Our unexpected long-distance marriage

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.


8 thoughts on “Our unexpected long-distance marriage

  1. Was your friend in the first situation Chinese? It seems to be a very common attitude. One of my (Chinese) friend’s mom’s was pressuring her to marry her boyfriend. They were in a long-distance relationship. She was in Chongqing studying to become a doctor and he was working, hundreds of miles away, here in Hebei. Her mom said she should marry him and have a baby even as they lived apart AND she was in med school. Her mom promised to raise the baby for them! My friend decided against it and eventually broke up with her boyfriend anyway, much to her mother’s distress, I’m sure.

    I don’t think I’d come into a marriage or being a parent with the intention of being in a long-distance relationship, especially for the long-term. But things don’t always go as we expect. I’ll probably return to the US before my husband and the kids and it’s interesting to hear people’s reactions. Most Chinese friends and family think little of it but a lot of my American friends and family seemed somewhat appalled by the idea.


    • Yes, that friend is Chinese. Wow, that is a crazy situation, I don’t think anyone would choose that. And mothers/MiLs offering to take care of babies, that’s a whole other discussion!

      I get a lot of pity when I tell people my husband isn’t with me at the moment, people really are shocked. But we’ll probably do the same when we want to move back here, for a UK visa at least it seems the only way.


  2. Wow, it’s interesting that you were against it but did it anyway, but I can see why you did. In college, I dated a Taiwanese guy who said that his father also worked overseas (probably Beijing as well) and only visited his mother in Taiwan a few times a year, and they also sometimes spent summers in the Philippines I think… I remember thinking it was so strange and then my Japanese host dad (from when I was in high school but I still see them often) did the same thing and he moved to Tokyo for work while the family stayed in southern Japan. In America, mostly the only families who put up with that kind of situation are military families. My dad moved around a lot but once I was born, he was the only one who left (mostly on weekends or for a week at a time) if the army called him, but it wasn’t active duty like we have now.

    I am currently on the cusp of ending my LDR which has been over a year long, and I am so happy to finally stop being away from my fiance. I hope you get to see your husband soon!


  3. We did the LDR thing for over 3 years, but can’t imagine having to do it again now we’re married and have a baby. Has your husband met his son yet? Are you guys planning to be together again in the UK or China?


    • Yeah, he was actually here for the birth, and came back again when the baby was around 8 weeks, so we’ve had some very happy very special times together 🙂 I’ll be heading back to China this Summer, probably quite soon.
      How are you getting on with your little one?

      Liked by 1 person

      • Isn’t it the best to see your husband be all lovey dove over your child?! So much love in my heart for those two. Getting on pretty well, I think. Totally in love with him, and he’s growing well, not much more I can wish for at the moment. Ow, your family in England is going to be very sad when you go back to China with the little one…


  4. I can’t imagine a long-distance marriage, although with intercultural relationships it’s much more likely than I’d ever thought before. It also seems a lot more acceptable with international marriages. I think long distance always works best with a plan in place to close that distance as soon as possible. I hope you will be back in China soon!


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