Man in the Kitchen: Is Commuter Marriage the Way to Go?

Man in the Kitchen: Is Commuter Marriage the Way to Go?

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commuter marriage
Ken Carlton and wife Geri at annual holiday in France for quality time together. Photo courtesy of author

The conversation is always the same. I get on the plane. The person next to me asks if I’m going home or traveling for business. I say that I have two homes: I live in New York and my wife lives in Chicago. They ask how does that work. I explain we have a commuter marriage and travel back and forth every week.

“Oh really. How long have you been doing that?”
“Twelve years.”
The response is nearly 100% predictable. “Wow, that sounds awesome!!”

The gushing is so over the top I can’t even bear to mention that we have best friends in Paris and spend an inordinate amount of our leisure time in France, when not hopping around the states.

It seems my wife and I have not only managed to invent “The Hybrid Household” but in the same breath, we have unearthed a problem for the ages. Man and woman are not intended to live under one roof. At least not seven days a week, 24 hours a day. Too much time, too much togetherness, not enough space. People need to breathe. Relationships need air.

Ask anyone who does what we do. You’ll find there is a whole new marriage model out there, enabled by Face-time, the mobile office, and the growing equality of women in the workforce.

Where do I sign up?

Our happy little hiccup started innocently enough. We were both divorced. We met online. We flirted for a couple of months without actually meeting. Then she had a conference in Washington, DC – an excellent commitment-safe testing ground, hundreds of miles apart from either of our homes.

I flew down to Washington and we met at the appointed hour for one drink at The Watergate Hotel. She came out from behind an ivory column in a sexy black sweater, houndstooth skirt and stylish black boots. The glasses, Ph.D. and amazing work she does with at-risk women all over the world accessorized the look perfectly. A dozen years later, we’ve raised four kids in two houses with three dogs and we’re one college-admissions process away from being empty nesters.

So now the question everyone asks is: Who’s moving where?

Answer? No clue! We haven’t even considered it. And why should we? We’re happy. We’re in love. And we’re still interested in each other. Every single visit, in every single way.

Ken Carlton and wife Geri. Photo courtesy of author

The secret sauce

Before anyone jumps to the conclusion that we’re privileged or superior, let me add that during our copious travels we meet plenty of other couples who have similar arrangements. Inevitably it’s work-related. Someone got a posting or a great career opportunity, therefore someone is heading to an airport on Sunday night. Paris to Geneva. Brooklyn to Toronto. London to Los Angeles. It happens. What separates us is that we started out this way and feel no compulsion to close the gap. We live for our summer holiday together in the Charente-Maritime. The kids grew up under separate roofs and actually like each other. We don’t dread family reunions or the holidays because there is always so much to catch up on.

Sure there are times we miss each other and from a mundane household point of view, life could be easier. But isn’t it domestic ease that greases the wheels of boredom and dissatisfaction?

When’s the last time anyone felt stimulated poring over the bills or scraping lasagna off the dishes in the sink? We do that alone. It’s the rest that we do together.

Making it work

Before you start discreetly emailing your spouse LinkedIn ads for jobs in Shanghai, Frankfurt or Paris, there are a few rules to this game. We’ve consumed a lot of coach packets of mini-pretzels learning to make it work and we’re more than happy to share. One of our favorites: No hard talks within one mile of airport drop-off! Thirty seconds from goodbye is NOT the time to bring up your teen’s failing math grade, the upcoming layoffs at work, or the porn stash you discovered on the home computer. These topics do not marinate well over a week and twelve time zones away.

Man in the Kitchen Ken Carlton at his computer. Photo courtesy of author

Communication is key and in fact, distance sometimes enhances that which you don’t always get around to saying to one another at home. No matter the mileage apart, we are always good for the morning hello and the goodnight kiss. It might come by email, Face-time or Skype, but we don’t need a shared pillow to capture those moments. Sometimes they’re even more touching after you stare at the dead connection on your screen and think about your loved one closing her eyes a continent away.

A schedule is probably the biggest challenge and again, instead of it being a burden, it tends to reinforce the best parts of our relationship. Our motto is “get on the plane” and we show up ­– be it for the office Christmas party, a kid’s choral recital, or sometimes, a funeral or illness. No one ever said this is easy. But even the rough patches reinforce the bond we’ve created over the miles and years.

Miss the one you’re with

As I write, my wife is out to dinner in South Africa and I’m getting ramped up over morning coffee in New York. Last week we were together in Chicago for three days, stealing a visit between separate trips to L.A. and D.C. We have plans to meet each other next weekend in Brooklyn. After that, we’ll see. We always do. We’re religious practitioners of “live for the moment.” It’s not for everyone. It drives mothers crazy. But in this changing era of career mobility and modern fluid relationships, “now” feels like exactly the right time.

Charcuterie plate and wine. © Ken Carlton

Prosciutto Nights

In the spirit of bad weather, flight delays, taxi lines and the indomitable embrace of the unpredictable arrival, I offer up our cherished recipe for long distance romance.

Ingredients:

  • ¼ pound razor-thin sliced prosciutto
  • 1 container mixed olives
  • A healthy dollop of hummus or babaganush
  • Any delicious sausage or salumi
  • 1 chunk of aged gouda, manchego or similar
  • 1 extremely gooey triple crème fromage of choice
  • A freshly purchased, hand-torn crunchy baguette
  • One bottle Prosecco, Champagne, Sauvignon Blanc or a hearty red

Method:

  • Put kids to bed
  • Tidy up one private area of your home
  • Plate all of the above ingredients on an eclectic mix of your favorite dishes, boards and ramekins
  • Find some candles. Light them
  • TV, phone and Internet off. Music on
  • Greet loved one. Stow their bag. Listen well. Wait for wine to begin to work
Ken Carlton
Ken Carlton is an author and screenwriter. He is currently working on the screenplay for his latest novel, FOOD FOR MARRIAGE. He co-authored the award-winning memoir, THE HUNGER, the story behind Greenwich Village’s celebrity hotspot, The Waverly Inn. Ken wrote the "His Point of View" column for Cosmopolitan and appeared as a “dating expert” on Oprah. His television credits include shows on ABC, CBS, HBO and PBS. A New Yorker and Parisian at heart, he has written for President Jacques Chirac and scripted conferences in Paris for CNN and Fortune magazine. Never far from his passion for food, he is producing a documentary on the fishing industry in New England. Ken and his wife, a professor, split their time between Brooklyn, NY and Chicago.

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