If I had a quarter for every weird look I get when I tell people my husband and I live 2500 miles apart (by choice), I could buy myself a very nice handbag.
The usual responses are, “That must be SO hard!” or “How does that work?” Or, my favorite, “That’s interesting...” with a confused look.
It’s true. Our marriage is unconventional, to say the least. Joe and I have been married for 16 years and have known each other for over 20. We’ve been living apart for seven years. And yes, by choice.
Very few people truly understand the decision to live this way. But it’s a relevant topic... whether you live apart from your significant other by choice or by circumstance, it’s happening more and more in the world we live in. Military duties take spouses away for months – even years at a time. College or continuing education opportunities force couples to live apart. Careers often take precedence over living in the same household.
People generally understand (and accept) those “separated by circumstance” occurrences more than one by choice. Why would one consciously choose to live apart from the one they love?
Here’s my answer: two happy individuals make up a happy marriage, despite the distance.
When I moved to Los Angeles, I wasn’t just making a career move; I was making a LIFE move. My work – the work I am passionate about – takes me to the big city. Joe’s work – the work he is passionate about – takes him to the farm. Fortunately, we understand that neither of us would ask the other to give up what makes us happy. That is the foundation of our relationship, and our love for each other.
I’ve witnessed so many unhappy couples... who are simply trudging along, doing the things they are expected to do. They love their partners, but as individuals, they don’t feel fulfilled.
I look at them, and I feel sorry for them. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from this path of discovery I have been on for the past seven years, it is that everyone deserves to be happy.
And happiness, that day-to-day consistency of looking forward to what is ahead rather than dreading it, is SO much healthier than the alternative.
Science even says so.
The Data Behind Happiness
A review of over 160 studies revealed that all else being equal, happy people tend to live longer and experience better health than their unhappy peers.
In fact, research has shown that positive moods reduce stress-related hormones, increase immune function and promote the faster recovery of your heart after physical exertion. Alternately, marital conflicts and high hostility in couples were associated with slow wound healing and a poorer immune response.
The review, authored by Ed Diener, University of Illinois professor emeritus of psychology and lead scientist for the Gallup Organization said that “the general conclusion from each type of study is that your subjective well-being -- that is, feeling positive about your life, not stressed out, not depressed -- contributes to both longevity and better health among healthy populations."
So, basically, I am going to live to be at least 100.
Distance Really Does Make the Heart Grow Fonder
Remember those unhappy couples I mentioned? They see each other every single day. They watch one another struggle with work, family, stress, finances. There is much to fight about, and fight they do. They don’t listen to each other, because each one is trying too loudly to make his or her voice heard.
When I see Joe, I really SEE him; I really HEAR him. We don’t fight because we have limited time together, and we want to make the most of that time. We put petty things aside, and focus on the things that matter.
Sure, we do have struggles in life – just as those unhappy couples do. But what we choose to do with them is what makes our relationship strong and healthy.
And when I step off that plane, I have the same giddiness as I did when I walked down the aisle.
It’s Not Easy
Don’t get me wrong... living a significant distance from your other half is not all roses and champagne. Especially when tragedy strikes.
Joe was recently involved in an accident. When his brother called to tell me, I lost it. Like, can’t-catch-your-breath sobbing within seconds. He’ll be fine; it could have been a lot worse. But at the time, the only place I wanted to be was at his side. And when that involves booking a flight and packing a suitcase, it becomes much more difficult.
And yes, there is guilt at that moment. It wouldn’t be love if there wasn’t. But there is also understanding. I can still be there for my partner, even if I’m not immediately with him.
It’s NOT for Everyone
Long distance relationships by choice are not for everyone. I would suggest a strong foundation of love, trust and understanding. You also have to really know yourself to fully give in to the commitment of distance. And if living apart becomes a struggle or a hardship, it’s time to give it up.
My journey started as a six-month “trial” but six-and-a-half years later, Joe and I are still making it work. We probably won’t live this way forever. There will come a time when the “missing you” factor becomes stronger than the happiness and passion which fueled the separation in the first place. And I will be OK with that. But for now, we are content to see each other, well, when we see each other.