to live in the here and now, but having common plans and projects can help minimize this problem,” says Sanz.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, safe distancing was widely lamented. Affection in the new normal involved telling each other everything through the screen, sending photos of each other and talking with hope about all the plans that would be made when everything was back to normal. Technology helped a lot to cope with this situation, although no one could imagine life like this in the long term. At least not continuously. Songs were composed about it, books were written. Decades ago, long-distance relationships bordered on the platonic and turned the loved one into a dream or an idealization. At the present time, technology and psychological education are two tools that allow these relationships to be managed in a much more sustainable, healthy way. However, most continue to long for that hug in which to take refuge and feel at home when the day ends.

Sign up for our weekly newsletter to get more English-language news coverage from EL PAÍS USA Edition

Tu suscripción se está usando en otro dispositivo

¿Quieres añadir otro usuario a tu suscripción?

Si continúas leyendo en este dispositivo, no se podrá leer en el otro.

¿Por qué estás viendo esto?


Tu suscripción se está usando en otro dispositivo y solo puedes acceder a EL PAÍS desde un dispositivo a la vez.

Si quieres compartir tu cuenta, cambia tu suscripción a la modalidad Premium, así podrás añadir otro usuario. Cada uno accederá con su propia cuenta de email, lo que os permitirá personalizar vuestra experiencia en EL PAÍS.

En el caso de no saber quién está usando tu cuenta, te recomendamos cambiar tu contraseña aquí.

Si decides continuar compartiendo tu cuenta, este mensaje se mostrará en tu dispositivo y en el de la otra persona que está usando tu cuenta de forma indefinida, afectando a tu experiencia de lectura. Puedes consultar aquí los términos y condiciones de la suscripción digital.

More information

Archived In

Recomendaciones EL PAÍS
Recomendaciones EL PAÍS