The new age of digital media is causing a rise in couples attempting to stay connected through the screen

No one said love was easy, and for Colleen Berner, 20, and Brendan Nickles, 22, adding a few thousand miles between themselves has made it even harder.

Nickles returned to St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish in September 2014 while business major Berner continued studying at Mount Royal University.

During an interview last November, the couple shared their positive and negative views of staying connected through screens.

It is an emotional rollercoaster to maintain love across nearly all of Canada, but Berner and Nickles have made it work. Tears were shed when they were asked: What is the best part of your relationship?

“The best thing about our relationship is how we are just so light-hearted and how we always laugh at things, even though we’re sad and miss each other we always are trying to make each other feel better about it,” Nickles said.

With nothing but a digital connection since Christmas, Colleen Berner and Brendan Nickles shared a greatly anticipated beach vacation in Kaliua Kona, Hawaii, for a wedding on March 3, 2015.

Photo Courtesy of Colleen Berner“The best thing about our relationship is probably, same as him, how similar we are. We feed off of each other. We can have really deep conversations and two seconds later we can be laughing about something,” Berner added.

The couple spends their time connecting through Skype, Facebook and texting.

“I realized it before that I had more of a future with her than any girl I had ever met before, and I knew that if we could survive me going to school we could survive anything else in life, and I knew that no matter what I would have always been thinking and talking about her.”

At the time of this Skype interview, Berner and Nickles had only been attempting long distance for about two months.

“It feels like it’s been four years,” Berner said. “Two and a half months has gone by fast but for some reason it just feels like it’s been a year. “

Now the couple, who just celebrated their one year anniversary in May, are in the same city. After Nickles completed his degree he came back to Calgary where he works full-time.
Long distance relationships are becoming more common in the new digital age as the Internet increases opportunities for education and careers worldwide.

Lauren Macartney and Sef Elashry went through a long distance relationship and alternated between visiting Calgary and Edmonton. Lauren and Sef lived together for the summer before returning to their respective cities.

Photo Courtesy of Stefan WrightLauren Macartney and Sef Elashry, both 22, are another couple who have taken the long distance leap and have been moving between cities for the past three years.

Macartney is in Calgary now and Elashry in Edmonton, but Macartney was originally attending Ryerson University in Toronto for the first 18 months of their relationship.

The couple used to rely on Skype exclusively. They would watch TV at the same time and do homework while leaving the computer screen on.

Like other couples, Macartney and Elashry have been exploring digital communication.

SnapChat, a photo app that sends pictures to be viewed for only 10 seconds or less, has been common fixture for many couples attempting to connect through visual images, and brief messages throughout the day, one Macartney and Elashry also use.

FaceTime, texting, and phone calls are also main sources of communication. The couple has less of a commute from Edmonton to Calgary every two to three weeks to see one another. However Macartney still finds herself on her phone more often than when she is around her significant other.

Even with all the options available, spending time apart isn’t always the easiest thing and couples are facing challenges that even social media can’t fix.

“If you’re ever arguing or something it’s so hard to resolve anything over text or even a phone call. Sometimes, until you actually see the person, it’s hard to resolve something, and also just things can get misunderstood over text. It’s easy to not understand things fully when you’re not actually saying it and in front of someone,” Macartney says.

There’s no handbook on how to make long distance love work, however, many couples have their own guidelines to follow.

“One of us will always says good morning, and one of us will always say goodnight. If we didn’t talk throughout the day I think that would be kind of odd. At least a good morning and a goodnight, it doesn’t have to be a constant conversation, so communication is huge,” Macartney says. “Obviously, you have to be very trusting ’cause you don’t know what the person is doing all the time, so there’s kind of unwritten rules. I think we both just have an understanding of what’s okay and what’s not and basically neither of us is going to act in a way that we wouldn’t act if the person was there.”

This summer, Macartney and Elashry are happily living together in Edmonton. Although this is only for a few months while Macartney works, the two have been happy to have the time together.

“It’s nice to have each other,” said Macartney.

Unfortunately, long distance love doesn’t always last and some couples can be torn apart by the miles living apart.

Emma Jeffrey and Andrew Irvine reconnected in Belfast, Ireland when Jeffrey visited Irvine while he attended the University of Limerick on April 16, 2014.

Photo Courtesy of Emma JeffreyEmma Jeffrey, 25, and Andrew Irvine, 26, were on their three-year mark of their relationship spanning from Canada to Ireland.

Jeffrey, who resides in Calgary, is attending the University of Calgary and Irvine, who is studying medicine at University of Limerick in Ireland, had been doing long distance for 16 months of their three-year relationship.

“I used to think I couldn’t do it without him but what’s really cool is he hasn’t pulled me along,” Jeffrey said. “I don’t depend on him, he’s just showed me what I’m capable of doing.”

Using Skype, FaceTime, Google Chat, and WhatsApp (an international texting app, using only Wifi) was their saving grace. According to Jeffrey, the relationship may not have happened at all if it weren’t for these technological advances.

“It’s kind of a benefit doing long, long distance, than short, long distance, because I always know the exact time and date that I will see Andrew next, and I’m never disappointed if I don’t see him sooner than that,” she said.

They talk every day to stay connected, even if just for a minute or two to say hello or goodnight. FaceTime is her favourite to have the visual and audio connection as opposed to just texting.

“It’s funny because sometimes I wonder, ‘Am I more in a relationship with my phone than I am with Andrew?’ Because really, it could be a robot just texting me back, and fulfilling those needs, so that’s why I think its so vital to have that actually FaceTime where you’re seeing each other and hearing each others voices.”

There’s an independency to long distance, which can be nice at times, however, those moments can lead to insecurity and jealousy if not discussed. Irvine was living with two roommates in Ireland, one of whom was a female.

“I just get this jealously factor, that she’s living with him, but not in a romantic sense,” Jeffrey explained. “I’m jealous that she gets to spend the time with him that I wish I could.”

Time and distance, however, took their toll, the largest factor in the two parting ways this summer.

“When you’re away from someone for so long, you forget what it’s like to be with them,” Jeffrey says.

Although the distance posed a challenge, Jeffrey offered a piece of advice for those who may be attempting such a feat in the future.

“It’s really the little things that count. From sending flowers on a random Thursday, just to saying, ‘I love you’, or making up special holidays like half birthdays, and making cards/giving gifts for things like that… the little things really go a long way.”

Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated Saint Francis Xavier University was located in Halifax. The university is located in Antigonish, and the article has been updated. An editing error also resulted in an earlier version of this article incorrectly stating that Lauren Macartney and Sef Elashry currently live together. We regret the error and the information has been updated.

tducklow@cjournal.ca

The editor responisble for this story is Melanie Walsh at mwalsh@cjournal.ca