The two body problem is well known and experienced by a lot of scientists. The limited availability of jobs in our field means that we often have to move across a country or across the world for a position. Consequently, it is difficult to find work in the same city or region as your partner - hence the inevitability of long distance relationships for some of us.
In my case I got offered a great postdoc in New Zealand pretty much simultaneously with my boyfriend being given a permanent position in the north of the UK. We’d been together for nearly 3 years at that point and it was clear we were in for the long haul - we’d even already talked about getting engaged.
And I took the job.
This blog cannot be a step by step of the does and don’ts of a long distance relationship: everybody and every relationship is different. But I thought I would share why I am confident in the decision we made, and what we’re doing to make things work in the longest-distance-possible relationship we’ve found ourselves in.
Why get engaged before moving 11,000 miles across the world?
Now, I wouldn’t necessarily encourage anyone to get engaged after making the decision to do long distance for 3 years, but here is why it made sense for our relationship.
Like I said we’d already discussed getting married before we found ourselves in this situation. When my job came along, and it was clear I was moving as far away as physically possible for 3 years, then the available options were painfully simple: either we were willing to be apart or we weren’t. Either we stayed together or we didn’t.
Since breaking up was out of the question for us (we’re in love, imagine that), then there was no need to wait to get engaged - at that point it was clear this was coming at some point - and we got ourselves some nifty matching rings. Call me sappy but I like the idea of wearing the same piece of jewellery as my better half no matter how many miles separate us.
How we make it work
It is usually “common sense” that long term relationships are a bad idea, and I’ve had a few non-academic friends laugh in my face when I’d told them what I’d done. But, as painful as it is, this is a situation most scientists have come to accept as just a fact of our life-styles,
Now, being physically apart is difficult enough, but in my case there is also an 11 hour time difference to take into account, which makes keeping in touch even more challenging. Fortunately, modern technologies come to the rescue and make a tremendous difference.
If you are in a similar position, here are a few tips to make your like a little easier:
Find diverse ways to stay in touch: Leverage different media to foster connection in a variety of ways. Skype great for long conversations on a semi-regular basis, e.g. once a week. Messaging apps are great to stay in touch day to day by sending small messages, having shorter conversations or sending pictures/short videos to share your daily experience with your partner.
Find something to do together: Spending time together when you live with your partner does not mean talking constantly (like you would in a Skype call) and it usually involves shared experiences. This can be tricky when you live apart but there are solutions- the one we like is playing games online. We have our own little Minecraft server to play together; this is especially awesome because we are in the same (virtual) space and we get to arbitrarily decide on a goal and how we’re going to accomplish it… Kind of like real life.
Leverage every opportunity to visit: I am lucky in that my job requires me to travel and there is money for me to go back to Europe and visit collaborators. We’ve also come up with plans to travel together - if we meet in South-East Asia it’s a much more reasonable distance to travel but we have to share the load. Everybody’s experience will be different - just make the most of what you have.
Make friends: This very important because with your partner in a very distant land, the closest circle in your support network is no longer easily available. Sure, there is Skype but — in my case— chances are it’s the middle of the night back in the UK. Having close friends locally and rebuilding that support network makes for a healthier you, and therefore a healthier relationship.
Communication: This may seem obvious, but remember that in the end, every individual and every relationship is different. You need to find what works for you as a person and you as a couple — the best way to do that is to talk about it together.
I really hope this has been useful to some of y’all. If you have other tips to share, please let me know!