A Case for Sustainable Dating?

Many of us have routinely--and I admit, sometimes obsessively--scanned discount airfare websites and saved a portion of our paychecks for the chance to be finally reunited with a long-distance loved one. Since my boyfriend is a consultant who always travels on different projects, long-distance has become a lifestyle for us. And it seems like we're not the only ones.

In an article for Slate, Barron YoungSmith writes that there are about 100 million single people in America over the age of 17, according to Census data. Furthermore, the author's research suggests that at least a quarter of all college students are dating out of town. Since the rate would be much lower among the general population, YoungSmith makes a conservative estimate that 1 in 15 of all single adults are in long-distance relationships, which adds up to 6.7 million Americans. If you include the 3.4 million married people who live separately but are not "separated," the total rises to more than 5 million long-distance relationshippers.

Besides the expected difficulties in making such a relationship work, some people are now saying that people in long-distance relationships should also take the environment into consideration. YoungSmith's article advocates locasexualism, a take on the Local Food Movement's locavore concept. Not only should we get our food within a 100-mile radius, but we should also date locally.

According to the article, if a couple flies across country to see each other once a month, a carbon offset company would estimate their romantic travels to be the equivalent of 35 metric tons of carbon dioxide a year. Remember that greenhouse gases emitted from high-altitude planes have several times the impact of emissions from ground transportation. Breaking the flights down between each partner and each individual's lifestyle would be six times worse for the environment than the average American. If every American in a long-distance relationship drove from Washington, D.C. to New York City every two weeks, they would produce a total of about 18 million metric tons of carbon dioxide per year. Moreover, YoungSmith concludes that breaking up would be about 10 times better for the environment than going vegetarian!

The Date LocalMovement works to: "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."

Even though my boyfriend and I both consider ourselves environmentalists, I honestly doubt we'd consider ending our four-year relationship to follow the Date Local movement. Although some may argue that we must give up such pleasurable activities as air travel for vacations, eating food out of season or taking long and hot showers in order to save the environment, should we also give up inconvenient relationships? At the risk of sounding cheesy, I must say that as much as I love the environment, I think I love my boyfriend more...for now, at least! If I do date again in the future, however, it might not be a bad idea for me to take the Date Local mantra into consideration.

To see Grist's coverage of the original article, click here.