*Allison, Postdoctoral Researcher in Psychology & Tyler, Medical Resident*
The reality of today’s economic climate (read: shitty) is that more couples are having to choose long-distance relationships as a means for both parties to pursue rewarding careers. It’s a sacrifice that’s been made by many couples for many generations, and it never gets easy. (Though the media seems to treat it like it’s our generation’s unique thing? Which, bullsh*t.) So hats off to those of you currently making it work across so many miles. Now, here is Allison talking about the bittersweet way that her long-distance relationship made her wedding both hard and rewarding.
My husband and I were both in grad school when we met. It’s a hard stage of life to be in (full of amorphous expectations and pressure that you put on yourself), but luckily we were both in it together. I think my parents thought grad school was the cushiest deal ever, because all they ever heard about were the fun things that we did together.
We got engaged (on the beach, at sunset, at the beginning of yet another amazing trip) at the start of my last year of grad school. I finished a year ahead of him (because I “only” got a PhD, compared to his hefty MD/PhD) and faced the triple whammy of starting to plan a wedding, writing my dissertation, and figuring out what to do with myself until we knew where he was going for his residency.
(As a side note, can I put in a plug for my personal decision about the name change dilemma? I already had publications under my maiden name, but I wanted the unity of a family name, so I dropped my old middle name and took his last name as my middle name. It’s an uncommon but great option, you guys!)
Back to our story… I had always said that I didn’t want a long-distance relationship. There’s just something about those small moments together. Brief silly inside jokes before we’d go back to work on our respective laptops. The snuggling before we fell asleep. Even just sitting next to each other, working in parallel, felt like it counted as time together. Why give that up for something peripheral like a job? To me, a job was just what you do; it’s not who you are. It’s not family.
But then. My attempts to find a meaningful job in the area for one year (one that paid more than teaching a single community college class) did not pan out. Academia fail.
And the month before I defended my dissertation, a terrific two-year postdoc opportunity fell into my lap. The job description sounded absolutely perfect for me, and it would bridge the gap until we knew where he was headed for residency. But it was in Seattle, eight hundred miles away. And he wasn’t happy about it, and I wasn’t happy about it, and there were many tears, but I took it in the hopes that I would be able to learn and grow, and that it would help open doors for me later.
So we planned our wedding in crazy spurts, one long weekend every two or three weeks, as often as I could get away from Seattle. In the midst of the incredible joy that we would get to spend our lives together was the intense pain of missing him, and knowing that he was missing me, and that I was responsible for causing this pain to both of us. And it was one of the hardest years of my life (and it included one of the most exhausting weeks of my life—the weekend before our wedding we loaded up a U-haul and drove from the Bay Area to San Diego; it just so happened to be Memorial Day weekend, and unexpectedly there were no hotel rooms anywhere, so we ended up driving all night).
I do not recommend long-distance relationships to anyone. But, if I force myself to look on the bright side, I have to say that it perhaps helped me appreciate him more. Made me appreciate our relationship, and the value of our time together. At our wedding, we wrote our own vows, and had the audience in tears (although I laughed when he talked about objects that were meant to be together, such as interlocking nucleotides).
It was a wonderful, happy day, full of all the people that we loved most, who supported us in so many ways. The wedding party was just our sisters, while Tyler’s best friend’s daughter was the cutest flower girl I have ever seen, and I wore the locket that my grandmother and aunt wore when they got married. My mother wove the fabric for our ring pillow. Both of my parents walked me down the aisle, and then high-fived each other, to everyone’s amusement. Our wedding was simple, it was loving, it was just a little bit nerdy, and it was perfect for us.
The reception was also a whirl of happiness, plus goofiness in the homemade photobooth, especially towards the end of the night when the restaurant manager whispered that we were still about $800 short of the minimum, and would we like to pass around some bottles of Dom Pérignon? Yes, yes we would.
And we had more wonderful adventures on our honeymoon, and a few blissful weeks together in San Diego, before I had to get on a plane and go back to Seattle alone as a married person. And you might think that I would have been used to it by then, but there was something about being married that made it a thousand times harder. I cried on the plane, I cried on the light rail from the airport, I cried all week long. Our relationship felt somehow more real now that it was a marriage, more in need of protection, and it broke my heart to be away from my husband.
I’m currently in the market for academic jobs in San Diego, and I’ll be there more often during the next year (thanks to a very understanding boss and the wonders of telecommuting). But it still feels like my life has been fractured into my real life and my job in Seattle. When I was in grad school, my research was about how to motivate children—how to get them to roll up their sleeves when things get hard, and keep going no matter how tough it gets. So that’s what we’re trying to do—enjoying every little moment together, and appreciating the heck out of each other whenever we get the chance.
The Info—Photography: Julio Fonyat (plus the homemade photobooth) / Ceremony Venue: Harbor Island Park / Reception Venue: Tom Ham’s Lighthouse / Cake: The French Gourmet / Allison’s Dress: Paloma Blanca