Long-Distance Relationships: A Bane of Academic Life

BlogHer Original Post

You went away to college and left your high school boyfriend or girlfriend behind, you say?

Boo hoo. Try committing to a career hundreds, or even thousands, of miles away from your partner. With academic jobs so scarce, such a living situation is common in academia.

It's frequently called "the two-body problem," and it's a headache for hiring committees, deans, and grad students being mentored by professor whose spouse is elsewhere--and heart-wrenching for many of the couples involved.

A new online community aims to support those who find themselves in a marriage or partnership linked by highways or hub airports.

Academics with Long Distance Partners is seeking blogs and other resources by and for faculty, researchers, and grad students in long-distance relationships.

Perhaps the academic blogger who writes most frequently and honestly about this situation is New Kid on the Hallway, whose bloggy pseudonym for her husband is LDH, short for "Long-Distance Husband." Recently she reported that LDH has a job offer:

It's something that completely fits his qualifications/interests, and they'd pay him a really decent salary (more than their listed max).

Downside: it's something like 1250 miles away from me.

But in some ways that's a plus, because where he works now is just close enough that he drives seven hours each way to see me each weekend, and then spends much of the weekend sleeping. So while seeing each other would be more expensive, in some ways it would be easier. (Both locations are really convenient to airports, and a two-three hour flight is easier on one that a seven hour drive.)

It looks as if Medieval Woman will also be a long-distance partner this coming academic year. And Another Damned Medievalist is also dealing with this issue--she says communication is key. (What is it with medievalists? Their job market must be really bad. . .)

Addy N. of What an Untenured College Professor Shouldn't be Doing says she and her partner will stick it out together, though it may mean some compromise and sacrifice:

My interview #1 has no job for H and I was told they don't really do spousal hiring. This job is a place I've dreamed of working since grad school. H has already said that I should take the offer if I get it and that he would stay here. I am completely opposed to this idea. I just don't know that ANY job is worth splitting up our family (for who knows how long), even if it's in a wonderful place and near my family. At the same time, I shudder at the thought of having to turn it down (IF I do get an offer). What if we stay here for the rest of our careers and regret it? Isn't it worth moving if it means better opportunities for D? At this point, I almost hope that I don't get an offer, because I don't want to make that decision. I can't fault H for not wanting to give up near-tenure and move to an uncertain career future, either. I am pinning all of my hopes on Interview #2 at this point, because H interviewed at the same U! If we could both land jobs there, we'd take it in a minute!

This whole process has been so much more gut-wrenching than I ever imagined.

To make matters worse for couples who prioritize togetherness over their individual careers and decide to stay in the same place, there often is a stigma attached to whichever member of the couple is deemed to be less of a superstar than the other. See, if a university really wants to hire you and senses you won't take the job unless your spouse finds an academic job nearby, the institution can extend an offer--temporary or permanent, unattractive or (with a good deal of luck) attractive--to your partner. This second member of the couple then becomes known as "the trailing spouse."

Lovely, no?

What about you--which is more important to you: the ability to pursue your interests professionally or your marriage/partnership? How did/do you decide which one is worth pursuing as your primary goal? If you have managed to have it all--love and career--in academia, how did you accomplish such a coup?

Leslie Madsen-Brooks is an academic technologist and freelance writer who blogs at The Clutter Museum.


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