After wandering around downtown Manhattan on a Saturday night, my girlfriends and I stumbled upon the Jane Hotel nightclub. It was October 2021, and we lined up around the corner, shivering in our platform boots and miniskirts. Nearly 20 freezing minutes later, with our hands stamped up and coats checked after showing our flimsy ’98 IDs (though we’re 2000s babies), we strutted into the dimly lit ballroom club. Two levels of vintage mirrors and plush velvet lounges filled with dancing clubgoers greeted us with open arms. Ready to dance the night away and embrace hot girl “thotumn,” we gathered in the middle of the room. One twirl to a Bad Bunny song later, I laid eyes on him: my future boyfriend.
Yes, I met my romantic partner in a New York City nightclub–proving it is actually possible to find love in a hopeless place. Even more surprising, however, is that we have been digitally dating long distance throughout the entirety of our relationship.
When I first committed to the cross-country romance, I was skeptical. How was I supposed to fall in love through an iPhone screen? I remember seeking advice from my mother, asking if she had ever been in a long-distance relationship herself. She laughed and told me tales of landlines, letter-writing, and pagers. It was then I realized that I was going to have to figure out cross-country dating in the digital age myself. I set about learning how to incorporate technology into my dating life, as well as what is important to keep in mind in a partnership.
According to Signe Darpinan, a published licensed marriage and family therapist, (LMFT) successful long-term dating is fundamentally rooted in trust. To be able to “do long distance,” partners must have a high level of trust in each other and feel safe in the relationship. That trust can be challenged when one partner is busy or unable to communicate the moment they’re contacted. However, Darpinan encourages people to recognize reality instead of falling into recall, which is when feelings become significantly bigger than the situation at hand. Relationships should boost us and allow us to be independent, feeling at ease and present even if our partner is miles away and unavailable.
Understanding your partner’s life away from you ties into Darpinan’s next key point for having a healthy romantic relationship: communication. Assertiveness, vulnerability, and straight speaking give us the ability to ask for what we need. Furthermore, congruency between words and actions allows partners to experience peace while apart. True intimacy often involves a free flow of thoughts and the ability to express needs and wants. It is natural for two people to have differing needs at the same time, but this can be tricky to navigate in a long-distance scenario. I know, I’ve been there. By communicating effectively, even if we are unable to get what we want from a partner instantly, we can set healthy boundaries to prevent compromising our own needs or feeling responsible for another person’s emotions.
When it comes to digital courtship, Darpinan references anthropologist and human behavior researcher Helen Fisher, who says a fundamental factor in successful dating is sharing novel experiences. In a long-distance relationship, sharing time and doing things together can be a challenge. Luckily, most of us made it through the most difficult part of the pandemic by learning—whether we liked it or not—to make virtual meetings more comfortable. We became more accustomed to connecting digitally. We can do this.
Video chatting and texting are essential tools in the digital dating world, especially when you and your partner are apart. However, there is only so much you can do with multicolored heart emojis, minute-long voice memos, and animated GIFs. Here are my favorite ways to keep a long-distance relationship alive and well:
Share Reminder Photos
Who doesn’t adore sending and receiving cute–and sometimes spicy–pics? Photos are an excellent way to stay in touch and share daily activities and accomplishments–even if it’s just how good your winged eyeliner looked before girls’ night.
When my boyfriend and I began our whirlwind Web 2.0 romance, we discovered Locket (available for iPhone and Android). Locket is a widget that displays photos right on partners’ respective home screens. Not only does the widget encourage us to keep each other up to date on our activities, it also lets me remind my boo how cute I look in my different outfits and makeup looks of the week. Locket also archives the photos sent back and forth on the widget, so you don’t need to fear losing a stellar selfie.
A Dating App Worth Keeping
Most single people these days have been there: Once you embark on a serious relationship, it’s time to delete dating apps like Tinder, Hinge, and Bumble. However, other apps can stay on your phone forever. I highly recommend going Official. The app encourages healthy relationship habits and routines. Through the app, you can connect, archive memories, and make new ones. My favorite features are the “love buttons,” with “I need attention,” “send love,” “let’s dip,” and “I’m in the mood” icons that notify my boyfriend of my real-time thoughts and needs. On Official, you can also plan dates; compare intimate desires; create daily check-ins; and save notes, memories, and upcoming events. The app is helpful and fun, and it can get sensual–which is a total must. My partner and I like to use the daily sentimental questions feature to see who can come up with better answers. In our friendly competition, I reluctantly admit he is beating me by a day or two.
Building playlists together is a great way to express your own feelings through other people’s poetry (because sometimes only an Ariana Grande song can capture your love) or to just vibe out, whether you’re together or apart. I adore using features on Spotify, such as group sessions or the ability to add collaborators for playlist editing or to listen to what my partner is playing. It’s a great way to feel close to your partner while commuting, working out, or relaxing at home. Having my other half in my earbuds is a fantastic experience, even if he does saturate our creations with a bit too much experimental indie pop. I have discovered there is a limit to how much Lana Del Rey I can handle on the way to my 9:30 am psychology lectures.
Go on Digital Dates
Dates and intimacy can be digital. Setting time aside for FaceTime or Skype dates while wining and dining (and whatever may follow, wink wink) over the phone is a great way to plan a date. I utilize the FaceTime screen-sharing tool to listen to music and watch TikToks together while still on the phone. Netflix Teleparties are also a blast, as you and your partner can watch a movie together and chat about the film through an easily installable widget extension. Darpinan, in an interview with movie therapy expert Kristen Meinzer, discusses how films can help us explore partnerships and release blocked emotions. As an artsy NYU student living near Washington Square Park, I recently watched Kid Cudi’s Greenwich Village-based artist love story Entergalactic on Teleparty with my boyfriend. We had a blast pointing out animated versions of landmarks I live near, rooting for the love interests, and fangirling over celebrity cameos.
Plan Everyday Activities Together
Planning activities together is a must, even if you are 3,000 miles away from your loved one. I like to compare schedules to know when my partner is available and find time to go to the gym, eat, or work simultaneously. I especially like to go shopping at the same time. Growing up in the 2010s as a loyal follower of the clothing-haul era on YouTube, I very much appreciate a post-outing unboxing and fashion show/modeling moment over video chat.
I adore my long-distance relationship. It has taught me to trust, establish healthy boundaries, communicate effectively, and be independent. Digitally dating my bicoastal bae has been an unexpected gift, and I would not trade the experiences we share, whether together or across the country, for anything. Love in the 21st century is more accessible than ever before.