What Does Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder Mean?

Perhaps you’ve been sad because your girlfriend or boyfriend recently had to move away for school or work, making the relationship long distance. In an effort to cheer you up, a loved one told you, “Don’t worry, absence makes the heart grow fonder.” Did you know what they meant? Wonder if it was, in fact, true? Read on.

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What Does Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder Mean?

This popular proverbial saying expresses the idea that when you’re far away from someone or something, you often realize how much you love them or it—and how much you miss them or it. It conveys the notion that when you’re separated from a person or thing, you can feel even more positively or fondly about that person or thing than when you’re with them/it on a daily basis. 

The saying is often used in the case of long-distance relationships between romantic partners, although it can be used around any relationship, such as that between family members and friends who don’t get to see each other often. Just as it can be used to describe being separated from an animal or even an inanimate thing you love, such as your pet or house, for a period of time. For instance, maybe while your home is being treated for pests, you have to stay in a hotel for a few days. Though you’ve been annoyed that the house has a bug problem, while you’re in the hotel and away from the comfort of your own space, you realize all the things you really love about your house and you miss being there.

Here are some example sentences using the expression absence makes the heart grow fonder:

  • My boyfriend has been on a work trip for two weeks now, and I miss him like crazy. It’s so true that absence makes the heart grow fonder. 
  • I guess they’re right when they say that absence makes the heart grow fonder. I was so tired of school the last month or two of the year and never wanted to get up to go, but now that I’ve been on summer break, I really miss being there and seeing my teachers and friends. 
  • My spouse and I were having trouble in our marriage, so we took some time apart, knowing that absence makes the heart grow fonder. And it worked! We’re no longer talking about getting a divorce.
  • I’d been so annoyed with my noisy neighbors, so I went to stay with a friend at her house. It was really a case of absence makes the heart grow fonder: I missed so much about my place, and even found that I had gotten used to the noise and couldn’t work when it was too quiet. It was like I fell in love with my little apartment all over again. 

You may also hear the phrase as absence makes the heart fonder (without the verb grow) or the variant distance makes the heart grow fonder.

The Origin of the Expression

As is the case with many phrases explored here at The Word Counter, we can’t be entirely sure when or where this saying originated. However, we have some theories.

It’s possible the phrase was born out of a line of poetry by the ancient Roman poet Sextus Propertius. In his Elegies, he wrote, “Always toward absent lovers, love’s tide stronger flows.” Clearly, this line expresses the same sentiment as the saying we know and use today, and thus could be the earliest version of it. 

Over the years, many poets and writers expressed the idea that absence makes the heart grow fonder, without using these words exactly. 

However, in 1832, in a piece that appeared in The Pocket Magazine of Classic and Polite Literature, author Miss Stickland wrote: “‘Tis absense, however, that makes the heart grow fonder.” 

Despite her use of the phrase then as we know it today, it doesn’t actually appear to have gained popularity as an expression until a bit later, likely in the mid-1840s, when Thomas Haynes Bayly, a poet and songwriter, used it in the last line of his song The Isle of Beauty. Interestingly, although his song was published some time around the mid-1840s or 1850, he actually died a while before then, in 1839.

What Is a Proverb?

The expression absence makes the heart grow fonder is a proverb. A proverb is a short, common phrase or saying that imparts advice or shares a universal truth. Synonyms of the term proverb include adage, aphorism, and maxim. Here are some additional examples of well-known proverbs:

Blood is thicker than water.
A picture is worth a thousand words.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
Don’t judge a book by its cover.

Discover many more proverbs here.

So, Does Absence Make the Heart Grow Fonder… Really?

As discussed above, throughout history, writers have surely believed the statement. Indeed, although the science is not entirely definitive, some evidence does suggest the notion is true. 

A study published in the Journal of Communication in 2013, and reported on in media outlets from CNN to USA Today, found that couples in long-distance relationships have more meaningful interactions and more intimacy than couples who see their significant other all the time; couples with some connection to Cornell University filled out surveys for the study. (A significant percentage of college students are in long-distance relationships, and rely on phone calls and texts, social media, and platforms like Skype and FaceTime to communicate.) Scientists speculate these results are largely because when you’re not with someone every single day, you don’t see their lows and their flaws, so you can better create an ideal image of one another, which can build intimacy and closeness. Sound familiar? Yep, that’s part of the sentiment expressed by another proverb: familiarity breeds contempt.

Antonyms of Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder

Just as familiarity breeds contempt expresses the opposite sentiment of absence makes the heart grow fonder, there are other popular expressions that serve as antonyms to the phrase, including:

  • Long absent, soon forgotten
  • Out of sight, out of mind

You could also think of the phrase when the cat’s away, the mice will play as an antonym for absence makes the heart grow fonder.

Summary

Absence makes the heart grow fonder is a popular proverbial expression meaning that when you spend time away and apart from someone or something, you really miss them/it and love them/it, perhaps more than you would if you were with them or it all the time. Poets have long expressed this sentiment—an ancient Roman poet may have been the very first to do so. And some research does back it up as truth, which should be comforting news to long-distance couples who worry the distance could cause a break up.