Loving Long Distance Without Physical Touch

Olivia Gaughran
5 min readJan 10, 2019

How in the world can we be in sync with the person we love when they aren’t next to us? Loving without touching is a new feeling.


The blurry vision from squinted, exhausted 4:30am security lines and the incredible roar of a 175,000lb jet plane taking off became the way that I measured my days in the fall. From flight confirmations and joyful countdowns, the first hug and the smell of familiarity, the sweet feeling of safe togetherness and undivided attention, to the last snuggle and painful hiss of the airport doors closing behind you; there is a raw ache that airports create and leave behind. I am thankful for every TSA agent who noticed my red eyes and tear-stained cheeks but said nothing, knowing that there was a hard goodbye behind me. There is an intimacy to airports that I wouldn’t understand until I had to go through them to reach my partner — they keep me caught between going and leaving, with long stretches of my own life directing my days in the middle. Airports bring us back home and take us away again, often at the crack of dawn (those are the cheapest tickets, after all). However, just as my brother told me yesterday, I chose this lifestyle. I chose to make the best of the weekends of coming and going, but I did have to do some intense adjusting in order to both maintain my sanity and the health of the relationship that it’s all for. I’m still adjusting; every day is an adjustment. There is a beautiful kind of madness that comes with tying your life to another, especially if they aren’t usually in the same city as you (or state, or country). It requires synchronization and openness to new ways of expressing love and security.



I’ll preface this next paragraph with the fact that I am still learning, every day, what it means to be a loving partner, whether I am right next to him or far away. This love is sweetly simple and beautifully complicated. However, when it comes to better navigating the frequently complex feelings of relationships and my behavior within them, frank honesty about myself and my behavior helps.

When I’m feeling loved and in balance with my body and relationships, I operate at my most interpersonal and can exist in harmony with the emotional connections I make. At my best, I’m warm, encouraging, gentle, and stable. I pay close attention to the needs of the people around me and can take care of them with ease and grace. At my worst, however, I’m moody, possessive, snarky, and prideful. Feeling abandoned or rejected breeds poor choices on my part (like an uncalled-for silent treatment), and it often requires verbal affirmation and physical soothing in order to un-bristle my inner porcupine. In a long-distance relationship, I’ve had to learn how to un-porcupine without physical touch. As much as I’m sure he’d like to, Jo can’t wrap me up in a hug whenever I’ve had a bad day — and that has been tough to adapt to. Loving long distance means you don’t feel reassured through the warm envelopment of another’s hand in your own and you can’t rub away the stress in their shoulders. You can’t imitate an apology through a tentative back-hug. My parents, especially my father, rubbed my back and held my hand since I was a baby. My first instinct and most immediate love language is rooted in physicality and the security that is conveyed through the warmth of human touch.

Being rubbed or touched by people I love means that everything is okay — it is a sign that I, too, am loved. It means pure, unconditional acceptance of my body and the person inside of it. I would argue that there is an inseparable link between the physical body and intangible feeling of connectedness to others — the feeling of being a part of a loving whole. The body is how we feel safe, both physically and emotionally. We feel safe when we feel accepted, and I most easily feel accepted through the reassurance of another body pressed against mine. This is a wonderful truth about my own body story. Touch, the physicality of intimacy (both familial and romantic) equals care and strength to me. Therefore, you might be able to guess that it has been an interesting process to feel secure in love — secure at all — without all of that. Loving without touching is a new feeling. It’s a little sad and often lonely. This is my first year of living in my own space — with no roommate — and even that has been an adjustment. It means I have had to be my own source of care and strength. This, I believe, has been one of the most remarkable gifts of my sophomore year thus far. Living alone is hard. I know that I prefer living with or around other people because I have discovered that there is a magical quality in co-habituating with people who I feel emotionally connected to. Growing up, that was my family; now, it’s shifting towards a need for the presence of close friends and my significant other. Regardless of all of that, though, I have really worked on fulfilling my own needs by myself. I can only take care of myself — and that, surprisingly, has felt really good.

It’s up to me to get out of bed and do my laundry. It’s up to me to reassure myself when I start to panic over things I have no control over — it’s up to me to soothe myself back to sleep after a terrible nightmare. These things might seem arbitrary to you, but to me, they mean victory. This doesn’t mean that I have stopped needing anyone else’s help, though. My ‘Favorites’ on my phone know — they are the ones who get calls at odd hours in the day when I need input, support, or understanding from someone else. I have my home team, the people who shine alongside me, to lean on. Frankly, I couldn’t do it on my own. We all have our safety net, and I am no exception.


There is a quiet strength that comes when I take really good care of myself. I also believe that the quietness grows, after sustained nourishment and continued self-care, into almost an exuberant rush of new capability — an increased capacity for kindness, empathy, patience, gentleness, and excitement for a new day. I have lots to juggle and balance this year, but I want to do it in a way that allows me to flourish and blossom within my relationships. I’m going to continue working on what happens to me when I feel rejected or abandoned from far away, because that is when all of the delicate beauty of being myself slips away into something borderline-disastrous. However, that’s an article for another day (and honestly, waaaay too much to tackle in the first two weeks of the new year). For now, I’ll focus on appreciating the lovely way in which it feels to be me and in love in this moment. Because it feels really damn good.



Olivia Gaughran

Medical anthropologist, editor, and creator of The Olly Project @ theollyproject.com! Probably reading bell hooks or taking a long walk.