Commuting to an academic job -- terrible idea?
March 10, 2015 1:10 PM   Subscribe

We moved for my partner's academic job. He loves it. I'm not happy in the new place (yet) and yearn to return to where we moved from, and have him commute. Terrible idea?

After a long job search, my partner found an academic job in a highly competitive market with a terrific university. He loves it, would stay for life, feels incredibly lucky to have it. After a little over a year, I'm not happy in this new place. I'm really struggling to find a good job here & make friends, and I've got no family nearby. We have a two-year old son. It's lonely and feels hopeless right now, and has been since we moved.

In my dreams, I'd like to move back to where we came from, a small college town. I love it, I have lots of friends there. It's wildly affordable. I have a job I probably could return to.

My partner knows some people in another department at the same university who commute to their academic jobs. The distance (opposite coasts) would mean, however, that it probably wouldn't be one of these weekend commuting gigs, but several weeks at a time would pass before we would see him. So basically, we'd be apart about 20 weeks a year (not in a row, obviously), and together for the other 32.

Is this a terrible idea? My partner sees that I'm pretty miserable here and is pushing for this option. In some ways, it's good for him in that when he is away he will WORK and when he is home he will be HOME. Obviously he will miss us, but he thinks it's feasible. I'm not young anymore (in my late thirties) and I'm just exhausted by starting over. I'm also exhausted by the idea of solo childcare for that long. But, still, I don't want to keep digging a hole (sunk costs) & being miserable.

Then again, maybe I should keep giving it the old college try -- once I commit for real to the new place, maybe things would get better? Am I just shying away from a challenge that could reap rewards I'm not even thinking of? (New career ideas, new friends, new culture?) Both of us happy here would obviously be ideal, but I'm not sure it's possible.

This question is all over the place. But I'm inviting thoughts on commuting to an academic job, and just any thoughts on when you know to give up and when to dig in.

[Anonymous because my partner has not at all revealed this idea to his dean (no precedent in his department, as far as he can tell), and he's uber-cautious about this kind of stuff.] Oh, throwaway email
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (61 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I think this is a bad idea for your son. Being a single parent is hard, and while it's doable 20 weeks of the year it's not something that I would want for myself or my small child if I didn't have to do it. There have to be other positions that your spouse would love as much as he loves this one, that would make you happier.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 1:14 PM on March 10, 2015 [16 favorites]

It's going to be bad for the father-son relationship. For your son, he's just going to be some random person who occasionally visits and was not really a part of his life.
posted by WizKid at 1:24 PM on March 10, 2015 [6 favorites]

I have never been in your situation, exactly, but I am in academia. The first year in a new place is always rough. The first year on the tenure track is always rough. Having a toddler is always rough. I would imagine the combination of those 3 things is pretty miserable. However, to me, doing any of them alone without the person you love (and your co-parent) would be worse.

Your partner has 5 or 6 years before tenure. That's time for you both to get settled and for you to find your place there. That's time for your kid to start school there. And that's time for you to find out if he has the option to stay in this job he loves forever.

The blog The Two Body Problem may be helpful to you (link is to her "single motherhood" tag for examples). In their case, they are both academics, but the struggles to commute and co-parent and single parent and figure out what to do to not have to do that forever have been really hard.

If you want tips about the particular location where you live, or even a general larger regional area, get in touch with a mod and they can add it to your post. If nothing else, there are likely fellow MeFites there who would be glad to meet-up and help you feel more at home.
posted by hydropsyche at 1:25 PM on March 10, 2015 [13 favorites]

Bad for your marriage, bad for your son, bad for his career (facetime matters, even in academia). You haven't said what you dislike about the new place or why you're unhappy there. I suggest that a week from now you post a new question about that and how to make your life in your current location better and more happiness-inducing. Don't move until you've at least tried.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 1:27 PM on March 10, 2015 [38 favorites]

I'm skeptical that you say you'd be apart/together 20/32 weeks out of the year, and that "when he is away he will WORK and when he is home he will be HOME". 32 weeks is a long time to be not actively working. What kinds of things will he need to do remotely for his job - personal research and academic writing? email-based student support? class prep and grading? He won't be just hanging out spending happy family time; academics who don't work remotely tend to work 51.5 weeks of the year, so be careful of your expectations.
posted by aimedwander at 1:27 PM on March 10, 2015 [22 favorites]

I was deadset against it, until I realized that this was *his* idea. Now I'm just mostly against it.

Is it possible that your dissatisfaction with your life right now could be related to be a stay-at-home parent of a two year old? Lots of people start over in new cities away from family and old friends when they are well older than their thirties. Almost everybody I know who has parented a toddler has been miserable for a good chunk of that time.

You're in a place that has at least one "terrific" university -- you should be able to find some of the small college town life that you enjoyed before. I'd keep looking for work, or consider whether you'd be happy without the "find a job" stress and committing yourself to stay-at-home parenting until preschool/kindergarten.

Spend some of the money that you'd save by not having him commute (double housing, airfare, etc) on a fabulous annual vacation/better living situation/more eating out/daycare so you can have some days free.
posted by sparklemotion at 1:28 PM on March 10, 2015 [5 favorites]

One thing that struck me is that you say "I'm not young anymore." I know you don't feel like it, but late 30s really is very young. And a year is the blink of an eye -- in my opinion, really not that long a time to decide that you're miserable where you are so you're going to chuck the whole idea. Ten years ago, I moved to a new area and loathed it for at least 18 months to two years; after that time I really began to like it and now I'm sad at the idea that my husband and I may have to leave again for reasons beyond our control.

I think it's one of those things that sounds like a great idea but won't work at all in practice, and yeah, I think it's a very bad idea for your son. You and your husband can understand very well why dad isn't around for a good portion of the year, but a two-year-old won't. Not to mention that your idea that "when he's home he's home and when he's at work he's at work" (paraphrasing, obviously) doesn't sound all that realistic to me given the exigencies of work/life in the 21st century.
posted by holborne at 1:29 PM on March 10, 2015 [3 favorites]

What's your end game? Half the year away from your husband...forever? That's not my idea of marriage or family. For some people I guess it's fine, but you need to seriously think about what you intend to get out of this. Back in the town you like, in a job you like, and parenting basically alone. With a kid who sees his dad approximately half the year. If you're super okay with being away from your husband that much, maybe you should just divorce? I don't mean that flippantly, but this plan sounds like the first step toward that.
posted by BlahLaLa at 1:30 PM on March 10, 2015 [12 favorites]

Your kid is two, and has been miserable since you moved a year ago? Methinks thou projects too much. Kids are as flexible as jello. So really the problem is you have not been able to adapt to the big city academic lifestyle... As you mentioned above,allow me to paraphrase, once you commit for real to the new place, things would get better. You are just shying away from a challenge that could reap rewards I'm not even thinking of, and using your son as a scapegoat. New career ideas, new friends, new culture lie ahead. All three of you happy here would obviously be ideal, I'm sure it's possible.
posted by Gungho at 1:30 PM on March 10, 2015 [4 favorites]

Is this a short-term job or is it tenure-track?

If it is a long-term job, or tenure terminal, you will end your marriage if you move across the country from your husband permanently. That your husband considers not participating in the life of his family "feasible" is probably also an issue that you might want to work through, or maybe he thinks you'll leave him if he doesn't agree to it so it's a grasp for straws.

And he will be seen as uncommitted and it will jeopardize his tenure, and you'll have to start over in another new town that probably still isn't your hometown.

Hard truth: you should not have married someone in academia if there is only one city on earth you're going to be happy in. Split up now, or dig way deep in yourself and find a way to make this work.
posted by Lyn Never at 1:31 PM on March 10, 2015 [4 favorites]

I have known several academics who had this sort of arrangement, and they were all (a) tenured (b) male (c) major grantwinners with well-established research projects (so, well-trained seconds-in-command, no start-up hecticness, etc) who also (d) still only managed to get back to their families about 3 weeks total out of the year (usually they would leave on a Friday afternoon and come back on Monday, a few times a semester). Being the trailing spouse sucks sucks sucks, and I really feel you on being unhappy in a new place even after a year (I'm there myself right now), but I really don't think this will solve your problems without creating bigger ones.
posted by dorque at 1:32 PM on March 10, 2015 [2 favorites]

I think that being bi-coastal as a family will be a disaster in the long-run. It deprives your son of a close relationship with his father and it will be enormously taxing on the marriage. I also think that it will have a bad effect on your husband's career. Even as a temporary measure, it would be hard. But, it sounds like this is a semi-permanent solution in your mind. This really is a terrible idea.

When I've made major moves to places where I did know people, it still took me way longer than a year to get to feeling even a little bit at-home. I'd say it takes 2-3 years. I think you may need more time to really know whether this is workable for you. If you're also mostly at home with a 2 year-old, that will compound the situation in a way that makes it even more difficult.

I'd give it my very best try for 5 years before considering splitting the family. Your son is young, already that gives you a major advantage in terms of meeting potential new friends as your son's increasingly social life will connect you to lots of new people. With some effort, things will look very different in a year or two. The first year in a place is an exercise in homesickness. The longer you cling to the fantasy of your family being happy and healthy in your bi-coastal option, the harder it will be to grow new roots in your new town.
posted by quince at 1:43 PM on March 10, 2015 [7 favorites]

I'm also exhausted by the idea of solo childcare for that long. But, still, I don't want to keep digging a hole (sunk costs) & being miserable.

Why would you be the automatic childcare provider? Worth thinking about.

The bottom line is, you're miserable. Commuting like this sounds like an ideal solution to me.

[Anonymous because my partner has not at all revealed this idea to his dean (no precedent in his department, as far as he can tell), and he's uber-cautious about this kind of stuff.]

I don't see why it's the dean's business at all what your family's arrangements are, as long as your husband is doing the work he was hired to do.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 1:45 PM on March 10, 2015 [2 favorites]

Folks are being pretty hard on you in this thread, OP. I'm particularly skeeved by the notion that you should suck it up because your marriage, husband's career and son are more important. If husband's career requires a compliant, smiling wife for advancement, maybe his job isn't as great as he thinks it is.

Moving is hard, especially when there is no tangible benefit for you (a human who deserves to have your own priorities and needs accounted for). I absolutely feel your pain as I spent the first few years of married life in another country writing my PhD. The reality is that we move long, long distances for unknown stretches of time and, in doing so, sign our significant others up for the same life.


- for personal links: parent and child groups, hobby groups, exercise classes. Making friends as an adult sucks, but keep getting out there. Even if you don't plan to stay, making some temporary connections on a regular basis will help. Try something goofy that you always wanted to do - life drawing? Quilting? Rock climbing?

- work - are you feeling like there are any prospects for you post-SAHM life? Can you get in touch with a careers advisor and think about a five-year plan? Reach out to your networks back home and see if anyone can get you in touch with local people in your field? Ask your husband to put out feelers in his network too.

- your husband is probably crazy busy with the new job - can you carve out more time to explore the city together as a family and make it a joint project? Establish favourite brunch destinations? Take some weekends away to nearby places?

- don't suffer through solo childcare. Consider phasing in a sitter or childminder or nursery for a few hours a week. Husband gets plenty of hours in the day to do his thing unhindered by a little one's needs, so outsource some of the childcare and get some personal time.

- you've been there a year. Can you commit to another year, trying all of the above, and revisit the issue at a set date? That would give you more time to settle in and see if things click, but also mean you're not stuck here with no choice if it really sucks.

- people in the thread being doom and gloom about distance marriages not working - I think one party being lonely, miserable and shunted to one side for years at a time is more pernicious than a well-arranged distance relationship. Plenty of people necessarily live and raise children apart, and I don't hear anyone making snide internet comments about military men not being around to co-parent.
posted by averysmallcat at 1:47 PM on March 10, 2015 [22 favorites]

This is a really bad idea from a family perspective, IMO. I have a 9 year old and a 4 year old son and they both really, really benefit from direct daily/hourly/minute-by-minute parenting from both parents.

I am so sorry you don't like where you are living though. I don't want to derail your question but I totally suspect there are a whole whack of moms around you somewhere who have some of the same feelings. Try a stack of "family cards" (contact info you give out to people you meet on the playground) or looking for mom meetups, mom-tot classes or hit up some activities you love like book signings, yoga classes, dirt bike girl groups, roller derby, etc. If your husband is in Crazy First Year Academia work with him to find a babysitter, mother's helper who can watch your tot while he works in the same house, or just insist he covers childcare so that you can get out, feel like yourself, and meet some people in your community.
posted by warriorqueen at 1:49 PM on March 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

I have no opinion about your best option, but I will say that the stage of life when you are parenting a two-year-old can be lonely and isolating even in a city full of friends. That part will likely improve no matter where you are.
posted by judith at 1:54 PM on March 10, 2015 [5 favorites]

once I commit for real to the new place, maybe things would get better? Am I just shying away from a challenge that could reap rewards I'm not even thinking of? (New career ideas, new friends, new culture?)

This stood out to me: it sounds like you have not yet committed for real to the new place, and I definitely think if you do, things will get better. Certainly on the friends front, and possibly the job front as well, because even if you don't spell it out bluntly, people can often sense from your body language and small conversational clues that you're not really committed to sticking around and loving where you live. And that makes them not want to invest in you in terms of building a friendship or offering a job.

I live in a university town and have seen this pattern over and over. If someone jumps in with both feet and announces "We live here now! We are townies! Show us the town! Let's meet up around town!" they surprise themselves with how quickly they make friends and grow fond of this place's quirks, and even if they do end up leaving as planned when their program is finished or whatever, they will cherish lifelong memories of Town. But if their attitude is, "We're from Other Place, and we'll probably be headed to Bigger City before long, and all my family is on Opposite Coast, etc. etc." their memories of Town are going to be ugh! so miserable! just wasn't a good fit for our family!
posted by Bentobox Humperdinck at 1:54 PM on March 10, 2015 [21 favorites]

Being in a new place without any friends feels incredibly lonely... trust me, I know.

But can't you use your son to make friends? All the women I know with young children seem to have TONS of new "mummy" dates, coffee dates, mummy groups..... I would start there. Having a 2 year old is a great "in" when it comes to making new friends and joining already established groups.

My partner sees that I'm pretty miserable here and is pushing for this option.
Why is he pushing so hard? Don't you both think being a single parent on the other side of the Country is also going to be very lonely in different ways? sleeping alone, eating alone at night.

I don't know - I mean, personally it sounds like a horrible plan, but then, YOU know you better than I do.

Personal anecdote - when I first moved countries, I found it incredibly lonely and difficult without a friend base. It took a solid 2 years before I felt even somewhat contented.... and I really had to push myself to do things I wouldn't usually have done in order to make friends. If you had even one close friend in this new place, trust me... you'll feel instantly better.
posted by JenThePro at 1:55 PM on March 10, 2015

What I missed from your post is: do you have a job, a baby group, a gym that you joined, a book club? What else have you done to reach out, find a community, fit in? Do you get a break from full-time mommying?

I can only imagine how hard it is to be home with a baby and feel like you have to hold up everything. Is it possible that your partner also feels like everything's on his shoulders, he has to make the new job succeed, and because you moved for him, it's up to him to make the new place succeed? Could that be why he's gung-ho for you to move, to feel that weight lifted from his shoulders for most weeks? I'd try to get at what his own reasons for having you move are, apart from wanting you to be happy on the opposite coast.

Have you made major moves before? In my experience it takes a year to even start to feel like it might be ok. It really does. Things do keep changing.
posted by Dashy at 1:55 PM on March 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

Academics don't really get to separate HOME from WORK the way that you're hoping. Certainly some people are able to do this, but it's really the exception and not the rule. It's likely that your husband is going to be bringing work home when he visits, unless this is already something that he has a rule against doing and he's successful with that rule. But I know very few academics who don't do at least some work at home, on nights and weekends.

I have a friend who does what you are describing - she has a great academic job and is there for a few weeks, and then visits her family for a week or so. But she teaches online and the departmental culture where she works is very, very, very loose. That is, lots of people don't ever go to their offices there, so when she's gone for a week or so it's no big deal. In fact, you say there's no precedent in your husband's department for this, which suggests that this is not going to work. My friend's department has a ton of professors who do just this. My own department has lots of faculty that live a few hours away and who commute to teach; they mostly work from home, but they do spend good chunks of time in their offices two or three times a week. But in a department where no one else does this, and in a department where your husband does not yet have tenure (that's not explicit in your post but suggested based on the fact that the job is fairly recent)? This is not going to fly and will almost certainly negatively impact his chances for tenure. Now, he doesn't have to tell anyone that he's doing this - one way that I separate work and my life as an academic is to have very clear boundaries at work, and I don't really tell anyone at work what I'm up to in my home life - but that might fail pretty miserably, if he chooses to just do this without talking to anyone about it and it doesn't work.

Did your husband attempt to get you a spousal hire when he got offered the job? Being the trailing spouse is really difficult, so lots of universities have programs to help support spouses during the transition. But you married an academic, and in academia, you go where the jobs are and you live there and you bring your family with you. This job is one where you just sacrifice all to the job, to the cause of scholarship. It doesn't matter what your gender is: you are going to make significant compromises in your home life if you decide to go the tenure-track route, and you are going to ask the people that you love, especially your family, to also make huge compromises. This is the life of an academic.

I would strongly advise against this situation, but only you know what would work for you. But it actually kind of worries me that this is your husband's idea. Why is that? He loves his job, but you're unhappy. Rather than working with you to help you be happier, it sounds like he's trying to ship the problem elsewhere so that he doesn't have to see it all the time. That way, he can fly home and be the fun dad, oh, three or four times a year - realistically, that is how this will play out, he will have classes to teach and grading to do and research to get done and grants to write and students to advise and before he knows it he'll look up and another semester will be over - and he doesn't have to see your unhappiness day in and day out.

This sounds like a terrible idea for you and for your husband. I think that a different solution is in order. I don't know what that is, but I don't think you moving across the country is that solution. Are there really no places closer by where you could work and he could commute, say, an hour or a two hour drive in to campus? Is "go back to the place where you came from" really the only option here?

Finally, if I were you I would work on making friends. Friends are important. Friends give you something to do. Start a hobby and go to a few meetups. Start doing things you want to do. Your husband is doing exactly what he wants. Use some of his salary to pay for childcare and start getting out more. Start living a life where you are. Check back with yourself in three or six months and see if you're any happier, after you've started a hobby and made a few buddies.

Good luck. Academia is a bear.
posted by sockermom at 1:57 PM on March 10, 2015 [8 favorites]

You say your husband is pushing for this idea, but were you the one that brought it up in the first place? There's no context to your question, though the way you write comes off as weary and exhausted, and I'm sorry that you are.

Have you thought about perhaps seeing a therapist for a little while to sort out these questions? IMHO, if your marriage was strong, your desire to move back to where your social life was better may not be as urgent. Additionally, if this is temporary depression brought on by the stress of moving, and of raising a toddler, a therapist may help you work through this.

As someone who was previously in academia and chose to pursue a different career because of the 24/7 nature of the former, I'd say even when your husband IS home, he's going to be, at best, distracted. At worst, he may not come home when he's planned to because of unforeseen issues - grants not awarded, projects not going as planned, etc.
posted by Everydayville at 2:00 PM on March 10, 2015

I think it sounds like a fun idea. You get to live where you want, and he gets to keep his job. You get lots of time on your own, just you and your son, and when your husband's back in town it'll always feels special. Life would have more variety that way, especially when you consider all the trips you and your son will be making to your husband's city. When your son is older he can make occasional trips out there on his own, and just enjoy being with his Dad. It's true that it might be hard to be away from your husband for so long, but when he is there it'll feel really special, so in the end your marriage might stay more interesting and exciting for a longer period of time.

There's already a lot of people pointing out the downsides to this plan, so that's why I'm focusing on the good parts. Also, I grew up in a city where I just never felt comfortable, and spent most of teens hitchhiking around the country trying to find a place where I could relax and feel at home. What I learned is that when a place doesn't feel right to me, it *never* feels right, and there's no sense banging your head against a brick wall trying to make it work.

The idea of you trying to force yourself to fit in somewhere you hate sounds horrible to me, especially when you've already found a place you love. Personally, I would give up a whole hell of a lot to escape a place that felt wrong to me. I would give up relationships, jobs, security, and even sacrifice my health to some degree in order to get somewhere that felt like home (and in fact did all those things in my early 20's to move to my current location). The fact that you could potentially get to live where you want while still staying with your husband and not asking him to sacrifice anything sounds amazing to me, and a lot more than other people get.
posted by sam_harms at 2:02 PM on March 10, 2015 [4 favorites]

Why not try it for 3 months and find out whether or not it works for you?
posted by miyabo at 2:03 PM on March 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

My experience of a city usually comes down to how I feel about the neighbourhood I'm in; are there areas of your current city that offer a lifestyle closer to the one you enjoyed in the other town? Maybe a move to another part of town would make a difference.
posted by cotton dress sock at 2:05 PM on March 10, 2015 [4 favorites]

Oh, also, be prepared for your husband cancelling plans to come home at the last minute because of a work emergency. I am dating another academic and I can't tell you how many times we had big plans that didn't pan out because he had to be in the lab with his rats! Or my ex, also an academic, who had to stay at his work assignment for two extra years (two extra years!) because he was an awarded a grant that required him to learn a really difficult new language, and he had to go to courses for that language at his university. Or my other ex, another academic who had to cancel multiple vacations with me because his code needed him. Being with an academic is usually like this; their work comes first. His work will come first, not his trip home, and I'm not going to lie: that hurts a lot, being on the receiving end of it.
posted by sockermom at 2:07 PM on March 10, 2015 [8 favorites]

I don't think people want to shame OP or anything and I think commuting like this could work in the relative short term but if he loves it so much and ends up getting tenured and wants to stay there forever...I mean, I understand why some people think it doesn't sound like a really feasible long term solution. Army situations aren't comparable because that situation wouldn't be literally forever like this position might. But it could work out as well.

But maybe you could try the commuting thing for some time, like 6 months renting a place in your old town and see if it works out? If you feel like it's working, try for another 6 months and then reevaluate. Otherwise, you can head back to your husband's city. But other than the support network (which is a huge thing and a totally reasonable reason to want to head back) what else don't you like about this place? If it's just that maybe seeking out the time to find new friends (like other people said mother-child groups etc.) might help a lot. Bonus is you could maybe have a little more time to yourself if you stay since you won't being single parenting for 40% of the year and could use that time to get to know the place.
posted by hejrat at 2:08 PM on March 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

OP, feel free to memail me. I have experience in several of these issues, although I don't want to speak for my other family members in a public forum.
posted by wyzewoman at 2:11 PM on March 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'm an academic. While I'm not in a commuter relationship, I've known many people who were/are--and for most of them, this has not been workable over the long term, except for the couples in which one person had a lot of flextime (or could do a good chunk of their job telecommuting). The more common end result has been either a) somebody relocates or b) they divorce/split. (Even in the successful examples, the commute has been a few hours driving, not a few hours on the plane.) As a short-term solution, this may be a possibility; as a long term one, maybe not so hot (especially if kids are involved).

The difficulty, as sockermom says, is that there is no HOME/WORK separation for an academic, especially if your husband is in a research-intensive job. Days off means work; vacations mean work.
posted by thomas j wise at 2:15 PM on March 10, 2015 [3 favorites]

Being the "trailing spouse" in academia is TERRIBLE. Being the partner of someone on the tenure track is also TERRIBLE. Combined together they can be really horrible.

Moving across the country will solve a tiny bit of your problem (location) but not all of your problems or even most of them, and it'll add a HUGE stress to your relationship and to your parenting. It's so not sustainable.

I know several cross-country couples (both with and without kids) and uniformly they're all completely miserable and looking for a way to be together.

I hear your frustration, I totally get your current dissatisfaction, but this just won't be a solution.....
posted by barnone at 2:26 PM on March 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

I can't speak from experience about the academia/parenting part of your question (though the general consensus above seems sensible to me), but just nthing that it takes 2-3 years to settle into a place. I say this as someone who, in my mid-40s, has made several major (as in cross-country or to a different country) moves throughout my adult life. In every case, at the end of a year, I was not really happy with where I was and was considering alternatives to move somewhere else. In only case out of 4 or 5 was I right--I stayed one more year and I still hated the place, it was all wrong for me, and I was right to leave. In all the other cases, I ended up not grimly making the best of things but actually loving where I was. So, everything else aside, I really think you need to give this another 1-2 years before you make a decision--and in that time, you have to really stay in the present and commit yourself to trying to make it work, not bide your time until you can leave!
posted by tiger tiger at 2:40 PM on March 10, 2015

not a few hours on the plane.

This stuck out for me. A cross-country plane trip can be >$500. If nothing else, that's a lot of money that could be spent on other things, like enriching your child's life with museum trips or what have you.
posted by Melismata at 2:46 PM on March 10, 2015 [3 favorites]

I'm the world's biggest daddy's girl, and even though I'm 24 now, the idea of missing out on almost 40% of my childhood memories with my dad really makes me sad. IMO this arrangement wouldn't be fair to your child or your husband - it would deprive them of the fullest relationship they could have.

Just a datapoint.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 2:47 PM on March 10, 2015

I hate, hate, hate starting over in new places, and I gave up on being in academia in order to avoid it (I mean, there were other reasons, but that was really significant). But what you're talking about sounds pretty terrible also. I know a lot of academic couples who have done this during a postdoc or something, but it sounds like you're talking about potentially doing this *forever* and it doesn't seem like it could possibly be sustainable.

I think you're in an incredibly difficult situation, but this solution sounds crazy and desperate, not grounded in reality.

It is SO HARD to settle in to a new place, especially when it's not what you would have chosen, and when you're leaving a place you like. I lived in a new place for three years (in my early thirties) and I made ZERO friends (although I was closing in on a couple of people by the end). But, I think it will be easier to settle in to the new place than it will be to carry out this plan.

I feel like your husband suggesting this is him feeling guilty and trying to come up with some way he can solve your unhappiness *without* having to leave this job he's so excited about. But it's not a very good idea.

I guess your other other option is for your husband to keep job hunting, but that's also really tough. Ugh, academia. The worst.
posted by mskyle at 3:04 PM on March 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

I know a couple that does this. The mom & kids live in her hometown, and the dad has a tenure-track faculty job about an hour away by plane. They've been doing this for years, and what makes it work is that she has close-knit family in the area that helps out a lot, and he doesn't have a hard-science, in the lab all the time type of job. He comes home on the weekends, and of course he's home during summer and winter break. It's doable, but it's a lot of work and you should have an excellent support system in wherever you'd be moving to.
posted by mogget at 3:10 PM on March 10, 2015

God, maybe I'm projecting too much into this question because I'm part of an academic couple that's currently crashing hard into the two body problem, but I feel like there's a troubling assumption at the heart of this question: that your partner's job is the immutable rock that your relationship is going to break itself against.

I mean, for most couples, I feel like there's a sort of natural progression when you're trying to figure this stuff out that goes something like: "A got an amazing job in a city that B isn't sure about, so they'll move there and give it the old college try for a couple of years, and if B is still unhappy, they'll relocate." That's a sensible compromise.

But for you guys, the progression is this: "A got an amazing job in a city that B isn't sure about, so they'll move there and give it the old college try for a couple of years, and if B is still unhappy, B will move across the country and raise her child alone while A flies back sometimes on the weekends."

Like, what? Obviously you should stick it out for a little longer and try to find a way to be happy in the new city - people have made a lot of great points about everything you're dealing with. And also, obviously, commuting coast-to-coast is going to be brutal on a relationship.

What is not obvious at all to me is the unspoken assumption here about what choices your husband is ready to make when it comes to what is best for his family. Competitive tenure track jobs in amazing cities are rare and valuable and hard to replace. But your happiness is also valuable. Yes, find a mommy-group and a job and a hobby and everything else. Try to put down roots. But if you've tried everything, and you're still not happy after a year or two or three, I think your husband should consider leaving his job and finding one in a place where you will also be able to flourish.
posted by pretentious illiterate at 3:13 PM on March 10, 2015 [22 favorites]

I'm very sorry that this situation is causing you so much unhappiness. I'm an academic and I moved with my (now ex-) partner to a place that neither of us particularly wanted to live, so I definitely feel your pain. However, I agree with many of the other commentators that commuting--especially bicoastally--is not a good answer to these difficulties.

For one thing, while academic jobs offer a lot of flexibility, there are limits. During the semester it would be simply impossible for me to regularly be gone for several weeks. Courses need to be taught, graduate students need supervision, office hours must (contractually!) be held, experiments need monitoring, and committees have to meet. In addition, there are other expectations such as participation in colloquia that are less formalized but very important to cementing your place in a department pre-tenure. Your husband may not find it easy to have these commitments waived, since many are part of evaluation for tenure and promotion. It's a serious mistake to discount any of this.

For another, as one commentator above noted, this might work in the short term but what is the endgame? If you move and are happy in your old city, will you simply continue like this forever? If not, then you are just deferring the decision to return and really make a go of living in the place that you currently dislike. It will be an expensive and risky deferral. Perhaps it would be better to make that attempt now?

I've lived in a lot of places in my adult life, and it always took me about 3 years to start to feel like a real human being in each of them. And it took a lot of work. There's every chance that, the academic job market being what it is, your husband will never find another job in a more desirable place. That's a depressing thought that every academic struggles with, but it needs to be acknowledged.

These are hard choices, and I wish you the best of luck.
posted by informavore at 3:20 PM on March 10, 2015 [2 favorites]

I think a lot of this will come down to how much teaching time your husband would have and if he has to be in a lab or not. I have a family friend who is in economics/business and he schedules things so that he goes to the university for something like 2 weeks every term for physical seminars and spends the rest of the time doing his research over here. There may be a component of online classes and I'm sure there is a ton of email but he still gets to be at home for most of the year. If your husband's in a situation where he has to be in a lab then I don't even think the 20/32 week split is going to work, but if he is not tied to a lab and doesn't have to teach too many classes then it could definitely work.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 3:30 PM on March 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

A year in a new place with a baby/toddler is not very long at all. It's hard to build a life while caring for a small child. You need to give yourself more time. If you're up north, spring is just around the corner! Also, I knew a family with a small child where Dad was always away for work and that poor kid was miserable. So was his Mom. I would avoid splitting up my family at all costs.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 3:46 PM on March 10, 2015

I'm a TT assistant professor and the mom to a small kid. This sounds terrible to me. Do whatever you can to get involved in Newtown stuff. Also your kid is 2. Once he is in school, you can throw yourself into school stuff and make friends.
Don't hurt everyone by the loss of that relationship and make life tougher on yourself by being a single parent.
Have another kid! Get a job and put current kid in daycare! Volunteer! Do something.

I've moved twice since my kid was born (academia!) and settling in is always hard.
posted by k8t at 4:37 PM on March 10, 2015

Your child is getting to the age when play groups are a thing that lots of at-home parents do with their children. I can't speak to the academic angle, but when we moved for my job, we knew hardly anybody in town. Mr. Tuesday started taking our 2-year-old son to the park every day around the same time. Once people got used to seeing him there, they started to say hello and exchange small talk. He ended up with several friendships just from his regular time at the park. (We also met other families through a group for stay at home dads and through joining a church.) Having one or two people that you look forward to seeing can make a huge difference in feeling like you are really living somewhere instead of just getting through the days.
Another way we met people was through a co-op preschool--check out the NAEYC site to find some good ones. People are probably starting to apply now for the fall so you're in good time to do that. Usually for two-year olds it's just a few hours a week, but that's a few hours you can relax, or get things done, or even go to a class at the gym and make a new friend.
posted by tuesdayschild at 4:45 PM on March 10, 2015

I am an academic and I know a lot of couples who live like this. It's not for me (I would walk away from academia tomorrow if it were the only solution), but some people find it okay. The people I know who actually seem to be happy in commuter marriages, rather than just surviving, tend to be the ones without young kids, and they tend to be the ones where BOTH people are academics, so they have jointly decided to make academic careers their number one priority. I think it could be very hard to live with the difficulties of a commuter marriage knowing it is only for the sake of one partner's career.

What tends to happen for my friends in this situation is that they fit all their teaching into e.g. Tuesday-Thursday, and spend Friday-Monday each week with their partner/family. They also spend holidays and between-semester times with the family, when possible. They DO bring work with them when they travel, and do a lot of it on the plane, but also the Friday and the Monday when they are at home. Some of them (esp the academic couples without kids) just work all the damn time no matter where they are. I know one couple whose weekends together consist of them sitting side-by-side in their home office working.

I think your practical problems are going to be
(a) finances - it gets expensive to run two households!
(b) your husband's department culture: if it's a place where it's important to be seen, and where everyone else does their work at work, he may be seen as checked out, and unavailable, and that will kill his tenure chances, even if he is working 24-hours a day off-campus.
(c) childcare: it is going to be like being a single parent. I could see this working if you can afford a live-in nanny or au pair, or at least good solid daycare and the occasional evening baby-sitter. But see (a) above.

If you can afford that sort of lifestyle, another, maybe better option would be to really keep two bases and both commute. So if you can get your old job back a couple of days a week, he could fly out to Old Town and you all hang out there when he is able to get away from the university (maybe only semester breaks and weekends?) and you could fly to New Town and you all hang out there a few days every week when he needs to be seen at work during the day. And sometimes maybe you leave the kid there, so that your husband gets to be the single parent now and again as well. (Again, maybe that only works with a lot of paid childcare support, depending on his schedule, but I know single mothers who manage in academia, so it's not impossible, and I think he should get to experience what it's like for you at the other end.)

Another point: I have lived in around 20 different towns in my 35 years of life, and my experience is that it takes around 3 years to feel settled. If you can hold out that long, I think that might be a better option than what you are proposing.

Finally, if I were your husband and you had articulated the situation to me as you do in your post, I'd be pretty bummed about my options. As I'm sure you know (but some other posters above maybe don't), in academia it's not like it's realistic for him to just get a job in the town you do want to live in. The only realistic option (and even then it's unlikely) would be for him to look for another tenure-track job somewhere (anywhere) else, and then you'd get to move to a different new town, which would probably have similar problems for you, since it still doesn't contain your old friends, old job, etc. If it was e.g. the climate you hated, or the cost of living, or the culture, then sure, I could see how it would make sense to look elsewhere.

So what he's probably hearing is that you are either going to live apart, or you need him to give up his dream career and find something else to do with his life so that you can not feel sad and hopeless. That's a horrible set of choices. I don't know what the solution is, but I hope you find one, and meanwhile, good luck to you both.
posted by lollusc at 5:01 PM on March 10, 2015 [7 favorites]

I had a friend growing up in a situation like this. Both parents were high powered types with jobs that required location flexibility. They alternated who had primary child care responsibilities until she was old enough to really need to stay in one school and by then, one parent had established enough of a reputation that, while she traveled a lot, the family lived together. Her parents didn't live together full time until both of them retired--and that almost resulted in a divorce.

The downside, though, is that she has a very odd relationship with both of her parents from an outsider's point of view and, until recently (we are both in our 30s now) was pretty clingy with one and pretty distant with the other. Her parents both had really fulfilling careers that they're proud of. Friend is an awesome person but her parents have expressed that they wonder how their choices contributed to the type of adult she is (awesome, great in all kinds of social situations, super responsible, but a little bit behind where you'd expect her to be life-wise and more dependent on her parents than one typically is at her age). She did get to have a lot of amazing, enviable experiences due to her parents' successes though.

From the other side, my mom was the trailing spouse and she still, 27 years later (in a pretty good 40+ year marriage with 3 supportive kids) after having had a career where she was respected, HATES the town they moved to for his job and it affects her happiness on a near daily basis. So...don't do that.
posted by eleanna at 5:02 PM on March 10, 2015 [2 favorites]

Oh and one last point: one of the hardest things about commuter marriages in academia is that people outside academia really don't understand. My friends say that their non-academic friends just assumed their relationship was on the rocks, or not really serious, and even their wider families treated them like they were going through a divorce. You will have to deal with a lot of Concerned Looks, and awkward silences when you tell people your husband lives elsewhere. Maybe you have a thicker skin than I do, but I would find that pretty hard too.
posted by lollusc at 5:03 PM on March 10, 2015 [4 favorites]

Speaking as the daughter of two parents who love eachother very much, but I grew up not really seeing my dad because he lived in another country for about 48/52 weeks of the year due to business dreams. From a very young age, I grew up not really missing him, but I did suffer with a mom who was severely depressed by both her isolation and having to care for me practically as a single mom, although we were financially supported, and she and my dad talked on the phone everyday. It was easier because they were both a joint business, and I love my mom dearly, but I grew up not really thinking about what I was missing.

I am lucky because I have unconditional love from both of my parents who support any of my dreams, but I don't honestly know what a life is like with having two parents. It's having a mom and someone I know who is my dad, and loves me. It's not the same thing as saying "I have a mom and a dad." I am very responsible and sociable, but I also grew up with a pretty distant and alienated mind, which made relationships almost impossible for me until I found my community many years later in college. So, you have to consider that the physical displacement is going to do something to the psyche. I'm okay now, but I'm also an extremely resilient person with an extremely resilient mother. MeMail me if you want to know more and pick my brain more :)
posted by yueliang at 5:13 PM on March 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

Augh editing box closed! When I say "responsible and sociable" - my mom modeled such intense self-reliance that I eventually learned it as a survival skill for myself. Gonna stop here before I violate more MeMail rules :)
posted by yueliang at 5:19 PM on March 10, 2015

I want to echo everyone who has said it takes more than a year to get comfortable in a new place. I've felt lonely and homesick after the first year even when I loved the job I moved for on Day 1.

I also want to warn you that long-distance relationships are more wearing than you think. The last time I did this, my spouse & I saw each other about once a month for nine months. (His non-academic schedule was more flexible than my teaching-intensive academic schedule, so aside from the winter holidays and spring break, our time together involved him taking a three- or four-day weekend.) Our marriage was fine, but the stress bled through into the rest of my life, and I found I just wasn't as emotionally resilient as I'm used to.
posted by yarntheory at 5:33 PM on March 10, 2015

You love Old University Town but you had to know that you couldn't stay there right? Also, lots of your great friends, if they're also academics, aren't going to be there forever. Also as kids get older, they are less dependent on you in some ways but in other ways they are more dependent. I'm constantly taking my kid (age 6) to sports, classes, and events. My time for friendships is quite small.

An option, possibly, if you're this miserable and unwilling to stay, is that Husband abandons his TT dreams and takes some (lesser) job like tutoring or editing in Old University Town. As a TT person, I shudder at the thought, but I also know that for many of us, balancing TT life and family life is a struggle and if you guys can swing it, and your happiness is more important than his career, it is an option.

Maybe another possibility, if you're open to A New University Town that is not your current one, is that Husband commits to looking at jobs again in next year's market. But then you have to consider if it is New University Town that is the problem or if is it that it is Not Old University Town that is the problem. I also don't know his discipline and how tight the market is.

FWIW, he could have pushed to get you hired in at the university when he got the offer. Not always a sure thing, but...
posted by k8t at 5:47 PM on March 10, 2015

I know people who have made this sort of relationship work for many years. It is possible.

I am right now sitting across from Mr. Nat, who lives on a different continent than I do. He's tenure track, I've got dreams of it, and right now we're prioritizing our careers. But yes, many people question us about commitment and seriousness (even people who know us!). And yes, I don't really want to live this way forever. Also yes, even though I'm visiting him, I'm still at work-- two meetings this morning, and I expect to work until 7 tonight. Most academics don't go home. (Yes, it's unhealthy. Tell me that when I have tenure and the opportunity to make other choices.)

Mostly, though, I won't even consider having kids while we're doing this multi-continent thing. (For me, that may mean there are never kids. So it goes.)

Also seconding the many others who say that it takes time in a new place. It does, and it takes effort, too. Find things you can do with your kidlet to get you out of the house and meet other parents, for sure. As the kid grows there will be more things you can do. Also consider looking in to care for the kid for a couple hours-- so you can go to a yoga class or a maker space or a museum talk or whatever, but something that's just for you and that gets you out of the house and meeting other people in an adult way. I personally find I have to meet a bunch of people before any of them "click"- so there's definitely a lot of effort involved.

Oh, and lastly-- sometimes people really do love a particular place. Maybe you're one of them. Give it a serious, real, old college try-- and if it doesn't work, admit that, and consider other options (I would set your sights here on the time scale of your husband's tenure track, or maybe your kid going to school, because those will involve life change anyhow).
posted by nat at 6:18 PM on March 10, 2015

I think everyone else has covered why living apart should be the last resort/is probably on the way to divorce territory.

You don't mention anything HORRIBLE about New Town that makes it unbearable to live in. Just that you aren't fitting in there yet. I think it sounds like it'd be easier for you to commit to the town and make yourself love it (and really, you probably would once you found friends/a job, those are probably the top reasons to not be happy now) than it would be to split up your family so you could live in the old town--and yeah, the people you love there will probably be moving on, so even if you moved back it may not be the same.
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:41 PM on March 10, 2015

I would be very, very cautious about taking advice from people outside of academia, because it is a tight, insular culture with a lot of unwritten rules and a lot of ways to get things wrong. Advice like this, for example, is just plain wrong:

I don't see why it's the dean's business at all what your family's arrangements are, as long as your husband is doing the work he was hired to do.

Not legally -- that is certainly legally correct advice in most places -- but practically, the dean (and more importantly, the faculty in the department who will make some of the first level tenure recommendations) will certainly see the husband's living arrangements as their business, under the categories of "commitment" and "collegiality" at a minimum, and possibly under "publication" if the travel arrangements impact his productivity.

Having said that, there are a lot of variations on the "two body problem" and your situation is not at all unusual. Some people make it work for decades, and other people do the long distance thing as an interlude while looking for a more amenable long term situation. The only way his department and university will support him doing this is if he can convince them that it is a long term happy situation; if they think this is a prelude to him announcing his departure for Greener Pastures U, his tenure chances are near zero.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:51 PM on March 10, 2015 [3 favorites]

I am the "trailing spouse" in an academic couple. Please feel free to Memail me.

I moved from a mid-sized city that I loved to a smallish college town for my spouse's career. In the four years since we moved here, I have found multiple jobs, got out and met people, saw a therapist, kept up with my own career, made friends, thrown parties, explored the area, done enriching things with my small child, etc. etc. All this effort has improved my feeling about the town so that I can now say: "I don't completely hate it here! Hooray!"

So maybe there's some value to the "jump in with both feet!" advice but sometimes the situation just sucks. Where I live, just about everyone my age is super-busy pre-tenure or in late graduate school, and in both cases their presence here is temporary. The town is oversaturated with people working in my specialty (music) and they all already know each other and have cliques and histories to which I'm not privy. I'm not super fast at making friends, and having a small child makes it harder to spontaneously go out and do stuff. Have I done everything possible to get the most out of life here? Maybe not, but whoever does?

All the same I don't think the commuter plan is a good idea. I think the department will look at your partner askance for commuting, whether it's fair for them to do so or not. And there's no guarantee you will be happy enough living apart to make it worthwhile. But I don't think it's fair to ask you to keep trying to be happy indefinitely. I know that I feel better for knowing that leaving is an option for my spouse, including leaving solely for my own happiness. Knowing that he would leave if it because necessary for my well-being that we do so, has actually helped me feel not so trapped here, especially in the earlier days when it was really bad.

So I like the idea of sitting down with your partner and setting a deadline, like, "if Anonymous is still really miserable a year from now, we'll try to move." (For me, it would be a year. It always takes me a while to adjust even to places I later loved dearly.) But I wouldn't put that kind of stress on my family until I knew it couldn't get better.
posted by daisystomper at 7:47 PM on March 10, 2015 [4 favorites]

One thing no one has suggested yet is finding a place near your current city that is somewhat like your old one. It won't have your friends or family, but it might be similar in some way (e.g., close to natural parks, a small-town feel, progressive, near a mountain, etc.). There is probably somewhere within a two- to four-hour drive that is SOMETHING like your previous home and might have some of the things you really like. This would mean that you could commute back and forth every week, or even every day if necessary (with the two-hour drive). If the cost of living is low enough, you could just keep a home in both places.

If you hate everything about your new place, a place that feels like home or has some other feature you love might be enough to make it bearable.
posted by 3491again at 7:58 PM on March 10, 2015 [4 favorites]

I can't fathom why anyone would want to voluntarily split their family up like this... on what kinda seems like a whim. Frankly, doesn't sound like you've thought this out beyond hating the current place.

If it turns out that you really do hate the new place after giving it a fair shake, ok, new plan. But why in the world do you need to move to the opposite coast? Is there no place within maybe an hour of commuting? Why do you think you are too old to "start over"? Are you really starting over, or is it your perception? Do you think the old place will always be the same and your friends won't also move on like you have started to? If you feel super tired, do you think it might be a better idea to take some time out for yourself before considering massive new moves? Do you really think moving off by yourself with a toddler will mean you will be less tired? Would the old place still seem affordable when there are two separate residences, two sets of bills, and expensive commutes? Etc etc.
posted by zennie at 8:30 PM on March 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

Here's another thought about compromises that might work:

He's been there a year, right, and so has about six more years until he goes up for tenure? So you could compromise on staying in this new town until then (I know six years probably seems like forever now, but maybe it will be easier if there's light at the end of the tunnel). After tenure, if he has published his ass off and won a bunch of grants etc, he may have more leverage for being able to be a bit picky about where to work in the future. I don't know what the universities are like in New Town vs Old Town, but if Old Town is much lower in the rankings, they might even welcome him back once he has tenure at New Town (assuming they have funding to do so, which is a pretty big assumption, I know).

But, even if he can't get a post-tenure job in the city of your dreams, it won't be quite so dangerous for him to work long-distance more often at that point, and your child will be older and more independent, so commuting might actually work much better then. And finally, many academics re-evaluate their careers after getting tenure and decide they jumped through all the hoops and there aren't any more to jump through, and so they want to branch out and do something outside academia at that point anyway.
posted by lollusc at 8:34 PM on March 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

This is a terrible idea. I know of "commuter marriages" with academics, but we're talking Boston to New York, not a cross-country flight.

It takes a long time to get adjusted to a new city. It took me three years or so to feel comfortable in LA.

This isn't a commuter marriage. A commuter marriage involves regular commuting, not quarterly visits. I agree with zennie - this sounds like splitting up your family. There have to be better options.

I'm not trying to belittle your, or minimize your feelings, but sacrificing your marriage because you haven't found a good circle or friends or a job within a year seems really rash.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 8:35 PM on March 10, 2015 [3 favorites]

FWIW, he could have pushed to get you hired in at the university when he got the offer. Not always a sure thing, but...

Not necessarily; not every school does spousal or partner hires any more. We don't; the budget is bad enough we're having trouble hanging onto the staff we have, let alone getting new hires. :/

So basically, we'd be apart about 20 weeks a year (not in a row, obviously), and together for the other 32.

I hate to say it, but your math isn't adding up here. Even if they're on quarters, that doesn't add up... we're on 14 week semesters, so not counting exam week and prep week beforehand, you're looking at 28 weeks. And then you're expected to stick around for graduation. And the departmental retreat the week before classes open. And and... never mind prep during the summer so you can breathe during the year, and finishing up incompletes, and a host of other issues that come up in your 'off' time.

For what it's worth, I'm in the middle of this, and it sucks. My wife is finishing a degree in Texas, and I'm non-tenure-track (but with a job I really love, most days, and family responsibilities that keep me here) in NC. We were both in place before we got together. I spend most of the summer there, she spends longer breaks during the year here so that she can see her dad. She spent half of the holiday break here and I spent half there so we could spend time with her girlfriend, who is also a dear friend of mine. We're buying $300 to $400 plane tickets every 6 to 8 weeks or so (I drive in the summer, she'll drive in May, but since I have to split the drive - I do not have an iron ass, unlike her - it works out to about the same, money wise). We have two households, which means I'm living with roommates, which is its own level of crap sometimes. We spend a lot of time on the phone. The only reason this is working right now is because we have an end date, and because we're also academics (granted, on different sides of the desk) so we do have those long stretches of time where we can be in other places.

On the other hand, there is someone else in my department who lives here and her husband is in NY, and it seems to work on them; there's a dude in my department whose boyfriend is in Maryland, and I don't know how it's working on them. So this is certainly not an uncommon situation in academia, but it sucks.

I can't help but notice the carefully gender neutral language in your question; you gender your partner, but not yourself, and there's a lot of assumptions here that y'all are married and you're a mom. If you're in a place that isn't terribly queer friendly, and it happens that you're a dude, then that is a very isolating thing (or even if it's a queer friendly place, it's hard to break into mom's groups if you're a stay at home dad.) If that's the case, OP, I really feel for you - that would make things ten times harder. It's hard to figure out how to address that without knowing where you're at.

Do people do this? Yes. Does it work on some folks? Sure. Does it suck a lot for other folks? Yes. Academia is a weird industry, one of the few that even suggests that you should do things like live on the other side of the damned country from your family for your job, and I find it to be a pretty absurd suggestion. I'm lucky; my wife is willing and happy (mostly, see also, girlfriend), to move here after her degree is done, since she has family and friends here.

Other folks have covered a lot of your other options - stick it out, ask him to leave academia, do the commuter thing - but I just wanted to say that I'm in your boat and it sucks in so many ways, and I hope that y'all figure out a solution that works for you both and your family. If you have questions about academic workloads, managing LDRs, or just need to bitch, feel free to Memail.
posted by joycehealy at 8:44 PM on March 10, 2015 [4 favorites]

I'm not in academia myself but I do realise the difficulty of it. A good friend and her husband went their separate ways over his unwillingness to follow her. Her researched dictated where she went, she had little say in it. It's tricky.

I have participated in a very long distance relationship however, and it eventually brought me to a city and country I have no love for. It was an inter-hemispheric relationship so we went eons between visits, and it was really, really hard. I can't say I would recommend it. It's like all the shitty parts of being in a relationship mixed with the shitty parts of being single. And while it's amazing to see each other, it actually felt awkward making space for him all over again. We persevered because we are stubborn jerks, but it's not for everyone. Only you know whether your relationship and your kid can handle it.

So now we're together after I moved to his city. For the longest time I completely despised it. I have been here 19 months and only now am I starting to simply dislike it. In a year I'll probably consider it livable. I really had to pull my head out of my butt, stop acting like a brat and realise this was never going to be the home I wanted, so I had to find a way to adjust for the long term health of my marriage. The martyr look didn't suit me. I got a therapist, and it really helps. My job is not really in my area of expertise, and is a step down for sure but I get a lot of great social interaction from it which feeds my need for grown up conversation. I talk to people who love it here, and it helps me appreciate all the good stuff about this place. I go out of my way to recognise the beauty in everything that's bizarre or foreign to me. It's become almost like an intrepid adventure. Most of all, I had to create a life that wasn't tied to my husband because he isn't the be all and end all of my happiness.

Data from immigration websites does support the idea it can take at least 2 years to feel at home somewhere. Obviously if you are truly miserable you need to make a change but I would suggest sticking in there for a bit longer to avoid splitting up your family. It can be agonising, I know. I think with the proper effort your chances of being happy-ish there are very good.
posted by BeeJiddy at 8:49 PM on March 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

Maybe I just don't know much about academia, but does he have summers off where you can return to your old home? Maybe you can get a little reprieve for a while once a year?

I am someone who has moved a whole lot in my life. Overall, however I felt in my first couple months became how I felt permanently. If at first I didn't feel comfortable and try to get engaged with my new home, it never happened. If I started off feeling ready and excited, I was able to keep that going. I wonder if you ever really tried to give it a try and make it your home. Maybe you have and it's not working out, but I would commit myself to giving that a real shot before something drastic, like a bi-coastal marriage or divorce. I've lived in a place I hate for more than a year. In some ways, it's gotten better as I've tried more to be social and have tried to explore more and give more unfamiliar places around town chances. At the same time, I grow incredibly tired of the things that annoy me to the point where I feel like I can't take it anymore and I let myself compare it to my favorite cities I've been to.

The problem is, if you've decided this won't work, then there is no good solution. A bi-coastal family is not a good solution. If you stay there, you will resent him. If he leaves his job for you, he will resent you. This is a tough situation. I think the first time is making sure you've given your current situation a sincere try. After that, you need to think about if he will reconsider his career track.
posted by AppleTurnover at 8:55 PM on March 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

Maybe I just don't know much about academia, but does he have summers off where you can return to your old home? Maybe you can get a little reprieve for a while once a year?

Just for reference for potential answerers, probably not. If the OP's partner is at a research institution, it's expected that he'll be doing research in the summer. He may also have summer teaching requirements, etc.
posted by griseus at 8:50 AM on March 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

A lot about this makes me very nervous.

Unless your husband is in a *very* unusual academic position, his idea of how much time he'll get to spend with you, and the nature of it, seems either ill-considered (and thus immature, showing a lack of understanding or researching what it would look like) or flat out misleading.

His enthusiastic support for the plan, particularly the part where the kid goes with you instead of staying with him (incidentally I think part of why people are reading you as a woman), sounds to me more like a commitment to his career (get you and the kid out of his hair already so he can focus on work, your happiness is entirely your problem) than a commitment to his family. Either way, it doesn't bode well for your marriage. Having you thousands of miles away with your own job wold certainly simplify his life as far as spousal support and child support in case it comes to a divorce (IANYL, TINLA).

That said, I think you're in a very vulnerable place if you're unemployed. (Unless you're independently wealthy or something or there's money in the background that makes the whole regular cross country flights thing seem like not a serious financial consideration).

If you read this and think I'm totally off base about your husband, that he's really mature and thoughtful about his work, that he's really committed to your relationship, that he's a full participant in parenting and would volunteer for long stretches of time being the single parent, that his academic situation is really more supportive of this then most, then... well that seems like a person and marriage worth fighting for and staying close to, and prioritizing over a town or friends or family (that you can presumably still make plenty of time to see). I think it would be very worthwhile to get whatever support you need (therapy, budget, etc) to do your best to build a real life, with friends and a job, in the new town.

If you read this and think that you or he does kind of already have one foot out of the marriage, then moving back may be a really good idea. You'll need your own support network, you'll be more likely to get primary residential custody if you have that pattern set up, you'll be better able to support yourself. I still think it's worth putting in some time in therapy (and possibly a consult with a family law lawyer, possibly in both jurisdictions) to make sure you are making thoughtful and practical decisions from a place of inner strength, before taking decisive action.

He is not in the military and he is not an economic migrant. Those situations can have very very hard consequences for families but people deal. He is a professor and it's hard but there are professors (mostly female) who balance being the main or the only full time parent. The fact that his picture of your future (geographically apart) family life does not involve significant time with him being the primary parent bodes so badly to me. The kid isn't in school yet. Theoretically the kid could spend one term with dad and one term with you. It sounds to me like his thing is the career and the rest is details.
posted by Salamandrous at 8:56 AM on March 11, 2015 [2 favorites]

This sounds really hard to me, especially on your child. While it's true that military families deal with this too, there are a number of different factors at play there, most importantly that the stay-at-home parents are part of a broader community that is built around supporting them through deployments and they will have a support structure that is going through the very same thing. But also that I think mentally the justification to the family, the child, and the outside world is on the level of "protecting our country" rather than "able to keep a prestigious job." And, it's not exactly easy for military families, either!

Ultimately, an academic is really not a good fit for someone who ultimately wants to stay put in one town for the rest of their lives. I don't say that to be mean, but just to point out that you guys are trying to do a tough thing. This is something my partner (a non-academic) and I (an academic) discussed at length before deciding to commit to each other in a serious way. Our current arrangement is that he's willing to move for me, but I'm not going to put an academic move above our relationship if it's in a location he cannot deal with. That is, if the only job I can find is in a town with zero job prospects for him, I'm going to look for a non-academic job instead. I think this type of flexibility on the part of BOTH partners is really important when it comes to academic relationships. I think a good first step for you guys is some marriage counseling.
posted by rainbowbrite at 6:32 AM on March 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

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