Touch plays a crucial role in generating and enhancing love – it is the first sense to develop and unlike the other senses it implies an interaction with another person (Field 2014, pg. 19). It brings a sense of belonging, communication, affection, intimacy and arousal. Even the briefest touch from another can elicit strong emotional experiences. So what happens when that touch is removed? This is reality for a friend of mine, Will Brooke a graphic designer living in London who is in a long distance relationship (LDR). Will has been in this relationship for over a year, only to have 6 months physical contact (made up of two separate meet ups) with his partner living in another country. I asked Will how important physical contact meant to his relationship, he responded:
“Very important to continue the relationship on a certain level…some relationships can be formed around physical relationships more than emotional one, I’d doubt these are as strong long term”
It has been said, “absence makes the heart grow fonder”. But how does it do so? Closeness has always been an element in determining emotional intensity and much of how we express our love is through tactile behaviours such as kissing and hugging. Love incorporates a profoundly positive evaluation of another person, including the desire to become as close a possible to that person (Ben-Ze’ev 2004, pg. 51).
“Forces you to judge and consider what you want…being more critical you appreciate their strengths then that brings you towards growing fonder…”
“Obviously there is a limit to the level of intimacy for month when you’re apart but hopefully it makes you appreciate it more when you spend time together”
Studies have shown long distance dating is more intimidate, positive and less contentious, with couples reporting more intimate talk and activities. Open and honest communication contributes to the relationship stability and satisfaction. Commitment and trust have a greater significance, as there are more opportunities that may threaten it. (Ben-Ze’ev 2014)
“You have to try and ensure you’re still engaged in each other’s lives…you have to try to communicate more…”
“You have to be more open with your emotions and feelings, as you cant always pick up how each other is feeling over text, you can’t always gauge the situation as easily”
With communication at the core, technology plays an important role in maintaining that constant connection and ultimately the relationship. Without that physical contact and tactile sensitivity, LDR couples must find that ‘touch’ through other ways.
“ (Technology) has made it possible to continue, without it and having no contact for months would prove impossible. With every picture/FaceTime/phone call you’re transported across any distance and space even if its only for a second, a minute or hour of FaceTime or whatever, it all adds to the sense that you’re still living your life with the other person”
With new and emerging technologies, there are devices that attempt to substitute or imitate that sensory ‘touch’ and presence. From the ‘Apple watch’ (which sends your heart beat to another) and ‘Hug Shirt’ (wearable touch, detects strength and warmth of hug) to ‘Roly Poly’ (emotive interactive devices which enable two people who are apart to ‘sense’ the presence of each other) and even sex toys such as ‘Lovense’ (His and her devices are in sync, controlling each others movements).
Despite these innovative, mobile, digital experiences it can never fully emulate the true form of physical touch. Online emotional experiences take a lot of mental energy and can often have its downfalls:
“It only works on a singular level you don’t get the depth or more rounded level of contact and connection you would have normally, you don’t experience anything together, you cant go for a meal or visit somewhere, it can be a superficial experience”
Advanced technological developments in things like virtual reality and possibly in the future, surrogate sex experiences e.g. the 2013 film ‘Her’, adds another dimension to the human experience, bringing that ‘touch’ we desire closer to reality.
“I make the other’s absence responsible for my worldliness” – Roland Barthes
 Pseudonym for privacy purposes
Barthes, R, 1977. A Lover’s Discourse: Fragments . 2nd ed. London, United Kingdom: Vintage Publishing .
Ben-Ze’ev, A. (2014) Distance is the new closeness. Available at: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/in-the-name-love/201401/distance-is-the-new-closeness (Accessed: 27 October 2016).
Ben-Ze’ev, A. Love Online : Emotions on the Internet. Cambridge, GB: Cambridge University Press, 2004. ProQuest ebrary. Web. 27 October 2016.
Field, T. Touch (2). Cambridge, US: A Bradford Book, 2014. ProQuest ebrary. Web. 27 October 2016.