Love At A Distance

Maureen O’Connor questions the difficulties of long-distance relationships:

A Queen’s University study recently found relationship-­satisfaction levels for long-distance and “geographically close” couples to be virtually indistinguishable on nearly all measures, including sexual satisfaction. Oddly enough, digital communication may actually be more romantic than face-to-face interaction: A study from Cornell University found that confessions made via one-on-one web chat were consistently considered more intimate than identical confessions made in person. Call it the Manti Te’o phenomenon, the tendency some people have to ignore a campus full of suitable partners in favor of the one conjured digitally.

“In real dating, nobody waits,” my friend Holly observed, which means long-distance dating is “like all those sexy-time suburban-mom books about delaying sex for made-up reasons like vampire death so there can be sexual buildup.” Forbidden love is harder to come by than it once was; in the absence of blood feuds and imprisoned princesses, the doomed romances of our time are those conducted with lovers whose affections we imagine in the silence between text messages. The only stars that cross to keep modern lovers apart are those they willingly subject themselves to—like geography.

Helen Croydon, author of Screw the Fairytale: A Modern Girl’s Guide to Sex and Love, considers long-term relationships closer to home:

What, for example, is the obsession with living under the same roof?

In my last committed relationship the most common question I encountered was: “Do you have plans to move in together?” Why anyone would voluntarily give up a peaceful breakfast with John Humphrys, happily drinking anything in the fridge direct from the carton, and trade it for morning dramas of lost shirts and a daily telephone conference about meal-planning is something I can never understand.

There are now 3.5 million people over the age of 45 living alone in the UK, an increase of more than 50 percent since the mid-1990s. Domestic conveniences like vacuum cleaners, modern compact apartments and supermarket deliveries make it all very easy. In researching my book I interviewed married couples who live apart. One couple were on the verge of separating when they rented the house next door as a trial separation. Without the domestic minutiae overshadowing their “romantic” relationship, they thrived, so they made it permanent. The wife told me in glee: “I can invite people back and have parties. I could never do that before because he’s such a miserable anti-social thing.” So common is this new trend that the Office for National Statistics has created a term for it—LAT (living apart together). It estimates there are currently two million LAT couples in the UK. More people choose to live alone because they can.