By Catherine Poitras Auger
What does it means to have a long-distance relationship, in 2015? It often means long phone calls, Skype calls, SMS and Facebook messages, and emails. To what extend does online platforms can change what we call a relationship? I believe that platforms such as Skype and Facebook are allowing certain types of relationship to exist and thrive, and that it is challenging the idea of what it means to be in a relationship. I believe that my experiences in long-distance relationships (or LDR, as they are called on forums online) go against the social norms of what a relationship ought to be by removing the presence of a partner’s body out of the equation.
What I find the hardest in an LDR is when I have to tell other people about what I am experiencing, because I fear to be judged. I sometimes have a hard time assuming that I am living a fulfilling, authentic experience with another person because it is all happening online, in a non-physical universe driven by codes and translated by machines. Talking on Skype means, from time to time, to hear a feedback, an echo of our own voice. That echo makes me sad because it breaks the magic of the Skype conversation: it reminds me of my fear that all of the relationship is happening in my mind only, since the body of my partner is not physically in the same material space than mine.
For Jason Farman, the virtual world and the material world are not two separate universes, and they cannot be defined as true or false. The author gives the example of people whose faith lead them to think that the metaphysical world is more real than the physical world. Farman also brings forward the idea that the virtual world is not new, since it has always existed through arts – in architecture and theater, for example. In a similar way, the fact is that all relationships are based on things that can be, on projections, and not only on concrete, daily physical interactions with the other. We all end up creating our own little bubble of things that could be – therefore, long-distance relationships are not that different to ”normal” ones.
In a way, long-distance relationships share a similarity with open relationships. They reconfigure what we consider as a couple by sending the message that to have physical proximity with another’s body does not define a relationship. A relationship is whatever feels right, as long as it is consensual and reciprocated. Under this definition, two people on the opposite sides of the Atlantic Ocean can maintain a relationship as valuable as two people who live in the same apartment. They put communication in the foreground, and exchanges on online platforms such as Facebook, Gmail, and most especially, Skype, become our walk to the park, our ride of rollercoaster, our movie theater. We just watched a film together last night.
Farman, Jason (2012). Mobile Interface Theory Ch. 2 “Mapping and Representations of Space” (35-55) London: Routledge. http://mobileinterfacetheory.com/ch-2/