When I first started online dating, I kept my location settings at the default distance, which was 25 miles away from me. But after not having much luck, I expanded it to 50. This led to two relationships over the next few years with people who were 25 to 50 miles away. Sure, it was a bit of a trek to see each other, but that was a small price to pay for love.
A couple of years after the second of those two relationships ended, I met an engaged couple who had connected on a dating site while she lived in New York City and he lived in London. After several visits, he moved in with her. They explained to me that they wanted to date the best match in the world for them, not the best match who happened to live near them. Their logic made sense, so I changed my location settings to “everywhere.”
Technology has enabled more and more people to make similar choices. Up to 75 percent of American college students have been in long-distance relationships (LDRs) at some point, according to a 2013 study, and this number has been increasing with the rise of online dating. “Dating apps make it easier than ever to meet someone either across the street or on another continent,” says online dating expert Julie Spira. “[T]echnology has made it easier to stay in touch. Whether through video chat, Whatsapp, or Messenger, couples are creating date nights from afar as their romance builds.”
While my experiment with changing my location settings to “everywhere” didn’t lead to a relationship, it did make me more open-minded about dating people in different places — and that let to a relationship. About a year after I made the change, I met someone from Germany at a nightclub in Ibiza. I initially figured it couldn’t work because I lived in New York, but then I thought back to the couple from the rooftop bar. We ended up doing the same thing as them — visiting each other until I felt confident moving across the ocean. Two and a half years into our relationship, I’m glad I let go of the antiquated notion that you and your partner must live in the same place when you start dating.
“I’ve always suggested that singles cast a wide net, especially since so many people will relocate for love,” says Spira. “With over 50 million singles using Tinder and other dating apps, there’s no reason to limit your search to a five or 10 mile radius when a better match might be a few thousand miles away.” In addition to searching for people within a wide radius, she recommends changing your location on dating apps when you travel so that you can meet locals.
“Dating someone close to home probably means that very little will change in your routine. Life will roll out in its predictable fashion. Dating someone long-distance means that predictability is gone.”
Broadening the geographical location you date within can also be an adventure, says Rhonda Milrad, relationship therapist and founder of Relationup. “Dating someone close to home probably means that very little will change in your routine,” she explains. “Life will roll out in its predictable fashion. Dating someone long-distance means that predictability is gone. There will be visits, meetups in cities (conveniently located halfway between your two locations), and you may even contemplate shaking up your life and moving.”
That’s what Laras, a 30-year-old social media strategist in Jakarta, Indonesia, was thinking when she got into a relationship with someone she met online who lived in Rome. After talking for three months, they vacationed together in Bali. They became official after his second visit to Indonesia, and they’re planning to eventually move to the same place. “The world is so big, and meeting someone from far away will enrich you with a whole new perspective, knowledge, and experience,” she says.
Steve Dean, a 30-year-old online dating consultant in New York City, had a five-and-a-half-year relationship with someone who lived over three hours away from him but was a 99 percent match on a dating site. The first three years were long-distance, then they moved to the same city. “Having spent 20 years of my life living in a 1-square-mile town, by the time I was preparing to graduate college (in another tiny town), I was more than ready to expand my horizons,” he says. “Discovering that you can successfully date one person long-distance will literally unlock the entire world for you, because if you can date one person from afar, then you’ll never again be hindered by distance.”
But starting relationships off long-distance doesn’t work for everyone. Jessica, a 25-year-old policy associate in Boston who had two relationships with people she met online, has resolved not to get into a LDR again. “On top of regular relationship work, it is also a lot of time and money,” she says.
To prevent your geographical distance from translating into emotional distance, Spira recommends setting up regular FaceTime dates and going over your schedules to plan in advance when you’ll be able to spend time together. You should both be upfront about how often you expect to see each other. And both partners should make it extra clear that they are still invested in the relationship and aren’t hiding anything, says Milrad.
It’s also important to have an end in sight if you plan to live in the same place some day. “Eventually, and often faster than they anticipate, couples get frustrated and impatient with being apart,” says Milrad. “It is through physical and emotional closeness that a person develops a sense of security and safety in a relationship.”
Some couples start off long-distance and never end up living near each other because it seems too risky. “A lot of my clients say ‘I’m not moving until I know this relationship is going to work’ because people are risk averse,” says marriage and family therapist and sex therapist Marissa Nelson. “They don’t want to give up their entire life, where they live, their plans, or their comfort zone to move and be with someone when they’re not certain it’s going to work or lead to marriage.”
Nelson advises people who are moving to be with their long-distance partners to make sure they actually want to live in that place. That way, if things don’t work out, they won’t be resentful. Couples might also consider a compromise, like moving halfway between each person’s city, so that nobody feels like they sacrificed more than the other person.
For me, though, the binary of being in an LDR or living in the same location as someone I’m dating has become obsolete. I’m now a digital nomad, changing locations every few weeks or months while working remotely, so my partner and I alternate between being long-distance and living together. As technology makes location less relevant in every area of life, our definition of “relationship” is expanding to allow more and more options, and that’s only a good thing.