I won't go into the particulars right now, but it's got me thinking about the long-distance relationship as a phenomenon and wondering whether there's a taxonomy that we can hammer out.
The long-distance relationship is, of course, a hazard of academic life. And while I suspect that such relationships are increasingly common among highly-educated and ambitious people in all fields, for those in other professions the long-distance phase seems either to happen earlier (in terms of the partners' ages or the age of their relationship) or is understood to be just that: a phase. Time-limited. Lasting only until the one partner finishes her residency or clerkship or finds a job in the other partner's city; until the kids finish out their school year; until an aging parent recovers from surgery. Now, I've never known an academic who thinks of his or her long-distance relationship as permanent, but it's often indefinite.
The reasons are obvious: grad school delays adulthood in significant ways; the job market plunks one down any old place and expects one to be happy with it; not all college towns--even very appealing college towns--have viable employment options for one's partner. Personally, I'm delighted by my job and my city, and I've made quite a lot of good friends here. Almost without exception, though, my local friends are other academics--and almost all of us have been in long-distance relationships at one point or another since arriving here. In my world, that's normal.
But although I've never regarded long-distance relationships as undoable, it occurs to me that I've long had a calculus for just how doable such relationships are. The breakdown seems to work something like this:
Category One: 2-3 hours apart, door-to-door, by car or public transportation. To me, this hardly counts as long-distance; it may be too far to live together seven days a week, but it's plenty close enough for the partners to spend every weekend together. (In other words? Jackpot!)But these categories are based on my experience, and my ability to imagine relationships of significantly greater or lesser distance is limited to that experience; as hard as it may be for me to conceive of starting something up with a dude in Sacramento, I've had friends who have spent years in transcontinental relationships and who haven't seemed significantly more or less happy than my friends only a few hours away from their partners. Maybe it has to do with temperament, or maybe anything is capable of being routinized and made bearable--or at least no more unbearable than any other long-distance relationship.
Category Two: 3-6 hours apart, door-to-door, whether by car or a single easy flight or train ride (i.e., no transfers or layovers). Both my current and my previous long-distance relationships fall into this category, and in my experience it is--in the words of a grad school classmate and veteran Amtrak warrior--very not bad.
Category Three: More than 6 hours apart, by whatever means of transportation. This category obviously contains relationships of vastly different degrees of difficulty--a New York/San Francisco relationship, between which there are regular nonstop flights, is surely easier than small-town Pennsylvania to small-town Missouri, even though the mileage between the former is much greater than between the latter--and individual tolerance for certain kinds of distance and certain kinds of travel varies. But to me, 6+ hours is the definition of long-distance.
If you've been in such relationship(s) yourself, how would you expand or emend my taxonomy?
ETA: in response to the awesome comments thread, I've edited the above taxonomy slightly to take time-zone differences into account. The emended version can be found late in the thread.