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How We Love Now

Long-distance relationships, office romances, and marriages arranged online are new items on the romance menu.
By
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Your grandfather married the girl next door, and your mother tied the knot with her college sweetheart. But you may very well find your mate through the Internet or in a neighboring cubicle.

What does modern love look like?

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Traditional marriages still exist. But in the last half century, we've seen lots of changes: interracial and interfaith couples, gay and lesbian couples, and the older woman with the younger man -- a union that mirrors the older man-younger woman pairing.

Now, according to experts who spoke to WebMD, a 21st century union may involve a couple that falls in love at work, now that the office romance is losing its stigma. Or a couple might be in a commuter marriage, conducting their long-distance relationship through phone calls and web cams. Or an Indian engineer in Baltimore may log on to an Indian matrimonial site and find the woman of his dreams -- a dental student in Bangalore.

With powerful forces -- such as the Internet and a 24/7 work world -- exerting influence on our passions, surprising trends are springing up on the romance front.

Long-Distance Marriages on the Rise

In a landscape of dual careers, Internet romances, and globalization, the long-distance marriage is growing in numbers.

In the U.S., long-distance marriages increased by 23% between 2000 and 2005, according to census figures analyzed by the Center for the Study of Long Distance Relationships. In 2005, roughly 3.6 million married people in the U.S. lived apart for reasons other than marital discord, the center estimates.

On average, couples live 125 miles apart, but some dwell on separate continents. Some visit every weekend, others, every few months. But on average, long-distance couples see each other 1.5 times a month, according to center statistics.

Such pairs include the two married academics who love their jobs and have lived apart for more than a decade; the spouse who accepted a foreign job assignment but didn't want to uproot the family; the high-powered, dual-career couple constantly on the move to advance in their jobs.

Greg Guldner, MD, the center's director, knows about long-distance relationships firsthand. He was doing a medical residency in Southern California when he met his future wife on a trip to Phoenix. The couple survived four years in a two-state relationship before marrying. Guldner also wrote the book, Long Distance Relationships: The Complete Guide.

Compared to generations past, today's lovers are more likely to meet while crisscrossing the country or globe, he says. "People travel for their work, they commute farther, they generally travel more than we did just a few decades ago. All of these things make it more likely that they'll fall for someone who doesn't live nearby."

The web fuels the trend, too. According to the center's web site, "The rise of Internet dating services predictably contributes to 'coast-to-coast couples' -- those who live on opposite ends of the nation and met on the web, but have a real, not just a virtual, relationship. Society has finally started accepting long-distance relationships as a viable alternative."

Long-distance marriages do have drawbacks, though. Warranted or not, couples do tend to worry more about infidelity. Furthermore, if children are involved, one partner shoulders almost the entire burden of raising them.

Still, "Commuter marriages are becoming a little more commonplace because people are willing to try them," Guldner says. "Part of that is technological. People think that what's out there now -- email and Internet and so forth -- makes it easier."

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