Cary’s classic column from Monday, Apr 16, 2012
We’re 4,000 miles apart. He wants me to join him but I don’t want to sit around the house
I got married about three months ago to a man I truly love and respect. We are both doctorates in the same field in the sciences. We’ve always been long distance — we met in undergrad, seven years ago, but started dating only three years ago when we were both in grad school on opposite sides of the country. He finished his degree a year ahead of me, and started his new job in a city on the East Coast.
My problem is that upon graduating, I had a very hard time finding a job in my husband’s city. I had a good offer from a city 4,000 miles away, and have come here now to work. But I wonder if it was the right thing to have done and I am still applying to jobs in husband’s city. We are both miserable, he wants me to come back and give up the job. (He can’t leave his job right now because he is in the middle of a project and has to stick around for at least another year.) He keeps telling me that I should go back and live with him, and we should face our problems together.
I would love to go back as soon as I get a job offer and I have told him so. However, he thinks I should go back even if I don’t get a job offer in his city, as we are meant to be together now and he makes enough to support us both. But I don’t think I will be happy just sitting at home. I should mention that my current job in a faraway city is far from my dream job, but it comes with very good money (about 1.5 times what he makes) and I like being busy. I love my husband very much and cry myself to sleep sometimes, but I would still take being employed and being lonely over being unemployed and being together.
Is he wrong in asking me to leave the job without an offer from his city, or am I wrong in being unwilling to leave my current job before I get an offer from his city?
If marriage is an arrangement in which the husband is in charge and the wife must obey, then of course you would have to sacrifice what you want and join him. But if marriage is a negotiated project between equals, then it’s not a matter of who is right and who is wrong but a matter of negotiation. And that is what your marriage sounds like: a modern partnership in which each partner negotiates, and in which each partner’s personality and aspirations weigh equally.
It is a partnership built on love but material considerations are not shrugged off. We know that love does not conquer all. Love conquers some, and geography conquers some. Economics conquers some, and personality conquers some.
The luxury of romantic love that remains in the modern, negotiated marriage is the recognition that feelings do have a place. They may not justify recklessness but they deserve to be heard. He wants you. He wants you there with him. That is a real feeling. It doesn’t have to be sensible. It arises from passion. It is his feeling. It is real. It is what he wants. That doesn’t mean he will get it. He must negotiate. When he asks you to leave your job and come live with him, he is asking because that is what he wants. It doesn’t have to be the smart thing or the thing that will make you happy. He can still express his wish. It does not have the force of right. It is simply how he feels. So perhaps you can give him some of what he wants. Perhaps you can visit him.
Visit him as often as you can while you work this out. Give him some of what he wants. But be vigilant in meeting your own dreams and aspirations as well.
In a word: Negotiate.