We surveyed 7392 Americans from all across the States about their experience with Long-Distance Relationships (LDR).
In particular, we wanted to know how many long-distance relationships are successful and what makes them work out (or not).
As it turned out, most respondents (75.5%) had never been in long-distance relationships. We asked the 1814 people who had been in LDRs a series of questions to get the most up-to-date information about long-distance relationships, why people get into them, and what happens within them.
Here’s what we found.
Table of Contents
Summary of Key Findings
- 31% of couples have closed the distance. Another 26% have a definite end plan in place to close the distance. That means as many as 57% of LDRs were either successful or close to success.
- 32% of respondents said they wouldn’t choose to be in an LDR again
- Older people are less optimistic about LDR than younger people – 38% of those over 45s said they wouldn’t be in an LDR again, whereas only 27% of 18-24s said the same.
- People define long-distance relationships differently. 51% of respondents believed long-distance meant living at least 2 hours away, while 50.8% said it meant living in a different state or country. (one person could select several options).
- Cheating was reported in 22% of long-distance relationships (either the respondent or their partner cheated, or both).
- Bad or Not Enough Communication was the biggest reason for LDR failure, with 40.2% of respondents thinking it was important. It got more votes than Jealousy (28.7%) or Cheating (17.5%).
- 5.1% of LDR were open relationships, similar to the general population.
- 8.8% of those aged 65+ had open relationships, more than any other age group and twice as many as 25-34 year-olds (4.4%).
- Couples in LDR who meet more frequently are less likely to cheat. For couples who met once a month, 68% of them were certain no cheating had occurred, compared to 46% of couples who met every 4-6 months.
- 71.2% of respondents said that work or study was the reason they entered into long-distance relationships.
- 50.8% of respondents stated that they lived in an LDR for more than a year.
- 11% of people in LDR have never met in real life, which correlates with the fact that 15% of respondents met online.
- 75.5% of those we asked had never been in a long-distance relationship (out of 7392 US respondents)
The main goal of our research was to find out how common long-distance relationships are and the opinions of people who have been in them.
We found that existing studies either were outdated or didn’t reveal much about where they got the data, which made us question the viability of the results.
Hence we conducted a representative survey of 7392 Americans asking them “Are you living or have you ever lived in a long-distance relationship?”
If respondents answered with some version of “yes”, we asked them 9 further questions to learn more about their experiences with long-distance relationships and their opinions. 1,175 responded in the affirmative and were asked the subsequent questions.
All data was collected anonymously using Google Surveys platform targeting only Americans. You can access raw data of the survey here.
- Are you living or have ever lived in long-distance Relationships (*LDR*)?
- How old are you?
- What is necessary to call a relationship long-distance? (You can select several, but pick the most relevant).
- How long are you living (or lived) in a long-distance relationship (LDR)?
- How often do you meet?
- What’s the main reason why you are living (or did live) in LDR?
- Do you plan to close the distance?
- Have you or your partner ever cheated on each other?
- What do you think is the biggest LDR killer, the biggest reason for long-distance relationship failure?
- Do you consider a long-distance relationship a viable long-term solution for you?
Once we had the results we analyzed the data to find patterns and trends.
#1 – 31% Of Couples Have Closed The Distance
Success in any relationship is hard to measure. Is success celebrating a particular anniversary together? A couple spending their whole lives married together?
For long-distance relationships, there is an easier metric to look at: closing the distance, at which point the long-distance part of the relationship ends. This was how we defined success in long-distance relationships.
We found that 31% of responses claimed the respondent had closed the distance already. Moreover, a further 26% stated they either “had a definite end plan in place” or were “engaged or married with a definite end plan.”
With that in mind, we could say that the success rate of long-distance relationships is somewhere between 31% and 57%, since an “end plan” does not automatically constitute success.
We can compare this to the commonly cited (but probably inaccurate) statistic1 that 40-50% of marriages end in divorce.
Despite the common refrain “long-distance never works out”, it seems that LDRs have comparable chances of success to proximal relationships.
#2 – A Lot Of Folks Wouldn’t Do It Again – Even If It Worked Out The First Time
Despite the success rate of long-distance relationships, 32% of those surveyed who had been in at least one LDR claimed they did not consider LDR a viable long-term solution.
Of those who answered they would not do it again, 59.5% claimed they had broken up with their partners. 28.6% had closed the distance and were (presumably) still with their partners, while 11.8% were still in LDR.
We can take the optimistic view – that these 40.4% of respondents would not do it again because they already found the love of their life – but that still leaves the majority whose relationships failed and left them disillusioned.
It’s rare for someone in a proximal relationship that ends to say they wouldn’t date someone nearby again – despite what Hollywood romcoms might tell you – so a failed long-distance relationship might leave more scars and negativity than breaking it off with someone who lives a few streets away.
#3 – Older People Are Less Optimistic About LDR Than Younger People
38% of over 45s said they wouldn’t be in an LDR again, whereas only 27% of 18-24s said the same.
This suggests that older people don’t want to spend long periods of time apart from their significant others, at least as much as young people.
It makes sense given that 18-24-year-olds are much more likely to be in college, which is one of the major reasons for long-distance. And since they’re studying, they might feel like they have less time to date anyway.
Whereas those aged 45 and older might feel like there’s not much point in wasting time. They might have more freedom to move and be with the people they care about in person.
So the reasons behind it could be practical rather than sentimental.
#4 – People Define Long-Distance Relationships Differently
It seems like no one can agree exactly on what a long-distance relationship is exactly.
For this question survey respondents could provide more than one answer, and many did (they can add their own too, but we didn’t find any surprising insights there). Percentages given for this finding means how many respondents out of the total gave this answer.
For example, the top answer was “Living at least 2 hours travel distance away”, with 51% of respondents agreeing this was one way to define an LDR.
Answers to the question “What is necessary to call a relationship long-distance?” included:
- Living at least 2 hours travel distance away (51%)
- Living in a different state or country (50.8%)
- When you aren’t able to meet casually (26.2%)
- Need to plan meetings 2 or more weeks ahead (14.9%)
- When meeting creates a big financial burden (12.6%)
- When either person isn’t happy that way (just 1 disenchanted individual)
So it’s clear that while most people agree some level of geographical difficulty is involved, the exact limits of LDR are much harder to pin down.
#5 – Cheating Was Reported In 22% Of Long-Distance Relationships
It’s notoriously difficult to get accurate information about cheating in relationships. Even in anonymous surveys, people don’t want to be honest all the time.
22% of our respondents said that there was cheating in their relationship – either the respondent cheated, their partner did, or both.
Another 13.5% claimed they weren’t sure if their partner had cheated or not.
And in total, 58.5% of respondents were totally confident that no cheating occurred in their relationships.
That means long-distance probably does not significantly increase the likelihood of infidelity in relationships, which might be surprising to some.
#6 – Not Communicating Properly Is The Worst
Long-distance relationships fail for a multitude of reasons – all of the reasons a proximal relationship can fail, along with a few that distance adds or exacerbates.
We found that Bad or Not Enough Communication was the single biggest cause of relationship failure for 40.2% of respondents.
This was more than typical long-distance issues such as Lack of Intimacy or Physical Touch (33%) and Not Having an End Plan (30%).
Lack of communication was also considered a bigger issue than common problems in any relationship; namely Jealousy/Lack of Trust (28.7%) or even Cheating (17.5%).
This means that long-distance relationships frequently fail for the same reasons as proximal relationships, but they can be even harder to navigate successfully.
#7 – Only 5.1% of LDR were open relationships
Since it’s harder for couples in long-distance to meet and be close to each other, one might expect a high proportion of open relationships, where partners are free to date or be intimate with others outside the primary relationship.
Open relationships are generally under-researched, but according to data pulled from the 2012 National Survey of Health and Sexual Behavior4, approximately 4% of relationships are open in some way or another.
5.1% of our respondents claimed their long-distance relationships were open, similar to the National Survey data.
That means proximity doesn’t seem to have much of an effect on whether a relationship is open or not.
#8 – Older People Reported More Open Relationships Than Younger People
Interestingly, older respondents were more likely to report open relationships.
8.8% of those aged 65 or older said they had open relationships, compared to 5.4% of 18-24-year-olds and just 4.4% of those between 25 and 34.
This goes against the conventional view that younger people are more open to non-monogamous relationships.
It’s important to remember that we were asking participants about historical relationships as well as current ones, so it is plausible that many or even most of these open relationships occurred in the past.
Given the reputation of the 1960s and 70s, when many of the older respondents would have been in college, one possible conclusion is that “free love” college students were more open and non-monogamous than their present-day counterparts.
Whatever the reason, it is clear that non-monogamous relationships are not a new phenomenon.
#9 – Couples In LDR Who Met More Frequently Were Less Likely To Cheat
Cheating is one of the gravest causes of concern in any relationship. Victims of cheating are often left confused, hurt, and wondering what else they could have done.
For LDR couples at least, it seems that meeting more often makes cheating much less likely.
68% of couples who met at least once a month were certain no one in the relationship had been unfaithful.
Couples who met less frequently were more likely to report infidelity. For couples who met every 4-6 months only 46% of them were confident no cheating occurred.
And for couples who had never met in real life, only 34% could confidently claim no infidelity occurred.
#10 – Work Was The Biggest Cause For Long-Distance
39.8% of respondents said that work was the reason they entered into long-distance relationships.
Study came in as the second most common reason, with 31.4% of responses.
Note that “What’s the main reason why you are living (or did live) in LDR?” was a multiple answer question – respondents could give as many responses as they felt was necessary.
Unsurprisingly, Studying was much more common for the 18-24 demographic, with 49.1% citing it as the reason for their relationship being long-distance. This age group were also the most likely to state they met online, with 23.7% of them giving this answer.
Despite being a famous and common media trope, only 0.6% of responses cited “Military” as a reason for their LDR.
In total, 17% of responses stated they met their partner online, no doubt aided by the prevalence of online dating and social media as resources to find romantic partners.
#11 – People Were Willing To Spend A Long Time Away From Each Other
There was a lot of variation in duration for LDRs, but on the whole, it seems people can be very patient when it comes to closing the distance.
50.8% of respondents stated that they lived in an LDR for more than a year. 30.6% were in such relationships for 2 years or more, with one answer stating they were in such a relationship for 21 years and since closed the distance.
Of the respondents who spent more than 2 years in long-distance, 30% had since closed the distance – similar to the overall number who had closed. So spending a longer time apart is not an indicator that the relationship is doomed.
Perhaps on the contrary – a longer-term commitment to long-distance could mean that couples are more willing to make sacrifices for each other and be patient in the long term, an important part of any successful relationship.
#12 – 11% of Respondents Had Never Met Their Partner In Real Life
Most people would probably agree that physical closeness is important for bonding in relationships.
On the other hand, the proliferation of social media necessarily means that couples meeting online are more common than ever.
So it may or may not be surprising that 11% of respondents had never met their LDR partners in real life.
What is likely more surprising is that these respondents were not much more likely to have had their relationships fail. Out of those who never met their partner in real life, 26.6% stated they were “single right now” or “broke up” to question 7 (do you plan to close the distance?).
This is not significantly higher than the proportion of respondents who met their partners more than once a month and were “single right now” or “broke up” (24.6%).
#13 – 75.5% Of Total Respondents Had Never Been In A Long-Distance Relationship
With contemporary technology and the increasing demand to work and study abroad, long-distance relationships are increasing.
So it might be a surprise to learn that out of the 7392 respondents surveyed, 75.5% of them had never had a long-distance relationship.
Out of the total, only 8.1% had been in an LDR and closed the distance.
(We did not ask respondents who replied “no, I have never lived in a long-distance relationship” any further questions, so they have been excluded from the remainder of our findings.)
LDRs became less prevalent as respondents got older, with 80.5% of 45-year-olds and older saying they had never been in one. For those younger than 45, the figure was 72.9%.
So LDRs are still uncommon despite the ever-developing ecosystem of technology to facilitate such relationships.
We’d like to hear from you. What was your #1 takeaway from this research? Did one of our findings surprise you?
Or perhaps you have a question you’d like to know more about.
Either way, let us know in the comments.
And here’s the link if you want to investigate the raw data yourself.
And finally the full infographic, feel free to embed it and share it.
(Click to enlarge.)
- “What is the Divorce Rate in America?” Fatherly. https://www.fatherly.com/love-money/what-is-divorce-rate-america/.
- “Extradyadic Involvement During Dating”. Sage Journals. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/0265407599162008.
- “Who Cheats More? The Demographics of Infidelity in America”. Institute for Family Studies. https://ifstudies.org/blog/who-cheats-more-the-demographics-of-cheating-in-america.
- “Open Relationships, Nonconsensual Nonmonogamy, and Monogamy Among U.S. Adults: Findings from the 2012 National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior”. Springer Nature. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10508-018-1178-7.