Allison & Tyler

*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

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  • That picture on the CLIFF. AWESOMENESS.

    And since just *talking* about very temporary long distance in a new marriage made me sob, I’m so impressed with your approach.

  • Rachel M

    Love the picture of you two and the San Diego skyline. So happy to see a post from a fellow San Diego APW follower :) Best of luck in your job search!

  • It is now my dream to attend a wedding with people passing bottles of Dom. That would make me feel like Jay-Z.

  • 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.

    This. That sums up the feeling I had to fly off a week after our wedding to a different country, hoping that visa issues would get sorted out. It was a hard time, but a year and a bit later, we are together, happy and although our plans about where to live and when it would happen didn’t work out as we wanted them to, we are better off. Totally worth it.

  • Hannah

    Oh wow oh wow. This was one of the most beautiful pieces I’ve read in a long time. Thank you so, so much for sharing.

    • Allison

      Thanks, Hannah! This was really painful for me to write, but surprisingly cathartic.

  • Wow, gorgeous cliff shots!

    I totally get what you’re feeling (by which I mean, only a little tiny bit). My husband and I just got married a few weeks ago, and after a week he jetted off for a week away in Italy for work (although we’re jokingly calling it his honeymoon).

    We’ve traveled separately several times during our relationship, both for work and pleasure, and while we always miss each other, this time has been much worse.

  • Noemi

    Long distance relationship– I feel you. My husband and I went to different schools for undergrad, then moved in together after we graduated, got married, I started studying for my PhD, and then he joined the Marine Corps. He has been away for nearly a year now, and in one month, we will finally be together again, hopefully for good! It is hard, and sometimes it is good (personal growth! discovering new strengths! shared hardship!), but it is always hard.

  • Fermi

    I’m currently in a long distance relationship and I know how stressful and hard it can be. I wouldn’t go as far as saying I wouldn’t recommend it, but it isn’t easy. AT ALL! Stay strong and soon you’ll be there. That is what is keeping me sane, the end result is, one day we’ll live in the same city and be together!
    Beautiful pictures as well! I love San Diego and after all of our moving, that is our ultimate place to live/settle.

  • IRMcK

    I feel this. Seven days after our one year anniversary, my sweet husband moved across the country for B school. We have a mortgage, and I have a location specific career (that I love) on the East Coast, and a very good West Coast school gave him a full tuition scholarship. Long distance is the only thing that makes sense with these parameters, and it still sucks. It’s “only” two years, and I cry my eyes out every time I get on a plane without him/put him on a plane without me.

    Not only does it suck to be apart, but it sucks extra to have these nagging feelings of “if I REALLY loved him, I’d move.” “Is your career really THAT important? He will make so much more money than you will, anyway, so what’s the point of this separation?” It would be super nice if doing the right things were easy, and doing the wrong things are hard.

    • One More Sara

      “It would be super nice if doing the right things were easy and doing the wrong things are hard”


  • KC

    This was a great post (and, once again, I am so incredibly glad that my work allows telecommuting). Also, oooh, the pretty pictures – your dress is stunning! and the blues!

    More than slightly off-weddingy-topic, though, is there any way of talking with you about your research? It sounds very interesting and I’m curious as to how you landed there and what sorts of intersections of fields are necessary and/or can happen. I’m in the probably strange position of wanting to do a specific research project (because I have strong suspicions that there might be interesting outcomes, based on what I’ve read of parallel studies in motivational research, stereotype threat research, and research on how stress affects learning and creativity… and the results might positively alter training techniques in my field, which would be awesome), but I frankly don’t need a PhD for the work I am currently doing (and which I enjoy thoroughly) and don’t know what options there are, or which fields you can mostly choose your own research project in if you do get a PhD, vs. having to do part of your adviser’s research. But I’m curious as to whether my suspicions are correct (they might not be at all, which I’d also be interested to find out!) and, if they are, properly done and published research is probably the most effective possibility for changing things. But I can’t get there directly from outside the academic world, as far as I am aware (ethics review boards, academic affiliations, funding, all that…), so I’m curious what routes or options exist…

    • Allison

      Thanks, KC!

      I’d be happy to talk to you about research. I don’t want to put my e-mail address here, but I’m fine with APW people sending it to you privately if that’s something they can do.

      You might be able to find researchers who would be interested and able to help with the logistics of your project, or you could consider a Master’s degree (the thesis could be your research project).

      • KC

        I’ve now emailed The APW Team requesting that they send my email address to you, so hopefully that will work. :-) Thank you so much, both for sending in this Wedding Grad post and for being willing to chat about research!

  • Amber

    First off, your pics (especially the one on the cliff) are gorgeous!

    Seriously though, I love that you posted this. My partner and I are currently planning a wedding while living 1700 miles apart. We lived together for 5 years, and have spent the past two living across the country from each other thanks to separate (but amazing) PhD programs in each of our fields. I’m about to finish up and she has 2 more years to go, but realistically there are NO postdocs or jobs in my field where she is and we know we have more long-distance relationship time in our near future. On the plus side, we know that we can deal with it, and we definitely make the most of the time we do get to spend together and cherish those moments. That still doesn’t make it ok, or any easier though, and just knowing that we’re not the only ones in this situation is reassuring. Not that I want other people to have to go through this, but even though I realize that it isn’t so uncommon in the world of academia and research, you just don’t hear people talking about it very often. And of course our friends and family outside of academia cannot understand why we would put ourselves through it in the first place. So thank you for sharing, and congrats!

  • H

    Oh my god. This. is. exactly. what I am facing in two years (down to the MD/PhD thing and all). Allison, can I tell you that I love you? Because holy wow. Good to know that I am pretty much right on in my expectations for what this will be like, and also it’s nice to know that I’m not alone.

    • Allison

      Thanks, H! Today is actually my birthday, and extra birthday love is always appreciated.

      You are not alone, and knowing that there’s an end date to being apart makes it tolerable.

  • streamnerd

    Thanks for sharing your story. It got me a bit emotional because it is so familiar.

    My husband and I also met in grad school and when we both finished the best geographic/employment solution we ended up with was my post-doc being a 4 hour drive away from where he found a good job and where we made our home. I spent 2 years doing a lot of driving, splitting my time between my “real life and my job”. I also felt that my life was fractured and I was often frustrated that my “real life” felt like it was on hold. I also felt it was so much harder to go back after our wedding. Even though I had made the trip so many times before it felt worse now that we were married.

    I am very fortunate that we are back living together full time thanks to a new job. It is so wonderful to be back together and I really do cherish every moment of our daily life together now.

    Hang in there, it is hard and all I can do is sympathize.

  • Marie

    My husband and I were long distance for 5 years (while dating and engaged), and we are SO LUCKY to both have great jobs in the same area. It was pretty miraculous for me to even find a job at all after graduating law school, but a job where we could actually live together? Still amazes me. I don’t know that I could go through those 5 years again, but, I do beleive it made our relationship stronger and made us appreciate each other in many ways. Thank you for sharing your story!

  • Claire

    I LOVE your solution for the name change dilemma. It makes so much sense to me I can hardly believe that I’ve never heard that option before. Yay for more options!

  • ElisabethJoanne

    I’m sure you know this, but it’s not really your fault that you have to be away from your husband right now, any more than it would be your fault if you were sick in the hospital. It’s not really any identifiable person’s fault. It’s just life.

  • Alice

    Allison, I completely understand the heartbreak of missing those simple moments of sitting on the couch together, how your husband smells, chasing the dog down the hall, impromptu slow dancing in the kitchen, all the lovely moments in life made possible with proximity.

    I too am married (2 years) and for the last 10 months my husband has been 4 states away. He got into his dream school in Louisiana while we were living in the DC area and we had only been married a year. I was working at a great job in my niche field and was halfway through grad school in DC. Sigh….I finished my grad program and looked for the whole ten months to get a good non-soul crushing job in my field down there. Finally, after ten months I got offered a position and am just waiting for the budget to pass (yep, govt jobs) and to get my start date. I hope we will be together by the end of the year.

    But this year has been awful. We have almost no money what with his tuition and living expenses, and can barely afford to visit eachother. I last saw him in August when we went to California for my sister’s wedding. Each time I put him on a plane I watch him walk away as long as I can then I sit in the car and cry. It’s a terrible thing when you don’t know when you will next see eachother. I always thought that being married and living happily ever after meant you would live together and be together always. But I am grateful for him and our life together in a way which I never was before. I am also grateful to technology and free long distance cell phone calls, video chats, text messages, photos, facebook, and email.

    And thank god he is in school and not being shot at. I work downtown and walk past the Veteran’s Administration building daily and it reminds me that the women and men who serve at home while their husbands, wives, and loved ones are at war have it harder than us.

    Long distance marriages suck, but you’ve still got eachother. Thanks for this and for reminding me that other people are going through this as well.

    • I hope you guys are in the same place soon. We were long distance for almost three years, and this phrase made me teary because I can so relate:
      “Each time I put him on a plane I watch him walk away as long as I can then I sit in the car and cry.”

      We’ve been in the same place for just over two years now, and it still doesn’t get old. He travels a lot for a couple of weeks at a time, so we still do a lot airport goodbyes…but at least they are only short-term these days.

  • Jaime

    This is the first post in a while that has really resonated with me and not made me feel like I’m “doing it wrong”. My fiance and I are currently in an LDR (he’s back home in Italy and I was forced to move to America) and due to this, our wedding has been off and on as everything single Plan A and Plan B has fallen through. Just earlier today, actually, we were on Skype staring down the metaphorical barrel of yet another plan falling through due to the effect the economy has had on his career in academia. I want to be married, even if we’ll have to suffer more, but he doesn’t until we can be together. Reading that other people are making the avenue I want to explore work, despite how hard it is, is exactly what I needed to read today.

    Thank you.

  • ProjectWed

    Allison, I feel for you! (And super happy birthday!)

    Husband and I did the LDR for two years while dating as he worked in his dream job setting up an institute in war-torn Iraq. We got married in July… and he went back to the Institute in August. Yeah, 2 out of 3 married months, he’s been overseas. It’s not all bad–my fridge is back to single-girl status: hummus, beer, and condiments. :-)

    BUT– it will get better. Because each job experience will bring you closer to both having THE job in the same commuting area. It will happen, because you are both smart and super determined! (MD/PhD and PhD in one couple??? I can’t even imagine!)

    Rock on, girl!

  • Kay

    I’m so happy to see another person who went with the middle name option! That’s what I’ve been planning to do as well, although I’m going to keep my other middle name (it has a lot of personal/family meaning for me) and have two middle names. My partner doesn’t have a middle name at all so I’m going to work on him to take my last name as his middle name, so we semi-match, but I’m not sure if it will be a little confusing that one of us is Hislast Herlast and the other Herlast Hislast.

    • Senorita

      “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.”

      I would actually *really* love to hear more about the HisLastName as a middle name option. What do you go by socially? Professionally? Publicationally?

      • Allison

        It hasn’t been very long, but professionally and publicationally I’m still Myfirst Mylast. Legally and facebookly I’m Myfirst Hislast Mylast.

        So far so good! The only other person I know of who’s done this option is Jennifer Mulhern Granholm (governor of Michigan).

  • Holly

    I got married on 09/22, but my wife hasn’t been able to find a job here yet so we’re trying to wait patiently, with limited success. So hard! I really feel for you. Being married does make it harder to be separated. We just have to hang in there, right?

  • Kess

    Ugh, I so feel you with the “and it’s my fault” line. I’ll be staying at my current university (that is in the middle of nowhere and therefore has no opportunities for jobs nearby) for another year and a half while I get a masters degree. Now, it’s financially a really good choice, but it’s totally my fault that we’re apart. I know it’s not really, but it still feels like it.

  • Ann

    Thank you for this.

    I currently live with my fiance, as I have for the past three years. We met in undergrad, and during my last year of college, he took a job in NZ, on the complete opposite side of the world from the northeast, where I was in school (seriously, look at a globe, it’s SO close to being directly on the opposite point of the Earth). I had one two week visit for Christmas, and I spent nearly all of the 20 hours in transit back crying.

    We were apart for a semester when I worked on my teaching license, but we’ve been together every since. However, I’m currently applying to grad schools and he still has another year left after this one to work on his PhD.

    The timing makes a lot of sense of me, professionally, but I’m dreading coming back from our (short) honeymoon and packing up the home we have built together over the past three years. I’ve lived in our current apartment longer than anywhere other than the home my parents raised in. It’s my home, complete with his mess everywhere and the fur from our cat who always seems to be shedding.

    We joke that as long as we’re on the same continent, we’ll be fine, but I know it will hurt more to be apart after the experience of building a home together. I hope that it will only be an academic year of separation, but it could be longer than that…

  • Jessica

    Six days after I got engaged I had to put my fiance on a plane to England, where he’ll stay until next September. Since we’re both poor grad students I only get to see him once, in march. We’ve been together since we were in high school, and did long distance (only 6 hrs) all through our undergraduate, but we got to see each other at least once every couple of months and through the whole summer. But now I’m 1/3 through a master’s degree and the only school he was accepted to was in England. The program is perfect for him, so he went and I stayed. It’s only been two weeks now, but god it’s hard. I almost feel like I’m living with a ghost, I keep expecting to see him sitting on the couch or playing video games on the bed. Talking on skype helps, but I never want to have to do this again.

    • Fermi

      “talking on Skype helps but I never want to do this again”
      I know the feeling EXACTLY. It’s so good to hear this many people in long distance relationships. I feel that none of my friends/family really know how it feels, but I should know that APWers get it.

  • Jessica

    This post hit home for me. Last spring I was accepted to business school in DC, where my boyfriend lives & where we met 2 1/2 years ago. However I got a fellowship at a business school in the Midwest, in my hometown. So it just made sense to move back in with my family & enjoy the benefits of the fellowship. Today, with the opportunities available, long distance is sometimes inevitable.

    I would say what’s made it more doable for us is consistent, frequent visits. We see each other every 3 weeks. He can telecommute occasionally so sometimes he stays a week or so at my place. The distance makes me realize how committed I am to him and makes me really cherish our time together. The downside is there is a level of support we can’t give each other from afar (helping each other with errands, etc).

    One other thing is my job when we were both in DC required near weekly travel so we had a routine of just seeing each other on the weekends. That’s made long distance easier; now I just see him one or two less weekends than I used to.

  • This first picture is absolutely breathtaking. LOVE it and your smart words.

  • So lovely, so much love, such a great wedding

  • alicia

    Beautiful wedding that made me homesick!

    Those pictures were taken on Sunset Cliffs, right?

    • Allison

      Yep, that was Sunset Cliffs! San Diego is gorgeous.

  • GCDC

    I don’t comment much on here, but wanted to quickly say that I did the same thing with my name change and loved it too. We’ve also decided that if we have kids, they are taking my last name as their middle names (or maybe his for the middle and mine for the last, haven’t decided yet) but we all get to have two of the same names, which is an idea I like!

    And thank you for the post as well. I’m watching some of my close friends go through similar situations, and I am sending this post to them right now.

  • Four years married, we are on the brink of having to live apart for several months. I too was a married and then lived apart for my husband right away. Finances, international relationships, etc. It happens more often than people think.

  • Jenni

    I put off reading this post for ten days because I knew it was going to stab me in the heart.

    “It still feels like my life has been fractured into my real life and my job.” My job is in Maryland; my SO is stationed in South Carolina. I feel like I’m living two different lives, with one life on pause while the other continues. I know there would be the same separation anyway (he’s in the military) but leaving still just sucks.

    “I was responsible for causing this pain to both of us.” I feel like this when I’m especially down, but you can’t think like that. You have to have a job. Our SOs have to have their jobs, too. Just because we are somewhat more flexible than they are doesn’t mean we have to sacrifice everything by being a stay at home wife or whatever. They chose a career path, and so did we; the circumstances keep us apart, not one person or the other.

    “There was something about being married that made it a thousand times harder. ” This is my fear. I’m afraid of getting married while still in this state of distance. I’m so ready to be married, but I dread the idea of the (already very sucky) pain being even worse.

    Finally, if you read this, I love your name change idea (it works particularly well for me since his last name is also a girl’s name) and was wondering if your husband did the same thing? If so, how did you discuss that with him?

    • Allison

      Sorry for the stabbing…

      No, my husband goes by his middle name, so changing it wasn’t an option for him. I think he would have preferred that I do the usual (make Hislast my new last name), but he was very understanding.