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WEEKEND MARRIAGES -- "Mr. and Mrs. Ryan Sleep Alone -- Except on Weekends"

 

Marriage

By Danielle Flood

(From the Daily News Sunday Magazine page)

One of Peter Ryan's friends doesn't understand Peter Ryan's marriage. But then, a lot of people don't understand Peter Ryan's marriage.

Mostly, he sleeps alone. At night he gets very introspective, sits in his rocker and looks out the window. He thinks of his wife, Diane: slender, 5-foot-10, brown hair to the middle of her back, brown eyes, a ready smile, outgoing, candid, curious. He fills his evenings working on macrame, tying flies or playing squash. He says he's got to keep active. "If you;re not you just revert to contemplating what you're doing and it becomes very lonely. The key to it is lonely. Loneliness. Once you sit and realize how alone you are and you realize the person you miss is 300 miles away, it's very real."

Peter -- not his real name -- lives and works in Pittsburgh. Diane lives and works in New York. He, 25, and she, 29, have been married for 14 months and have never lived together. Peter's parents told them they'd heard of people living together before they were married but not living apart after they were married. Peter's friend says he doesn't see the point of being married if you don't live together. Peter says his friend is "thinking in terms of traditional relationships. We have a long-distance companionship. You don't need proximity to grow with another person."

Diane agrees. "We're a non-nuclear couple. We're like two electrons circling an atom. We're tied into a relationship but circling in our own orbits. I think we've proven to each other that we're each someone that we don't totally own. A lot of marital relationships are ownership relationships. We're married and we love each other and I don't belong to him and he doesn't belong to me. I just married the guy. I'm not going to divorce him just because I can't live with him."

Diane's phone rang. She held her watch out. "See that? See that?" she said like a child about to hit an amusement park. "What time is it?" It was 11 p.m. Long distance rates had just dropped for the night. She lunged for the receiver. It was Peter. They talk to each other only three times a day -- usually at 11 and twice during the day on their toll-free lines at work.

Work is why the Ryans and many other couples have a weekend marriage, also known as a commuting marriage or a long-distance companionship -- married couples living in separate cities who see each other on weekends. Rather than stifle career opportunities for either of them they've chosen to adapt the institution to their own needs. 

Call it marriage on the installment plan.

"Everything is strained," said David Rubin, 32, whose wife worked and lived in another city for 16 months. "If your marriage is not a strong one, it's not going to work." The situation usually comes with two high phone bills -- up to $100 a month -- two rent bills, two utility bills, huge travel costs and, among other things, two tubes of toothpaste. It's also physically tiring.

"You're trying to fit seven days into six," said a woman we'll call Caroline Saxon, a dentist who is studying a specialty in Boston while her husband, a businessman, works in New York. "I'm traveling two half-days, so I lose them." But there are advantages: "I've learned how to fix a light switch and figure a bank balance and Jason has figured out how to get his laundry cleaned and buy food. You realize when you think he wasn't doing anything, he was doing plenty. The other thing is, um, you fall in love again."

The number of couples living like this is impossible to figure. However, one Columbia University docgoral candidate said she interviewed 90 such paris. Some live with this arrangement temporarily, for a year or two. Others do it indefinitely -- such as the 60-year-old New York college professor who for 13 years has been commuting each week between Manhattan and his wife and children in a small Vermont town. Those who choose this lifestyle tend to be aggressive and highly educated or getting to be highly educated. They're a tame sort of jet set, defying the disapproval of their family, friends and acquaintances.

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They're a tame sort of jet set,

defying the disapproval of their 

family, friends and acquaintances.

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They say people assume all sorts of things. Some people assume their arrangement is good for their marriage -- that it will make it last "forever." Others assume that it is bad for their marriage or that their marriage is going bad.

David Rubin remembers calling his parents in Shakers Heights, Ohio, to tell them his wife, Tina Press, then an executive producer for CBS, had received a promotion that would require her to move to Philadelphia for more than a year. Rubin 32, is chairman of the Journalism and Mass Communications Department at New York University. Tina, 30, who has since returned to New York as a news assignment editor for CBS, felt she could not pass up the offer to be assistant manager of a Philadelphia radio station that was changing to an all-news format. Her parents in Palo Alto, Calif., understood. His? Well....

"They didn't give a damn about the promotion, said David. "The promotion was causing the split. We spent an hour talking about the split and not the promotion. My father was quiet throughout, which is an indication that he's unhappy. I think one of the reasons my mother was unhappy was that she had to wait to be a grandmother. One doesn't plan children when one is not living with one's wife. My mother did all the talking and questioning. It was: 'Is it the right thing? Is it really necessary? Aren't you worried about her?' And in the back of their minds they assumed what many people assumed -- that it was a trial separation. Those stories got back to us."

When Tina, who has been married to David for six years, returned to CBS in New York she found they had been the subject of water-cooler conversations. "Like the reason I went down there was that David kicked me out or that we had been divorced and were back together. Anybody who knew us knew what the situation was.

"It's still rather peculiar for a woman to leave her husband for a job. (In Philadelphia) there were those people who thought I either needed a lot of support or sympathy or that what I was doing was really awful and I was a hard-driving tough person."

People assume. "People don't relate to it," said Caroline. "They look at you like you have two heads. They say, 'Why do you do it?' I'm not a feminist and I'm not part of the feminist movement but people assume you are."

 


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"I think it's especially hard on the female member of the pair," says Albert Gollin, 46, a sociologist who lives in Washington, D.C., with his two children and whose wife, Gillian, is chairman of the Department of Religion at Columbia in New York. Why? "Because of the traditional attitude, the assumption that a woman on her own is more accessible. There are still people who feel that a woman who goes out in public on her own is somehow advertising her own availability. There is some reluctance to believe that a woman has a mind of her own and morals to match."
 
Peter, a political and economic analyst for a major oil company, says, "I know the scuttlebut in Pittsburgh is 'What's keeping him going?' The general public does assume infidelity. And everyone assumes the situation makes for terrific weekends and it does. I look at my wife as a hot date at the end of the week."
 
His hot date's dishwasher usually gets filled on weekends, which Peter says are "concentrated." They entertain friends in the $500-a-month New York apartment, a one-bedroom on the 34th floor with a view of the Roosevelt Island Tramway, the Queensboro and Triborough Bridges and the water traffic on the East River. "Anything that catches our fancy, we do," says Peter. If it's a rainy day, he might play squash "over the AC" (that means the New York Athletic Club). Or he'll go down the street and lean on the television repairman with whom they've been having a running battle and who seems to respond better to a man with two degrees from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy (Peter) than a woman with an MBA from Harvard (Diane). Sometimes they'll just sip rum and tonics and talk aobut work. "I have to ask a lot of questions which are sometimes redundant for her.  She's dealing with things every day. We have a long-term tanker project that's basic to me because I'm dealing with it every day. And it's the same with me when she's telling me about a station problem." (Diane has a managerial job with a network.) Or they'll talk about schedules, weekends to come, the future -- or furniture. They've been able to acquire very few pieces although each makes about $20,000 a year. 
 
"We have saved..." says Diane, her eyes searching the ceiling. "We have saved almost no money." Most of it goes to the cost of a marriage held together by bus or taxi, Allegheny or TWA (round trip excursion between New York and Pittsburgh is $78), and Carey limousines. They have seen each other every weekend, save one when Diane had to attend a convention, since they were married. 
 
Peter says that he does the traveling 80% of the time. They prefer New York because there is more to do here. Besides, the New York apartment is their showcase. Peter lives in a $210 apartment, also with a magnificent view. My place is functional because it's only temporary. It has books, cases for the books, a desk for my work, and I've got, you know, a bed. Period."
 
He does not see staying in Pittsburgh for more than two years. "That's all I need to get going. And then I'm salable inside or outside the company." Diane says she won't go to Pittsburgh. "There are very few executive women in Pittsburgh, period. The city itself doesn't offer that much, culturally and socially. I kept asking Peter to introduce me to a woman who worked and I just found they were a very rare breed."
 
Peter usually gets in late Friday night and they'll have a drink and "catch up." But others who live or lived with a similar arrangement say that doesn't sound odd at all. Because Fridays are fragile.
 
"We always have problems on Fridays," says Peter. "Some ridiculous type of thing -- getting luggage, some reaction or reconciliation. It's awfully difficult to shift gears."
 
There were Fridays when David and Tina weren't ready to deal with each other. "Occasionally," said David, "when I go down to Philadelphia she would still be the independent loner. At work she would have to boss people and be managerial and she would be in a certain frame of mind and I would kind of come down and be on her turf. She wasn't ready to deal with me as her husband. I was a person. It takes time to pick up the threads. When you're living together, you're sharing. There isn't too much going on that the other doesn't know about. There are cues and expressions and attitudes -- those things are often bits of glue. So you're picking up,
 
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...Fridays are fragile.
 
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establishing the common ground of your lives together. Sometimes it's easy and sometimes it isn't. Sometimes you can do it right away. Sother times it takes overnight to unwind. We were both aware of it. It helps to be aware.
 
Perhaps Friday nights are an even more "intense period of communication" for the Gollin family in Washington than for others. Its members don't usually speak to mother and wife Gillian during the week when she's living in her studio on Riverside Drive, near the teaching job she's had at Columbia for four years. "You kind of save things up for each other," says Albert, who usually picks her up at the train station. "Then often we go out to dinner or come home and have dinner with the kids and the kids have saved up things to talk about too.
 
"It works well. I think a lot of it has to do with the maturity of the kids when she began in 1973. Then they were 9 and 11. They had been trained deliberately on our partto be as independent as possible. It means constantly encouraging them to make decisions on their own, presenting them with alternatives and involving them in family decisions as much as possible, given their ability to understand an issue."
 
A year before their mother went to work at Columbia Karin, then 10, and Mark, 8, traveled abroad by themselves. They were met by friends at airports and they stayed with their grandfather in the south of France, but when they came home they said they wanted no more babysitters.
 
Gillian thinks the arrangement has "forced them to be more independent." The children share in the housework, although there is a half-time housekeeper, who used to be full-time, and who Gillian says has been their "surrogate mother" since they were very young. They alternate cooking meals when their mother is not home, but she plans the menus on weekends. and shops. Mark and Karin don't mind their mother being away most of the week. "I like it fine," says Karin, "because I see her more now than I used to. When she's home, she's home all the time."
 
Typically Saturdays are "entirely taken for the home and children, shopping and errands." On Sunday Gillian and Albert will read the newspapers, do a little gardening around their four-bedroom Victorian house in Chevy Chase. Monday is research day, frequently at the Library of Congress. 
 
Monday night she calls a cab for the next morning. He other life begins then, when she goes "home away from home." She's up at 5 a.m., she's on the 6 o'clock Metroliner, and by 9:20 she's in her office, cushioned by a warm-colored rug, a blue couch, books, books books and a tray with glass jars containing instant coffee, tea bags and instant milk. "Hello, Lindt," she answer her phoney by her maiden name.
 
"I like it," she says -- the freedom, the independence. "You get used to it. A certain number of days a week are entirely my own. If I want to, I can work until nine at night and skip dinner." When she considers the question, "How would you feel if you had to go back to living with your husband all the time?" she pauses, then says, "I think I would miss the kind of freedom and independence I had."
 
She began working when her children were very young. "Originally I thought I would spend five years at home with them. I did stay home for two years. At the end of the second year I came to realize mothering was not the wonderful thing I thought it would be. I was impatient, bored at times. I didn't want to play building blocks with my daughter."
 
When Rosa Silver heard about Gillian Lindt, she blinked. "She doesn't take her kids with her?" asked Rosa, her dark eyebrows rising. "I couldn't do it," said the 31-year-old mother of Edward, 8, and Jinine, 6, and wife of Sheldon, 33, an assemblyman from the Lower East Side. He estimates tha when the Legislature is in session, so are weekend marriages for more than 100 of the 150 in the Assembly.
 
"My family is more important to me than a career," said Rosa. "I think kids need a stable family life to grow up stable. Even when you have both parents at home you don't know how the kids are going to turn out. If the mother's away and the father's at work I find it hard to see how a housekeeper is going to have the same feeling with the kids. Well I don't know. I'm not such an independent person. I'm not one of these gung-ho people to do it alone."
 
"Nighttime is hard," she says. "Something has to be on TV." On Monday nights shell play Scrabble with the woman across the hall. For a whie, she was into Victorian novels -- 200 to 300 pages a night -- but got sick of them. "If anything, I try to keep my spirits up. If I go out then I feel better 'cause if you stay home, what do you do after a while?" She looked around the living roomof their two-bedroom apartment on Grant St. There was nothing to be cleaned. The silver gleamed. The smell of frozen kosher pizza for the children wafted through the air.
 
For some, the weekend marriage can be a lonely affair. There are times when Shelden says good night to his wife on the state tie-line to New York, then goes back to his motel room -- which he prefers over an apartment because he's "not a cooker or a cleaner" -- and at 11:30, calls her again. There were times when Jason Saxon, who has a private pilot's license, didn't like the feeling that he couldn't be with Caroline in Boston, So he left his $375-a-month apartment, took a cab to Teterboro, N.J., rented a two-seater plane and flew to Norwood, Mass., a short ride from Brookline where she lives ina $375-a-month apartment, to stay the night. On loneliness, Caroline notes, "There's a dollar movie across the street, God bless it."
 
"A lot of problems can be solved by throwing money on them," said Jason. 
 
But money can't buy trust and one of the dangers of the weekend marriage is the possibility of a couple growing apart. "There are risks in developing your own lives, you inadvertently may develop separate interests," said Gillian. "So you try to give each other a sense of what each other's life is like." She added that it would have been very different if she had to work in a different city early in her 17-year marriage. 
 
But after 10 years of marriage, Rosa says she is still a jealous woman. "I might kid around and say, 'Shelly, whaddja do last night?' He says, 'You don't trust me.' I do trust him but I am jealous." Play around? "My husband wouldn't do that. Right?" She paused. "Of course he wouldn't. That he's religious, it helps, that he has values."
 
While some who have weekend marriages wonder and worry about infidelity, others don't . David's comment on Tina was, "She'll do what she'll do and I don't worry about it and to this day I don't know what she did (in Philadelphia) and I don't care. It's also mutual and she doesn't know what I did and she didn't care as long as it was discreet. What good would it do to talk about it unless it was serious and in the way?"
 
"Obviously," says Diane, "there's more temptation. Temptation to a certain degree depends upon availability. Every and any marriage undergoes a lot of change and strain and when those changes take place and you don't tell each other about them -- that's the reason for the divorce rate and it doesn't have anything to do with where you live.
 
"It depends upon how much you want to try and sometimes long distance makes you try harder."   
 
Copyright 1977 Danielle Flood
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 


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