Could your love stay the distance?

<i>NY-LON</i>, Channel 4's new drama, puts the spotlight on a transatlantic love affair. But the realities of trying to keep a relationship strong when you're in different time-zones are far from sexy, says Jenny Colgan
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NY-LON. Snappy title, huh? Sexily shot, sharply edited and starring gorgeous thirtysomethings with designer suits and sparkling smiles, Channel 4's new season drama is so slick it could almost be American. Every element of the show proves the channel's overwhelming desire to fill the vacuum left by the absence of Friends and Sex and the City. It's young, good-looking and is set against the back-drop of two of the greatest cities in the world. What's more, it revolves around that most romantic of storylines - the long-distance love affair.

NY-LON. Snappy title, huh? Sexily shot, sharply edited and starring gorgeous thirtysomethings with designer suits and sparkling smiles, Channel 4's new season drama is so slick it could almost be American. Every element of the show proves the channel's overwhelming desire to fill the vacuum left by the absence of Friends and Sex and the City. It's young, good-looking and is set against the back-drop of two of the greatest cities in the world. What's more, it revolves around that most romantic of storylines - the long-distance love affair.

For those of you who aren't already familiar with the trailers, NY-LON aims to portray "the snapshots of time snatched together" in a long-distance romance between a New Yorker, Edie, and a Londoner, Michael.

Michael (played by Stephen Moyer) is a kind-hearted, moralistic, wealthy merchant banker, who helps out his mates, lends money to strangers, always has spotlessly clean sheets, and takes his young nephew to football. (Isn't London just overrun with men like that?) Edie is a New Yorker, and self-described "free spirit" (she wears large earrings), played by Rashida Jones (whose only resemblance to her father Quincy is slightly problematic hair). When the two of them meet in a city pub one evening, they fall in love, thus kick-starting the first of a series of forlorn montages in which the couple struggle to keep their lives together, while realising that they can't bear to be apart. Can they really carry on a normal, healthy relationship when the several thousands of miles of sea-water between them are suggesting otherwise?

One hundred years ago, a long-distance relationship (LDR) was generally with somebody in the next village. Now, cheap flights, e-mail, text-messaging and online dating mean that the pool of potential partners is almost infinite. But the course of long-distance love never did run smooth.

For many people, the first experience of a LDR happens at around the time they discover that the university of their choice has neglected to include their partner on its admissions list. Of all the young teens who start college with one half of a locket, heavily scented mail, and their Special Bear, a conservative 95 per cent usually fall prey to the charms of that second-year dope-smoking, Sartre-reading sophisticate by the end of Freshers' Week. Even when love survives, most couplings usually fall apart in the years immediately after college, most frequently when one half of the couple decides to take a gap year in Australia - "to find myself and hang out with lots of muscular, bronzed surfers. Of course I'll be faithful!".

Painful, humiliating and usually brutal, anyone who has experienced a bad LDR spends subsequent years giving the concept a wide berth. Yet no one can deny the deeply seductive notion of meeting a foreign stranger and falling head-over-heels, and there's no doubt that NY-LON will appeal to the soppiest of romantics. LDRs have romance and drama in spades - who could resist those goodbyes? The hotel rooms? Those lonely nights? All those hours hanging around in Arrivals?

Presumably, if NY-LON is really to offer us those "snapshots of snatched moments" that describe an LDR, for the first 20 minutes of each episode, the couple will be jet-lagged and mildly awkward, they'll then engage in a serious discussion about whether or not they are fitting enough fun into the short time they have together, followed by five minutes of crying about where they're going to live.

I know. I've been there. My husband Andrew is a marine engineer, and seldom in the same country two days on the trot. We barely get time to be sick of each other, and he is currently enjoying the stop-motion experience of catching up with our pregnancy at fortnightly intervals. But he only works six months a year, and I'm lucky enough to have a laptop and a non-office job, so I can travel to meet him. If I had to work nine-to-five, I would have bailed out altogether.

Frank Strausser is a successful publisher in LA who has been having an LDR with Jane, 29, a producer in London, for more than a year. "It's probably the most romantic sort of relationship," he says. "Every moment spent together feels stolen and precious and new." But, he warns, "You have to decide early what you want out of the relationship. If it's just an affair, fine. But if you want more, you've got to start thinking about how this is going to work out. Who is going to move? How much are you both willing to sacrifice? If you wait to think about these things, the bump that you will inevitably hit is going to be huge."

The agony uncle Matt Whyman agrees: "Long-distance relationships don't often travel well. They require a great deal of trust, plus the willingness to sit on a plane or train for long periods simply to see each other. If you're keen to give it a go, agree on taking things one step at a time, and review the situation on a regular basis. It can work wonderfully for some people, but for others, the absences can be hard to handle. You have to be honest, with yourself and as a couple. If it's causing you more grief than happiness, you have to take responsibility for your feelings and do the right thing for both of you."

You also have to get used to the fact that your friends will subscribe to the "if we can't see him, he doesn't exist" school of thought, and will look amazed if you seem to know what he's doing. But as Frank points out, "If you have serious work commitments, you're able to really focus on them when you're apart. The same goes for focusing on your friends. They get your full attention when you're apart." It has its upsides, then.

Certainly, the constraints of career and cash don't seem to stand in the way of Michael and Edie's film romance. As a free spirit, Edie presumably has all the time in the world to do as she feels. And Michael, fortunately, appears to work those amazingly lax hours for which stockbrokers are so famous. In the real world, having a degree of cash and flexibility are vital.

And it's not all tearful partings and overjoyed reunions. Day to day, an LDR is as mundane as anyone else's relationship. In the first episode of NY-LON, Edie says that she "doesn't do e-mail", which I guess solves at a stroke the filmic dilemma of showing the visually dull reality of the quotidian hours of tapping away at Microsoft Messenger with a £20 webcam stuck on top.

"Some things are more difficult," says my husband, reminding me of how, even after years, his first day home always seems a little strange; and how, in e-mails, it is VERY IMPORTANT to be precise about what you mean - over thousands of miles, misinterpretation is extremely easy.

But I wouldn't change it. I still think that getting six 24/7 months a year is much more than a hell of a lot of couples I know, who leave for work at seven in the morning and grunt at each other at nine in the evening. We know we have to work to catch up, and really listen to each other because we're not there; other couples assume that everything is OK, until they go on holiday and realise that they've grown apart and have nothing in common after all. And my heart still leaps when I see his curly head (he never cuts his hair when he's away) popping out of Arrivals.

Of course, eventually, you do have to make the "decision" about living together. Especially if you want to have babies. But children aren't for everyone, and the best thing to do with the LDR may be to keep it casual. "It just may be," muses Frank, "that it's easier to put off making a decision because you know that it's not going to fall into place. This could have something to do with the fact that, for all its romantic allure, the LDR is the very last hang-out for the committed commitment-phobe."

'NY-LON' starts on Channel 4 on Tuesday 24 August at 10pm


Jeremy Brooks, an architectural technician from Bristol, and his Norwegian girlfriend Hanne Jorstad, both 18, have been together for almost a year

"We met for the first time two years ago at a festival. We met again last summer, and she invited me to visit her in Norway. We decided to start going out when I was over there. We knew it probably wouldn't work, but we thought we'd give it a shot anyway because we liked each other, and because of the challenge.

It's been pretty hard, much harder than we thought it was going to be. The hardest thing is that we're apart for three months at a time. When she came over for the first time we both wondered what we were doing, and we weren't sure whether to carry on. But now we've settled down and we're used to it, so every time we see each other it's fine.

I wouldn't recommend a long-distance relationship, unless you're really going to go for it. It's worth it for me and I love it, but there are a lot of difficulties.

What keeps us going is the fact that we do really like each other."

Erin Lyon, 29, a lawyer, and accountant Mike Cockcroft, 30, live together in Wimbledon

"Last year I went to Singapore to work for seven months. I'd met Mike at a Millennium Eve party, and we'd been living together for about 18 months when I went away. I was really excited to be going, and felt guilty for feeling so excited. He came out to visit me twice while I was there, and we spent a couple of weeks together over the seven-month period. The hardest thing was the time difference because we couldn't have normal conversations - I'd be absolutely hammered in the early hours of the morning, and he'd be getting ready for the evening in London. We e-mailed a lot.

At the end of the seven months, it was really getting on my nerves. You're more likely to misinterpret each other and it can cause problems. I would recommend a long-distance relationship, but you have to be realistic. It would've been different if we hadn't known that it was only temporary."

Christie Short, 23, is a nurse in Nottingham. Andreas Rosas, 26, is a trainee pastor in Bolivia, and the couple have been engaged for a year

"We met in May 2000 when I was working in a church that Andreas went to in Bolivia. I was there for two months, so we got to know each other. We wrote to each other for a year, and we both felt that we wanted to take things further. I went back in the summer of 2001 to see him. We decided then to make more of a commitment. We didn't see each other again until summer 2002, then summer 2003. He came to visit me for the first time last Christmas. We'll next see each other this October when we get married in Bolivia. Then we're going to live in Nottingham.

We have set times for e-mailing, and for when I'm going to phone him, and when he's going to phone me. It's not very flexible, as it means that we can't go out when we want, but it's the only way we can cope with the distance. We completely trust each other, which is really important.

He can't speak English, but I learnt Spanish as a child because I grew up in Mexico. There are definitely issues to sort out but we've been able to talk them through.

He knows it's going to be difficult for him because he's leaving everything behind, but he's really looking forward to it."

Interviews by Catherine Ayers