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Commuter marriages.

For both love and career, these couples are willing to go the distance.

Ursula Burns, 33, is the executive assistant to Paul Allaire, president and CEO of Xerox Corp. In a typical month, Burns spends 40% of her time traveling with her boss.

During one month, Burns spent one in 10 days in her Stamford, Conn., office; the other days were passed jetting across international and domestic time zones--two days in Brussels, followed by four days in London, the next day in Dallas, and the rest of the week in New York City--for off-site meetings.

Burns is a careerist. She's also married. Her husband, Lloyd Bean, 53, also works for Xerox as a principal scientist in Rochester, N.Y.

While Burns is jetting between places accessing Xerox's foreign and domestic customer districts, Bean is in the laboratory developing new products. Lloyd and a fellow colleague developed the concept for one of Xerox's latest products, the highspeed color computer printer.

When do Ursula and Lloyd get to spend time with each other? "I see my husband two, maybe three times a month. We've been married for three years, but we've only had the same home base for one year. He lives in our official home in Rochester, and I live in a townhouse in Stamford," explains Burns.

Ursula Burns and Lloyd Bean are examples of a burgeoning married, dual-career, executive-level professionals, who commute to see their spouse a few times per month while pursuing careers in different cities.

In the late '80s, sociologists estimated nearly 700,000 couples in the United States were involved in commuter marriages. Although there are no definitive numbers, the U.S. Census Bureau expects the number of commuter marriages to rise as corporate America moves to further diversify the work force in the '90s.

Currently, the number of working couples make up one-half of all working, married couples and families. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 38.1% of both partners worked in 1970; by 1980, that number had risen to 46.3%. In 1990, over 28 million married couples, or 53.5%, both worked. Labor statistics show that today a person will probably change jobs--positions, careers or employers--at least four to five times over the span of a career. As a result, sociologists say we will probably see more commuter couples in the '90s.

This means upwardly mobile professionals approaching the new millennium must be more flexible. And, married black men and women competing with their white counterparts on the corporate ladder will probably experience a commuter relationship somewhere along their career path. Allen C. Carter, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist in private practice in Atlanta, is seeing this trend develop now.

"Atlanta has [recently] become the regional headquarters for many multinational companies. Over the past five years, I have counseled several couples who are involved in a commuter marriage as a result of working for a large corporation," says Carter whose clientele is primarily black. But, he notes that, "There is a history of long-distance marriage in our community."

While long-distance relationships may not be new to our community, having both a husband and wife working in top, executive positions making six-digit salaries and household incomes is. "I don't think we have had commuter marriages in the past," says Dr. Alvin Poussaint, associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. "Although couples were separated for long periods of time because of migration, it wasn't quite what we think of as commuter marriage today--two people going back and forth rather frequently, maintaining relationships, seeing each other when they can, and staying in close telephone contact because they're not living together in the same city."

Ursula Burns has been commuting between her job and her marriage for two years. She agrees with Poussaint: "Long-distance marriage is not new. The African-American family history is based on this kind of phenomenon, but the choice is new. Now we have the choice of being in a different financial stratum. Before, people moved to find work. Today it's people moving to progress up the ladder."

Together Ursula and Lloyd make combined salaries exceeding $150,000. But, there are the financial costs of maintaining two households. They are lucky, however, since Xerox helps to pay for the tab. "The company supports everything you have to spend to live away from home, including travel to and from seeing your spouse or your spouse coming to visit," explains Ursula. She says the company also helps offset the expense of her townhouse and telephone bills.

Through their personal sacrifice, both Ursula and Lloyd are achieving professional success. But there is a price. "There are times I wish that she was here," admits Lloyd, "and there are times she wishes I was there. However, the time we spend together is more focused, and we appreciate each other more."

Commuters With Children

When it comes to couples with children, a commuter marriage is usually not recommended as a long-term arrangement. Spencer Williams, 40, an engineer, and his wife, Lela, 41, a high school counselor in Augusta, Ga., have been married for more than a decade. They have three children and were not in the habit of living apart.

Last year, however, Spencer was offered a step up the career ladder that would take him away from his family and home. United Energy Services Corp., an engineering service firm based in Marietta, Ga., offered Spencer an opportunity to become an engineering consultant. "It was the next level of professional achievement," explains Spencer. He and Lela agreed it would enhance his career, while increasing their combined incomes to a six-digit figure. So he packed his bags, left his family in Augusta and moved 2 1/2 hours away to Atlanta.

Some weekends he would drive home and other weekends, Lela and the children would drive to Atlanta. "It was like spending mini-vacations," says Lela, "the children enjoyed it." But two months later, Spencer was boarding an airplane to fly 5 1/2 hours away to Denver to work and live for the next 10 months. Aside from the fact that Spencer would be traveling extensively to various sites working on projects, he and Lela did not want to take the children out of school in the middle of the year. The two of them decided it would be best for the family to make Augusta their home base.

For the first time during their 12-year marriage, Lela became the full-time mother, father, accountant and manager of the household. "I felt overburdened with added responsibilities," she says. "But as I settled into the idea of running the household by myself, I learned that I have strengths that I never gave myself credit for." Spencer agrees and points to an example. "Lela chose our home 45 days before I saw it and closed the deal without me. Ten years ago we wouldn't have been able to do that. Most couples regardless of race wouldn't be able to do that if they didn't trust each other. When you are in a commuter marriage you are in a partnership."

The partnership is working out, but the Williamses are a close-knit family, and Spencer doesn't like being separated from his children. Chelsea, 18, is Spencer's daughter from a previous marriage and is living with him and Lela for the first time; daughter Adrienne is 9-years-old and son Spencer IV is 7. While his company pays for his monthly trips home, he says: "You can't compare two days a month with being [there everyday] and being a good parent."

Psychologists say when children are involved in commuter marriages, parents must listen to and consider their children's feelings, too. "It is implied that a couple gets involved in a commuter marriage because they see some advantages for being apart," says psychologist Allen C. Carter. "They have an agreement for them to maintain two different households, but they also need to discuss and explain the purpose of the separation to the children. If not, it can affect the relationship between each family member."

"However," Lela adds, "there is a positive side. His separation from us is a sacrifice, but it's also rewarding because all of us spend more quality time together."

Sign Of The Times

Waltina Perry-Holston, 33, an economist for the U.S. Department of Labor in Atlanta, and Kevin Holston, 29, a metallurgic engineer with the Aluminum Company in Aloca, Tenn., have been married for only eight months. But the couple has been sustaining a 240-mile commuter relationship for the past five years.

Perry-Holston says she met Kevin while formerly working as an area wage analyst for the U.S. Labor Department in Louisville, Ky. "It was fate that we came together," says Waltina. "I had traveled for six years, and I had a policy about not dating anyone I met while traveling on business."

When they met, she had another month-and-a-half to work in Louisville. Her long tour of duty gave them time to get to know each other.

Since her position required her to travel 95% of the time, Waltina moved on to her next assignment in Memphis. She and Kevin began a commuter relationship, meeting each other halfway on weekends. "We started our commuter relationship early. His job was stationary. I had an apartment in Atlanta, but because of my job, I was only there once or twice a month to get the mail. My friends jokingly asked, |Do you know where your home is?'"

The Holstons would sometimes fly to meet each other on weekends, but most often they put the "pedal to the metal" and drove the 240-mile distance. The traveling back and forth continued even when Kevin went to the University of Georgia in Athens to get his master's degree in statistics. Waltina would try to get assignments closer to home, since Kevin was only an hour's drive from Atlanta. Unfortunately, most of her assignments were in Kentucky, Tennessee or Florida.

"Commuting couples are a sign of the times" says Kevin. "Today you have two individuals who may not be in the traditional |right place at the right time' because of economic and professional opportunities," he adds.

But, all relationships, traditional or nontraditional, require quality-time management. "The times you arrange together have to be taken very seriously," notes Dr. Alvin Poussiant. "You should not allow any infringement on it because of the shortage of time you have together."

After driving 107,000 miles back and forth on southeastern highways for five years, Kevin and Waltina were married in June 1991. Following a 10-day honeymoon, it was back to the commuter jaunting board--that was, until three months ago. In November 1991, the Holstons gave up their commuter-marriage lifestyle when Kevin began working as a statistical engineer for CIBA Vision Corp. in Atlanta, a division of CIBA-Geigy Corp. Now Kevin will have the opportunity to pursue his career while living in the same city with his wife.

Unlike the Williams and the Burns-Bean families, the Holstons bore the brunt of their commuter expenses. "Ma Bell took a big chunk of our money, sometimes as much as $600 a month," says Kevin. And while it only took $10 in each direction to fill-up either car, the couple estimates they have spent at least $20,000 over the past five years just to see each other. They now have a combined household income of more than $70,000.

"The issue of money can be the most confronting disagreement in any marriage," says psychologist Carter. "Married couples need to talk about money, especially commuter couples."

He adds: "Isn't that why each partner is living in two different places--to make more money, to provide a better lifestyle for their family?"

But, as corporate America promotes more women into decision-making positions and increases their salaries--although on average women continue to earn less than men--families will have to decide if they want to pass up larger salaries or live together on less income. Although similar to our foreparents during the black migration, today's choice is not based on the traditional male-female issue. It is a matter of economic practicality. The issue of commuter marriage is about two people with common professional and economic goals. "It is no longer |me or I' it's |us'," says Kevin Holston. "For the partnership to work properly it must be |our' goals."
COPYRIGHT 1992 Earl G. Graves Publishing Co., Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Author:Carter, Joan Harrell
Publication:Black Enterprise
Date:Feb 1, 1992
Previous Article:The Promised Land: The Great Black Migration and How it Changed America.
Next Article:Sojourn to Senegal.

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