Geeks Rush In

Just in time for Valentine’s day, I was amused to find a special report published in Nature, entitled: Scientists in love: When two worlds collide. Inspite of the work I have to do, I found myself dropping everything else, and read this article twice. The reason? Because this article resonates with my own experience – or rather, our experience as a couple working in the scientific field. Like the scientist couples featured in that article, we too had to contend with certain problems at the start of our marriage, the two-body problem being at the forefront of it all. In physics, the two-body problem pertains to the calculation of paths of two objects in orbit with each other. For couples whose careers are in science, this refers to the problem of finding work not just for yourself but also for your spouse. This is a problem for most women scientists because a higher percentage of them are married to scientists like themselves.

Geeks can be romantic, too. Got roses for Valentine’s. Again. Hey, I’m not complaining!:)

When Baggy and I embarked on our studies here in Japan (courtesy of Monbusho), we got separated (again courtesy of Monbusho). He went to Osaka while I was flung to Sendai, then afterwards to a sleepy place called Yamagata (yeah, I know, where the heck is Yamagata?). If you don’t have an idea of how far Osaka is from Yamagata, think Manila-Davao. It’s that far. But we were not yet married then, and we had our studies and research to keep us preoccupied. We emailed each other every day. And we called each other every day – a luxury which inadvertenly amounted to huge telephone bills, and ate up a significant part of our stipend. But being apart has its perks, too. For one, it brought out the romantics in us. Consider this poem from Baggy, which he wrote for me when I was in Sendai:

I am in Osaka and you are in Sendai,

But my love for you will never die!

This, folks, is my Baggy, the physicist who NEVER writes poems. You can’t blame him for trying!:P

This wedding photo, taken in 2001, aptly describes the first years of our marriage: together, but apart. :)

After graduation, we finally got married. Oh, what joy! By then I had already relocated to Tsukuba for work while Baggy remained in Osaka for his postdoc. Tsukuba is now closer to Osaka than Yamagata, but it is still a good one hour away by local train, aside from the three hours of travel time by shinkansen (bullet train) from Tokyo to Osaka. But we thought, if we had endured the Osaka-Yamagata affair, Osaka-Tsukuba would be a cinch.

It was clear to us from the moment we said our vows that there was no easy solution to the long-distance affair. We decided to let things be, and embarked on our own commuter marriage. We dubbed it our “shinkansen love affair,” because Baggy had to take the shinkansen every other weekend just to be with me. Needless to say, it was an expensive love affair (roundtrip costs about 25,000 yen, or 250 dollars). We called each other everyday, aside from the usual morning emails and instant messaging. The important thing was to keep the communication alive – the virtual connection over the internet was instrumental in keeping us together.

Things got more complicated when I got pregnant. I cried rivers of tears when I found out that I was pregnant. Why? Because we still hadn’t solved the two-body problem yet, and here we were faced with a “three-body” problem! Well, now that’s just the perfect solution, isn’t it? Add another body to the equation! All throughout my pregnancy, except for the last month, I was on my own, alone, save for the precious weekends that Baggy was able to join me.

We had a brief respite, though. By the time Aya was about to be born, Baggy was able to get a temporary position in Tsukuba, albeit for only two short months. After that short appointment he went back to Osaka again for work. I wasn’t alone anymore, sure, because I had my baby with me. But to care for a baby on my own, on top of my work? It’s simply impossible. I don’t work on a 9-5 shift. Everyone knows that those who do bench work face long hours of experimenting and writing papers – and that’s the very reason why we operate on a “flex” schedule. So for those crucial months I relied on the help of my parents, sisters, and relatives. I couldn’t have possibly survived without their help!

I continued my work in Tsukuba, while Baggy finished up his postdoc in Osaka. Through a referral from his professor, he was able to get another postdoc work at the same institute I was employed in, although he was employed in the Osaka branch of our institute. Fortunately, thanks to referrals and connections, the opportunity to work in Tsukuba soon presented itself, and now he works in Tsukuba with me. Aya was already 2 1/2 years old by the time he joined us here in Tsukuba. This is nirvana! It took years, yes, but somehow we were able to achieve it. It was simply…sweet.

It’s not permanent, though. We are now at the threshold of yet another perturbation. The system isn’t stable, no matter how much we would want it to be. And I believe that this would only be one of the many. We are only a three-body affair now, but we are leaving room for “many bodies” in the future (*wink*). But know what? We’ve done it before, and I am certain that we can do it again. I’m content that we can have the best of both worlds – family and career – even if we have to make compromises along the way. It’s our life, after all, and damn if we wouldn’t try our darnedest to make it work.

For our sake and Aya’s sake, we will make it work.

Before I end, here are the tips I lifted from the Nature article, for newlyweds out there who are about to embark on the greatest adventure of their lives. Keep the faith, guys! :)


Tips for newlyweds

If you’re looking for a dual appointment

  • Be willing to make some compromises. Make sure you agree on what’s acceptable and what’s not in your careers and your family life.
  • Publish. Then publish again. The more brilliant the candidates, the easier it is to place them.
  • Be active in professional societies to gain recognition in the wider research community.

If you’re going to have a ‘commuter marriage’

  • Communicate. It’s important to talk every day, no matter what.
  • Both partners should feel at home in both cities, with belongings in both locations.
  • Make your time together count by clearing your respective schedules.

If you want to start a family

  • Alternate your work or teaching schedules so that one partner is always available to stay home with a sick child. This saves on childcare costs.
  • Set aside ‘family time’ so the children build healthy relationships with both parents.
  • Look for a department with ‘family friendly’ policies and a supportive infrastructure.

If you’re putting it back together after years of commuting

  • Make sure each of you has a private space in the home where you can retreat if necessary.
  • Expect some friction at first, as you adjust to the compromises of communal living.
  • Consider buying a new house, or embarking on a joint project in which you are building your future together.
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32 Responses to Geeks Rush In

  1. mitsuru says:

    Yes, geeks do fall in love, too. :)

    Happy Hearts Day!

    just passing by….

    care to link up?

  2. bing says:

    hi. guess everybody has this sweet love story to tell. though i found yours as even more challenging. it’s even amaxing that your hubby finds time to write those seet lines.

  3. Leah says:

    Oh, how sweet – 30 long stemmed roses. Divine ..oh so divine. I just cant help but gush.

    I’m sure Valentine’s was sweet…so I’ll say enjoy the rest of the day and the weekend too:-)

    btw, I’m having a hard time with the spam-prevention image. Is it just me?

  4. Jaypee says:

    Hi Kathy! Thanks for dropping by my blog and leaving a comment.

    Those roses are very beautiful! :)

  5. hazel says:

    Wow! ganda ng story nyo ha! kilig! :)

  6. raquel says:

    hi kathy! lovely story! can relate to the LDR thing, only I gave up my science affair to be here with him. and whats with geeks and roses? i received the same and had it arranged the same way in your pic, only mine was pink! kudos!

    i’ll link u sa blog ko ha! :)

  7. verns says:

    okay another positive testimony for the so-called long distance love affair. I’m gathering positive energey for this kind of relationships hehe

    Beautiful flowers Kathy. I wonder when I will receive my bunch of red roses :)

  8. bw says:

    Boy, looks lke you and your hubby have a lot in common being both scientists :) Do you think alike ? Just curious he he:)

    I know the feeling of a long distance relationship. I’ve experienced it albeit a year only. It’s so difficult :(

  9. kathy says:

    Mitsuru, thanks for dropping by. Sure, let’s link up! :)

  10. kathy says:

    We’re actually fortunate that we are in the same country. I could just imagine how much more challenging it is for other couples who are in different countries or time zones.
    Thanks for dropping by, bing! :)

  11. kathy says:

    Thanks, Leah! I know, I’m spoiled rotten, getting all those roses for Valentine’s. :)
    Oh, I’m sorry if you’re having difficulty with the spam-prevention image. I wonder why that is? Unfortunately, we have to keep it this way because we have already been spammed many times before. :( I hope this won’t keep you from posting, though!

  12. kathy says:

    Jaypee! Thanks for dropping by again. Do you mind if i link you up?

  13. kathy says:

    Raquel! Happy to see you here. Sure, let’s link up. I’ll add you to my blogroll too.
    You got pink roses arranged in the same way? Haha, maybe they both ordered from the same online store? lol

  14. kathy says:

    I can only wish that all long-distance relationships survive, but in reality it’s not all rosy and happy endings. It takes a lot of effort to sustain such a relationship, and both parties should be willing to make sacrifices.

    Red roses? Naku, just you wait Verns. It’ll come, it’ll come. :)

  15. kathy says:

    Oh yes, we’re on the same wavelength, so to speak. But with regards to your question – well, yes and no. We’re just like any normal couple, having similarities and differences. (hehe, safe answer! :P)

    LDRs are truly challenging. Good thing you only had a year. Imagine, in our case we endured it for 8 looooong years!

  16. kathy says:

    Really? I never really thought of it that way, hehe. Thanks! :)

  17. dimaks says:

    I heard, as time goes by, couples especially husband and wife tend to be look alike. Now being both scientists is a start. Do you agree with this kathy? 😛

  18. Jaypee says:

    You’re welcome! Of course not, I’m adding you too to my blogroll. Have a good weekend! :)

  19. rhodora says:

    Awww… I’m so ‘inggit’.. Two dozens ba yan? Huhuhu! Anyway, he promised to give me 26 roses on our 26th wedding anniv next month… that’s enough consolation. Hehehe

  20. Belle says:


    oh my! beautiful roses! I also received red roses after I reminded him of the Valentine’s Day..hehehe.

    When you love each other, you can overcome everything.

  21. annamanila says:

    Wonderful geek lovestory. Sarap basahin ang struggles you’ve been through an how you overcame. Sabi nga .. wala namang masarap na di pinaghirapan. Dami pang darating na challenges. If anyone can do it, a pair of geeks will. Congrats. Enjoyed this piece. :)

  22. kathy says:

    Yay! Thanks Jaypee. Have a good one, too. :)

  23. kathy says:

    Look alike? That will be a compliment to…him…hahaha. Shucks, what if the day comes when people say that I married my “brother”? 😀

  24. kathy says:

    Actually it’s 30. 😛
    Naku ha, sige we’ll wait for you to post pics of your 26 roses in your blog…pressure para sa hubby mo. :)

  25. kathy says:

    Thanks Belle! And you got red roses too! Wonderful!

    Wow, what a romantic way of putting it. Love conquers all, indeed.

  26. kathy says:

    Oh anna, thank you so much! Know what, it was only until I wrote this piece that I realized how much we had been through already, how tough it was then. Ang payat ko nga non, sobrang stressed kasi. (And now that I’m plump and all, maybe I need more stress in my life to lose some weight, haha.) I’m sure there are challenges ahead – thanks for the words of encouragement. We’ll do our best! :)

  27. Toe says:

    Oh, what a wonderful love story Kathy! I love the poem Baggy wrote. It’s great that you were able to get through the 2-body problem. Happy Valentine’s Day!

  28. kathy says:

    Thanks Toe! (*blush*) Happy Valentine’s Day to you too! (kahit belated)
    Yes, we’ve been through some really challenging times. I can only hope that our experience has made us stronger to face the next ones. 😉

  29. Gina says:

    “Absence makes the heart grow fonder.” In your case, it did!
    Happy Valentine everyday!

  30. kathy says:

    How true, how true! We’re quite fortunate that it has worked to our advantage. :)

    (Belated) happy valentine’s to you too!

  31. lai says:

    any suggestions for a topic like, “If you’re single, hot and smart but still loveless” wehehehe.

  32. kathy says:

    A better topic would be:

    “If you’re single, hot and smart, AND willing to be loveless…”

    hehe, just messing with you! 😛

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