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Foreign Affairs:
Crossing the International Dateline
or, Be Nice, I Literally Just Crossed an Ocean to Be With You

by Danielle Zeitlen

It occurs to me that everyone is obsessed with convenience. We want everything to be faster, smaller, easier, and better, including our relationships. No one wants to waste any of their cell phone/fax/Palm Pilot lives on an "inconvenient" relationship.

I know a little something about "inconvenience." Let me invoke the always-dreaded long distance relationship (an "LDR" in BG shorthand). Now, depending on your perspective, the term "long distance" can vary. For my New York City friends, that means not dating anyone outside your own zip code. Many won't get involved with anyone who lives more than one subway ride away. For the average Jane or Joe, however, "long distance" usually involves separate states.

My LDR is a little more extreme. He lives in England, and I'm in the U.S. Before you brand me a glutton for punishment or an overzealous anglophile, let me spin it this way: I met someone special and the fact that he lives so far away simply doesn't factor into my feelings. With that, I will now extol the many benefits of dating someone from another culture and time zone.

Come Here... uh... Frequently?

First and foremost are all those frequent flier miles. Three or four trips across the pond and, before you know it, a free flight is yours for the taking. And you don't have to use those miles to visit each other, either. You can save up for that dream trip to India, South America, Australia, Bali, or any other place that requires 24 hours of flying and more than a thousand bucks for the ticket.

Besides, with the dawn of discount flights online, it's almost as cheap -- if not cheaper -- to fly from New York to Europe than it is to fly to California. These days, you can visit your beloved year-round for not that much. People swear by priceline.com, but I find the inability to select flight times a major problem. If I only have a long weekend, I can't risk a return flight at 9 a.m. instead of 9 p.m. That's an entire lost day; and as you may have guessed, in an LDR, every minute counts.

Another tip comes from my recent experience as an Air Courier. Pay a small membership fee -- $29 a year in this case -- and you'll get access to inexpensive flights in exchange for shepherding a small package (usually documents) from your destination back to the U.S. Not bad, right? Plus, you can pretend you're a spy.

Finally, in an LDR, don't discount the added bonus of going overseas with the regularity of a visit to the grandparents in Boca. It is truly wonderful to have a mini-vacation to look forward to every couple of months. Here's another way to think of it: if dating a Brit long distance is good enough for Madonna, who am I to argue?

London Calling

A friend of mine who is also an international dater says, "Regular phone calls or emails can keep the relationship alive." Thankfully, in this era of massive telecommunication, it's easy and cheap to call internationally. Between pre-paid phone cards and plans with major carriers, you can call some areas of Europe for 10 cents or less a minute. With net2phone and simiilar companies, you can even call for free through your computer.

I recommend talking as much as possible, even three times a day if you can manage it. Remember, you have no movie and dinner dates, so the phone becomes your everyday date, a chance to get to know each other without distractions like popcorn and Julia Roberts. You will come to cherish and anticipate these talks, and they will allow you to get closer, even from far away.

Another friend of mine in a New York/England romance says, "It is best [for the relationship] if you are not sexually active. It won't work if you are the kind of person who needs to be touched every day." Well, abstinence may work for some. For the rest of us there's phone sex.

It might seem weird at first, but believe me, if you want to stave off the urges to go tiptoe in someone else's tulips, this is a surefire cure. Plus, it brings you both closer together and opens up the dialogue for discussing of each other's likes and dislikes. And just think of how amazing it will be when you can stop nuzzling a telephone receiver and cuddle with a real person!

Ain't Nothin' Like the Real Thing, Baby

People will argue that LDRs are unrealistic because your time together is "always the honeymoon." I admit it's usually bliss when you first see each other after an extended period of time. But the key is to make that time together as real as possible.

In other words, don't be on your best behavior all the time. If you are, you'll only be fooling yourself in the end. Do normal stuff: hang out with friends, go to movies, burp, eat meals, visit your families, pick your nose. Get to know your significant other's living environment as well as you can, from places they frequent to the transportation they take.

I Love It When You Talk... What Is That, Anyway?

While you're at it, don't forget the lingo. Just because your international love may speak English, they're not American. You may find yourself with a whole new language and culture to learn. After a year of dating an Englishman, I can tell if you are spouting "porky pies" - lies, that is, in Cockney Slang. (My Mom still can't understand a word my bloke says.)

Try and be open to the things your international ally likes, even if it's, um, "culturally challenging" to you. I am now bloody well versed in football (or "soccer" if you will, a word the English hate even if it is theirs). Having always been a sports fan, it was easy for me to get involved in Britain's National Pastime.

At the same time, however, you don't want to force it. If something is really not your cup of tea here, you shouldn't pretend you love it over there. It won't do either of you any good in the long run. A successful LDR has to have trust, as you know, and plenty of it.

But, I'm Tired and Poor! I'm Even a Bit Wretched!

All is not all wine and roses, sadly. The biggest downfall is our friend the Visa... and I'm not talking about the credit card. It is that elusive piece of paper that allows both you and your foreign correspondent to live in the same country. And believe me, it is not easy to come by.

In a domestic LDR, one of you can (theoretically, at least) pick up and move whenever you feel like it. In an international affair, one of you would need to convince a company not only to hire you, but also to sponsor you and shell out thousands (of whatever currency) to get you there. The odds of this happening are slim, and as each day passes a quickie Vegas wedding with Elvis as your pastor starts looking better and better. Have faith in your relationship. You need to believe it will work out. And it will if -- together -- you decide it will. Just make sure you're both willing to hang on until it does.

Don't Get Carded

There is also the little matter of your passport. Obviously, you're expected to produce this for the nice gentlemen behind the podium every time you arrive or depart. Important Advice Alert! When you lose said passport in a tube station only 4 hours before your flight, it is helpful to have the number of the American Embassy on hand so they can actually get you out of the country. It also helps if some nice person returns it to the local police station, even if there are tire marks all over it. (Not that I have any experience with such a thing!) But I would advise keeping your passport in a safe place and keeping a photocopy of it on you at all times.

Is this an ideal courtship? Of course not. Does it have its perks? You betcha! So, the next time you meet someone with an accent who genuinely makes your heart skip a beat, don't worry about maps and baggage. Just get their digits -- even if there are 27 of them -- and console yourself with daydreams of all those frequent flier miles. Or the phone sex, whichever you like better.

Danielle Zeitlen is a writer in New York City. Her boyfriend, who is moving here in the fall to try and get a Visa, refuses to let her hold his passport.

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