I’m stuck in Atlanta, he’s stuck in Seattle

My work is here, his work is there: How will we ever get together?

Topics: Family, Since You Asked, Medicine, Coupling,

Dear Cary,

Some advice, please. I’ve met someone and don’t know what to do (the most pedestrian way to open a conversation with an advice columnist, no?). I’m 30 years old and finally starting to figure my life out. After taking the circuitous route, I’ve put myself through medical school and decided to pursue what I love: surgery. The hours and overall commitment are staggering and often overwhelming. But the truth is that I love the operating room and I love the concept of surgery. The patient’s problem is diagnosed and then definitively treated (as opposed to tinkering with meds, etc.). Instant gratification, other than the grueling training. I’m a New York girl but am doing my residency down in Atlanta. I don’t love it down here but often am too busy to notice or care. I keep my relationships at home close and make do with acquaintances here.

Through relatives of friends of relatives, ad nauseam, I met a guy. This guy had been talked up to me for months. “He’s perfect for you. He’s smart, he’s funny, he’s Jewish, he’s handsome.” I’ve never dated anyone that had been suggested to me — certainly not one by my parents. I was certainly not interested in meeting this guy. I’ve dated jerks and sweethearts and have been single for quite some time. Actually, my relationships seem to be getting progressively shorter and less significant as I’ve gotten older.

But back to this guy. Cary, he’s wonderful. He’s handsome, smart, funny and gives me butterflies. He just … fits. I think I’m falling in love with him. And of course he lives where? In Seattle. I met him one night when he was visiting his mother in Atlanta, not expecting very much, and ended up seeing him every night until he left (only a couple of days later). We talk every day. We are romantic and sweet with one another. I somehow have the feeling that this is “it.”

But he’s looking to settle down in Seattle. I’m in Atlanta for the duration of residency, which is five to seven years. Realistically, it’s idiotic to continue this. I don’t want to get hurt, I don’t want him to get hurt, and I don’t want either one of our careers to suffer. I only see this ending in pain — what if he moves here and we break up or I move there and we break up. We each are getting ready to settle down and seem to be getting pulled to opposite sides of the country.



I’m crying as I write this. I couldn’t really tell you why as it’s only been about a month. This goes against the grain of everything that’s being drilled into me at work in terms of decision-making. This is unrealistic and far-fetched in terms of getting a “favorable outcome” (i.e., a rewarding and lasting relationship) and if I were to counsel a patient about a risky decision like this, I would counsel against it. Still … it’s hard to turn away. And I need the advice of a specialist. Any additional information that you could give me on making the correct decision would be greatly appreciated.

Rx

Dear Rx,

Since you are a surgeon and don’t have much time, I figure I will dive right in.

It’s a four-hour and 44-minute flight from Seattle to Atlanta. Flying Atlanta to Seattle takes longer because of the headwinds, but Alaska Airlines plans a new nonstop Atlanta-to-Seattle flight beginning in October, leaving Atlanta at 6:10 p.m. and arriving at Seattle-Tacoma at 8:35 p.m. local time, making it a five-hour and 25-minute flight.

Say you agree to date long-distance for one year and then renegotiate. If after one year you think it’s working, OK, you could re-up for another year. Or if after one year it’s horrible, you could either break it off or one of you would have to move.

How’s that?

By temperament, you indicate that you like to get in and do the job and move on. This situation is more like a chronic condition. You’re not really into chronic conditions. I can relate.

That said, you are a realistic person. You may have become temporarily dreamy but you are basically a realist, as a surgeon has to be. So you can make certain decisions now, and then carry them out.

So that is what I suggest: Deal with this highly chronic situation that is full of contingencies by putting some very clear boundaries around it.

There is also the fact that his mother lives in Atlanta. As time goes on her presence there may become more significant as she needs more help from her son. That’s pretty long-term. But it’s something to think about. Relationships like the one you’re thinking about are pretty long-term, right?

But I’m boring you already, aren’t I? I’m sorry. You want something to slice into. Unfortunately, this is just the sort of condition that does not respond to the knife.

It’s sort of too good to just ignore, though, isn’t it?

Do I have any magical solutions? No. Do I have any larger thoughts? Yes. My larger thought is that I do not believe that our culture of academics and professionals has yet evolved a set of norms to handle what has become known as “the two-body problem.” It is too new. We all know about it and hear about it all the time, but we have not yet evolved the traditions by which, say, a mother can comfort a daughter who is facing such a thing, or a father can comfort and instruct a son. Families have not developed a lore, the way they have developed a lore of, say, how your ancestors came to America and made their way, or how they crossed the continent to the West Coast and made their way, or how they settled in New England and made their way.

So though many people face the same problem, a problem that has become quite common, they still feel alone in facing it. We are a bit marooned, are we not, in the era of constantly shifting problems?

Oh, I wish I could say something brilliant! I really do! But all I can really suggest is that you try to listen to your feelings but place careful boundaries around the problem. Stay rooted in reality, as when “swept off your feet,” you may make rash decisions.





What? You want more advice?

 

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët
    Kerascoët's lovely, delicate pen-and-watercolor art -- all intricate botanicals, big eyes and flowing hair -- gives this fairy story a deceptively pretty finish. You find out quickly, however, that these are the heartless and heedless fairies of folk legend, not the sentimental sprites beloved by the Victorians and Disney fans. A host of tiny hominid creatures must learn to survive in the forest after fleeing their former home -- a little girl who lies dead in the woods. The main character, Aurora, tries to organize the group into a community, but most of her cohort is too capricious, lazy and selfish to participate for long. There's no real moral to this story, which is refreshing in itself, beyond the perpetual lessons that life is hard and you have to be careful whom you trust. Never has ugly truth been given a prettier face.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
    Squarzoni is a French cartoonist who makes nonfiction graphic novels about contemporary issues and politics. While finishing up a book about France under Jacques Chirac, he realized that when it came to environmental policy, he didn't know what he was talking about. "Climate Changed" is the result of his efforts to understand what has been happening to the planet, a striking combination of memoir and data that ruminates on a notoriously elusive, difficult and even imponderable subject. Panels of talking heads dispensing information (or Squarzoni discussing the issues with his partner) are juxtaposed with detailed and meticulous yet lyrical scenes from the author's childhood, the countryside where he takes a holiday and a visit to New York. He uses his own unreachable past as a way to grasp the imminent transformation of the Earth. The result is both enlightening and unexpectedly moving.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Here by Richard McGuire
    A six-page version of this innovative work by a regular contributor to the New Yorker first appeared in RAW magazine 25 years ago. Each two-page spread depicts a single place, sometimes occupied by a corner of a room, over the course of 4 billion years. The oldest image is a blur of pink and purple gases; others depict hazmat-suited explorers from 300 years in the future. Inset images show the changing decor and inhabitants of the house throughout its existence: family photos, quarrels, kids in Halloween costumes, a woman reading a book, a cat walking across the floor. The cumulative effect is serene and ravishing, an intimation of the immensity of time and the wonder embodied in the humblest things.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
    The legendary Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist delivers his debut graphic novel at 85, a deliriously over-the-top blend of classic movie noir and melodrama that roams from chiaroscuro Bay City to Hollywood to a USO gig in the Pacific theater of World War II. There's a burnt-out drunk of a private eye, but the story is soon commandeered by a multigenerational collection of ferocious women, including a mysterious chanteuse who never speaks, a radio comedy writer who makes a childhood friend the butt of a hit series and a ruthless dame intent on making her whiny coward of a husband into a star. There are disguises, musical numbers and plenty of gunfights, but the drawing is the main attraction. Nobody convey's bodies in motion more thrillingly than Feiffer, whether they're dancing, running or duking it out. The kid has promise.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis
    This is a weird one, but in the nervy surreal way that word-playful novels like "A Clockwork Orange" or "Ulysses" are weird. The main character, a teenage schoolboy named Scarper Lee, lives in a world where it rains knives and people make their own parents, contraptions that can be anything from a tiny figurine stashable in a pocket to biomorphic boiler-like entities that seem to have escaped from Dr. Seuss' nightmares. Their homes are crammed with gadgets they call gods and instead of TV they watch a hulu-hoop-size wheel of repeating images that changes with the day of the week. They also know their own "death day," and Scarper's is coming up fast. Maybe that's why he runs off with the new girl at school, a real troublemaker, and the obscurely dysfunctional Castro, whose mother is a cageful of talking parakeets. A solid towline of teenage angst holds this manically inventive vision together, and proves that some graphic novels can rival the text-only kind at their own game.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    NOBROW 9: It's Oh So Quiet
    For each issue, the anthology magazine put out by this adventurous U.K.-based publisher of independent graphic design, illustration and comics gives 45 artists a four-color palette and a theme. In the ninth issue, the theme is silence, and the results are magnificent and full of surprises. The comics, each told in images only, range from atmospheric to trippy to jokey to melancholy to epic to creepy. But the two-page illustrations are even more powerful, even if it's not always easy to see how they pertain to the overall concept of silence. Well, except perhaps for the fact that so many of them left me utterly dumbstruck with visual delight.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Over Easy by Mimi Pond
    When Pond was a broke art student in the 1970s, she took a job at a neighborhood breakfast spot in Oakland, a place with good food, splendid coffee and an endlessly entertaining crew of short-order cooks, waitresses, dishwashers and regular customers. This graphic memoir, influenced by the work of Pond's friend, Alison Bechdel, captures the funky ethos of the time, when hippies, punks and disco aficionados mingled in a Bay Area at the height of its eccentricity. The staff of the Imperial Cafe were forever swapping wisecracks and hopping in and out of each other's beds, which makes them more or less like every restaurant team in history. There's an intoxicating esprit de corps to a well-run everyday joint like the Imperial Cafe, and never has the delight in being part of it been more winningly portrayed.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
    You don't have to be a superhero fan to be utterly charmed by Yang and Liew's revival of a little-known character created in the 1940s by the cartoonist Chu Hing. This version of the Green Turtle, however, is rich in characterization, comedy and luscious period detail from the Chinatown of "San Incendio" (a ringer for San Francisco). Hank, son of a mild-mannered grocer, would like to follow in his father's footsteps, but his restless mother (the book's best character and drawn with masterful nuance by Liew) has other ideas after her thrilling encounter with a superhero. Yang's story effortlessly folds pathos into humor without stooping to either slapstick or cheap "darkness." This is that rare tribute that far surpasses the thing it celebrates.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Shoplifter by Michael Cho
    Corinna Park, former English major, works, unhappily, in a Toronto advertising agency. When the dissatisfaction of the past five years begins to oppress her, she lets off steam by pilfering magazines from a local convenience store. Cho's moody character study is as much about city life as it is about Corinna. He depicts her falling asleep in front of the TV in her condo, brooding on the subway, roaming the crowded streets after a budding romance goes awry. Like a great short story, this is a simple tale of a young woman figuring out how to get her life back, but if feels as if it contains so much of contemporary existence -- its comforts, its loneliness, its self-deceptions -- suspended in wintery amber.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
    This collection of archetypal horror, fairy and ghost stories, all about young girls, comes lushly decked in Carroll's inky black, snowy white and blood-scarlet art. A young bride hears her predecessor's bones singing from under the floorboards, two friends make the mistake of pretending to summon the spirits of the dead, a family of orphaned siblings disappears one by one into the winter nights. Carroll's color-saturated images can be jagged, ornate and gruesome, but she also knows how to chill with absence, shadows and a single staring eye. Literary readers who cherish the work of Kelly Link or the late Angela Carter's collection, "The Bloody Chamber," will adore the violent beauty on these pages.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>