I was just on Skype with my friend Jonathan, who is also in a long-distance relationship. His is between Vancouver, BC and Germany. Mine is between Eugene, OR, and Vancouver, BC. We started coming up with a scheme for measuring the difficulty of a long distance relationship. Here are the major factors we came up with:

1) Financial impact of making the trip

2) Number of travel hours separating the couple

3) Amount of time difference between locations

To that I’m going to add,

4) The availability of high-quality video chat.

5) Number of days left before final reunification.

Obviously, any such attempt will result in a major oversimplification, but I’m thinking we should stick with easily measurable factors. For example, the communication ability of each partner plays a huge part in the success of a LDR, but is difficult to measure, so I’m leaving it out. If the couple prefers not to fly for ethical or other reasons, it will factor in, too, but I’m leaving that out as well. And so on.

So, how do we calculate this index? Generate numbers for each factor:

1) Cost of a round trip, divided by the combined income of couple.

2) Number of hours travel, round trip, by that mode of transportation.

3) Number of hours difference between locations, plus 1. So if you’re in the same time zone, you get a 1 here, and if you’re eight time zones off, you get a 9. The plus 1 is just to make a no-time-zone-difference a nonzero number, for calculating the index.

4) I’m going to estimate that having good video chat makes LDRs ten times easier, so if you have it, you get a 1 and if you don’t, you get a 10.

5) The number of days left before final reunification.

Let’s try those elements in the following equation:

difficulty of long distance relationship = (cost of trip/combined income) x number of hours travel x number of hours difference x number of days left x video chat

It’s a start. Let’s see what kinds of numbers it gives us, using about what Reanna and I have left to go–a little over a year: For Bill Gates, the index would range between about .01 to maybe 30, depending on the difficulty of the trip, or between .1 and 300, without video chat. For someone poor, with a long, difficult trip that costs their yearly salary and no video chat, the index would be about 600,000. If this very unfortunate couple had 10 years to go instead of a year, they get 6,000,000. I know, that doesn’t sound like much of a relationship, but I’m looking for the upper end of the scale.

Reanna and I get about a 30. Not too bad, I guess, though it goes up to 300 when I’m at Not Back to School Camp, which is way out on the information-dirt-road. So we get a range of 30-300, which is the same range as Bill Gates’ worst-case scenario–if he had to take his private Lear jet to the central Asian steppe every time he wanted to see Melinda.

OK, here’s where you can help me out, if you want. There are certainly several problems with this scale. Here are two, off the top of my head: First, the range of .01 to 6,000,000 is too big to think very clearly about. How hard is my 30 compared to Bill’s .01, or Mr. Unfortunate’s 6,000,000? Other than “somewhere inbetween,” it’s difficult to say. The equation needs some kind of transformation to produce easier numbers, say between 1 and 100. Second, some things aren’t working out with the math. As it is, if a couple is very poor, even a 10-day LDR with an easy trip comes out harder than Bill’s 10-year LDR with a very difficult trip, as long as Mr. Unfortunate doesn’t have Skype. That can’t be right. If any of you are math people, what do you think? Third, there are other factors that should be included but are difficult to operationalize, like communication skills and depth of commitment. Any ideas, conceptual people?