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The Once-Taboo Long-Distance Relationship is an Emerging Norm

12/11/2012 11:35 am ET | Updated Feb 10, 2013

Dating is really difficult. In the "traditional" sense, at least. Traditionally, dating requires, first and foremost, getting to know someone and, eventually, making the conscious decision that you are going to invest your time, energy and feelings in this other human being. In order to do that, you actually have to meet them, in real life.

As Americans -- particularly young Americans -- become more mobile, building lasting relationships becomes increasingly difficult, starting in college.

College enrollment is on the rise. One-in-three people in the United States have a college degree, with enrollment increasing 37 percent, from 15.3 million to 21.0 million between 2000 and 2010. As more and more Americans go to college, it becomes all the more likely that the people with whom lasting collegiate relationships are built hail from entirely different corners of the country. In fact, because many universities are incorporating affordable study abroad programs, it's quite probable that the average college student spends a semester building relationships with people from entirely different corners of the globe.

After four years of accelerated bonding during lectures, all-nighters and frat mixers, you graduate and the job pursuit begins. Thanks to the abysmal-but-improving job market, many graduates don't have the luxury of picking a job in the location of their choice. When on my own job hunt, there was virtually nowhere in the continental U.S. I was willing to rule out... except for Des Moines, or maybe Texarkana. But, you get the point. Living in a thriving metropolis is the ideal, sure, but with 53 percent of graduates jobless or underemployed, being flexible is critical.

So, after successfully graduating from college and -- god-willing -- securing a job, many young-twenty-somethings are on the move again. Cue: a whole new group of friends! Ugh.

It's really exhausting, the whole make-new-friends-every-few-years-so-that-you're-not-a-lonely-hag thing. And this is coming from someone who loves meeting new people! I thrive on it! But it is taxing. Yes, technology and social media have made it easier to email the ex from Milan or Skype your best friend from high school, but virtual communication only goes so far in sustaining once-meaningful relationships.

And dating, oh god. It's awful. Where to meet people? A bar? Ok, let's pretend that's not an intrinsically doomed situation. Even if you do happen to strike up a conversation with a stranger while being pushed and shoved by the drunken masses, chances are the stranger isn't even from your city.

"We should grab drinks some time," you say.

"Oh, I'm just in town visiting some college buddies. I actually live in Manhattan," he/she quips. "But I'd love to see you again!"

Bite me.

Actually, wait, don't. Manhattan is only like a 3-hour train ride away from DC. That's totally reasonable. That barely counts as "long-distance." This could go somewhere. Right?

Or, what happens to the one-year relationship that's uprooted when one party gets a great job in a distant city? Do you throw in the towel?

Traditionally taboo, long-distance relationships are now an emerging norm, by necessity. If your criteria is that friends and significant others be in geographically convenient locations, you're going to have a lot of trouble sustaining meaningful relationships. Dating someone who lives more than twenty minutes away or -- hey! -- maybe even across the Atlantic is not ideal. No two ways about it. But, are you going to give up your job and move to Brussels for some dude/chick who you're totally into? I hope not! Alternatively, are you going to cast off some dude/chick you're totally into because of one "minor," geographical detail?

We no longer have the luxury of geographical permanence. Like the job hunt, the hunt for a significant other requires flexibility. The trick is determining your limits. Brussels? Maybe not. New York? Worth a shot.