"I'm on top," Drew Barrymore purrs in her best slut voice.
"I'm on top. How can you be on top?" asks a somewhat frustrated and very naked Justin Long on the other end of the line.
We're watching the couple attempt phone sex with the finesse of bumper cars in Going the Distance. Separated by their careers, Barrymore lives in San Francisco while Long (also her real-life boyfriend, depending on what day it is) works in New York, and they are trying to keep the chemistry charged by text, tweet, YouTube, and Skype. Are you touching yourself, he wants to know on their canoodle call? "All over," she assures him, clutching the phone in one hand and a glass of red wine in the other. By the time she murmurs "Marky Mark" in the same breathy breath as the word "hot," the moment for Long has seriously passed.
Whether you can sit through this movie or not, it certainly dings a cultural note. We've gotten in bed with technology like never before and it's totally changing the nature of our long distance relationships-so on the rise, it seems, they've earned the acronym LDRs. Having survived the mother of LDRs myself (three years of Hotmailing between Manhattan and Rwanda with an occasional Skype smooch), I can't help but wonder how love in megabytes is affecting the state of romance.
Six Clicks of Separation. "All these technologies are profoundly remapping relationships-letting us collapse geographical distance, and changing our ideas of time," says Genevieve Bell, PhD, cultural anthropologist and ethnographer for Intel, who travels around the world studying the way people use media. Translation? You can date someone halfway across the globe and can go for much longer without dying of longing. "You do miss someone less when you stay in touch with them through technology the way we can," says Susan Shapiro Barash, author of Toxic Friends.
A picture is worth a thousand miles. Bell likes to point out that the complications of romance haven't changed; we're just able to deal with them more speedily. She tells the story of Henry VIII, who decided on his fourth wife, Anne of Cleeves, based on the portrait she sent ahead. "The painting portrayed her as this beautiful, fair, sylphlike thing, and when she showed up, she didn't look like any of it," Bell says. "It was like the worst dating profile ever. Today, it's less brutal: You meet in a coffee shop and go, 'I'm sorry, you're not as tall or as handsome as I thought you were.' Poor Anne, she had to be shipped all the way back home."
Subject: Romance. The mystery and yearning that make LDRs so intoxicating, is lost more quickly as instant media hustles you into minutia mode. Suddenly you're tweeting about the traffic on the 405 Freeway or what you ate for lunch. "Now, too, your boyfriend in China can be just as annoyed that you went to the bar with your girlfriends as if you were living a block apart," says Barash. And I'll throw in my two cents about Skype: Trying to be a little sexy while having that video of yourself (in hair-of-the-dog green) staring back at you? It's like your mother walking in just when you and Joey Hunkadore were slithering to first base.
TMI Anxiety: Ilana Gershon, PhD, an anthropologist at Indiana University and author of The Breakup 2.0: Disconnecting Over New Media, says all this technology tends to turn daters into narks. One young woman she interviewed for the book started obsessing over photos of her lover at a party on Facebook. Did the girl in the shot happen to walk by at that just that second? Or had he been chatting her up for hours? It drove this young dater nuts. "This kind of thing is common," says Gershon. "Facebook offers potato chips of information. You keep reaching for more but you never really feel satisfied."
Faux Intimacy: When you tweet, text, and IM throughout the day, it can quickly create the illusion that you know someone, says clinical psychologist Jennifer Degler, PhD, coauthor of No More Christian Nice Girl. "But you don't. To really learn about his character, it's crucial to observe how he interacts with others-family, waiters, coworkers, cab drivers-in person."
Sleeping with the BlackBerry: Technology could even dull your craving for intimacy, says therapist Gilda Carle, PhD, author of Don't Bet on the Prince! "All this dependence on gadgets stymies the drive that couples have to miss each other and to touch. And it often prevents you from working out conflicts because words alone can't sense how a partner really feels. When it comes to sustaining your love, nothing beats being together in the flesh."
THE SLIGHTLY SCRAMBLED
"Did I just get dumped?" Gershon was surprised to find that getting texted, "It's Over" doesn't actually mean it's over. "When people told me this, at first I thought, Wow, what a gift; you don't have to keep interacting with the schmuck," she says. "And then they explained to me, 'Oh no no no. Now you have to figure out whether it's a breakup or the opening for a whole new renegotiation of the relationship."
Thanks once again to Drew Barrymore, we have the perfect movie moment. "I had this guy leave me a voice mail at work," her character, Mary, says in He's Just Not That Into You, "so I called him at home, and then he e-mailed me to my BlackBerry, and so I texted to his cell, and now you just have to go around checking all these different portals just to get rejected by seven different technologies. It's exhausting."
Hey ladies, what do you think? Does FB, Skype, IM, email, tweeting and texting help or hurt a long distance relationship? Are there any great do's and definite dont's you've learned?
For more on love in the digital age....
Score a Date off Twitter & Facebook Without Seeming Creepy
Divorce, Courtesy Facebook
Online Detox: 5 New Rules No Woman Should Be Without
[Photo Credit: Thinkstock/Hemera]