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September 27, 2012

How Long of a Distance is “Long Distance”

September 27, 2012
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When I hear that someone is in a long distance relationship, I assume that distance is from, say, LA to New York or Chicago to DC or Austin, Texas to Sydney, Australia (I actually “knew someone who”). I do not assume that distance is from, say, Silver Lake to Santa Monica or the Upper East Side to Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn or Clarendon, Virginia to downtown D.C. Those are not – in a traditional sense – long distances. But they’re also not short distances.

Silver Lake and Santa Monica are both LA neighborhoods, but you can rarely make it to one from the other in less than an hour, and that one hour because two in rush hour traffic on the 10. If you forget some crucial work document you need for tomorrow en route to spending the night at your boyfriend’s UES apartment, you’re looking at 45 minutes on the subway back to Carroll Gardens. I have never lived in D.C. so you folk from there will have to make up your own example that applies, but you get the picture. Distances any greater than – I don’t know…1 hour transit time? – create logistical issues – that is a fact. But what are you supposed to do if you click with someone who just so happens to live five New Jersey Turnpike exits away?

I’ve been in this situation twice in my life, and I have two very different opinions as a result.

In example number one I dated someone who lived outside DC while I was living in New York. This went on casually for a few months, but I was young and loving NYC, and I wasn’t entire sure we were the best fit. I visited a few times, he visited a few times, and eventually it fizzled because neither of us were particularly committed to visiting more than those few times. Let’s consider this the “if one or both people don’t want to make it work, it doesn’t work” example. I know too many people who have successfully navigated distances far longer than NY to DC to think otherwise. Yes, it’s frustrating, and you’re not guilty of being a cold hearted snake if you can’t make it work. But as you all know, it is incredibly difficult to find someone you want to go on a second date with let alone for whom you’re willing to hop on a Chinatown bus. So if you find that person, you get on that bus.

In example number two I dated someone who lived in Astoria Queens while I was living in the West Village of New York. I hated Astoria, Queens (sorry, Astoria, Queens dwellers). It was annoying to get to, and I didn’t live near the subway stops that got me there, and if I had to leave there late at night, it was scary. And yet I went to Astoria, Queens five times a week because I was really into this guy. The subway ride got shorter and shorter, and the neighborhood got cuter and cuter.  There was actually a moment when I thought, “I could totally live here if…you know…things work out between us…” They didn’t, and I went back to hating Astoria, Queens (and this guy!), but this is the “if you’re really into the person, the distance doesn’t matter as much,” example. It’s 45 minutes. You can barely DVR through an episode of The Voice in that amount of time.

But what if you’re really into someone, but you still can’t stand the distance? It depends. Is that distance a five hour plane ride? If so, I feel you bro. That’s a full-on life commitment that may need to be evaluated on premises other than how much you like the person. But if that distance is, say, one hour in the car or 45 minutes on the subway, well then you’re either not really as into them as you think or you’re really selfish and shouldn’t be in a relationship in the first place!


  1. When my now-husband and I started dating, I lived in a northern suburb of Chicago and he lived on the South side. During rush hour when more trains were running, it was a 1.5 hour trip. On weekends and outside of rush hour, it was easily over 2 hours. ONE WAY. We lasted two month before my husband bought a car, and one year before he moved to the north side to be closer to me (I couldn’t move because of a sweet, sweet rent deal). It was challenging to be sure, but I got used to being a Sherpa with three bags at all times. It forced us to plan dates and activities since we couldn’t just pop over – it was a serious commitment to hang out. But I’ve been in other relationships where longer than 30 minutes was too much for me to handle. You’re right, it’s all about the person. You can get a lot of reading/writing/music listening done on public transit!

  2. The real question here is HOW did you swing West Village rent in your twenties? TEACH ME! But in all seriousness I was totally in a similar situation, the guy was a 45-minute subway ride away. I didn’t much mind it because it was worth it to see him but it did get in the way of things now and then. And I had a lot of trouble getting to work/class on time. I didn’t stop to consider how far away he actually was for a long time because I was new to NYC and I just thought “well we’re in the same city, most people must do this, right?”

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