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Commuter spouses: together, apart

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More and more frequently, online dating apps are becoming the answer to the question, “so, how did you two meet?” The widespread appearance of Tinder and other dating apps have changed the way people find and interact with each other, both in a positive and negative way. And just as the communication and social dynamics have changed with the creation of dating apps, so they have with the movement towards a different kind of relationship: the long-distance love.

Danielle J. Lindemann’s Commuter Spouses: New Families in a Changing World explores how married couples cope when they live apart to meet the demands of their dual professional careers. Her book gives readers almost one-hundred in-depth interviews with current or former commuter spouses that demonstrate the reflection, embodiment, and sometimes disruption of large-scale developments in the ways we think about gender and marriage, the ways we communicate, and the ways we conceptualize family.

Long distance relationships, spousal or otherwise, always seem to be cause for fascination. There is the immediate “Oh, no,” whenever I, myself tell people that I’ve been in a long-distance relationship for almost four years. This sympathy is quickly followed by “how?” How do you keep a steady relationship with potentially hundreds of miles between you and your significant other?

In my personal relationship, it’s all about keeping up with communication. But a lot of the time, it’s about finding those spare moments where you can reconnect with each other.

commuteIn one of her interviews, Lindemann writes, “One of her shared rituals with her husband Jim was ‘going grocery shopping together.’ Though Alexis and Jim lived fourteen hours apart, the couple would connect virtually via Facetime—she on her iPhone, he on his tablet—as they strode down their respective supermarket aisles, selecting food. Later, at their respective homes, they would cook meals ‘together.’”

It’s these moments of unity, of “living apart together,” as Lindemann describes it, that make the distance feel almost normal. My partner and I would sit in our respective university libraries five hours apart and do homework together over Skype. We didn’t need to speak during those online hours. We just enjoyed the presence of the other person, even though it was through a screen.

A little secret? It’s not easy, and we’re not even married. Effort is obviously needed, but patience is essential. And the largest requirement is the acknowledgment and understanding of your and your partner’s growth apart from each other.

This is one of the main points Lindemann makes in her book, the movement toward individuality and independence, especially in the career spectrum, and especially for women. Lindemann suggests that everything we know about marriage, and relationships in general, promotes the idea that couples are focusing more and more on their individual and personal betterment and less on their marriage. Commuter Spouses might be expected to exemplify that kind of self-prioritization, but the book tells readers that commuter spouses actually maintain a strong commitment to their marriage. The interviewed partners illustrate the “stickiness” of traditional marriage ideals while simultaneously subverting expectations, ultimately maintaining intimacy in a non-normative relationship.

At the end of her introduction, Lindemann writes, “. . . this book is not merely about professionals who live apart from their husbands or wives due to occupational demands. Rather it suggests that there are broader lessons to be learned from the way they live their lives.”

The social, political, and cultural aspects of the world are always changing and with that, priorities shift. This shift is obvious within the family sphere with the desire to have both a marriage and professional success. Lindemann skillfully uses commuter marriages as a lens to examine larger social forces, highlighting the ways that independence and interdependence can coexist and reinforce one another, a lesson couples everywhere, in every stage, could learn more about.

You can purchase Commuter Spouses: New Families in a Changing World , here


 

Kelly Auricchio is a senior at Ithaca College majoring in Writing and English and is a marketing intern at CUP. She enjoys travel, tacos, and a good pun. Kelly will be attending the NYU Summer Publishing Institute later this year.

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