The XX Factor

The Rise of the Long-Distance Spouse?

Yesterday’s New York Times “Modern Love” column focused on a very current dilemma: Academic Caroline Bicks wrote about the difficulty she and her husband, a fellow academic, had finding a job in the same city. Potential employers asked Bicks’s references if her husband was going to be a problem-was she going to bail on her tenure track to have to have kids or try to get him a job? It’s worth noting that her husband’s potential employers did not seem to ask the same thing. “Maybe they assumed that men put their careers first, or that women are less serious about theirs,” Bicks writes. “It felt as if my wedding ring was a hurdle I had to clear to prove my commitment to academia, while Brendon’s was a badge of stability and good-guy gravitas.” But Bicks carried on:

Brendon and I were both “adults” and would “make the right decision.” That is, we would put our careers ahead of our personal lives because this was the “adult” thing to do. We’d be like disciplined pro athletes, only without the money or the hard bodies.

Bicks and her husband both got tenure-track jobs-albeit in different cities, and they conducted a long-distance marriage for several years afterwards. She was unwilling to be the “trailing spouse, ” the one who moved for her husband’s job. I admired Bicks when reading the column, as she negotiated her career and her personal life without seeming to sacrifice. “It was just the kind of equality I’d dreamed of when I imagined having a family,” Bicks says. “I had a husband who supported my work and was as involved in raising our child as I was.” Though it seems that Bicks had the financial luxury to choose to take a job in a different city from her husband because it fulfilled her career desires, I imagine that many women-especially in the recession-will be forced out of necessity to take a job that does not allow them to live with their spouses full time. According to a recent Marie Claire article, 3.4 million married couples are long-distance.

Eventually, Bicks found a job in the same city as her husband, but (spoiler alert)-he didn’t get tenure. The couple weathers the blow, as her husband is willing to look outside academia for a new gig. Anecdotally, I know several couples who are currently living in different cities in order to pursue jobs in their fields, seeing each other on weekends and making it work for themselves. I even know more than one man who is the “trailing spouse,” one who is currently moving cross-country without a job to join his girlfriend at grad school. Do you all find this new romantic flexibility as heartening as I do?