When I found myself in a long-distance relationship, I wrote an app to make it better

“Because it sucks being apart.”
“Because it sucks being apart.”
Image: AP Photo
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Last spring — four years into my short-to-normal distance relationship — my girlfriend got an offer for a dream job in Los Angeles. Unfortunately, we didn’t live there.

But a dream job’s a dream job so a week later she was landing at LAX. We were suddenly in a long distance relationship and it sucked.

We texted constantly. We’d pester each other to send selfies. Our chat history was soon inundated with love notes and separation gripes (“Being apart is stupid,” “I have no reason to clean myself,” obfuscated photos of our genitals captioned “Useless,” etc).

But texting didn’t feel like enough after a while. Taking selfies all the time made us feel awkward because we’re not teenagers. Anything that wasn’t a sweet nothing easily got lost in the mix.

It wasn’t efficient, either. The number of taps involved to send a selfie and an “I love you” is 17: launch Messages app, tap camera icon, select ‘take photo,’ flip camera, capture photo, confirm photo, ‘I’, <space>, ‘l’, ‘o’, ‘v’, ‘e’, <space>, ‘y’, ‘o’, ‘u’, and then finally ‘Send.’ That’s not even accounting for punctuation and broken heart/crying face emoji. I’ve got shit to do.

Existing “couples apps” failed us as well. They were either over-designed, over-featured or just lame. Often all three. Some were so convoluted that it was difficult to pair with your partner. Others included features like shopping lists because there’s nothing more romantic than requesting the ingredients for taco night and toilet paper. Thumb kisses were actually conceived of and built into an app. People were expected to use them.

So: fuck it. I decided to write my own. Never wanting to be in a long distance relationship again, it seemed like the right time. Fix it while you are in it.

Initially, I didn’t want any novel functionality. I only wanted to streamline what I did all day. My goals were 1) to quickly and convincingly say, “I’m thinking of you,” and 2) see a recent version of her face as often as possible without bugging her.

The point of all this wasn’t having conversations; it was expressing affection. Immediately.

The first version was an always-on-selfie-cam with a single “Send” button alongside the last photo she’d sent. Every photo had “I love you” plastered over it. It was hardcoded, but whatever, that’s basically what we’d text back and forth anyways.

The number of taps to send a selfie with an “I love you” went from 17 to 2. Launch app and send. Any extra taps resulting from vanity or self-loathing didn’t count. Those were on me.

It was a lot like Snapchat, only faster because it’s paired with one person you love instead of a network of people you don’t. That, and the last photo stuck around, so you always had something nice to stare at. It seemed to work — she sent photos way more often — so I was psyched.

It needed something else, though. Without thumb kisses, it just felt bare. I wanted to stay away from anything requiring user interaction, so I landed on some features that used passive signals. The creepy stuff.

Location is easy and obvious. I had a fair amount of bluetooth experience from my last project — PKPKT, a game that lets you steal from people — so I used that to detect if she was nearby. Essentially, our phones could know if we were with or without each other.

Now I saw her face, neighborhood, local time, weather, how many days we’d been separated and something along the lines of “I want to die.” Just enough, not too much!

It confirmed what we all knew: it’s pretty sunny in Los Angeles (not terribly insightful but I was glad it wasn’t raining on her). I also knew when she was at work or hanging out in Echo Park or whatever—without her having to do a thing. Since people in happy relationships tend not to stalk each other, I dropped maps in favor of a short description like Hollywood or Silver Lake. Like a low-res Find Friends.

Maybe no app will ever come close to saying “I love you” convincingly, but this one did an excellent job of letting her know I was thinking of her. Plus, it was fast and it made being away from her tolerable. Tolerable was way better than terrible. Achievable goals.

Without started as a bespoke app for my relationship, but should work for most couples who actually like each other. It doesn’t need to be a long distance thing, either. We both live in Los Angeles now and still use it — even if she’s just in a meeting across town or I’m grabbing stuff for tacos—because it still sucks to be apart.

Don’t worry, folks; it has a break-up button.

This post originally appeared at Medium.