The new long-distance relationship

A tough job market is forcing couples to find work in different cities

Published September 22, 2009 3:23PM (EDT)

Imagine this: You got laid off. But after six months of grueling job search and financial panic, after swallowing your pride and walking into the office of a temp agency, you've finally been offered the perfect position -- the kind of job that would be a rare coup even in prosperous times. In the midst of the recession, it seems like nothing short of a miracle. The only problem? If you take it, you'll have to move a couple hundred miles away from your main squeeze, who's chained to your current home by his own career.

According to the Wall Street Journal, this is the dilemma many spouses have found themselves facing since the downturn hit. The newspaper quotes the statistic that, in a study of 1,450 successful job hunters in the second quarter of 2009, 18.2 percent relocated for their new position. That figure is up from 11.4 percent the previous year. And it seems this economic crisis is separating married couples more than ever, as the number of two-paycheck households is higher than it was during previous recessions.

Among others, author Dana Mattioli interviews Donny Quinones and Elinor Soriano, who were married in May only to be torn apart two months later. Quinones, laid off in March, gave in to desperation in July and took a three-month contract gig four and a half hours away from home. He has already resigned himself to casting a wide geographic net to find a new job when his contract ends, and Soriano isn't sure she'll be able to follow him. Meanwhile, another couple is waiting out a contract project of their own, as Trish Kinney keeps their home and her job in New York state while her husband spends three months working 7,000 miles away, in Abu Dhabi.

Other families, like the Ayscues, have also had to worry about the housing market. When Sue Ayscue left her family to take a prestigious position, her husband planned to follow her after selling their house. "Instead," writes Mattioli, "it took more than two years, and three price reductions, to sell the four-bedroom home." And while Kenny Ayscue still plans to join his wife, he anticipates taking a pay cut when he lands a new job, after what he estimates will be a few months of searching. Mattioli doesn't go deep into the emotional toll of these relationships, but a brief quote from Sue -- "This is not the way I intended to live my life" -- speaks volumes.

At a time when unlikely and unbelievable trend stories pegged to the recession have become ubiquitous, Mattioli's piece rings true. These couples' stories are fascinating and frustrating, their resilience in staying together inspiring. But I find myself wanting more. I wonder, for example, about unmarried couples. Have their less-formal ties been disproportionately dissolved by a recession-era job market that has been especially rough on young people, who are likely to cohabit before or instead of marrying? Are uncertain job prospects nipping nascent relationships in the bud? And are singles prioritizing career over romance, now that the former has become such a challenge?

By Judy Berman

Judy Berman is a writer and editor in Brooklyn. She is a regular contributor to Salon's Broadsheet.

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