Relationships are hard. Long-distance relationships are harder. Trust me, I'm in one and, if you're a Millennial, there's an increasing likelihood you are (or will be) too.
I've noticed a curious trend emerging among my peers: It seems that while many Millennials are eschewing relationships all together, opting instead for no-strings-attached hookups, a small but increasing number are finding ourselves in some sort of long-distance limbo.
It's not that long-distance relationships have suddenly become more appealing (UPDATE: they still suck). It's that geographical permanence is increasingly unappealing.
Millennials value transience - in many ways, it's all we know.
On the cusp of adulthood, the majority of today's high school graduates leave home for college, where we build relationships - romantic or otherwise - with our peers from unfamiliar places. As upperclassmen, an increasing number "take breaks" from college boyfriends or girlfriends to study abroad. When abroad, we FaceTime regularly with our college sweethearts while falling for the foreigner who also has a smartphone, so, years later, we still sometimes play virtual catch-up over Facebook, Skype or WhatsApp.
While these college years are far from romantically or geographically stagnant, our relationships and transience really kick into high-gear after graduation, at which point many of us boast of social networks that already span states and continents.
The post-graduate job search has become international in scope. According to the largest, most comprehensive study analyzing our attitudes and behaviors, "The Millennial generation, those born between 1980 and 1995, seek more workplace flexibility and opportunity for overseas assignments as keys to greater job satisfaction." It's unsurprising then that the number of Americans living overseas has never been higher.
In short, we value the flexible ability to regularly pick up and traverse the world in pursuit of our careers. But our well-honed transience and desire for global opportunities have not eliminated our all-too-human desire for permanent, meaningful relationships.
"I wouldn't say LDRs are the new norm, but they're definitely way more common," agreed a friend whose boyfriend also lives in another country and time zone, "Cell phones and the Internet make it easier. Normally we text all day and FaceTime whenever we can - today, we FaceTimed when I was eating lunch, which was kind of awkward cause he was just like... watching me eat. But a few months ago, there was this huge storm that kept me from receiving any texts or calls. He felt really far away... like on Mars. If that happened regularly, there's no way I could do it."
Without technology, maintaining long-distance relationships would be nearly impossible. But thankfully for Millennials, we're as tech-savvy as they come. Our parents and grandparents may feel that virtual communication is impersonal, but for 20-somethings, it's second nature. Hell, we basically grew up in front of a screen, with many of us getting email and IM in elementary school, cell phones in middle school and Facebook in high school.
Second only to technology's importance in sustaining long-distance relationships is the relative ease of cost-effective travel (which undoubtedly also fuels and exacerbates our transience in the first place). As noted by The Wall Street Journal travel editor, Scott McCartney, "A round-trip coach ticket between New York and Los Angeles was $208 in 1958, according to the Air Transport Association. You can still sometimes find a $208 ticket today, but that 1958 price is $1,570 in today's dollars."
I am planning a trip to visit my boyfriend in the New Year, and while traveling from Washington, D.C. to a remote corner of Africa is by no means cheap, it's pretty remarkable that I can do it for just a little over one-thousand dollars.
Older generations may shake their heads, wondering why - if we're clearly so willing to invest so much time, money and energy into a relationship - we don't just bite the bullet and move somewhere together... or, better yet, get married?
There are a host of legitimate reasons but mostly it's because... well, feminism.
Now, mere decades later, young women are encouraged to prioritize, "good grades and internships and job interviews and a financial future of their own," to quote feminist journalist and best-selling author of The End of Men: And the Rise of Women, Hanna Rosin. Only when we achieve solid footing in our careers are we encouraged to entertain the prospect of somewhat sacrificing for a relationship - if at all.
For better or for worse, sacrificing our purely individual potential for the sake of another would be considered taboo - a regressive slap in the face to the feminist crusaders who worked so tirelessly to bring us equal opportunities in and outside of the workplace. In turn, men are encouraged to similarly focus on their individual development before investing in someone - anyone - else. Indeed, it's hardly a wonder how Millennials earned ourselves the moniker "Generation Me"...
"There's no way I would have considered moving somewhere with Josh after I got my degree," said my friend Diana*, who's been long-distance with her boyfriend, Josh, since they graduated from Georgetown in 2011 and Josh moved to New York. "I majored in International Development Policy and Josh majored in Econ so, career-wise, it makes sense for me to be working here [at the International Monetary Fund] and for him to be on Wall Street."
Like Diana, another friend, Molly, was also unwilling to allow either her or her boyfriend's career take a backseat to their relationship:
"After a year long-distance and graduating from college, we were both planning our next move and Jonah called me and was like, 'Let's move in together! I'll move to D.C.' But I knew it was better for his career if he stayed in New York so I told him not to come here just for me and that I'd eventually plan to transfer to my company's office in NY."
As far as I can tell, this kind of planning is a critical and omnipresent element of successful long-distance relationships, as both parties work to reconcile individual career dreams with shared relationship goals. Essentially, those of us in long-distance relationships are trying to have it all, in our own uncompromising, Millennial way. And my god - it's so hard.
"When you were living here without Sarah, surrounded by young, single friends, did you ever feel pressured or judged when everyone was going out, getting drunk and hooking up?" I asked a male friend whose girlfriend, Sarah, just moved up to D.C. to join him after graduating law school, officially marking the end of their many long-distance years.
"I know this could come off as me just trying to sound like the 'good guy' but, honestly, I just have too much respect for Sarah to have considered ever betraying her like that. But also, I've just never been into the 'hookup culture' to begin with. To me it feels cold. I'd prefer to have an emotional connection over a sexual one."
In fact, it might be precisely Millennial's growing contempt for the cold, emotionless hookup culture that warms us to the idea of trying long-distance once we meet someone who sticks, even though we can't seem to stay put.
"When Jonah and I decided to be in an exclusive, long-distance relationship, I was a senior in college and totally over having spent three years hooking up with randos," said Molly.
In essence, even though Molly was a senior in college, surrounded by hordes of willing and eligible college guys, she was willing to forgo youthful sexual indulgence for the benefit of something more meaningful, even if Jonah was a 10-hour car ride away.
A few months ago, another 20-something, D.C.-based friend, Teresa, had been consistently seeing 20-something, D.C.-based Michael when he was accepted to grad school in New England. Teresa liked Michael... kind of. At least, she liked his consistency. So, when Michael was preparing to leave, she was open to the idea of a long-distance something, despite being uncertain about her level of attraction and satisfaction.
"I'm so thankful that didn't end up happening because, after he left, it took me about two seconds to realize I wasn't all that into him," said Teresa. "But it's funny and scary to think about how badly I wanted to try to make it work long-distance even though I wasn't that happy with him."
"Do you think you wanted to try to make it work because you had finally found a somewhat consistent, romantic relationship after years of hooking up?" I asked.
"Damn, that's harsh. But yes, I'm sick of hooking up. I want a reliable, exclusive relationship."
But not all long-distance relationships are exclusive. In fact, many of my peers still maintain a rapport with old flames in far-off time zones because, well... thanks to technology, we can. Take Natasha, who just left California and her boyfriend, Stu, for a new job in D.C. When she left, Natasha and Stu "never officially broke up."
"I still sometimes refer to him as my boyfriend and we still text, G-chat, Skype, FaceTime - whatever - all the time," said Natasha, just as she was distracted by her phone lighting up with a SnapChat from Stu, who had sent a selfie of his face next to a hamburger with the caption, "In-N-Out! ~hamburger emoticon~ Jealous?!"
Natasha laughed, snapped a selfie of her face next to her goblet of red wine and captioned it, "Wine with Rae ~wine glass emoticon~ missing you!" Ah, Millennial romance...
She continued, "It's not exactly clear what we're doing... we're in constant communication but I'm hooking up with other guys... "
"Do you still consider yourself in a relationship?" I asked.
Natasha considered my question for a moment and then replied, "No? Yes? I don't know. We've both avoided the conversation. I mean... I don't consider myself not in a relationship. I'm going back to California for the holidays and we're going to spend New Year's together."
Like any relationship, long-distance relationships are varied and complicated - decidedly more so, actually. But, despite their infamous difficulty, there's no doubt that globally minded, tech savvy, career-driven Millennials are more readily embarking upon long-distance commitments in an attempt to reconcile our geographical transience, on the one hand, with our meaningful, lasting relationships on the other.
*Note: All names and locations have been changed.