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Jul 31, 2011

Long Distance (aka "Out of Town") Dating

Personally, as a general rule, I don't date long distance.

How do I define long distance? It boils down to a matter of access/opportunity. Long distance is being far enough away (or busy enough) that seeing one another regularly (as in at least once or twice a week) is improbable, impractical or impossible. Simply put, when spending time together more often than twice (or even three times) a month is just not going to happen. It's not a matter of distance, as in number of miles, as much as it's a matter of time spent together, and I'll get to this issue in a moment.

I'm sure you've already noticed there's a whole lot of grey area in the middle. The gap between twice a week (or eight times a month) and twice a month is pretty large. We'll call that my leeway, or acceptable limits of compromise. One end is my preference, the other end is what I'm not willing to do and the middle is negotiable.

Something about spending most of my time on a phone, texting and/or talking instead of interacting and being in the presence of someone when dating them is particularly unpalatable to me. We can have the same conversations, but being in person makes a world of difference. There is a different kind of presence, and a different dynamic at play.

Don't get me wrong, it's not like I never text or talk on the phone with a woman I'm dating, and clearly it's better than not communicating at all, but seeing someone once or twice a month -at best -really doesn't appeal to me, because the purpose of dating is to really get to know someone.

Without interacting, seeing her facial expressions, body language, her eyes and all those little things, I have less to go on and I don't get a clear impression of a woman. Maybe that's just me, but hearing someone talk (about themselves, their beliefs, telling stories, etc.) versus seeing who they are in action, in my experience, can be very different and I tend to trust consistent behavior better than consistent speech. As the saying goes in my field of study/work, "the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior," and so I'd like to experience the behavior and see the relationship dynamic myself.

Another factor is travel. I'm a full-time grad student, which means that aside from not having all the money in the world to jump on a jet-plane whenever I'd like, I don't have the time to spend hours traveling back and forth on a regular or semi-regular basis. I also don't expect someone to constantly and consistently travel just to see me. If you have different perspective, feel free to enlighten me with your experience and wisdom.

Next, there's time spent together, for which I'll will do some quick math using estimations as I see them in my own mind and based on my own experience. For anyone who consistently has a different experience that goes against my point -please do share!

If, regularly, I'd date someone twice a week on average for three hours per date, we're talking about (2dates*3hours = 6hours) six hours a week, which is a seriously conservative estimate at that. Over the course of three months, it would amount to (3months*4weeks*6hours = 72 hours) about seventy two hours total.

Now say I'm dating someone long distance. At best, twice a month, spending about ten hours per visit with them (liberally speaking). So, twenty hours a month over three months (3*20 = 60) makes sixty hours.

This is not including time spent texting or on the phone, which, for these purposes, I'm excluding from both long-distance and in-town dating, since (a) I'd be texting/talking with a woman regardless where she lives and (b) we're focusing on face-to-face time, and it's a quality concern. Even spending the same number of hours talking, there's a difference in quality of interaction and the impression I get based solely on face-to-face time. 

Let's set aside the little fact that, over three months, two people dating with this basic pattern have barely spent the equivalent of three days together (which, for me, seems like a short time and isn't enough to determine that I'm committed to sharing every following moment of my life with that person... also see here), but even given the best case scenario, there is a significant difference in face-to-face time.

I also happen to think there's a difference in spending time with someone consistently versus inconsistently. Even given the same -or comparable -time spend face-to-face, the idea of spending all of it at once versus spread out evenly over time is important to consider. It's like the difference between spreading peanut-butter and jelly evenly on two slices of bread versus putting a glob on each and smushing them together haphazardly. The two sandwiches may have the same ingredients, but there's a world of difference in their taste, perhaps in each bite.

Along with that goes the idea of the "Shabbat image," or the way we tend to present the best of ourselves and maintain the image for as long as possible when dating. In my experience, it's easier to do that when a couple spends less time face-to-face, and the time spent together can reinforce this fantasized image. But I'd rather allow that to relax and see the person for who they are (not that I'll really know until years after marriage, but a taste -however small -is always better than nothing), even if I do recognize that it's nice to see the best of someone first, I do want to get to know them in depth.

So recently, when someone cajoled, baited and pushed for me to date someone from across the country, I finally gave in, partially frustrated with myself for not just flat-out turning the suggestion down. Over and over I asked: What happens when -after whatever time we'd spend together -she leaves?

And of course, the question was squashed with the typical kung-fu super-sneaky mind trick response: "just go out, you'll see if it's even worth considering, and besides, she's flexible, she may even move to where you are!" I didn't want her to move out just to date me. That's ridiculous, and can add a lot of pressure.

Sometimes, no matter what my brain says... it's hard to push back against the pressure. Especially when family gets involved and the person suggesting is dead-set in believing they've found the perfect match.


  1. Long distance dating is really tough. For select people who don't care much about communicating often (or who prefer to get engaged after a few weeks of dating), long distance isn't too horrible.
    I can't see it working for me, but whenever I get out-of-town suggestions that seem fine, I usually go along with the idea and then regret saying yes (Gotta love those moments. Not.)

    But then there's always that oh-so-romantic-zivug-concept: what if this is my zivug? Who said my zivug lives in New York City? Maybe this is the one I've been praying for, my one and only, the answer to my heart's duet? AHHHHH HaShem Helpppppp!

  2. i think that agreeing to go out with a girl long distance is setting yourself up for lots of trouble but on the other hand, who said the girl you will marry lives on the same side of the world as you... It's a tough call but I am in a similar position,although being a girl, most of the travelling responsibility lies on the guy.

  3. Well..speaking as a girl who lives OOT (not for much longer though) dating long distance is the only kind of dating I know. There are simply no males who live here who I would and my friends long distance. Yea it stinks..but that is the reality.

  4. as long as you dont make a big deal out of it, its ok.
    As a related topic, read this post, let me know what you think about that: