Dear Kate – January 2017

Dear Kate,

How would you decide whether to take an incredible job offer that would entail having to be in a coast-to-coast long-distance relationship with your husband for at least 2 years?

Thank you,

Puzzled Piece


Dear Puzzled,

I was faced with a similar agonizing decision a few years ago, so let me offer a few words about the decision process I went through.

First of all, for me the situation was this: I had a great, secure job with people I liked in a scientific lab in Massachusetts. That lab was going to be consolidated with one in Albuquerque New Mexico. I had the choice of: 1. Retiring early, 2. Moving with my job to Albuquerque, 3. Trying to find a job with the company in Massachusetts–that would not be research at all. Not being independently wealthy, and the bad economy at the time, quitting and looking for completely new work locally wasn’t an option.

Several of my colleagues chose to move. Several moved with the idea to work long enough to qualify to retire and would move back. Many of these left their families here and would visit frequently.

Where I was coming from was I am single, with no blood relatives in MA, with a house on the beach I love. Having no technical family I had fought to build one in MA out of my friends. I had gone on assignments that took me away from my home (1 year to the Pentagon, 4 years to London and Moscow) but I never sold my house, even though that would financially have made the most sense. It has always been my intention to live here.

As the deadline approached, and everyone kept encouraging me to move, my resolve wavered. I had visited and worked with the lab in NM and so I knew what it would be like living there. I had always thought I would I enjoy a couple year assignment there, but this would be a one-way ticket. A friend from the lab even offered for me to live with her at her house which was tempting. I looked at moving temporarily while getting a friend to live in my house in MA. I drew up sheets of pros and cons. I finally realized that always the model was to work there while trying to get a job back in MA. There were too many variables.

So, the decisive stroke was when I decided to limit the choices: Stay in MA permanently, or move to NM—permanently! When I did that, my choice was clear. The halfway-committed option just wasn’t for me and I didn’t see it working out for the people who did it. Since I knew the whole time I was in NM I would just be looking for ways to get a job back in MA, I decided it made more sense to be doing that in Massachusetts rather than 2,000 miles away.

As far as the original question, if you had to leave a spouse for a year or two on the other coast, you have to figure out what are your variables and do your own a pro and con analysis for that. It’s highly individual, so the same set of variables would not produce the same decision for different families. Coasts are good, Boston has many direct flights to the Pacific coast so traveling back and forth is not so arduous as for, say, a destination that requires intermediary stops. But people generally don’t get married to be alone, so you would have to weigh potential damage done to the relationship – or perhaps you would both think of it as an adventure! Only you can judge the risk. Whatever you decide I wish you luck!

Kate J.

(Kate J. is a seismologist, astrophysicist, engineer, and science-fiction author, among other things)

On behalf of the GWAMIT mentoring committee, thank you to this month’s Dear Kate contributor, Kate J.

A recent column in Science also offers some perspective on this question: read here

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