The environmental case against long-distance relationships.

News and commentary about environmental issues.
Feb. 4 2009 6:57 AM

Date Local

The case against long-distance relationships.

With Valentine's Day approaching and matters of the heart on the mind, now might be a good time to take stock of your relationship by considering another individual's needs: Mother Earth's. In the Green Room piece republished below, Barron YoungSmith explains why long-distance relationships are bad for our planet. 

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A robust Date Local movement wouldn't just help the environment. Like other forms of economic localization, the decision to swear off Orbitz romance creates important spinoff benefits. For one, it makes people less anti-social. By spending all their free time out of town or staring at a webcam—that is, in their apartments or airline cabins, rather than in parks, bowling alleys, and pubs—long-distance lovers erode civic commitment and social support networks. They have fewer chances to meet new people. And they make their cities more stratified by inflating an über-class bubble of jet-set shut-ins who are—understandably, given their lifestyle—more worried about conditions at O'Hare than things going on outside their front door.

What's more, out-of-town daters have less sex than local couples—and long stretches of abstinence between visits could lead to negative health outcomes and thus higher health care costs. Distance also magnifies the impact of negative feelings like longing and suspicion; according to one study, intercity lovers are more likely to be depressed (PDF) and less likely to share resources or take care of each other when sick. And they spend money on travel that they might otherwise save and invest—leaving them vulnerable to economic shocks and wearing away their future standard of living. Every one of these demons could be banished by simply dating local.

Of course, like many eco-conscious attempts to instill social virtue, this proposal runs the risk of killing romance. Many a true human thrill—the high-octane cheeseburger! the long shower! the Chevy Suburban!—has been deflated by green evangelists out to render the personal political. And, in a way, long-distance dating is romantic precisely because it expends so much in the way of resources and effort. It's less exciting to date someone based on your shared love of canvas shopping bags than it is to pine for a partner who wants to meet in Arizona.

No, our Date Local movement won't be overbearing. It shouldn't try to break up every cross-country love odyssey. Instead, it will discourage this special type of conspicuous consumption at the margins, nudging people toward the realization that breaking up is in their own, and enlightened, economic self-interest.

For example, with fuel prices likely to whipsaw upward for the foreseeable future, many people currently in LDRs will end up questioning whether they want to keep timing their liaisons to coincide with oil underconsumption troughs—or whether it's better to call it splits. (The coming death of lucrative, globalized post-college jobs may force similar reconsiderations.) Date Local could educate them about the environmental and social benefits of breaking up and nudge them in the right direction. And the group would be there to cushion the brokenhearted by imparting newly minted locasexuals with a sense of noble self-sacrifice—not to mention a pool of cute, like-minded enviros who happen to live in the neighborhood.

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So let's give it a try. Date Local's message is a simple one, in the best traditions of liberal reform. All you have to do is date here. Date now. Date sustainably. And if you absolutely have to date long-distance, do it via Amtrak.

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