The Benefits of Being in a Long-Distance Relationship, From Someone Who's Had 9 Of Them

long distance dating

"I would never date anyone who does not live along my subway line," one New York woman told my friend. "It is too inconvenient." Another friend restricts her romantic interest to the 10-block radius surrounding her apartment. With limitless options just a right-swipe away, why would anyone venture to foster romance from afar? 

But hear me out: Dating long-distance isn't all bad. I would know — I have had nine (yes, nine) long distance relationships to prove it. 

There was the high school sweetheart who lingered into college, the law student I met at a seminar from out of town, the Western gent discovered on a pit stop during my cross-country road trip. There was the high school courtship arranged by his Mrs. Bennet-like mother, the fellow intern from a summer program and few Europeans in between. So when that cutie revealed on the first date that he was "joining the Navy tomorrow," I gave it two and a half weeks max.

We're still together.

Could it be that I am an emotional masochist, entering only the most tortuous relationships that will stretch me the farthest? Far from it. Long-distance relationships aren't only doable, but also can be straight-up appealing depending on what you're — and what I have always been — looking for. 

Striking out on your own: The biggest thing that makes LDRs great is the thing that makes any healthy relationship great: You get to have your own independent life that is then shared with someone else. 

"There are some people that enjoy the long-distance part of it, which could essentially be what keeps their relationships going ... They want relationships, but they don't want them taking over their lives," psychologist Karen Blair told New York magazine. 

There are more couples than ever thriving on that balance. Numbers vary, but some studies report nearly 75% of college students have been in a long-distance relationship; a Pew Research Center study found that of Internet users, 24% of those who've dated recently have used the Internet to maintain a long-distance relationship.

These days, far be it from me to long for my main squeeze or obsessively check my phone, waiting for an incoming text. I enjoy travel, have launched my own company and thrive on navigating social situations solo — as well as on the feeling that psychologists might call interdependence.

Casting a wide net — that's easy to relinquish: That I started long-distance dating a guy I'd met at a summer internship during college, or a man I met at a professional seminar, is no coincidence. Long-distance relationships seem natural when you consider that travel — for work, for pleasure, for family — is often spurred by a passion or interest, one that someone you meet in that destination may share.

Of course, finding a lifelong partner who shares values and passions can admittedly involve kissing a lot of frogs. But long-distancers won't need to pack their boxes and rebuild a new social circle every time one of them hops away. When my cross-collegiate relationship ended, I didn't have to explain the breakup to hosts of social media contacts or rebuild an entire friend group. 

Deciding, not sliding: My current long-distance relationship requires cross-continental Google Hangouts with sketchy Wi-Fi signals, dinner dates on Skype, lost love letters that arrive two months late, car accidents en route to see each other, overnight bus rides, communication misunderstandings and plenty of delayed gratification. 

It's a lot of conscious effort and decision-making that gets overlooked when young adults move into relationships and marriages. Sociologist Scott Stanley calls this "sliding vs. deciding," a process in which couples tend to slide through the important steps of a relationship without actively talking them through. 

Making a conscious effort to "decide" and not simply slide can happen whether you're together or apart, but being in the same place doesn't necessarily make it easier. In fact, sociologist Pamela Smock told the Huffington Postthat many couples actually "slide" into cohabiting. 

Being apart not only accelerates intimacy and improves communication, as studies of long-distance couples have shown; we're also forced to talk through the big decisions. Sliding? That's not an option. 

Distance FTW: Yes, long distance relationships mask a host of problems. "For me it was a nice escape from having to figure out how to function in a real relationship," one woman told New York's Maureen O'Connor for anarticle entitled "Could It Be That Long-Distance Relationships Are Actually Healthy?" It could be immaturity that really lies at the core, a half-hearted desire to commit.

But eventually, something will give — and couples who decide to stick it out are left better for it.

(This article first appeared on Mic. by yours truly.)  

Online Dating: Just an Endless Merry-Go-Round?

On a shuttle headed to the airport, I met a kindred spirit. She was an intelligent, successful former-pageant-model-turned-spokesperson forMiss America. Naturally, the conversation drifted to our love lives. She told the tale of meeting an attractive prospect through Match.com and dating him for a few months. He met her family, accompanied her to church, and the future looked bright. Until: “I’m just not ready for commitment,” said he. As quickly as he had arrived, he vanished into the fog of former faces that she had dated. “I just don’t understand why he was on a dating website, then! Wasn’t that the whole point?!” She wanted long-term commitment; he didn’t.

People everywhere are logging into an online world in search of that “it” factor. But the rise of online dating in recent years has altered the landscape of romantic relationships. According to the 2011 study, “How Has Internet Dating Changed Society?”, low quality marriages are being destroyed and the bar is raised when defining a good relationship, but people have become more disposable. While the results are clearly a mixed bag, it’s important to understand how virtual relationships alter the climate of commitment so that we can still achieve our hopes for love.

In the recent Atlantic article, “A Million First Dates,” Dan Slater takes a candid look at how online dating provides a wider access of meeting people, creating a perception of abundance. In the face of a litany of new prospects, dating becomes a numbers game-the “mass mailer approach” to love. When click after click provides access to a world of romantic possibility, young adults experience the “FOMO” syndrome, or “fear of missing out.” One can almost hear Bono singing, “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.”

Slater questions: What if the prospect of finding an ever-more-compatible mate with the click of a mouse means a future of relationship instability, in which we keep chasing the elusive rabbit around the dating track?

Sure, it can be easy to be allured by the prospect of “what-if”; if you’re not looking for looking for another lap around the track, try these tweaks to help you focus.

Firstly, as my friend learned, it’s important to clearly state your expectations when evaluating a potential relationship. If your Mr. Perfect is looking for holiday arm candy and you’re hoping for a year-round commitment, find this out sooner rather than later.

Secondly, if you have found someone interesting, consider deactivating your online profile. Nothing is so distracting as getting notifications on your phone while heading home from a great date stating that “Ben26457” sends you a wink.

Thirdly, speaking of phones, am I the only one who doesn’t like them out during a date? I’ve seen phones resting on the table too many times to count. It sends the message that “I’m here with you, until things get boring and then I’ll be elsewhere.” Dan Slater describes one gentlemen who fielded texts from prospects throughout a dinner date. Put yours away and be present. The simple act of courtesy speaks volumes.

Finally, with the ease of meeting people online, it’s easy to slip into the mindset that one should have a gut feeling instantly whether this is “it.” And while sometimes this happens, don’t underestimate the value of a second look, or fail to remember that compatibility is something that is created together.

With so many prospects, does online dating make it more difficult to fall in love? Maybe. While online dating can be a helpful tool to start an interaction, take care to navigate the waters thoughtfully when getting to know a real live person. Behind the smiling face and pleasantries, the favorite movie and elite hobby, there’s another beating heart searching for that same “it” factor.

This article was written by me and first appeared at Verily Magazine. 

Tinder and the Problem of Sexual Objectification

The smartphone dating app Tinder has been catching fire faster than Katniss Everdeen can wield a bow and arrow. Currently, Tinder boasts over 50 million global active users, who check their accounts 11 times per day or spend an average of 1.5 hours daily on the app. From its start, however, Tinder has been clouded with allegations and accusations of bias against women. It recently came under fire again when its founder, Sean Rad, was charged and demoted for sexual harassment. The company’s exponential growth and connections with harassment are the perfect example of what can happen in a culture that blurs the lines between sexual objectification and empowerment.

Sexual objectification is the process of representing or treating a person like an object, one that serves another’s sexual pleasure. Tinder’s success demonstrates how casual the public has become about sexual objectification, which is understandable. Objectification is pervasive and deserves exploration in two arenas, advertising and gender expectations. Within the advertising industry, for example, women’s bodies are frequently turned into beer bottles, cars, or posed provocatively on the sides of buildings. On average, people see 5,000 advertisements per day and 96% of objectification is toward female bodies.

Although we have all heard the adage, “sex sells,” the reality is that men and women are sold ideas through advertising. Women are sold the idea that their value and empowerment comes from consenting to be sexual objects for male consumption. For example, male attention is considered the holy grail of female existence and the primary source of self-esteem, so women use their physical appearance to compete for male affirmation, considering it to be a finite resource. Men, on the other hand, are being sold the idea that their power comes from acting upon objects as sexual subjects. Women and men are presented with two archetypes: the object, which is acted upon vs the subject, which does the acting. Therefore, men are taught that they are in control and it makes them feel powerful to act upon or make use of sexually objectified women. The advertising industry fuels the problem, but shifting gender roles could also play a part.

Throughout history, men understood their roles as being protectors, providers, and procreators. In modern society, however, there is less need for protectors and providers. There are no longer competing cavemen threatening to drag a lady friend back to their own cave by the hair, or roaring wild animals on the prowl for a meal of small children. As a result, a heavy emphasis is placed on men to demonstrate their procreative capacities and sexual prowess. Diminishing the roles of protector and provider has led men to overemphasize their sexual value; the result is a hypersexualized, harmful climate. For example, a recent nationwide survey of over 300 men found that 73% agreed that their own attitudes towards women played a significant role in sexual exploitation.

Even women buy into these casual attitudes about objectification. In the most recent issue of Vanity Fair, Jennifer Lawrence was the first person to speak out about the now-famous celebrity nude photo leak. In her words, “I was in a loving, healthy, great relationship for four years. It was long distance, and either your boyfriend is going to look at porn or he’s going to look at you.” Women have bought the lie that consenting to be sexually objectified is what empowered women do. The reality is that objectification of any sort is disempowering and dehumanizing. Because even if one becomes the perfect sex object, they are subordinate because the object will always be acted upon; inanimate objects are designed for use by a user.

The fundamental premise of Tinder involves a level of objectification, as well. One’s success depends on how well the user can sell himself or herself through an initial physically attractive photo. In this case, the billboard advertising is our own mini-photo on a smartphone. It has to capture someone’s attention for a microsecond, because it is the only ticket to sell yourself to someone else, probably for sexual pleasure. With 50 million users globally, no one seems to bat an eye that objectification is happening here and is potentially problematic. We are so accustomed to sexually objectifying ourselves and others, whether on a smartphone, catcalling on the street, or elsewhere. In a climate with these deep-seated expectations about men and women as subject vs object, harassment, assault, and exploitation become easier.

It is not just a male or female problem, but a collective unit of all of us, who have fallen into objectification habits blurred by desensitization. Men and women need proper education and better awareness about the prevalence of objectification and its deleterious effects upon us individually as men and women, then society as a whole. This problem can only be alleviated with all hands on deck, men and women alike. So when it comes to using Tinder and perpetuating the problem, for now we will swipe left.