Sexless in the City

Sometimes reading romance novels doesn’t quite prepare you for a love life...

For this 30-year-old urbanite, love is always a misadventure: The Harvard Lickwit, Hippie the Groper, the 5% Man, and the Ad Weasel. These and many other men wander in and out of her life — but never her bed.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Loving the distance?

Over the weekend, a reader asked about the feasibility of long-distance relationships. In this moment of internet meeting and dating, it’s surely a salient question. But dahling, don’t forget you’re addressing a persistently dyed-in-wool romantiholic here (gulp). Few things inspire as does the idea of a love that overcomes all miles — the more of them, the better. And forget not that my youthful paradigm for romance (drum roll here) included a significant period of long-distance correspondence. A bicoastal relationship, no less (carried on between SoCali and Massachusetts). Cause baby, it’s ain’t love unless there’s almost a full continent between you. Could I have confused God’s love for mankind as a model for human romance, perchance?

Long-distance love is possible, but as the love thrives the distance will surely have to diminish. If both of you are firmly entrenched in careers you cannot easily abandon or relocate, be prepared to face some major sacrifices … or to someday wind up loving the one you’re with since you can’t be with the one you love. It may eventually come down to a question of how much you value the relationship versus what it would cost you to pursue it. That said, long-distance relationships probably aren’t very practical unless you’re on the path to marriage or convinced this lovah has the makings of a soulmate. Unless you like the idea of a low-maintenance relationship, that is. But for your garden-variety dating and mating scheme, I don’t recommend commute-intensive romance.

Ah, but how do you know if the spark involved is the Olympic-torch variety, or the brief flicker of summer fireflies? Kinda lotsa pressure to impose so early on, is it not? Coffee Pal would say it’s forcing one to take dating far too seriously, perhaps.

First of all, it’s important to verify said spark is not just a thing you’ve nimbly dreamed up. Back in the early days of the internet, I caught the eye of a chap I call Stalker #1. I had the luck to be one of his local-area matches on a proto-idating website I signed up with on a lark. At first the emails we exchanged seemed promising. But then, it’s easy to read whit and charisma into a few lines of a still-novel form of “talking.” Which mythos survived until the phone call phase.

That first time we talked, however, I heard not the husky, mellifluous tones of a sexy male bass … but the cadence and pitch I associated with geeks. Now, I may be quite the nerd myself, but I’m vain enough to classify myself among the geek-chic part of the crowd. And though I was only aspiring geek-chica at best, that senior year of high school, I knew this guy was the type to indulge in decidedly uncool geeky pursuits. There was a certain lack of irony — and probably fashion taste as well. I’ll spare you the painful details that confirmed this voice hypothesis, but suffice to say the mystique was forever — and rightfully so — gone.

Application: in an internet-facilitated relationship, phone contact should be commenced fairly early on. It’s great if you can banter and joke on IM, but what’s the talking like on air (so to speak)? After all, the goal is presumably to progress to a phase where voice-to-voice if not face-to-face contact is the primary means of interacting. If the email or IM banter is great, but you both flounder over a cup of coffee, it may be your avatars or usernames that ought to get it on, and not the two small Wizards divested of wind machines and all the other get up for fooling (and ruling) Oz. Small exception: If the online banter’s that good, and the first face-to-face not terrible, it may be worth pursuing a second or third albeit casual connection. I can personally vouch for instances where I was so overcome by the gentleman, I lost much of my usual sparkle and moxie, responding with gulps and resorts to primness in the face of playful retorts like, “Does that also apply to sex?” Sometimes it just may take a little time to relax around each other and discover the person who’s so attractive and funny when you’re online.

Second application: like it or not, the cost of pursuing a long-distance relationship requires more upfront frankness for both parties than may usually be the case. Gentlemen, you cannot pursue a sudden “friendship” with a lady where none has existed before and not expect her to get ideas (the reverse is probably true as well). Men rarely pursue friendships with women as it is. If you find her conversation so compelling you don’t care how far away she is, maybe some soul-searching is in store about just what you’re looking for from her. Don’t fault her for sending back a vibe if you suddenly get quite attentive, distance be damned. As a married friend recently said, when a guy realizes there is interest on the part of a woman, he is obligated to make clear if that interest is justified (i.e., returned) or to be discouraged. You can’t let things drag on in ambiguity; at that point you’re just using each other for attention and/or dooming the friendship to an unnecessary instability. So long as the nature of the commitment to each other remains undefined, that is (and in a long-distance relationship, friendly or otherwise, the question of commitment is particularly keen, given the effort required for contact).

In a long-distance relationship you can get to know the other person in a more meaningful way than might otherwise be possible, but it’s also possible to confuse knowledge of facts about the other (such as personal history disclosed on a blog or website) for the day-to-day knowledge built up through repeated conversation, shared meals and rainstorms, encounters with traffic and the homeless, and so on. Bottom line: keep it real and cut the bullshit — most of all the lines you feed yourself.