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Remote work could mean the end of long-distance relationships

Jobs have always taken people to new cities, states or even countries — ending millions of relationships, or turning them into long distance ones. Telework may be a fix.

Why it matters: Often we made personal relationships remote to prioritize in-person work. Now work could become the part of life that's remote, allowing relationships to get that valuable in-person investment instead.

The big picture: Long distance relationships had been on the rise in the U.S. pre-pandemic.

  • There are about 4 million married Americans ages 18 and over who live apart from their spouses, up from 2.7 million in 2000, the Economist reports, citing Census data.
  • That excludes all of the unmarried couples who are dealing with distance.

Be smart: There are a slew of reasons why couples may be living apart. They may attend different colleges or graduate schools, one spouse may be in a nursing home, or one spouse may be incarcerated.

But a big — and growing — divider of couples is work, says Danielle Lindemann, a sociologist at Lehigh University and the author of a book on commuter spouses.

By the numbers: Around 40% of the 97 commuter couples Lindemann interviewed for her book had minor children when they lived apart.

  • Some lived just two hours away from one another and could meet up a few times a week, while others were in different continents and could barely find time to talk on the phone.
  • Many didn't reveal to their employers that they were in long distance marriages, fearing they'd be perceived as distracted or likely to quit, and many were constantly searching for new jobs to move back in with their partners, Lindemann says.

Context: Now those in long distance relationships are yet another cohort for companies to think about as they plan their workplace strategy.

  • Workers will be much more reluctant to move for work if they can easily find remote jobs and stay with their partners or spouses. And the companies that don't offer those flexible options may lose talent.

But, but, but: Remote work isn't always good for relationships.

  • For couples who have lived apart for a long time, there's a transition period when you learn how to deal with each other, says Lindemann. "You get used to having your own space and sharing that again can cause conflicts." That's exacerbated if both partners work from home and are around each other even more.
  • Workplaces are also big starters of relationships: nearly a quarter of Americans meet their spouses at work. In a hybrid or remote work, people will likely have to rely more heavily on other ways to meet potential partners, such as dating apps.

The bottom line: The rise of hybrid and remote work is triggering big changes in society — whether it's restructuring our cities or changing the way we date.

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