In the comments section of our most recent "How can we help you?" post, a reader by the name of 'Tim' asks:
Here's an early career problem that hasn't been discussed much on this blog: how do you deal with the long-distance relationships that often come up because of two-body issues? All sorts of suggestions are welcome.
Great question - and indeed I'm surprised we haven't talked about it before I've known more than a few academics who have faced the 'two-body problem', and I was in a long-distance relationship for a year myself (during my first job). So, I think it's a great issue to discuss!
My experience was fairly fortunate, and far less painful than I expected (though it was still difficult). My first job was a visiting position at the University of British Columbia, and my girlfriend at the time (now my spouse) could not move there and work. So, we agreed that she would stay in the US (in Arizona, where she grew up), while I tried to find a job back in the States. The first thing I did when I found out I would be moving to Canada was to propose marriage to her. I knew I loved her and wanted to spend my life with her, so it wasn't a hard decision decision at all--merely one that was probably hastened by the job-offer. Very fortunately for me, she said yes--and I think it helped put her much more at ease with the long-distance thing knowing the commitment was there.
Over the next year, we visited each other every two or weeks or so for a weekend, trading off who had to fly where. It was not easy. I missed her terribly, and she was easily the best thing in my life (my first year as a faculty member was very much an up-and-down affair, in large part because my sleep disorder got really severe from stress; I often couldn't sleep for 2 or 3 nights on end. I only got effective treatment for it several years later after a couple of years in Tampa). Anyway, if anything, the time and distance away from each other only brought us closer. It did, however, prompt me to take a significant career risk for the sake of our relationship. My visiting position at UBC was technically a two-year position--so I could have stayed another year. Since UBC is also a highly-ranked research institution, staying there may have been more advantageous in terms of pursuing a research-focused career (viz. R1 schools). Instead, because I wanted to return to the states to be with (and marry!) her, I chose to accept a renewable 1-year position at the University of Tampa--a teaching-focused institution. This may have changed my career trajectory, and it was not clear whether the position would be renewed for additional years--but I decided to take the plunge. Fortunately, things turned out well. Although I initially struggled when I got here, it turned out to be the perfect job for me: it was a full-time VAP position (with good pay and benefits), and they renewed my contract for six years, enabling me to develop my dossier to be more competitive on the market. In that regard, it was probably one of the luckiest things that ever happened to me professionally (though, again, it was pretty much luck -- I didn't know what I was getting myself into when I made the decision).
Still, our 'two-body problem' made things difficult along the way. My spouse applied and was accepted to a highly-ranked PhD program in Industrial-Organizational Psychology at the nearby University of South Florida--and on a number of occasions I had flyouts to universities in other states and countries that, if I had gotten offers, probably would have taken me away from her a second time. Fortunately for us, none of that happened: I ended up getting no offers from other universities until my final year on the market, when I also received a TT offer from my current institution. Once again, I got lucky, and I thank my lucky stars every day. She's still the best thing in my life (by far), and I'm glad fate didn't see to it that we had be apart any longer.
Anyway, this was my experience with the 'two-body problem.' Do you have any experience with it? If so, what was it? Do you have any tips?