Long Distance Relationships

by Sam Wright, ’14

By today’s standards, Steve Lewey’s long distance courtship was indeed thin on communications. But that’s not a comment about him. Rather, it’s about the era in which this 1978 alumnus dated his wife long distance for a year and a half while at Whitworth. No email. No Skype. No texting. No cell phones (and certainly not smart ones). 

Reflecting on that time in his life, Lewey says, “I can’t even imagine having the ability to communicate with my wife and be able to see her at the same time from a different state when we were dating.”

Their relationship was sustained mostly by old fashioned letters through the mail. 

“We sent letters to each other weekly,” Lewey says. “Talking on the phone was expensive so we only talked on the phone once every couple weeks. We didn’t have much money and couldn’t afford paying to talk long distance.”

While any relationship can be hard, long distance relationships often fail because of the additional pressures they face. According to the website, Statistic Brain, “40 percent of long-distance relationships break up.”

Now, that number may be changing, because of the massive changes in technology in the last 30 years. Today we can talk to each other at a touch of a button. Cell phones and their various functions make it easy to talk daily. Couples in long distance relationships can talk on the phone at low or even no cost. According to (We are in it together), the average number of phone calls made by couples in a long distance relationship is once every two days. The average length of the phone calls is 30 minutes.

Not only can couples now talk on the phone but there are also technologies that make it possible for them to see each other. Skype and FaceTime, for example, make video communication possible. You can see nonverbal communications and look the person in the eye when talking. Couples also have the ability to text each other at all hours of the day. You don’t have to wait a week to get a letter in the mail. Instead, you can get a response in 30 seconds and can reply just as fast. 

Aaron Libolt, ’14, an athletic training major at Whitworth, has been in a long distance relationship for the past seven months. “We use texting most often but prefer using Skype to talk when we can,” he says. “It’s a lot more personal and we feel like we can have more meaningful conversations.”

Professor Alan Mikkelson, ’00, who teaches in Whitworth’s Communications Studies department, says, “It’s not the mode of communication that influences the relationship as much as it is the amount of communication.” He says that being able to communicate is what is important, not what mode you are able to use to do so. 

Josh Wilcox, ’82, can relate to Mikkelson’s point. He dated his girlfriend long distance from the start of their relationship. “We dated for just under eight months,” he says. They met during the summer and started dating when he returned to Whitworth for his sophomore year.

“We only saw each other twice while we were dating,” he admits. “We didn’t have much time for each other and that’s why our relationship didn’t work out. During our eight months of dating, I sent two letters to her five.” In the end, Wilcox thinks their relationship never had a chance for other reasons, but the lack of communication didn’t help. “If we had the technology then that we have now, we might have lasted longer,” he says. “Who knows, maybe it would have made the relationship shorter.” He says that with the amount you can talk to each other now, a guy has a lot more chances to screw up.

Haley Owens, ’12, says, “Long distance can be hard but when you know he is the one, it’s worth it.” While at Whitworth, she was in a long distance relationship for over four years with her boyfriend, Cody. She is currently attending optometry school at Pacific University while Cody is still at home in Montana, so they’re still working on their relationship long distance. 

“We have had some fights over the years and we try to talk on the phone or Skype,” says Owens. “Texting is never the answer for us; actually, that’s usually the way we are communicating when the fighting starts.”

Owens said they like the rule to try not to go to bed mad. “We don’t always follow our rule but we try our best and I think that’s why we can last long-distance,” she says.

Regarding conflict, Libolt, says, “She always wants to wait until we can Skype to talk, but I’m mad in the moment and would rather just talk right then on the phone if possible.”

“Talk right then” was, of course, an unimaginable option to Lewey, as it has been throughout the history of human courtship – until now. Of all the technologies available today, Lewey said, “I would have enjoyed being able to send pictures with text messages.” He had one photo of his wife that he always carried with him. Reflecting on that time, he says, “It would have been amazing if I could have gotten pictures daily from her.” He also says, “If my wife and I were able to make our long distance relationship work, then kids should have no problem with all the helpful tools they have now.”