Why More People Are Looking for Love Farther From Home
When perceiving a shortage, widening the search.
Posted March 14, 2023 | Reviewed by Abigail Fagan
- Geographical nearness affects the process of building a relationship.
- When people experience a partner shortage, widening their partner search radius can make sense.
- Long-term, different goals for where to live can introduce significant conflict in relationships.
How far would you travel to meet a future partner? For a person seeking a relationship, "anywhere!" might be a quick response, but the reality of relationship maintenance is such that distance imposes real constraints. The desire to see each other often is, by definition, harder to fulfill in long-distance than geographically close relationships. People seeking a long-term relationship might also be wary of the negotiations that eventually could be required if you meet someone who has roots elsewhere. Where will you live? How far is that from family? Who moves and switches jobs?
Geographical nearness plays a role in relationship formation
Where you live, and who lives near you, have long been known to affect relationships. A 1932 study, using a sample of 5,000 Philadelphians, showed that 30% of marriages occurred between people who, at the time of applying for their marriage license, lived within four blocks of each other (Bossard, 1932). This number jumped to 40% when extending to nine blocks and to over 50% when extending to 20 blocks. Not only did a large proportion of Philadelphians marry people who lived close to them, but the closer people lived to each other, the more likely they were to marry. People did not travel in search of long-term love: They found their life partners in their neighborhoods.
But 1932 was an era when people married younger, with first marriage at age 21 for women and 24 for men, whereas today the average age of first marriage is about 28 for women and about 30 for men (Census, 2022a). On account of age and cultural norms, people in the early 1900s often entered marriage having lived only with their immediate family, not on their own (which is more common today). Consequently, young people looking to marry in the 1930s may have had little chance to meet people beyond their local social network. Further, their expectations for marriage (and therefore, potentially, how selective they were of a partner) may have been more practical and less lofty than today (Finkel et al., 2014). This begs the question: How might geography affect relationships in modern times?
Most Americans want to live near home
Interestingly, the pull towards home is still strong. Today, most Americans still want to settle down near their families. This might come as a surprise given the relative ease of transportation and access to job opportunities, but Americans generally want to arrange their lives to be close to where they grew up. Recent census data shows that 60% of people settle down within 10 miles of their hometown, and about 80% within 100 miles of where they were raised (Census, 2022).
This desire to stay near home might encourage people to find partners near where they are, but it is a desire balanced with other pressures. For instance, people today often hold especially high expectations for their marriage partners, looking to them as supports for their own self-actualizing efforts (Finkel et al., 2014). These relationship goals might make it tricky to find a suitable partner among the pool of local candidates.
Plus, with a couple of clicks and swipes, people today have access to potential partners from anywhere in the world. Online dating removes the traditional barrier of geographical proximity required to find a romantic partner, introducing a new opportunity, and potential pressure, to seek long-term partners from a wider geographical region than prior generations.
For love, distance can matter less than other desirable traits
If you find yourself searching a wider and wider radius for your ideal partner, you're not alone. People today regularly encounter a critical problem — a perceived partner shortage, when they want to date, but there's no one around whom they see as a suitable potential partner. In this situation, sacrificing geographical nearness stands out as a reasonable solution. It's not the only solution: People could also lower their partner standards or simply refrain from dating (Jonason et al., 2020). Of these options, widening geographical criteria is a winner: It allows people to preserve their high standards while still pursuing relationship goals.
Evidence suggests that geographical nearness can be a luxury, not a requirement (Jonason et al., 2017). Why sacrifice the kind of person you want, when instead you can drive farther, and rely on texting, phone calls, and Facetime to "see" each other in between visits? Men appear less interested in widening geographical constraints and more open to lowering standards when looking only for short-term relationships, but women tend to prefer to travel for a partner. In general, long-term relationships favor maintaining standards over requiring geographical proximity (Jonason et al., 2020).
Distance comes with costs and benefits
Traveling farther for a long-term partner allows people access to a larger pool of potential partners. This might allow people to optimize partner preferences and compatibility. The costs, however, include the possible challenge of negotiating where to live in the future. Deciding "where to live" could become a real conversation point, a problem that people need to resolve as they move forward in their lives towards greater relationship commitment. Given individuals' desires to live near their respective families (Census 2022b), conflicting goals could render this a troublesome issue, requiring compromise or sacrifice. If not being able to live in your ideal location would be a true dealbreaker, perhaps looking more locally for love might be an important self-imposed constraint in the dating game.
Facebook image: Boryana Manzurova/Shutterstock
Bossard, J. H. (1932). Residential propinquity as a factor in marriage selection. American Journal of Sociology, 38(2), 219-224.
Census (2022b). https://www2.census.gov/ces/wp/2022/CES-WP-22-27.pdf
Finkel, E. J., Hui, C. M., Carswell, K. L., & Larson, G. M. (2014). The suffocation of marriage: Climbing Mount Maslow without enough oxygen. Psychological Inquiry, 25(1), 1-41.
Jonason, P. K., Nolland, M., & Tyler, M. D. (2017). Incorporating geographic distance into mate preference research: Necessities and luxuries, 2.0. Personal Relationships, 24(3), 585-597.
Jonason, P. K., Betes, S. L., & Li, N. P. (2020). Solving mate shortages: Lowering standards, searching farther, and abstaining. Evolutionary Behavioral Sciences, 14(2), 160.