Does Distance Make the Heart Grow Fonder?

Loving an ex from a distance is not only possible, but can also teach you about yourself.

Under the Arch

Does Distance Make the Heart Grow Fonder?

Loving an ex from a distance is not only possible, but can also teach you about yourself.

An illustration with a dark gray background shows a couple drawn onto the pages of a book. They are back to back against different landscapes — a woman wearing a purple sweater and jeans is shown against a New York City landscape at night, and a man wearing an orange shirt and jeans with red shoes is shown against a college town. The book is torn down the middle.

Distance may keep people apart, but love knows no bounds (Aaliya Luthra for WSN)

Marisa Sandoval, Contributing Writer | Feb 26, 2023

Moving to New York City is a defining moment in an NYU student’s life. We take that first stroll through Washington Square Park and glance at the shimmering skyline, but don’t necessarily anticipate that this shiny new beginning may also be the painful end of relationships elsewhere. 

It’s often easy to feed into the anger following a breakup and pick apart the relationship until there is no fondness left, but not all relationships have to leave a sour taste in your mouth. There might even be a possibility of continuing to love your partner, albeit in a different way than before. Long-distance relationships are fairly common among American college students, with 75% reporting being in one at some point. However, fewer than 50% of these long-distance relationships survive. Many end with no one at fault and nothing to blame except the distance between you and your partner. 

The concept of loving from a distance is something that I have only recently begun experiencing personally. I have found that it often involves profound longing, aches of loneliness and poignant sadness. Despite a sincere yearning to be in the physical presence of your partner, you encounter a litmus test of the fortitude of a relationship. At the same time, you are given an opportunity for personal growth, fostering resilience and independence. The end of a relationship does not mean love must fade away, but rather can be a chance for the emotion to transition into something new.

“You don’t want to taint your love or taint or your relationship,” LS first-year Julia Papa said. “That’s the thing that people remember, how horrible they made you feel instead of how awesome they made you feel. I’d rather remember someone in a good light than a bad light.”

The narrative that relationships must end on a negative note is often portrayed in pop culture and viewed as standard within our society. But through his college relationships, Gallatin sophomore Noah Jaffe discovered that the emotions of a breakup are more complex than a two-minute breakup song can explain. 

“I kind of went through the alphabet of suffering,” Jaffe said. “When it happened, immediately I was like, ‘oh, this is amazing, so happy I did this.’ Then a week later I was like, ‘fuck, this hurts.’ Then that kind of turned into resentment, and now it’s recently gotten to a place of acceptance and peaceful separation.”

Steinhardt student Halle Burnett found herself in denial after her breakup. Her relationship had ended before she moved to New York City, but she thought about getting back together and trying out a long-distance relationship with her ex. After months of separation, she’s slowly come to a conclusion. 

“I’ve made peace with it and I think that I’ve accepted that he will always be a chapter in my life,” Burnett said. “Currently, he still is a friend. That’s amazing and I can love him as a friend.” 

The emotional connection from a relationship doesn’t go away overnight. The end of a relationship is an opportunity to take that affection and turn it into something platonic. When you are away from your partner, you still feel love for them, whether expressed through texting them, listening to their favorite song or seeing a friend post a picture of them.

 Love is not conditional upon distance; miles apart do not make it stronger or weaker. This deep connection between two people is what makes distance the hardest.

“Even though we’re two thousand miles away, that doesn’t change how you feel about that person, even if you can’t hug them every day,” Papa said. “You can’t just turn that off. That’s the hard part, you know, situational things you can’t change.” 

The pain of breakups can bubble up unpredictably, whether it’s finding yourself reaching for your phone to text your ex about a new coffee shop or just aching to hear their voice. But an element of loving another person is acting on that devotion when you are no longer together. This can be through calling to check in on occasion, wishing them the best from afar or simply being there for them if they ever need you. It is hard to watch your ex live without you, but all you can ask of each other is to continue supporting each other, just as you did in the relationship.

“That’s part of loving someone, you have to love them even when it doesn’t include you,” Papa said. “It’s a hard thing to kind of learn how to manage, but you have to.”

 Wanting to stay a part of each other’s lives is normal, but it can create emotional complications. While distancing yourself may be difficult at first, it can help in the long run. Jaffe learned that, from this distance, it is important to wish the best for his previous partners and to reflect.

When figuring out how to love another person from a distance, think about how you would want to be treated after the breakup. Honoring the relationship through a reflective lens can help you understand your emotions and pave the way for moving on.

After breakups, we are encouraged by movies, social media and friends to hate our exes. People gossip, amplify every red flag and dish out bad reviews to anyone who asks. It’s hardly productive and usually only ends up causing harm to everyone involved. Breakups should serve as an opportunity to understand ourselves and our emotions in a way we didn’t before. 

“Part of it is sitting with it and accepting it,” Burnett said. “If you can channel it into something artistically, that’s amazing, but sometimes you just sit with it and accept it and the only thing that makes it go away is time.”

As a method of coping before the breakup, Burnett began writing music about loving someone from a distance as an ode to anticipatory pain. The song, titled “Expiration Date,” details what it feels like to realize that your future together will be at a physical distance. This was one of the many songs Burnett wrote about her situation. She found that writing music was a positive way to channel the pain.

“I wanted to remember how wonderful the relationship was,” Burnett said. “I wanted him to know that even after we stopped talking, stopped dating, he still meant a lot to me and I hoped that I still meant a lot to him.”

Loving another person from a distance isn’t just about leading with our hearts; it requires logical, pragmatic thinking. It’s difficult to accept that despite all the love and passion you feel for one another, life can get in the way of being together. 

There is no one straight path to dealing with a breakup or getting over someone, but there are healthy ways to make things easier and to learn from the situation. NYU Clinical Assistant Professor at the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Francesco Ferrari suggests that people not rush moving on. With breakups, it’s important to acknowledge your emotions and your grief rather than jumping into another relationship. 

“Every loss serves as a learning opportunity to grow,” Ferrari said.

To learn more about yourself and reflect after a breakup, Ferrari recommends it is helpful to limit contact with your ex because it becomes more difficult to heal if two partners continue to talk or engage sexually. 

Taking care of yourself is always important, but prioritizing self-growth and positive talk is critical following the end of a relationship.

“I feel what it taught me most is that there are gonna be different phases of your life that happen for different reasons,” Burnett said. “I fell in love, I got a boyfriend and we broke up. That is an important chapter that has now closed. You can’t dwell on that. You need to move forward. You’re in your hot girl era. You’ll fall in love again.”