Love, Dating And Distance

One man dated a woman halfway around the world and then one who lived literally next door. Here, the lesson he learned

By Michael Kramer

t’s one of the first questions on an online dating profile: How many miles away would you like your potential mate to live? Less than five? Ten? Twenty-five? I have yet to see the option, “As far away as humanly possible.” But that’s almost what happened to me.

I live in Los Angeles, and a couple of years ago I had a girlfriend who was a Japanese flight attendant based in Hong Kong. I know, it sounds like a big cheesy cliché, but it gets even
The phone wasn’t ideal either, particularly with the time delay.
more clichéd: We met at a wedding in which I was the best man and she was the maid of honor. After the wedding, we couldn’t have had a more long-distance relationship unless she moved to, say, the international space station.

The difficulties of long-distance
Amiko and I cared about each other a lot — enough to want to date despite the geographic undesirability — but almost immediately, the distance presented some problems. For instance, whenever she came to visit, she didn’t know anybody else in the city, which meant she had nothing else to do, so we’d be together 24/7. Even those lovey-dovey married couples who seem like they’re together 24/7 aren’t together that much. They do things separately with friends, like play tennis or see movies or go out to meals. But other than when I was going to the bathroom, Amiko was always… there. And vice versa. Then she’d fly back to Hong Kong, which made me feel like I didn’t have a girlfriend at all, and I’d miss her intensely. I longed to have her here 24/7, even though when she was here 24/7, part of me wanted her to go home.

It’s not that we didn’t have fun together. In fact, all we did was have fun because given that she had just flown 15 time zones to see me, I’d feel all this pressure to do exciting things. It didn’t seem like “hanging out” and watching TV was the way to entertain someone who’d traveled halfway around the globe, so I was constantly taking her to places like the Hollywood Bowl and Disneyland. It was exhausting and expensive. And forget casual dining. No woman suffers through three days of jet lag in the hopes of eating her dinner off the coffee table. Yet I was rarely satisfied with the meals we ate in restaurants that she discovered in in-flight magazines. The last thing you want is to feel like a tourist in your own town.

So we had some issues, but if you only have three days together, you don’t want to ruin it by bringing up any of the problems in the relationship. Which meant we never talked about them. The phone wasn’t ideal either, particularly with the time delay and echo of an international call. They say communication is the key to a good relationship, but it’s not that easy if it takes a 16-digit calling card number to do your communicating. Ultimately, the distance thing became too much, and I decided I needed to date someone closer.

Staying closer to home
My next girlfriend lived in my apartment building, right across the hall. I’m not kidding. I went from the longest distance relationship possible to the shortest—which presented
Now I think living 25 miles apart may be ideal.
another set of problems. Sure, the commute was good, but on the other hand, she always knew when I was home. Depending on whether my living-room blinds were open or closed and whether my newspaper was on the front doormat, she could determine whether I was home and asleep (blinds closed, paper on doormat), home and awake (blinds closed, paper gone), awake and away (blinds open, paper gone), or not yet home from the night before (blinds open, paper on doormat). And that meant I had some explaining to do.

Not only could she tell when I was home, but depending on which light was on, she could tell what room I was in. Goldfish have more privacy. I wasn’t doing anything wrong or devious, mind you, but more than once I found myself huddled over a hoagie in the living room with the lights off in order to enjoy a few minutes of alone time. I felt like a bug on a microscope slide.

It also seemed weird to have friends over and sometimes not invite her, even though there were times when, naturally, I just wanted to be alone with my buddies. And unlike when I was dating Amiko, now there was zero pressure to go out and do exciting things. All we had to do was walk across the hall and — boom — insta-date! My dating life went from taking someone to concerts and amusement parks to “How about we just throw on some flip-flops and grab a burrito?” Now I understand why, when online-dating profiles ask how many miles away your potential date can live, people don’t check “zero.”

Needless to say, this relationship didn’t go the distance either.

Figuring out the right dating distance
But neither of these experiences means that a very long- or short-distance relationship can’t work. It can. What I realized is that you have to treat each relationship — despite the geography — like it’s a middle-distance relationship. To see if there’s long-term potential in a long-distance relationship, sometimes you have to do mundane things together, like ordering pizza and watching a movie or playing a board game. And if you’re dating someone short-distance, you’ve got to respect each other’s privacy and not take getting together for granted.

I’ll admit, though, that when updating my online dating profile recently, I chose “25” as the number of miles from me I’d like my potential mate to live. Of course, the goal is to get married and make that number zero, but in the meantime, 25 seems right. It’s far enough away that I can maintain some semblance of privacy yet close enough to eliminate any chance that I’ll end up eating in a theme restaurant.

Michael Kramer is an Emmy-nominated writer living in Los Angeles. He is a staff writer on the ABC series Men In Trees. He can be reached at
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