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?

 

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