Most people either believe that long-distance relationships can work, or that they’re doomed for failure. Whatever side of the fence you’re on, you may be interested to know that research shows distance really does make the heart grow fonder.
A 2013 study in the Journal of Communication found that a long-distance May-December relationship can be just as satisfying, if not more rewarding than a relationship where distance is not a factor. Researchers found that long-distance couples were better able to share meaningful communication, like feelings and private thoughts, and were therefore more likely to experience a much deeper level of closeness and emotional intimacy with each other.
However, that doesn’t mean that a long-distance May-December relationship doesn’t still take work. In fact, many would argue that it takes more work, because you don’t have physical intimacy to fall back on. But in the end, that’s what seems to make these couples stronger.
If you’re in a long-distance May-December relationship, here are a few ways to ensure that you and your partner will come out stronger:
• Always communicate. Communication is critical in any May-December relationship, but when it’s long-distance, it’s even more important. That’s why it’s imperative that you make it very clear what your needs and expectations are from the beginning. This can include anything from how often you expect to talk or see each other, to what you are and aren’t comfortable doing when you’re apart. And if you don’t feel like your needs and expectations are being met, then you need to voice your concerns. As one researcher put it, issues arise when there’s a “discrepancy between your expectations for relationships and the reality of your current situation.”
• Set a date. It’s a lot easier to cope with distance when you have something to look forward to and when there’s an end in near sight. So whether it’s you going there or your partner coming to you, try to set a date in advance for when you’ll be able to see each other in person again.
• Get creative. Surprise your partner with a care package in the mail, or send him a random card just because. It’s these types of little gestures that show that you’re still emotionally invested in the May-December relationship, even though you’re not physically together all the time.
• Make use of technology. The digital age can certainly work in your favor if you’re in a long-distance May-December relationship. Using video chatting, texting, and other forms of digital media can have a huge impact on your relationship. When you’re dating an older man, he may not be as tech-savvy as you are, but don’t be afraid to introduce digital and technological mediums; after all, it’s to benefit your relationship so he’ll hopefully be open to giving it a try if it’ll keep the relationship going strong.
• Be understanding and don’t keep secrets. When you and your older man live close together, you’re probably going to play a bigger role in each other’s lives. But when you’re far apart, it’s more than likely that you’ll each lead more independent lives. For instance, he might go out with friends that you don’t know very well or at all, and you might take up new hobbies that he knows nothing about. That’s perfectly normal, so don’t freak out if he’s not available 24/7. And whatever you do, don’t keep secrets about what you’re doing or with whom. If you feel the need to lie about what you’re doing, you probably shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.
• Establish your goal as a couple. Are you in this May-December relationship for the long haul? Is he? Are you planning for it to end in marriage? These are things you might want to plan ahead of time, because it helps to know where the relationship is going and it’s important to make sure that you’re both on the same page about it. If you’re planning to get married, but you each live in different states, it’s not going to work unless one of you is willing to relocate. Again, it all goes back to being open and honest about your expectations.
Jiang, L.C., et al., “Absence Makes the Communication Grow Fonder: Geographic Separation, Interpersonal Media, and Intimacy in Dating Relationships,” Journal of Communication 2013; 63: 556–557.
Orwig, J., “Science explains how to make a long-distance relationship actually work,” Business Insider web site, February 18, 2015; http://goo.gl/mQzucU.