Within the last couple of generations, the culture of dating has changed beyond recognition. Our grandparents and great-grandparents often met and married partners from their hometowns, wooed at local dances and the parish church. Then came the World Wars, which introduced the concept of separation to couples on a mass scale, and the trials of the long distance relationship became an issue for nations of young men and women.
Leading compatibility-dating website eHarmony predicts that today “nearly 4 million singles (and 3 million married couples) are in long distance relationships worldwide”. So why is it that now, in a time of relative peace, we are seeing such a rise in couples living so far apart?
1. Military Service
While not currently engaged in a conflict on the scale of WWI or II, having troops on active duty in Iraq and Afghanistan is still a source of heartbreak for many who are counting the days until their loved ones return home safely.
2. Online Dating
Online dating and introduction services have become more popular than ever before, and create increasingly compatible matches based on values, interests, and personalities. As the pool of eligible singles widens, so too does their geographical diversity. Whereas long distance relationships were once the preserve of couples who were separated as sweethearts or spouses, now relationships can be initiated from afar and some couples don’t even meet until they have already established an emotional connection.
3. Social Networks
As well as finding a partner on dedicated matchmaking websites, many people are also connecting via social networks like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr. It’s not only forming close bonds with strangers in foreign places which leads to long distance relationships in this medium. Reconnecting with old friends – and first loves – when one or more parties has moved away since those heady days of high-school or college can also leave a couple stranded further apart than they would wish to be.
As College and University educations become accessible to more students, with it comes greater competition and often the need to travel further afield to ensure the best possible placement. Many young couples are parted while both pursue higher levels of education in a bid to improve their chances of securing a prosperous career.
Traveling, for business and for leisure, can also leave couples stranded apart. Many Colleges and Universities recommend student exchange programs and foreign internships to increase a graduate’s employability. These vary in length but considered alongside personal ‘gap years,’ voluntary work, and temporary work abroad, accounts for many sweethearts’ absences. Traveling for work opportunities is also growing, with the expansion of international industries and the centralisation of facilities and departments requiring more couples to conduct some or all of their relationship from a distance.
6. Career Prospects
Some paramours will find themselves having to consider a long distance relationship because of inequality in the availability of jobs in their chosen careers. Professional couples may face several months – or even years – apart if their careers are particularly specialised or dependent on requirements that limit their mobility. In these tough economic times with fewer vacancies in many occupations, when one partner must relocate or spend time working abroad the other may not be able to immediately follow suit.
7. Financial Difficulties
The economic situation doesn’t only affect couples whose careers are inflexible. Insufficient means to finance moving in together is another leading contributor to the rise of long distance relationships. Younger couples are often forced to remain in the family home for longer until they can afford to be self-sufficient. Saving for a deposit on a home together is also often a struggle for many couples, and if each owns their own property then it may not be possible to live together until they can be rented out or sold. Long leases and housing contracts can also be obstacles to togetherness, as can difficulty finding a new home which fulfills the individual needs of both partners – personal and professional.
With divorce rates also rising, the number of blended families is increasing too. When there are children from a previous relationship, choosing to relocate becomes a much more complex and lengthy decision. Timing a move to be the least disruptive to all the children involved is an intricate process, and finding a new home with the appropriate schools and services for two families makes the acquisition of the perfect home more difficult. There may also be other dependents, such as elderly parents, whose needs must also be accommodated.
9. Health and Wellbeing
For some couples, their own personal requirements hinder their ability to move to another home or another city. The support networks required to maintain independent living are often hard fought for, and acquired over time, and relocation may be difficult for couples where one or more have specialised needs. Forging connections online often enables the coming-together of such relationships, but the practicalities of taking the next step present greater challenges when there are exceptional circumstances to consider.
10. Crime and Punishment
Uncomfortable as it is to consider, lots of couples – and indeed lots of families – are resigned to long distance relationships because one or more of the partnership is serving jail time. The International Centre for Prison Studies reports that over half of the world’s prison population is incarcerated in the US, China, and Russia, (with England and Wales supporting a prison population of 80,000 as opposed to the 2.1 million held in the US).
So whether they are kept apart by oceans or lifestyle choices, the number of couples affected by a physical divide is more widespread than many believe. Whatever the reasons for the separation, it cannot be denied that contemporary dating trends both help create, and then facilitate, long distance relationships.