If You Love It: Long Distance Relationships Revisited

There’s no doubt about it: Relationships are tough. But the age old saying, “If you love it, set it free. If it comes back, it was meant to be” has plagued hearts young and old for what seems like ages. First of all, no one WANTS to let the <person> go, because they don’t want to take the chance of losing it forever. What if it doesn’t come back? This advice is one of two traditional responses when someone decides to try a long distance relationship. The other, of course, being, “Long distance relationships don’t work.” Either way, not something people want to hear. With traditional media a connection was possible, but the immediacy- the sharing of current thoughts, feelings, events, etc.- was difficult, if not impossible. 

Chayko (2008) mentions a sociomental connection that allows us to connect on a deeper level. She brings attention to the amount of emotional and mental investment needed to create a concept of someone who we haven’t necessarily been wholly exposed to. Though we miss the things that Harlow (1958) helped us understand our deep seeded needs for, we are able to maintain a mental and emotional connection that, at times, may supersede the strength of those connections in person. This idea got me thinking, very intently, about long distant relationships and how viable they are compared to before such facilitating connectivity. Especially living in Alaska, when a friend left the state, you were likely never to see them again. Now, when my best friend leaves the state, we’re almost MORE connected than we are when we’re cuddling in front of the television. I guess my point is that there are benefits to both connections.

In general, however, the readings got me thinking about how I relate to others around me, whether in online communities, or in person. I have taken a more specific attention to the ways in which my actions change based on which group I’m currently in, and what about that group makes me a part of it, or WANT to be a part of it. Though the catalyst for this focus was Identity Theory (Burke & Stets, 2009), it has carried over into the Chayko (2008) readings as well. On the one hand, how do I connect to my communities and what do I bring to the table. On the other hand, how has that changed based on connectedness. The result, as mentioned above, is a focus on the relationships I have and do have, and how they’ve been effected by not only portability, but emotional and mental availability.


Burke, P., & Stets, J. E. (2009). Identity theory. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Chayko, M. (2008). Portable communities : the social dynamics of online and mobile connectedness. Albany: SUNY.
Classics in the History of Psychology — Harlow (1958). (n.d.). Retrieved February 21, 2012, from http://psychclassics.yorku.ca/Harlow/love.htm


Communication technology and social change: Theory and implications (2007) suggests that social change occurs after a major (and usually negative) event has taken place; usually in the form of an innovative idea meant to deal with the issue. Timing, as they say, is everything. Jensen and Wagoner (2009, p. 226) suggest note that “Partial adoption, resistance, conflict over resources, dynamism and contingency have always defined social and cultural change.” Examples of the cycle of social change suggested by Jensen and Wagoner (2009) include alcohol prohibition and psychoanalysis.

In fact, this social change cycle can be seen in the history of Psychology as a field. What one theory lacks, the next overcompensates for; there is resistance of ideas, reformation, and a re-presentation of the changed product for implication and continued scrutiny. When structuralism tried to break psychophysics down too excessively, it gave way to the more broad functionalism. However, functionalism only sought to explain ‘normal’ human behavior; Freud manufactured explanations for abnormal behaviors. When psychoanalysis was too subjective, behaviorism looked at only what could be actively observed. Gestalt recognized the need for both observable and cognitive processes, but didn’t have any suggestions for how to make it possible. And cognitive psychology argued that subjects can learn and behavior of their own volition. (Petraitis, personal communication, January – April 2011)

As with paradigm shifts within the field of Psychology, social change is the culmination of norms which have been questioned, reviewed, reformatted, and beta tested (so to speak). While the delivery method of the message is important, in order for a change to be effective and received, the zeitgeist and ortgeist must be right. If there is no need for change at a particular time or place, the change will be resisted.


Communication technology and social change: Theory and implications (2007). In Lin C. A., Atkin D. J. (Eds.), . Mahwah, NJ, US: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Publishers. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/621547613?accountid=10868

Jensen, E., & Wagoner, B. (2009). Continuing commentary: A cyclical model of social change. Culture & Psychology15 (2), 217-228 doi:10.1177/1354067X08099624