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What Science Has to Say About Long-Distance Relationships

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If there’s one word we associate with long-distance relationships, it’s “doomed.” While texting, video chatting, and a host of apps make it easy to talk to your boo whenever you want, wherever you are, living far apart is still a challenge a lot of couples can’t overcome.

Many people embark on some kind of long-distance relationship at some point during their lives, whether it’s a high school sweetheart with different college dreams, a study abroad fling turned long-term, a brief separation while transitioning into a new job, or regular time away because of military deployment. Almost 3.5 million married couples in the U.S. live apart, and as many as 75 percent of current college students have been or are in long-distance relationships—though no doubt many have been the victim of the Turkey Dump, that college rite of passage when droves of long-distance couples from high school break up over their first weekend back at home together.

Here’s what science has to say about how people cope, and what the odds are for a happy ending are. Keep in mind that technology is changing how we view distance, and a long-distance relationship in the early 1990s was vastly different than one in 2015. (For reference: Skype debuted in 2003.)

1. Long-distance relationships aren’t any unhappier than geographically close ones.

A 2014 study of more than 700 long-distance partners and 400 geographically close partners found not that many significant differences between the two types of relationships. People who lived far away from their romantic partners were not more likely to be unhappy in their relationships than people who lived close to their special someone. The researchers write that "individuals in long-distance dating relationships are not at a disadvantage."

2. Distance can enhance some types of communication.

A 2013 study by researchers from Cornell University and the City University of Hong Kong found that distance can breed intimacy. In analyzing people’s diaries of their texts, phone calls, video chats, and other communications with their long-distance partners, the researchers found that long-distance couples felt more intimate with each other compared to geographically close couples, in part because the LDR couples disclosed more about themselves in their interactions. Another group of researchers previously found that long-distance couples reported lower levels of “problematic” communication, including significantly less “minor psychological aggression towards one’s partner.” It's hard to snap at your partner when you have to pick up the phone to do so.

3. Being apart makes you idealize your partner. 

That same study found that long-distance couples tended to idealize their partners' behaviors. After all, it's a lot easier to imagine your boyfriend as a chivalrous hunk when you don’t have to look at his dirty laundry or watch him talk with spinach in his teeth. 

4. Couples are happier if distance is understood to be temporary. 

A 2007 study by Katheryn Maguire, a researcher who specializes in relationships and distance communication, found that long-distance partners who were certain that they would reunite with their partners were more satisfied and less distressed—understandably—than those who didn’t know when or if they’d ever live in the same city as their beau again. However, the study didn’t test whether these couples were more likely to break up, just that they reported being happier with a little certainty that one day they’d live in the same city again. 

5. Some people actually prefer long-distance relationships. 

In the same 2007 study, some participants reported that they knew they would reunite with their partners, but were unhappy with that outcome. Others felt uncertain about their future with their long-distance partners, but didn’t care much. This “suggests that there is a subset of individuals who may prefer to remain in a perpetual [long-distance relationships],” Maguire writes, and some people “may actively seek out a long-distance relationship so they can have the best of both worlds (a romantic relationship and plenty of autonomy).”

6. Women adjust to distance more easily.

A 1994 study of college students in long-distance relationships found that women adjusted better to both the initial separation and the eventual breakup. Breaking up actually decreased women’s distress levels. Meanwhile, men who were broken up with were the most distressed, compared to women who were broken up with or men who initiated their breakup.  

7. Long-distance couples think they won’t break up…

A 2012 study by University of Denver psychologists followed 870 young people in the U.S. (not just students) in both long-distance and proximate relationships. Compared to people who lived close to their significant other, people in long-distance relationships were more likely to perceive that they would still be dating a year later, and that they would one day marry that partner. By the time researchers sent them a follow-up questionnaire four months later, however, long-distance couples weren’t any more stable. One-fifth of them had broken up—about the same as the individuals who were dating someone close to home. 

8. …But a significant number of long-distance couples do break up upon reuniting.

A 2006 study of 335 students at Ohio State University found that a full third of long-distance relationships end within three months of reuniting in the same city. 

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10 Surprising Facts about Alexander Graham Bell
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Alexander Graham Bell may have been born in Scotland and become an American citizen, but he called Nova Scotia, Canada home for the last few decades of his life. By the time Bell was 38, he was living in Washington, D.C. and involved in endless draining lawsuits concerning patents over the telephone. He came across a book by Charles Dudley Warner called Baddeck and That Sort of Thing, which described the small fishing village of Baddeck in Nova Scotia as “the most beautiful saltwater lake I have even seen … its embracing hills, casting a shadow from its wooded islands … here was an enchanting vision.” After reading that description, Bell moved there with his wife and two children. He made the idyllic Canadian village his home for nearly 40 years, until his death.

1. BELL’S FIRST PASSION WAS HELPING THE DEAF.

Alexander Graham Bell and his family
Alexander Graham Bell and his wife, Mabel Gardiner Hubbard, and two of their children
Library of Congress, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Alexander Graham Bell’s primary focus was on helping deaf students communicate. His grandfather had been an elocutionist, and his father, Melville, developed a system called Visible Speech, a collection of written symbols designed to help the deaf while speaking. (Melville was name-checked in George Bernard Shaw’s preface to Pygmalion, and is thought to be a possible basis for Professor Higgins.) Both Alexander Graham Bell’s mother and wife were deaf, and became the inspiration for his work. In 1872, when he was 25, he opened a “School of Vocal Physiology and Mechanics of Speech” in Boston.

2. THE TELEPHONE WAS INVENTED FOR LOVE

Luke Spencer

One of Bell’s pupils was Mabel Hubbard, the daughter of a wealthy Massachusetts family, with whom he fell in love. Her father, lawyer Gardiner Greene Hubbard, the first president of the National Geographic Society, opposed the marriage due to Bell’s poor finances. But only a few days after establishing the Bell Telephone Company and securing his fortune, Bell married Mabel. For a wedding present, he gave her all but ten of his 1507 shares in the company. On his desk in his study at Baddeck, Bell kept a photograph of his beloved Mabel; written on the back, in his own hand, it says: “the girl for whom the telephone was invented.”

3. THE FIRST TELEPHONE MESSAGE MAY HAVE BEEN A CALL FOR HELP.

It was while experimenting with acoustic telegraphy alongside his assistant Thomas Watson, a machinist, that Bell invented the telephone. On the evening of March 10, 1876, with a receiver set up in Watson’s room and the prototype transmitter in his own room down the hallway, Bell uttered the first words sent down a telephone wire: “Mr. Watson, come here, I want to see you.” As Watson recalled, “I rushed down the hall … and found he had upset the acid of a battery over his clothes … his shout for help that night … doesn’t make as pretty a story as did the first sentence ‘What Hath God Wrought’ which Morse sent over his new telegraph ... 30 years before, but it was an emergency call.”

However, according to Watson’s great-granddaughter Susan Cheever, the acid was an invention of Watson’s 50 years after the fact. To make her case, she quotes a letter from Watson soon after the momentous call, in which he said, “[T]here was little of dramatic interest in the occasion.”

Bell's patent 174,465 was filed with the U.S. Patent Office at almost the same time as another engineer, Elisha Gray, filed a caveat (a document saying he was going to file for a patent in three months) for a similar invention. That sparked one of more than 500 various lawsuits over the telephone—all of which were unsuccessful.

4. BELL PIONEERED WHAT WOULD BECOME CASSETTE TAPES, FLOPPY DISCS, AND FIBER OPTICS.

In 1880, the French government awarded Bell 50,000 francs for the invention of the telephone. With the prize money he founded the Volta Laboratory, dedicated to the “increase and diffusion of knowledge relating to the deaf.”

Of the 18 patents held by Bell alone, and the 12 he shared with collaborators, many related to improving the lives of deaf people. Bell considered once such patent, the photophone, the “greatest invention I have ever made, greater than the telephone.” The photophone was designed for optical wireless communication, which was quite a feat for 1880. Bell and an assistant, Charles Summer Tainter, transmitted a wireless voice message by light beam over a distance of 200 meters from a school roof to their laboratory—a precursor to fiber-optics one hundred years later

They are also said to have attempted to impress magnetic fields as a way of reproducing sound. Although they abandoned the idea after failing to produce a workable prototype, Bell had in fact been pioneering the principle that would one day become the tape recorder and the computer floppy disc. One of their improvements to the gramophone was patented under the Volta Graphophone Company, which would one day evolve into Columbia Records and Dictaphone.

5. HE ALSO INVENTED THE WORLD’S FASTEST SPEEDBOAT …

After becoming interested in hydroplanes, Bell sketched out an early model of what would become known as a hydrofoil boat. Along with aviation pioneer Frederick “Casey” Baldwin, Bell began building and testing what they called the HD-4 in the laboratory at Baddeck. On the Bras d’Or lake outside Bell’s home, the boat set the world speed record of 70.86 mph on September 9, 1919. The remnants of the world’s fastest boat can still be seen at the Alexander Graham Bell Historic site and museum in Baddeck.

6. … AND HELPED OUT WITH CANADA’S FIRST CONTROLLED PLANE.

The Bras d’Or lake also saw another milestone in Canadian history, when the AEA Silver Dart, one of the earliest aircraft, made the first powered flight in Canada in February 1909. As early as 1892, Bell had been developing motor-powered aircraft, and had done extensive experiments with tetrahedron kites. Under Bell’s guidance, co-designer John McCurdy managed to fly the Silver Dart a half-mile over Nova Scotia. A few weeks later, after more tinkering in Bell’s workshops, the flight managed more than 22 miles. By the summer of 1909, the Silver Dart carried the first-ever passenger in Canadian airspace.

7. HE WAS HELPFUL TO NEIGHBORS.

Alexander Graham Bell with family and friends
Library of Congress, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

There is a local story told in Baddeck of how, one day soon after moving to the town, Bell was walking along the main street and saw the editor of the local newspaper having problems with his wall-mounted telephone. Bell walked in and promptly unscrewed the earpiece, revealing a trapped fly, which he blew out of it. The astonished newspaper editor asked how the stranger had known how to fix the newfangled invention, to which Bell replied, “because I am the inventor of that instrument.”

8. HE INVENTED A METAL DETECTOR TO SAVE A PRESIDENT’S LIFE.

A metal detector like the one Bell invented, on display at the Bell Historic Site in Baddeck.
Luke Spencer

The first known use of the metal detector was not for beachcombing or gold prospecting, but rather as an attempt to save the life of a U.S. President. James Garfield had been shot at the Baltimore & Potomac Railway station in July 1881 by Charles J. Guiteau. The bullet was lodged somewhere in the president’s back and couldn’t be located by the attending doctors. Alexander Graham Bell, a visitor to the stricken Garfield, quickly developed a metal detector with the purpose of finding the bullet. Inspired by French inventor Gustave Trouvé’s earlier handheld device, Bell built a device based on electromagnetics. Unfortunately, the metal springs in the mattress Garfield was lying on confused the detector—or so Bell would later claim—and the 20th president of the United States died of an infection in the wound that September.

9. YOU CAN ALSO THANK HIM FOR NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE.

The National Geographic magazine as we know it today was largely the brainchild of Alexander Graham Bell. Under his father-in-law, the exclusive society’s first president, the prestigious club house in Washington D.C. was struggling. Membership was dwindling to just under a thousand people when Bell was elected its second president. He immediately set to work to revitalize the society, and in particular its journal, which, according to Bell, “everyone put on his library shelf and few people read.”

Bell relaunched the journal with a new slogan, “The World And All That Is In It.” He promoted illustrations and good photography, introducing “pictures of life and action … pictures that tell a story.”

10. AFTER HIS DEATH, THE PHONE COMPANIES PAID TRIBUTE.

Alexander Graham Bell died in his adopted home of Nova Scotia on August 2, 1922, with his beloved Mabel by his side. It’s a common custom to hold a minute’s silence when someone of note has passed away, but for Alexander Graham Bell, a remarkable tribute took place after his funeral. Every phone in North America was silenced for a minute in “honor of the man who had given to mankind the means for direct communication at a distance.”

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Did You Get a 'Free Cruise' Robocall? You Might Be Owed Up To $900
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Robocalls are the telecommunications plague of the 21st century. With call centers located outside of the United States, illicit telemarketers are able to pester and harass consumers without any real fear of repercussion, even if the call recipient has registered their phone number with the Do Not Call Registry. Usually, these scammers try to extract money from people who believe they owe the IRS money or via some other fiction. A recent settlement, however, has turned the tables, as Today reports.

A Chicago judge recently approved a class-action settlement involving Resort Marketing Group acting on behalf of Royal, Caribbean, and Norwegian cruise lines. The calls claiming that people were owed a “free cruise” were found to be an unauthorized use of phone numbers that Resort Marketing didn’t have permission to use, a violation of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA).

What does that mean for you? If you’ve gotten a call with an offer involving a cruise, you’ll want to head to the suit’s landing page to see if your phone number was among those used during the marketing effort. If the site indicates it was, you can print and mail in a claim form. The suit will pay claimants $300 per call received, up to a maximum of three calls, or $900. It might be the easiest money you ever collect—and a nice bonus for putting up with the dozens of robocalls blowing up your phone. Claims will be accepted through November 3, 2017.

[h/t Today]

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