Sciencewomen

A tale of two people in two cities, part II

We’ve met, we’ve gotten educated, we’ve gotten married, and almost all in two different cities. Now I’ve quit my job so I can finish my dissertation, and we live together, what a concept.

Okay, year together, blah blah blah. Gardening, working, eating locally, helping each other, all good things. I’m not kidding when I say it was a relief that we still liked each other – I had heard all these horror stories (okay, maybe 2) of academics who lived apart for 25 years, retire and live together and then get divorced because they had never had to live together before.

Anyway, there are no prospects for jobs for me in the town we lived in. No engineering. I see and apply for a job at Purdue on a complete whim because I never thought they’d want to hire me – it was at the first engineering education department in the country and they were recruiting all kinds of fabulous people, and why would they want to hire me? And in fact, I gave up on the job because I applied in November and heard nary a peep until February. I’ll speed through the interview process here (a post for another time, I think) – suffice it to say that I got offered a job. NOW what was I going to do? (Besides crank up finishing the dissertation, I mean. :-) )

We pfutzed around with spousal hiring for a while – Purdue has a good program out of the Provost’s office where the hiring department would pay a 1/3 of someone’s salary, the spouse’s department pays 1/3, and the Provost’s office pays 1/3 for 2 years of a job. But you have to find a job to apply this to, and we rather failed. In addition, Steve felt like he had committed to his job for the next year already – students were signed up in his classes, he was working with people on writing a couple of grants, and so on. We were back to looking at living in different cities.

So we sold my clunker car to my parents, bought a hybrid, and started house-hunting in West Lafayette. I finished my dissertation over the summer, defended in July, deposited in August, and started my new job August 13. We ratchetted up our eco-guilt by buying another house in October (financially manageable as we now have 2 salaries, no kids, and live in places where houses always were reasonably priced).

We still shuttle back and forth. The person who drives the most (like 2 weekends in a row) drives the hybrid. We have a back way that’s shorter but on a small 2-lane highway, and the front way that’s longer but freeway. Either way, it takes about 2.5 hours to get from one home to the other. We use the cell phones to chat like others do as they pass each other in the house or the hallways. We have video iChat on our Macs and actually seeing each other regularly helps.

But looking after two houses, not just one, when both of us are stretched so thin with stuff at work is a real strain. I can’t help him when he is super stressed and stops eating properly because he doesn’t have time, and he can’t help me when I can no longer talk on the phone because I have been talking all day and don’t want to recount everything again and am too tired even to be able to decide to go to bed. We have twice the expenses, twice the number of appliances to break, twice the maintenance, twice the laundry, twice the carbon-dioxide guilt. I have to be organized enough to have the right clothes, books, research in the right place. When we have enough food in one house, we might be missing it in the other – do we need milk and toothpaste here, or there? Is the cookbook with that recipe here or there or online, or did I imagine it? Don’t we have a (enter cooking utensil here), or is it at the other place or did we break it? Shoot, my snow boots are there, even though I have 5″ of snow here. Oops, can’t go to the other home this weekend, as we’re under a winter storm warning of freezing rain (or fog, like last Monday), but can’t do laundry here as the washing machine is broken.

I can’t even imagine having a kid at this point.

So now we’re trying to find a way to live in the same place again. On this Valentine’s Day, when we’re supposed to be posting about Happy Woman Professor Day, wish the two of us luck. It’s my turn to drive this weekend, and that’s what I’ll be doing this evening – not so much for any romantic reason as I have two doctors appointments on Friday, and haven’t found new doctors in West Lafayette yet. The trials of living in two places. I’ll try and post on HWPD, but it will be late – after all, I have to do my laundry first.

Comments

  1. #1 Nele
    February 14, 2008

    Wauw – wishing you a lot of luck and courage, especially on the housing (I shall now count myself lucky that I only have to keep one house clean and that the washing machine hasn’t broken down since I got it).

  2. #2 Helen
    February 14, 2008

    Thank you so much for sharing your story.

  3. #3 ScienceWoman
    February 14, 2008

    I wonder how many academics in LDR try to maintain two houses as opposed to a house and a small apartment. Do you have any feel for it? Do you think life would really be any easier if one of your residences were an apartment? I don’t imagine it would really reduce the kitchen utensil/snow boots sort of problem, but it might reduce the maintenance.

  4. #4 gradstudent
    February 14, 2008

    Our last post-doc wound up with a job in Canada, and his wife didn’t want to move there (and couldn’t even visit for a while, due to passport problems). It’s nice for those of us left behind – he’s in town quite frequently, so we can have in-person meetings instead of relying on email – but terrible for them. He’s busy applying to places they could both relocate to.

    For myself, the only similar story is when my siblings and I had all taken off for our own apartments. We converged to my father’s house for a holiday dinner only to discover that someone (not me!) had taken the potato masher and mixer. Stores we closed, and we wound up trying to make mashed potatoes in a blender. This emphatically does not work.

  5. #5 Zuska
    February 14, 2008

    Wow, that next-to-last long paragraph takes me (horribly) back to the days when Mr. Z and I were living in two houses 2 hours apart, in Kansas. You’ve captured it perfectly.

    The first year apart, I had an apartment, and I don’t recommend it. It never felt like home and we never wanted to spend time in the apartment as opposed to the house, so I ended up doing most of the commuting, and then resenting it. The house was much better, and then he could bring the cat with him when he came, and I had the garden to work in, which was great stress relief.

    Like you, I had the experience that being apart was much harder after getting married. I think for us it was because getting married meant making a conscious and much stronger commitment to be in each others’ lives than before. So it wasn’t the marriage per se, but the decision-making and feelings that precipitated the marriage, which intensified the longing for each other.

    I was lucky that I could go back to industry, which was what finally allowed us to be together again. Much more flexible than academia.

    Sigh. I wish you lots of luck. Make sure you take a vacation somewhere – don’t just “vacation” at the house doing chores.

  6. #6 Winawer
    February 14, 2008

    I just left my wife back in our hometown on Valentine’s day while I go to another city to continue work on my Ph.D, and it’s getting harder every time I do it. Thanks for the hope that it might work out in the end. :-)

  7. #7 saxifraga
    February 16, 2008

    Thanks for sharing. This is so familiar. My husband and I commuted between two countries for four years before he came here to work on his dissertation longdistance from his university. For us it most likely means that he is giving up the idea of an academic job, but living together finally allows us to think about children.

  8. #8 Alice
    February 16, 2008

    Thanks for sharing your stories, folks. I did consider the apartment option, even looking at a bunch last April and May, but few landlords in WL seemed to be open to the idea of subletting should we come across the perfect house, meaning we would be stuck in an apartment for a year. We were hoping to get a dog at some point too, and there didn’t seem to be many possibilities for apartments that would allow pets.

    So instead, I rented a family’s spare bedroom for a few months, and we kept househunting. And so here we are, still dogless but housed. ;-) I know one of my colleagues who has positions at two universities keeps a house elsewhere and an apartment here. Then again, when my mom was commuting between Iowa City and Madison, she bought a house. So not sure what is more common.

    Hope those of you commuting can use technology to make the distance between you closer (seriously, IM is a good thing) and can work towards being in the same place. If only universities had a better way of hiring pairs of academics.