If you ended up on this page after a Google search for open marriage arrangements, sadly, you’re in the wrong place. In many ways, Denny and I have had a very traditional relationship. We met, dated for four years, and then got married. We lived together in Chicago, Milwaukee, and now back to Chicago, and we plan to have kids in the future. However, our relationship is also very different from most people I know. In the seven years that we’ve been together, we’ve lived apart- sometimes in separate states- for extended periods of time. It’s a lifestyle that sometimes causes people to raise eyebrows, and I totally get it. I think it’s hard to explain how you can be husband and wife when there’s 1,800 miles between you.
Instagram filter throwback
Denny and I met in 2011 when we were both getting our careers started. He had just finished law school in Milwaukee, and I was a full-time occupational therapy student in Chicago. Unbeknownst to me, he was actually living with a friend in South Bend, Indiana when we went on our first date, and he found a job and moved to Chicago within three weeks so we could be in the same city. (Most girls would find this romantic. I think it makes him sound like a serial killer- which I have since told him.) Within the first few months of us dating, he began to talk more about his true passion- working in politics. He had participated in the Act 10 protests in Wisconsin, and it had struck a chord with him. Personally, I was never very active in politics, and I knew nothing about the careers or lifestyle in that sector. Turns out, it involves a lot of moving around. On our first date, I told Denny that I would never leave Chicago, and he took that to heart. However, I also supported his decision to pursue an opportunity on a campaign in Wisconsin, and then Michigan.
I graduated from OT school in 2013, and I was lucky to find a lot of job opportunities since it’s a growing field. Denny was between campaigns and wasn’t sure where he’d end up next, and I couldn’t wait around to find a job (helloooo student loans). Of course, he got a job in Wisconsin a month after I’d started my new job in Chicago. For the next year and a half, we lived about an hour and a half apart. It wasn’t ideal, but we made it work. Neither of us are the best phone conversationalists, but we made sure to really enjoy our weekends together and appreciate that time. I actually remember that period pretty fondly. I’d leave work on Fridays, drive up to Milwaukee, and we’d spend the weekend on our own mini-vacations (well, for me).
Apparently, I really loved this filter.
I’d be leaving out a really important factor in this whole story if I didn’t say that I tend to be fiercely independent. I also crave a lot of alone time, and, no matter how much I love someone, there are times I just want to be by myself. This is compounded when I’m tired and stressed… so basically the entire first year of working a new job. In a way, I think we both kind of benefited from having so much space. We got to focus on our new careers without feeling guilty that the other person was being neglected. I know it’s not an arrangement or relationship that would work for everyone, but it worked for us.
Once we were engaged, we were both ready to (finally) be living together. I was also feeling burnt out at my job and ready for a new setting. Suddenly, the girl who declared she’d never leave Chicago was apartment-hunting in Milwaukee. I’ve written about our time in Milwaukee before, and there were so many things about it that I loved. We lived in the cutest neighborhood, had good jobs, and spent tons of time together. Unfortunately, I could never make it feel like home, and my previously-managed anxiety returned with a vengeance. There was a long series of changes with Denny’s job, and we decided it was time to leave Wisconsin.
In London right after we got engaged
One of the hardest parts about Denny’s career is that it can be pretty unstable. A lot of it depends on who you’re working for, what campaigns are happening, and who has money to hire you. It’s basically like being self-employed- except you don’t always get to call the shots. We have to touch base every few months and see how we’re both feeling about where things are at. I admit that I love stability and predictability so there are times I definitely wish Denny had a 9-to-5 job. However, I’m so proud of the work he’s doing, especially given the insanity and ugliness of politics over the past few years. When we left Wisconsin, Denny worked for a few months in Nevada, and then he spent a few months working small, short-term jobs. Even though we were living in the same place, it was actually harder because we didn’t know what was next, and I’m sure Denny felt frustrated that he wasn’t finding the job he wanted. Thankfully, a great opportunity arose last summer, and Denny’s been pouring his heart and soul into it ever since. (Shameless plug- he’s currently managing the campaign of a badass democratic woman running for Congress in Wisconsin!)
Our rehearsal dinner
We don’t expect things to be smooth sailing from here, and we know that Denny’s field will always have its ups and downs. I’ve also had to be honest with myself and admit that being near my family and friends is so important for keeping my anxiety at bay. We’ve had a lot of conversations about what’s best for us, and it’s clear that home base needs to be Chicago. My family and close friends are all nearby, and that will be critical whenever we decide to start a family. However, there could be situations where Denny needs to work an out-of-state campaign or commute for a few months, and it’s something we’re okay with. I have a lot of friends with husbands who travel and, while it may not be ideal, they’ve been able to make it work.
San Juan 2015
Of course Denny and I would love to be in a situation where we don’t have to be faced with these decisions, but it seems more and more common in today’s work environment when both people are invested in their careers. I’ve worked hard in my job, too, and Denny knows how much my kids mean to me. While finding an occupational therapy job may be easy, I don’t do well with change and adjusting to a new work environment is stressful for me. We both try to be very mindful of each other’s careers while working to advance our own. I still feel a little self-conscious when explaining our non-traditional career and living situations to new people, and I tend to deflect any criticism with jokes. However, I’m trying to feel less self-conscious about it and instead embrace how passionate we both feel about what we do. In the end, you have to ignore everyone else and do what works for you.