I have recently read some really great personal accounts of long distance relationships/marriages, particularly Marghini‘s guest post on Speaking of China and an older post at Texan in Tokyo. Currently living in a long-distance marriage myself, I find these posts really valuable in giving me food for thought and shaping my behaviour.
I never expected to be in this situation. I have been in long-distance relationships before, once for about 9 months, and hated it. I have also had relationships where I felt insecure and craved the certainty of marriage. Once married, I wouldn’t feel insecure. Once married, families stay together. If one partner goes somewhere, the other goes too, with kids in tow if applicable.
I can think of two conversations I’ve had on this particular topic:
1. My best Chinese friend from Beijing once told me that she’d like to do a PhD, but since she was already 22/23, she felt she should first get married and have a child. She could then think about doing a PhD, perhaps abroad. I said it might be better to undertake the PhD in her twenties, to get it done whilst she was young, free and single, and wouldn’t have to uproot her whole family. But she said she would probably leave her husband and family back in China whilst she moved abroad temporarily.
2. A Taiwanese friend told me about her 50-something father working and living in Beijing and returning to Taiwan a few times a year, where her mother remained. I remember feeling shocked that a married couple would make that arrangement and could bear to live apart most of the time, but my friend said that they had been married a long time, they didn’t need to physically be together.
Fundamentally, I was against it, so how did I end up in this long-distance marriage? Well, Chinese medical care is good and though not free, relatively inexpensive for a foreigner. Maternity services are also pretty good, however given what I’ve heard about how medical they treat pregnancy and birth, I felt it was important to birth my baby in my own environment, in my own culture and within my own timespan. I felt this could not happen in China. So whilst R continued his job in Guilin, I moved back in with my mum in rainy England. Looking back on my son’s birth, which was a positive experience, though not entirely straightforward, I know I was right.
Being separated from my husband has not been the challenge I expected. I miss him very much, mostly on beautiful sunny mornings, when I have a cup of tea in the garden, and in the evening when I’m watching my favourite TV show by myself. But I do not feel sad. This is the plan that we made together for the good of our family and I think because we both accept this is for the best, we cope pretty well and just get on with it. I am grateful that my husband is on the same page as I and has supported me every step of the way, even if he can’t be with me and our baby for now.
If R wasn’t Chinese, I’m not sure he’d have agreed. If he was also British, the issue probably wouldn’t have arisen. But I think when you enter into an intercultural relationship and particularly an intercultural marriage, you know deep down that there is a possibility that one day you may not be together. Visas, green cards, international politics could all potentially get in the way somehow. And perhaps China’s recent history of migrant work has led many to accept separation can be workable.
It’s working for us for now, but I hope we’ll all be together soon.