Last week Jason Stanford, whose wife, Sonia Van Meter, is on the list of candidates for the first human mission to Mars, published an essay about the way people have reacted to their potential interplanetary long-distance relationship. “No sooner had a story about my wife’s astronautical ambition aired in Austin than strangers took it upon themselves to diagnose our obviously flawed marriage,” Stanford wrote. He felt defensive, and she worried her decision made her a bad wife.
As job searches expand to “wherever I can find one” (including, apparently, Mars), the normally low-simmering tension between work and relationships is increasingly distilled to a single big decision: Should I move away from my partner to take this great job opportunity? Ask him or her to take a leap and come with me? Or — for the partners on the flip side — should I uproot my life and follow? With employment prospects for twentysomethings in short supply and more couples delaying marriage, people are facing this dilemma at a younger age, usually before they’ve made a legal commitment to one another. In fact, the decision to pack up and leave together could probably even be considered a new relationship milestone, falling somewhere between “cohabitation” and “engagement” on the seriousness scale.
Of all the high-stakes life decisions of the pre-child-rearing years, it’s the one that crops up most frequently with the least historical precedent. And now that many women are breadwinners and many of us spend our 20s focused on building a career rather than a family, assumptions about whose professional concerns should take priority have dramatically shifted. A recent survey by Mayflower, the moving company, found that 72 percent of men in their 20s would move for a female partner, whereas only 59 percent of their parents’ generation and 37 percent of their grandparents’ would consider it. There’s still some stigma to being the one who follows, though: The survey didn’t say what percentage of women would consider moving for their male partner. But even women’s magazines, in their trademark cautionary-tale tone, tend to make moving for a relationship sound pathetic (“I Was the One That Had to Move”) or conflicted (“I'm Supposed to Be Moving for My Guy, But I'm Having Second Thoughts”), or at the very least passé.
Perhaps it’s time we let go of that stigma. As more relationships demand balancing two careers and their road maps, we ought to recognize that neither side of this decision is an easy one. Asking someone to move for you means making yourself vulnerable to their rejection; choosing to re-establish your life someplace new takes confidence and skill.
I’ve moved not once but twice to be with boyfriends, a fact I admit somewhat sheepishly. I’ve sworn up and down, more than once, never to move for a relationship again. But the truth is that moving, like almost everything in a relationship, is circumstantial. What was a really bad idea with one boyfriend at age 23 could make total sense with a different person at age 32.
Which is not to say it’s a decision to be made lightly. Transplanting a relationship is work. Relationships exist in an emotional ecosystem, supported and influenced by the friends and circumstances that surround them. When you mess with the external variables, introducing a new friend group (or remove friends from the equation altogether, for those moving to a brand-new city), plus new jobs and a new neighborhood, the whole relationship changes, too. Both times I moved for a boyfriend, it was hard to separate my personal unhappiness in the new city from my sense of resentment at having been the one to pick up and relocate. Neither, as you might imagine, had a particularly positive effect on the relationship I’d moved thousands of miles to preserve.
It’s no wonder some couples just opt to stay long-distance. Love from afar is fundamentally different in an era of texting and FaceTime, and a shocking 3 million married couples in the United States live apart. A full 75 percent of college students say they’ve already had a long-distance relationship. And in an article published last year in the Journal of Communication, researchers explained that several studies show long-distance couples aren’t always unhappy with their arrangement — and some are even happier than their counterparts who live in the same city.
But maintaining a relationship across time zones is not for everyone, or even most of us. And so it makes more sense to recognize moving for love is a now-classic dilemma, one that most career-focused adults will be at least faced with at some point in their lives. And maybe now that men and women are equally willing to move, we’ll collectively start to recognize that the person moving is not weaker or lesser-than. (It’s often when men find themselves in traditionally marginalized roles that our collective cultural perspective begins to shift.) After all, every couple makes compromises and trade-offs in order to stay together — a shift of physical location is just the most concrete.
Most Viewed Stories
The President of the United States Had a Big Day of Playing With Trucks
Report: Donald and Melania Trump Don’t Sleep in the Same Bed
GOP Senator Apologizes After Mocking Breast-Cancer Screening Coverage
52 Percent of Men Say They Haven’t Personally Benefited From Women Having Access to Birth Control
Cate Blanchett on the Judgment of Women, Face Mists, and How She’s Moisturized for Over a Decade
Former Thinx Employee Accuses Miki Agrawal of Sexual Harassment
Amy Schumer’s Boyfriend Ben Hanisch Has a Trick for Shooing Away Unwanted Photographers
Am I Cheap If I Hate Splitting the Check Equally?
Kate Middleton Opens Up About Her Struggles With Motherhood
Am I Finally Done With White Guys?
The Cut’s Latest Love and War FeaturesA Holiday Season Weekend Through London
A good guide for avid The Crown fans.It’s About Time You Learned Tove Lo’s Name
The singer has crafted pop hits you’ve heard a thousand times by now.Marina Abramovic Has Outlasted Her Lovers and, She Hopes, Her Critics
The world's most famous performance artist at 70.The Wing: Do Women Still Need a Space of Their Own?
This exclusive social club for women, is part sorority, part start-up.In Virtual Reality, Women Run the World
A new generation of female artists is making VR the most diverse corner of the male-dominated tech space.The Novelist Disguised As a Housewife
Shirley Jackson wrote 17 books while raising four children — and she couldn't have had a successful career without them.Ava DuVernay on Hollywood Racism, Modern-Day Slavery, and Why She’s Still an Optimist
The director, whose new documentary The 13th chronicles America’s history of racial subjugation, talks to Rebecca Traister about Bill Clinton, Newt Gingrich, and the modern criminal-justice system.What No One Tells Couples Trying to Conceive
It helps to be rich.The Hidden Black Women Who Helped Win the Space Race
A segregated unit of mathematicians born of desperation during World War II became the secret to NASA’s success.Slut-Shaming Squids Are Everywhere
The “Bermuda Square” comic strip is back.
The collaboration that dreams are made of.Good Morning America Host Amy Robach Apologizes for Saying ‘Colored People’ on Air
She quickly apologized.Unknown NFL Player Tries to Get Attention by Asking Aly Raisman Out in Video
That’s one way to do it.Don’t Mess This Up, Mischa Barton
Marissa Cooper is poised for a comeback ... maybe.California Votes to Remove Time Limit on Prosecuting Rape Cases
In light of the Bill Cosby case.Beyoncé’s Behind-the-Scenes Lemonade Photos Belong in a Museum
She had the "Boycott Beyoncé" sign already in formation on set.The Rise of the Male Celebrity Full-Frontal
An ex-publicist explains.Gabby Douglas Will Be a Miss America Judge
The gold-medal gymnast will help choose the 2017 pageant winner.Camille Becerra’s Photo Diary of Rockaway Beach
An ideal trip to add and cross off your summer bucket list.Sorry Nerds, Ian McKellen Won’t Officiate Your Expensive Lord of the Rings–Themed Wedding
Not even for $1.5 million.