MANILA, Philippines - Social media and technology have changed people's lives in many meaningful ways. While stories of heroism and selflessness amid times of adversity have been consistently lauded online, the very same platform has been instrumental in helping interpersonal relationships thrive, romantic ones included.
While most couples are making plans to spend some time together on Valentine's Day, there are those who are celebrating it apart. However, being physically apart doesn't seem to be that dreadful, especially with social media, smartphones, and mobile Internet making communication more convenient than ever.
Here are stories of two couples -- one starting out a long-distance relationship, and another who, prior to their marriage, were in one for years.
Meet Gianco Cui, a Sydney-based primary school teacher and Viella Galvez, an educator and fitness instructor from Manila. The two met during a common friend's wedding in Manila, with Gianco flying over to spend the holidays and become his friend's groomsman.
"I know it sounds like something out of a movie, but I was very attracted to her during the wedding and reception," Gianco shared. He mustered enough courage to ask for her number, but lost his phone later that night. "I had to find her on Facebook and send her a private message so I could ask for her number again."
"Since he didn't have a phone and the holiday season was in full force, we would communicate via Facebook, then SMS, then Whatsapp and iMessage -- literally all available avenues of communication -- as the days progressed, and would regularly alternate between the 4," Viella added.
This is both Viella and Gianco's first time to be in a long-distance relationship. “I've lived in Sydney for 4 years now so my trip back to the Philippines last December was just a short vacation away from Australia. Last thing I expected from my trip home was to find love and commitment. It was a very pleasant surprise,” Gianco said.
"But the thing about a long-distance relationship, if you get into it half-heartedly, it will not survive. You have to lock-down the next time you'll see each other again and you need to ensure that there is adequate communication via Whatsapp/iMessage and planned Facetime/Skype sessions."
"Being on video chat with Gianco as often as we have is a huge help in keeping the communication lines alive. Sometimes it almost feels like we are really together if not for the screen that reminds me that he is actually 6,000+ miles and an 8-hour plane trip away," Viella said.
Viella admitted that her resilience is being tested. "The 3-hour difference might not sound like much, but I can say as early as now that any time difference greater than an hour is still a big factor when in a relationship. I feel like the time difference is a bigger hindrance than the distance."
However, she remains hopeful, because she believes both of them are excellent communicators. "I always thought I could never endure being in such a setup, but things change when you find someone who's on the same page as you are."
She also gained new insight about the myth of "quality time" spent by couples in a more conventional setup. "From our experience, not all couples in closer proximity get to spend quality time together. If anything, I feel the distance and the additional time difference between us really pushes us to make sure that every minute spent talking is used to give the other our full, undivided attention. This is opposed to couples in close proximity who might tend to take their significant other's presence for granted since they know their partner is always within physical reach."
Gianco agreed, saying that undivided attention is key, whether in person or communicating online. "We get to know each other more while coping with the distance."
Currently, the two are managing expectations by setting short-term goals, such as being in the same zip code every 3 or 4 months. "Either I fly to Sydney, he flies home, or we meet somewhere in the middle for a weekend or more to spend time together," she shared.
While the two are only in their second month of dating, their approach to it is uncannily similar. Viella acknowledges that every relationship has its own pros and cons, and a long-distance one is only hard work if one's heart isn't fully in it, just like any other.
And Gianco couldn't agree more. "Distance is such a petty obstacle to overcome when you've found someone you truly love," he said.
Together at last
Singapore-based newlyweds Christophe Altaie and Vicky Ras-Altaie met for the first time in 2007 at a company event in Jakarta. "He claimed he already noticed me back then, but we each had our own attachments at that time so we did not really make any progress on the dating front," Vicky shared.
A year later, they both found themselves single and decided to date exclusively. "Facebook provided the avenue for us to get a little bit bolder with our online coquetry," she admitted. Two-and-a-half years into the relationship, they got engaged, and late last year, got married.
However, prior to getting married, they did not share the same country code. Christophe has been living in Singapore for many years, and Vicky in Manila.
"At the beginning, there was no talk of marriage between us – so we just tried to make the long distance thing work while managing expectations at the same time," Vicky recalled.
"We relied mostly on social media -- thank you Facebook and Skype! Also email, BBM, and later on Whatsapp. I didn’t have Internet connection at my condo in Manila so we would normally just have a weekend Skype session. BBM/Whatsapp was almost a daily thing and so was a phone call."
Vicky and Christophe's job required a lot of traveling, and worked to their advantage. "We would always find a way to visit each other. He came to the Philippines a few times and I made a few trips to Singapore as well. We also went on Christmas, birthday and beach holidays together. We were quite resourceful," and lets out a little chuckle.
In a long-distance relationship, communication is of absolute importance. Vicky admitted that if they did not make an effort to talk to each other once a day no matter where they were in the world, their situation would have been a lot different. "Perhaps, we would not even last a year," she said.
"We always say that we owe technology and the Internet so much," she added. "These tools have made the distance both bearable and manageable – sometimes a lot of fun, even." Learning to manage expectations well is another important element for both of them.
Being apart most of the time set Vicky and Christophe apart from their other friends with more conventional setups. "We did not have those cutesy monthsary or anniversary things most girls find to be a great deal these days. We know we won’t have dinner or exchange of gifts on those days anyway so we learned not to stress ourselves out so much because of that. Instead, we invested our time on planning for the next visit or beach trip and later on, our wedding."
While managing expectations, the two eventually found themselves taking their commitment very seriously.
"On the day that we decided we want the idea of forever for us, we tried to follow all the necessary steps to make sure we catch the next train heading towards our destination. We both want nothing more than to make our relationship last for a very, very long time and we’re working on that every day," Vicky said.
And even if they're now both living in Singapore together, the lessons they learned from their long-distance relationship carry over to their marriage -- communication is always key, whether online or offline. - Rappler.com