My husband and I spent half of the last year apart. We were not forced into a distance relationship by factors outside of our control, but rather, like many Millennials with our privileged upbringings, lifestyle options seemed endless despite limited career realities, and our jobs and interests led us in different directions. Adam’s employer decided to transfer him from Washington, D.C. to Houston, Texas right before Volume One of Catalyst Wedding Magazine went to print and just as I began to feel rooted in a community of District creatives. We had been married a little over a year when I tentatively told him that in my heart of hearts, I was not ready to leave and proposed that he move to Texas alone. Always my biggest believer, he barely winced and got to helping me find a room to rent on Craigslist. Ever the realist, the day he left for Texas he gave a little spiel about what administrative things I should take care of if he were to die before we were reunited, and I verbally willed him eleven boxes of wedding magazines through teary eyes.
While my life choices have often seemed to baffle my family (going to graduate school for Women’s Studies, for instance), they began to vocalize their reservations more loudly. When I told my parents and grandparents, who share a home in Ohio, that Adam and I would be focusing on our careers independently, my grandpa responded, “Truth is stranger than fiction,” and he privately disclosed to my mother his opinion that it was dangerous for newlyweds to spend so much time apart. I also noticed among acquaintances in D.C. that a young, married woman without a husband in sight caused some visible unease. It was then that I began observing how freely electing to enter the institution of marriage creates some invisible boundaries, even if we do not choose them. How could I be a whole person when my “other half” was absent? My alone-ness seemed packed with implications, many of which had little to do with the reality of two people with two careers who support and trust each other.
Shortly after joining Adam in Texas three months after we separated, opportunities blew me elsewhere — to Colorado for freelance work and then Peru to visit a close friend — all with his complete and enthusiastic support. This is what I personally learned from choosing a long distance marriage:
Physical distance gave us the space we needed to reflect, refresh, and revisit what it means to choose a partner and to let go a little when their dreams are calling.
We Tell Ourselves Stories
Adam and I had been a thing for 13 years and had lived together for the past few when he moved across the country. There are certain things that he typically did and certain things that I typically did, and we had to learn how to do those things for ourselves. Contrary to Adam’s (and somewhat my) fear, I did not starve. I grocery shopped. I cooked. I did not go hungry. And without me to help emotionally process the job he hated each day after work, he was… fine. Better, even. He actually found it easier to cope with his daily frustrations without me there to analyze them. And these are just minor examples of stories I had started to believe about our relationship, codependence, and my own limitations… none of which were based in reality, and it took some space to see that.
The Long Con
Adam and I are big picture people. We spend a lot — maybe too much — of our together time talking goals, vision, and values. While we share many of our ideas about the future (we want to live out West and have an extra bedroom), we also have plenty of independent goals; I want to grow Catalyst, he dreams of competing as a professional mountain biker. For us, small immediate sacrifices are worth it if we’re chasing leads toward something bigger for both of us. Even though we are physically apart, we are in it together and feel like accomplices in a plot-line that is only obvious to us.
Baby I’m Worth It (Sorry, I’ve been listening to a lot of club music lately and couldn’t resist.)
Maybe it seems selfish, but limiting my opportunities, adventures, and independence was never a part of my vision of marriage when I said “I do” at the ripe, old age of 25. Adam and I have now been a couple for half of my life. While I think that’s totally nutty and wouldn’t recommend it to other 14-year-old pre-teens, it has its benefits, one of which is that our mutual love, respect, and trust has been able to mature over that time, allowing both of us to get really comfortable encouraging each other’s independence and achievements. For us, a model for marriage that restricts rather than empowers would never work. There’s too much in this life that I want to experience, and knowing he has my back makes it all more possible.
Without a doubt, our relationship is stronger after spending six months apart. Physical distance gave us the space we needed to reflect, refresh, and revisit what it means to choose a partner and to let go a little when their dreams are calling.
Liz Susong is the Editor of Catalyst. She's a transient adventurer who can call anywhere home as long as there is a good wifi connection.