The tangible things about LDR with an academic.

Yesterday, I read this article about people who live with/are married to academics.

This morning, I woke up missing my person more than usual.

I was trying to get through speed-writing two papers this morning (will I ever meet tonight’s ICA deadline?!) but realized I couldn’t concentrate until I affectdumped.

I have the most amazing person who loves and supports me in all aspects of my life, but today I want to honour all the tangible things he does to support my academic career in particular (intangible gross mushy emotive things for another time, maybe). We’ve been together for 12 years now, and some practices have emerged as a routine.

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1) Making do with affective technologies

I travel frequently for work (pre-academia, I was traveling often for the orchestra), but our physical time together has been more intermittent and scarce this semester. I left our home in Perth to take up a Postdoctoral Fellowship in Singapore, leaving my person (and his immobile job) to anchor our lives and ministries and homemaking till I return. But we make things work by relying on technology to mediate our absence until we meet again.

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2) Planning mutual visits

We now value public holidays and long weekends even more than before, and are learning to be savvy with our scarce personal leave days at work in order to plan visits. We are also loyal customers to a whole array of budget airlines, although the costs involved in these fulfilling weekends become significant in the long run. We are still in the early stages of our careers, so I appreciate this financial sacrifice especially much.

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3) Doing airport runs

My person never fails to ferry me for airport pick-ups or drop-offs. I often book the most ridiculously-timed flights in order to maximise my weekends in Perth, but he never complains despite having to make the long journey home by himself at midnight. My airport pick-ups when he visits are not as dedicated or romantic because I don’t have a drivers’ license. Oops.

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4) Protecting our space in conversation

Being away often means my person attends events without me. Our core group of close friends know us intimately and support us in the ways they can. But sometimes curious others quip one-liners or questions that can be hurtful – “Does she love her job more than you?”, “How will you ever have children?”, “Do you even see each other much?” My person always privileges us as a unit in his responses; his unwavering faith in the career and life goals we planned together, and his belief that I will be able to do what I need to then come back home always blows me away. He never doubts us and protects our space in the face of such conversation.

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5) Protecting our quality time together

When we finally get to spend precious stretches of time together, my person makes the effort to clear his calendar. On my visits home, he intertwines our quality time together with enjoyable hangs with the people we love. All his planning for my return is a big deal to me because my person is usually as motivated as a potato when it comes to dates and things. Our time together then serves as a checkpoint at which I can recuperate and rest (and stock up on emotional ammo) before we part again.

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6) Supporting my downtime

My person supports the effort I need for my work, and makes space and time for my recuperation. We usually text each other updates throughout our work day, and if I’ve had a particularly rough one, he’d decide to get takeout or volunteer to cook so I get to chill and rest in the evening. Sometimes I get frustrated staring at the same paper in the office, and he’d suggest we meet for lunch. These decisions seem small and frivolous, but they are also routine and important to our relationship because my person tacitly understands what my tired brain and body need when I am too tired to think or care.

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7) Celebrating my effort

I feel achievements are underrated and under-celebrated in academia, probably because most people are thought to be over-achievers or that such effort is thought to be innate or natural. This is why mini-milestones often go by without fanfare, and the outcome does not feel proportionate to the effort invested. Over the years, my person has understood this, and now initiates mini-celebrations for all sorts of small wins in my career – a positive review, a published article, a conference acceptance, a good interview, precious interactions with students. As the one person who lives with me behind-the-scenes of ‘academic glamour’ and witnesses all the labour that goes into these achievements, these mini-celebrations are an important ritual to me that contribute to my sense of achievement. These acts also demonstrate that even though my person may not always understand my work or my disappointment, he will always validate me in ways that academic metrics cannot.

As academics, the most formal of ways we recognize our romantic partners and loved ones may be in the acknowledgements of our monographs. This Academic Romance Tumblr is my all time favourite. When I finally publish my monograph (!!!) and acknowledge my loved ones in this time-honoured ritual, this blogpost will be the addendum on the tangible things about LDR with an academic.

Are you also in an academic LDR? How have you been navigating this terrain?

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