An Airfare to Remember

By Alex Baldinger
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, July 13, 2008

In the 1988 hit "I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles)," Scottish pop band the Proclaimers famously declared "I would walk 500 miles/And I would walk 500 more" -- just to wind up at the door of some distant love interest. It sure sounded admirable, if completely unrealistic.

But as the price of oil keeps climbing, taking the cost of gas and airline tickets with it, walking might not seem like such a bad idea to those who find themselves in one of the estimated 3.5 million long-distance relationships in the United States.

Whether your partner lives across the state or across the country, the price of a visit is skyrocketing. To cope with the rising cost of long-distance dating, some couples are cutting back on trips to see their partners or booking flights only at off-peak times and away from convenient-but-pricey holiday weekends. Others are spending more of their disposable income on relationship-related travel at the expense of the rest of their social lives. And then there are those contemplating long-distance romances who are consulting their purse strings as often as their heartstrings to decide whether the benefits outweigh the costs.

For more than a year, Kassie Brown has been in a long-distance relationship, something she never expected when she made plans to move from California to Virginia with her boyfriend, Jason Rogers. But as Brown, 28, was settling into a consulting job in McLean, Rogers, 26, got a job offer near Boston he couldn't refuse. Suddenly, JetBlue became a third party in their relationship.

Because of busy work schedules and ratcheted-up ticket prices, many of the couple's monthly flights are of the off-peak variety. "I ended up having to get a ticket that came in at 10:30 at night because everything else was like $350, $400, $500, for the nice flights that actually get you in at a normal time," Brown says. Rogers "was thinking about coming down for Memorial Day, but basically when we looked at tickets, it was unreal." The couple decided to plan a visit for a non-holiday weekend, which could mean burning a vacation day.

"I didn't blame him for [asking], 'Can we spend time with you and your family when it doesn't cost me $500?' It's totally understandable," she says. "But it does cause friction at the time because at that point you're kind of like, wait, am I not worth $500?"

Greg Guldner, director of the Center for the Study of Long Distance Relationships (yes, there actually is such a thing) and author of "Long Distance Relationships: The Complete Guide," says it's too soon to see the results of the current economic downturn in his ongoing research of long-distance couples. Anecdotally, however, what he's gleaned from couples recently is that increased costs have added another wrinkle to the complicated circumstances that long-distance partners face.

"From just talking with people who have been in long-distance relationships, . . . as the prices for flights and gasoline start going up, it makes them all much more stressed," he says.

As if being in a long-distance relationship wasn't stressful enough.

Guldner studied the tendencies of 200 long-distance couples and compared them with those of 200 couples in proximate relationships. He also analyzed census data to determine trends in long-distance relationships based on population figures.

The average long-distance couple, according to Guldner's research, is separated by 125 miles, with visits one or two times per month and 30-minute phone calls every two or three days.

Fortunately for cash-strapped couples, the research shows no correlation between the frequency of visits and the probability of a breakup. "That's one of the myths that's out there, is that you need to see each other a certain number of times," Guldner says.

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