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An Airfare to Remember

As the Cost of Travel Soars, Couples in Long-Distance Relationships Are Feeling the Pinch

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Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, July 13, 2008; Page N01

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.

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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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