Cross-Country Love: Our Academic-Army Marriage

I live in San Diego. My husband Steven lives in San Antonio. We’ve been a long-distance couple since I began grad school (and he began working as on officer in the US Army). San Diego-San Antonio is actually the closest we’ve ever been to each other: it took at least two flights plus a few hours in the car to see each other when he lived in Kansas, and visits were not possible when he was deployed in Kuwait. We’re grateful that a non-stop flight can take us from one city to the other, but it’s far from ideal.

We were even more grateful that I was able to arrange my teaching and research so I could spend two months in San Antonio recently.

We’d been married for over a year, and the two months we recently spent together were our first opportunity to live together. It wasn’t a test of whether we’re truly compatible (we are, we always have been), and it wasn’t a vacation. We did real life (albeit a different real life than we’re used to), and we did it while living under the same roof. It was wonderful.

Here we’re at San Antonio’s Riverwalk, decked out for Christmas.

In the mornings, I made his breakfast while waiting for my own tea to brew. In the evenings, he tucked me in as tightly as possible, a practice we began referring to as Burrito Rose. We went to the gym together and made jigsaw puzzles. I cooked most dinners, he cleaned most dishes. We spied on neighbors, I gave him haircuts, he did our laundry. We settled into a precious rhythm, and the two months were wonderful for the person at my core.

For my academic mind, though, they left something to be desired. As I expected, working remotely and Skyping into the necessary meetings was a little boring. But this was a small price to pay for the freedom of working from a location that strengthened my relationship with Steven. The time in San Antonio helped me realize how much I prioritize freedom to work on what I want, when I want, where I want, but I also really value working with other smart people. Having little imposed structure to my workdays and fewer obligations to fulfill than normal allowed me time and space to reflect on my values and how they’ll factor into priorities for my career, or at least for my next career step. I asked myself, do I really like research that much? But how much does this submersion in relatively isolated research reflect what a research career would be like? How important is geography to me? How much money is important to me? How much free time do I need? Should I just graduate and move on with my life? Or should I shirk the subconscious sense that external signs of “progress” are to be constantly striven for?

I’m so grateful that I could continue to work while spending two months with Steven. We probably benefitted more than we had anticipated, and I proved to myself that I can be productive while working remotely. I’ll be back there soon, and someday home will actually be the same place for both of us.

What’s marriage like?

I’m getting married today. In my remaining few hours as an engaged person, I’m engaging in my favorite way to reflect on a complex, complicated concept – a metaphor dissection.

What are the metaphors we use for marriage?

Our talk of love is full of metaphors. One of the most well-known in cognitive linguistics is that love is a journey: relationships can be on the rocks, take a turn for the worst, or cruising along. We also like to talk about love as a rock: a stabilizing, timeless force in our lives. Last night while watching a 30 Rock rerun, I learned that love can also be like an onion: “you peel away layer after stinky layer until you’re just. . . weeping over the sink.”

Maybe we can use a lot of the same metaphors we use for love to talk about marriage as well. But while marriages might involve figurative journeys, rocks, and onions, marriage is also something distinct from love. Since it’s a complex and abstract topic, it seems natural that we’d invoke metaphors to talk about it, but as I started trying to come up with them, I had some trouble. Thus, I called on Google.

This is what Google thinks marriage is like
This is what Google thinks marriage is like.

These Google results are a nice mix of clever (marriage is like a garden because you reap what you sow) and discouraging (like a deck of cards?!). But metaphors are often more hidden than this search would allow me to uncover – we don’t often say that “love is like a journey,” but instead just whip out journey-related phrases when talking about love. Here’s my second attempt at uncovering marriage metaphors through Google:

And this is what Google thinks that marriage IS. If this doesn't quell any pre-wedding jitters, I don't know what will.
And this is what Google thinks that marriage IS. If this doesn’t quell any pre-wedding jitters, I don’t know what will.

After this search, I decided Google wasn’t the way to go. I thought about phrases I’ve heard about marriage. We’re tying the knot. What knot is this? Do I really want to be tied to another person? Similarly, we’re getting hitched. Hitched to what? Last I checked the only things we really hitch are trailers to trucks. These metaphors are pretty uninformative and don’t paint the greatest picture of marriage.

Then what are the metaphors we should use to talk about marriage?

I don’t know first-hand what marriage is like yet, but I have spent a lot of time thinking about my expectations of it. I expect that it’ll require effort. The effort might be planning long-distance Skype dates, remembering birthdays, and biting my tongue when the toothpaste isn’t squeezed the way I like it to be. It’ll require compromises, sacrifices, and honesty. But when we both put in that effort and maybe some warmth, what we’ll get out of it will be much greater than what we could have otherwise. It should be pleasant, satisfying, and fulfilling. It should make us smile, and when we share it with others, it should make them smile too.

By this definition, marriage is not much different from an oven. You have some raw ingredients, you mix a little of some with a lot of some others, and then you immerse them in warmth to bake. You have to be patient for a while, but then you end up with a batch of fresh-baked cookies. They’re warm, sweet, and satisfying, especially if you take a moment to savor them. And you can share them with other people, give them a taste of one of life’s simplest pleasures. All thanks to the oven. I hope we can have an oven-like marriage. We’ll have to invest in quality ingredients and put in effort to them together in the right proportions. We’ll have to be patient. We’ll savor what we get out, and we’ll share what we can with others in our life.


Since an oven is not a very sexy metaphor for marriage, I look forward to coming up with new and better ones as we learn more about what marriage is like for us. In the meantime, we’re going to tie the knot, get hitched (to what? I’m still not sure) and get working on the first of many batches of cookies.