Long-distance dating is becoming an increasingly common way for men and women to look for love as well as stay connected once they find it. In a culture where workers commute their lives away, where people in different time zones are linked by e-mail and cell phones, the idea of establishing romantic ties with someone three states away is more viable than ever.

Like any relationship, a long-distance one has its challenges, says Jenney Penano, 23, a lab technician at the Stanford University Medical Center. Her five-year relationship with Rommel Mirasol, 22, of Long Beach, Calif., became a long-distance one when she graduated from the University of California-Irvine in in June 2005. The pair plans on returning to their same-city status after he graduates in a few months and moves to the Bay Area.

They visit each other monthly, but their conversations, often over the phone, have deepened what began as a college romance, Penano says. The distance has helped their connection as they've developed independently yet remained committed.

“I guess it has become more romantic,' Penano says. “We affirm and try to strengthen it. We kind of say sweeter things to each other to make up for the distance.'

Careers often force lovers to live in separate cities, but more people are beginning their relationships as long-distance ones. From academics and professionals meeting at conferences to Internet users discovering shared interests through chat rooms and online communities, people are taking the romantic plunge because the drive to find Mr. or Ms. Right often trumps distance.

© 2006, San Jose Mercury News (San Jose, Calif.).

Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.