Tread cautiously with long-distance and internet-mediated relationships

Long distance relationships and internet-mediated relationships are two types of courtships that are especially vulnerable to decision-making based on relatively little information over a potentially lengthy period of time. In a long distance relationship, when you visit your partner, you get to leave your normal life behind and can immerse yourself in their world, far from the stress and routine of your own life where you are typically assured of a warm, loving reception. As such, this type of relationship may be especially protected from the intrusion of mundane, stressful elements of day-to-day life.

The shared delusion of mutual flawlessness thrives in such a context. With the distance and the lack of face time, it is relatively easy to maintain illusions of mutual perfection, thereby extending the time during which each of you project and perceive unrealistic fantasies. Because the limited time you spend together can feel so magical (remember, the scarcity principle intensifies your hunger to see each other), you may begin to feel certain that you have found “the One.”

It is important to bear this in mind, because people in love often overestimate the actual potential of a succession of steamy phone conversations and weekend dalliances to translate into a successful life partnership. Almost anyone can be accommodating, flexible, and attentive for a long weekend, but this says very little about how accommodating, flexible, and attentive that person will be when you see them every day, year after year.

The natural tendency in many long distance relationships is to enjoy each other in the seclusion of a love-nest setting when visiting each other. Recognize and resist this tendency. Seek information that helps you see the other person from different angles. For example, spend some time with the friends of this person and ask yourself whether you like his or her friends. Would these friends be people you would choose as friends yourself? Does he or she maintain a close friendship with anyone who is disrespectful and rude to other people? It’s also helpful to clue in to how your love interest talks about exes and how he or she describes the breakup of past relationships.

Ask them about their dating history and how their past relationships have ended. In some cases, you may need to find out whether their past relationships have actually ended! If, for example, someone says that all of their exes are “total psychos,” what does this tell you about them? It may be a tipoff that they have untreated trauma. Alternatively, they may be projecting their own deficiencies onto their past partners. This kind of statement might signal an inability to take ownership for their part in past relationship problems and may predict that someday, they will regale their friends with stories of how you are the latest in a long line of “psychos” that they somehow keep picking.

I had previously mentioned that it would be unwise to relocate on the basis of an internet-only relationship. To be clear, I’m not saying that relationships that begin through an internet correspondence are a bad idea at all. A good number of my friends and acquaintances have met and married some high-quality partners with the help of online dating services. Some of these friends have eventually relocated to be near the person they met through the internet.

Internet dating services have become main stream and are now a widely accepted forum for meeting potential partners. All things considered, you are probably more likely to meet a high-quality partner through a quality online dating service than in any singles bar scene. What I am saying is that in the case of internet-mediated relationships, as in the case of long distance relationships, proactive assessment of the other person’s character is especially important. The potential for distorted perceptions and false impressions is highest when there is little to no accountability. How many people have internet profiles that read as follows?

Plain-looking SWM of average intelligence, with boorish manners, a shrunken chest, chicken legs, and a large inheritance he did not earn seeks female that will look good as an accessory in his convertible candy-apple red Roadster.


Sexy SWF who has no life plan, a lousy work ethic, and no earning potential seeks affluent, handsome male who will support her out-of-control shopping addiction.

Of course, these are exaggerations, but no less so than the positivelybiased exaggerations featured in many personal ads and online bios (in which parallel universe does this assemblage of all these “stunningly attractive, extremely successful” people exist?).

Because of the tendency to over-exaggerate positive features and downplay negative aspects of the self in the world of online dating, it is especially important to separate fact from fiction, to slow down and consider information from multiple sources. You cannot do this if your entire relationship occurs over the computer. Before you make a significant commitment to any relationship, it is critical to view your leading man or woman in multiple lights.

The bottom line is that when you are trying to assess the character of someone, there is no substitute for real-time information (that is, what they say in the heat of the moment, and, of even greater importance, what their body language communicates while they are saying it). So, without impulsively relocating your life to be with your long distance love or someone you meet online, it is important to find ways to spend a significant amount of time in the same place during the dating phase of your relationship.

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© Copyright 2013 Shauna Springer, Ph.D., All rights Reserved.
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  • long distance relationships
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Shauna Springer, Ph.D., earned her undergraduate degree in English literature from Harvard University and her doctoral degree in counseling psychology from the University of Florida. She is currently a staff psychologist in the Veterans Health Care System of Northern California, where she runs a couples clinic to help veterans reconnect with their spouses following combat deployments. She has particular expertise in marital counseling, stressor effects on marriage, trauma recovery, and women’s issues. She has also worked in a successful private practice, three university counseling centers, and a clinic specialized in the treatment of OCD and other anxiety disorders. She has co-authored several publications in professional journals and books. Her research has been presented at multiple conferences and she was awarded the McLaughlin Dissertation Research Award for her meta-analysis of stressor effects on marriage in an aggregated sample of over 164,000 married individuals. In 2008, she organized and coordinated The Lifestyle Poll Project, a study of over 1,200 well-educated women. In February 2012, she published her first book, Marriage, for Equals: The Successful Joint (Ad)Ventures of Well-Educated Couples (