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What living 500 miles from my husband taught me about how to live together

(iStock) (xijian/iStockphoto)

For nearly a decade before we wed, my husband, Perry, and I were involved in an intense three-way relationship. Before you dim the lights and pour a generous glass of wine, expecting a torrid story about steamy encounters and late-night hookups, let me clarify. The third party is an airline.

Perry and I met in high school. Soon after, he honed his skills as a self-appointed bodyguard and personal guy-repellent for my friend Lori and me. Our dates begged to deal with our dads instead of suffering through an FBI-type screening from our imposing, 6-foot-6 friend. A few years later, I began dating the guy I eventually married. When my husband and I moved almost 500 miles away, Perry and I lost contact.

We reconnected about 20 years later, after our marriages to other people tanked. Months later, we jumped into a relationship with a 500-mile commute. His four sons lived with him, my two sons lived with me, and we each owned businesses in our respective cities. Living in the same Zip code wasn’t an option. Also, I had no plans to move back to my hometown, where he lived.

"Unless I mysteriously acquire amnesia,” I announced, “I’ll never move to your city."

"Why not?” he asked. “Your family lives here."

"Exactly.”

Although loading a moving van and heading to my hometown wasn’t in my future, my family was in favor of our long-distance relationship. Also, secretly, they hoped Perry would persuade me to move back. Our schedules and our children’s events dictated when we could get together, which was once or twice a month. During the first few months, we drove back and forth, but a 9-hour drive each way for a four-day trip soon became impractical. If our relationship was going to grow, we needed to rely on a third party: the airline. Scheduling flights months in advance and using mileage points we earned through our credit cards made our long-distance arrangement easy and affordable.

Why would two single people, each living in major metropolitan cities teeming with eligible partners, subject themselves to cramped seats and tiny bags of pretzels to spend only a few days together each month? Because love affects the rational part of your brain. It persuades you to book flights months in advance. It requires you to limit your friends to those who don’t mind making last-minute plans.

We maintained our erratic schedules of seeing each other every few weeks even after our youngest sons graduated from high school and left for college. Even when we decided to get married after seven years of dating, neither of us could commit to one city or the other because of our businesses. Either Perry and I believed one of us would cave and relocate, or we were delusional, another symptom of true love. After our wedding, our friends and family assumed one of us would move. Certainly, they thought, we would commit to one city. We still haven’t.

With our six sons living on their own, we compromised by agreeing to travel together. By maintaining a schedule of living one week in Perry’s city and the next week in mine, we can still be together. We continue to book flights months in advance to take advantage of lower fares, and other times, we commit to taking a nine-hour road trip.

Before we started traveling together, I was used to spending evenings alone in my city. My sons were away at college. Between binge-watching “Big Little Lies,” reading or taking online classes, I was a homebody. As the middle of five children and a mother of two children who always had friends over, I cherished my time alone. Still, I looked forward to the next time I would see Perry.

In between trips, we relied on texts, email and phone calls to stay connected. We grew closer because we were always making an effort to actively listen to each other, especially when we only had limited time to talk. Being apart pushed us to focus more on each other’s lives than we would have in person, where we might have been more likely to fall into a binge-watching routine, work a few extra hours in the evening or take our time together for granted.

While we were dating, the time we spent together in the same city was short, and we appreciated every minute. We strolled around the park, rode bikes and listened to live music at a dive bar downtown. We wondered if when we were together full-time, we would fall into a rut. Spending every day together was going to be an adjustment from our four-day visits, but one we were both ready to make.

Settled in our new arrangement and no longer facing a time crunch, we made an effort to pursue a few interests on our own. When I started spending more time in Perry’s city, I signed up for Krav Maga classes. I had always wanted to learn self-defense, and I was eager to make new friends. Perry set up a workshop to tinker with small projects. We’ve adjusted to our new normal of a few-seconds-long commute, make an effort to connect, and strive to appreciate the time we spend together.

After several years of dating long distance and one year of marriage, we continue to make our uncommon relationship work. We’ve explained our situation so many times, it now seems normal. In a few years, Perry and I plan to live in only one city: mine. He has more opportunity to expand his business here.

Until then, we’ll continue our threesome. Considering the airline has been an integral part of our relationship for so many years, it seems only right.

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