A tale of two people in two cities, part I

My husband and I will have been “together” for 10 years this July. Of those 10 years, we have lived about 3.5 in the same city. It’s a hard gig.

We met when I was an undergrad and Steve was a grad student (scandalous!) over the summer when I was home from college, working in a water chemistry lab. He made goofy jokes about the carbon analyzer and wore Wallace and Gromit t-shirts, and our first date was to go see Mulan (no kidding. We now consider Disney to be bscs=blood-sucking corporate scum, an opinion we recognize we can only hold for now because we don’t have kids who love them yet.). We hung out for the rest of that summer, but there wasn’t much of it left as I spent a couple of weeks ’round Vancouver (family) and then had to go back to school in Montreal (McGill). When I left, I hoped we could see each other again maybe at winter break; what I didn’t anticipate was that there would be emails from him in my inbox by the time I got back to my apartment, and that he wanted to come visit me in the fall.

Fast forward somewhat a year and a half that we spent emailing long missives (including choose-your-own-adventure emails that took 3 hours to write), talking on the phone for hours, IMing from his lab to my lab, and the occasional visit (care of various cyberfares). I graduated and had a semester off before starting graduate school. I had applied to both the University of Wisconsin (my hometown school, where my parents lived, where I could find someone who would let me study engineering education, AND where Steve was still a grad student, bonus!) and University of Minnesota, and stuck with UW because I was tired of living away after 1 year in France and 4.5 years in Montreal.

That was the beginning of our first two years in the same city. I lived at home for the first year while I saved enough money to buy a car; then I got an apartment for the second year and we shuttled backwards and forwards between his place and mine. Then he started looking for a job because he was ready to graduate.

He’s an environmental chemist who loves to teach (and is really good at it), and so was looking for a job at a small school. I was only 2 years in to graduate school, but we knew we were both a) still crazy about each other, and b) not looking forward to a long-distance relationship that involved airplanes again. He interviewed all over the Midwest, and then got a bite in central Illinois, near the city in which he grew up and where is folks still live. A mere 3.5 hours from where I was, yay! Ack.

He got an apartment there for the first year, we bought cell phones for the road, and we shuttled back and forth on the weekends – I know just about every rut and exit on that highway. Then he bought a house (very small, but lovely), and I think that’s also the summer we got engaged. Another year of shuttling back and forth, but at least it was now to a house. And we were planning our wedding, which happened in September of 2004. (I hope I haven’t counted these years wrong – someone check, will you? 😉 )

More shuttling. I discovered that, even though we had been commuting for years already, that living in a different place sucked more once we were married. Way more. I gave up my apartment and moved back in with my parents as I hadn’t quite been able to make ends meet the year before on my graduate salary, plus now we had these house expenses. I think it wasn’t until spring of 2006 that I decided I needed to give up my job and get my damn dissertation done, and once I had my data collected, I decided I could do that from where Steve lived.

That was the 3rd year we lived together. It was at once lovely and really difficult – lovely as we were together and (it turned out) still liked each other (also a relief), and difficult because I wasn’t earning any money, felt dependent, had no friends in town, and was having a hard time with my dissertation entirely alone too. Therapy turned out to be a good thing at this point. 🙂

Wow, this has gotten really long. I’ll finish this story tomorrow.


  1. #1 Julie
    February 13, 2008

    Hmm, I look forward to the rest of the story, but am not pleased to hear that living apart after marriage sucked “way more.” We’ll be living apart our first 3 years after marriage (at least) while I finish my Ph.D. and he does his residency. I’m not sure what to do post-graduation though — he’s made it clear that we cannot continue to live apart, so if I don’t find a post-doc where he is, then either I give up the career, or give up the marriage. I guess we’ll cross that bridge when we get there…

  2. #2 Amanda
    February 13, 2008

    Yep, long distance marriages do “suck” a lot. Dr. Man and I are living apart this year while he does his first year of residency. (And, at least, he gets to move back to Public U. in July) I shudder to think of doing the LDR thing again.

  3. #3 Jennie
    February 13, 2008

    Alice. I look forward to hearing the rest of your story. Mine starts out nothing like yours but this last paragraph is where I am now. Moved due to my husband’s post doc, living in the Midwest writing my dissertation from home, alone. However I’m still getting my stipend.

  4. #4 SuperBabe
    February 13, 2008

    I do look forward to the rest of your story as well! I am about to go unemployed – I came with my husband to Europe because he got a 2 yr post-doc… and we didn’t want to be apart. In fact, when we go back to the US our plan is to go to wherever HE gets a job (he wants to teach, I want to do consulting, which is a lot easier to find)…

    I was lucky to get one as well as soon as we arrived (which still surprises a lot of people, that I was able to find a job so quickly without speaking the language – German), but my post-doc ends next Wednesday and I’m facing a little under a year of unemployment, in a city where I don’t really know people…

    Thankfully, like you, I still like my husband, so that makes it a little easier to deal with 🙂

  5. #5 Kate
    February 13, 2008

    Welcome to Scienceblogs Alice! How exciting to have you here!

    I was apart from my husband for five years during grad school — two and a half of which was the engagement, one year of which was marriage. I agree it was harder once we were married. I felt very bitter about the circumstances that led to our being in different states, and wanted to get a move on having a life with him.

    But there were some things I liked about being apart. Since I was (and am still) in my 20s, it was a chance to broaden my friendships and activism without having the singles scene tugging at me. I think I got to grow into the adult I’m proud to be today because I never had TD sitting at home waiting for me — it’s hard to not stay and snuggle with him when I have the option :). Because of that, now that we’ve been living together for the last year and a half, I feel like I get to have outside relationships AND him, and also feel like my own person just as much as I feel like part of a couple.

  6. #6 LM
    February 13, 2008

    My husband and I will have been together for 10 years this February 28th. Six of those years were long distance because we went to college in different states. There was only a 4 – 5 hour drive separating us, but it was hard at times.

    Our relationship was “scandalous” too, because we started dating in high school when I was a senior (18) and he was a sophomore (16), about six months before I graduated and went off to college. Of course now the two year difference means nothing, but back then people freaked out about it!

    Also, we got married in August of 2004. Heh, our stories are pretty similar!

  7. #7 GMC
    February 13, 2008

    Thanks for sharing! My husband and I have been together almost 11 years (~3-5 yrs apart) and just got married in Sept 2006. We met in grad school at UCSB. After three years together, I left for a two year postdoc in North Carolnina. About the time I was finishing there he started a postdoc in Boston. I found a job in the area, but we didn’t live in the same part of Massachusetts (so that’s the ~2 years of being “apart” but near each other). When he finished his postdoc he found a good job in the San Francisco bay area. I stayed in MA another year and then joined him in 2005. A year later we married. It was actually his idea that we not get married till we settled in the same city. For him, I think it was to avoid the “way more” problem that you mentioned. I argued against it but I think he was right in the end. It’s not easy being apart but I agree that having your mid-20’s on your own is a good experience. You grow into an independent person and develop your own friends and preferences. We are relatively independent but still find that we need each other.

  8. #8 Flicka Mawa
    February 13, 2008

    Thanks for sharing! I look forward to the second part. I’ve always been intrigued by all the long-distance relationships I read and hear about in academia and on the blog circuit – Husband and I are so ridiculously codependent I could never imagine living apart. We essentially moved in with each other within a month of our first meeting, and have never looked back nor wished we had more of our own non-shared space, even when we were both living together in my 100 sq. ft. dorm room. So I have a hard time comprehending living apart…I’m really lucky that Husband’s work is very portable, but even if it wasn’t, I think one of us would go jobless and deal with the career issues before we’d live apart. It’s great to hear what it’s like for those of you who do it and a little more about how you get into such a situation. 🙂
    Are you planning to move closer to each other anytime soon?

  9. #9 acmegirl
    February 13, 2008

    Hi, Alice
    My husband and I have been married for 13 years, now, and we have done the long distance thing, as well. When we met, he lived in Europe, and I in the US, and this was before email was widely available. Certainly no IM. I still have a box with all the letters he wrote me during our “courtship”. After straddling the Atlantic Ocean for a couple of years, we got married and settled in the US.
    Several years later, I was applying to Grad School – I really wanted to go to a top notch school about 4 hours away from where we were living, but I didn’t think I’d get in. I sent the application just so I would know I’d tried, and low and behold, I was accepted. We talked it over and decided to go for it – our daughter and I moved and he planned to commute once a week “for a little while” until he found a job in the new city. Well, it ended up taking him almost 4 years to find that job, and we had another child during that time. In the middle of it all, I sometimes felt like I was the only person crazy enough to live like that, but eventually I started meeting others who were coping with long distance marriages. It seems to be all too common in academia.
    I can’t wait to hear the rest of the story.

  10. #10 Resident
    February 13, 2008

    Congrats on your bigger megaphone. 😉

New comments have been disabled.