By Elisa Batista
October 16, 2000
San Francisco, CA
(Copyright © 1994-2000 Wired Digital Inc, a Lycos Network company. All rights reserved.)
Despite 70-hour workweeks at an Internet startup in Texas, Mike Kilgore always finds time to play a practical joke on his wife.
Like the time he phoned her from a copy center in Dallas. Stacie Kilgore — a research analyst working at their home in Peachtree City, Georgia — picked up the phone only to be startled by Mike’s image blaring on a 32-inch television screen.
Stacie, 29, is used to seeing her coworkers on the monitor. The TV screen is part of the hardware that Forrester Research — based in Cambridge, Massachusetts — supplies so she can telecommute from Peachtree City.
Long-distance relationships aren’t new, but they have taken a different form in the Internet Age.
Men and women alike are being lured by the promises of Internet startups — sometimes taking one or the other out of town for long stretches. But with communications technology being what it is, the distances don’t have to be as burdensome.
So while Mike, 32, doesn’t have the necessary equipment to tap into the video line on a regular basis, he does have access to cellular phones, email and instant messages.
“We are able to have more quality time together on the weekends because we are able to plan and eliminate a lot of chores and tasks that would interfere,” Mike said.
Having grown up with a working father and stay-at-home mother in the sleepy town of Seale, Alabama, Mike can understand why some outsiders may view his marriage-and-work balancing act as “crazy.”
“My view was, you go to college, get married afterwards and start having kids,” he said.
It’s not quite like that for Mike today.
From Monday to Thursday, Mike is in Dallas working as the vice president of sales and marketing for Encentris, a developer of software that allows employees to work virtually anywhere.
Stacie works from Cambridge three days every other week — during which time their yellow Labrador, Izzie, spends her time in a Web camera-monitored “doggie” daycare.
Throughout the week Mike and Stacie constantly shoot off instant messages to each other, or call on their cell phones to firm up weekend plans — usually something outdoorsy like golfing and bike riding.
They rely on the Internet to complete household chores. Stacie calls Webvan to do her grocery shopping. Mike often consults online sources to help him with his yard work.
While no analyst could say how many couples have arrangements like that of the Kilgores, many marriage counselors are shaking their heads disapprovingly. Their workloads have swelled with long-distance couples in the tech industry.
Stephen L. Braveman, a licensed family, marriage and sex therapist with his own consultation in Monterey, California, says 20 percent of his 35 clients work in nearby Silicon Valley.
Braveman said tension can build when the spouse who works from home feels the “burden of holding down the fort.” And the spouse who is living away from home — in most cases in an apartment or hotel room — feels alienated from family life.
The strained tensions don’t end there. After being apart for the week, the tired couple faces extreme pressure to “re-bond” sexually, he said.
“Without planning this can be a real disaster,” Braveman said.
In Braveman’s worst cases, the spouse that lives away from home has broken trust with his or her partner through extramarital affairs or an addiction to pornography.
Joshua Kates, a licensed psychotherapist in Flemington, New Jersey, agrees.
“If you fill too much in a carton, it’s going to burst,” he said.
Kates advises couples in this type of relationship to speak intimately to each other throughout the week and not just the weekends.
“That’s when the planning or time management comes in,” he said. “Having a five-minute phone conversation is hardly being needy.”
The Kilgores agree their situation isn’t ideal, but they’ve reaped many benefits from their present arrangement. The most obvious advantage is they pursue the careers they want.
Their families, most of whom live in the Southeast, are much more supportive now that they have their Georgia home. They lived in Boston the last time they lived together all seven days a week.
“We have little nieces and nephews. They are starting to grow up and we want to be part of their lives,” said Stacie, a North Carolina native. “When we lived in Boston, we saw our families once or twice a year. Now we see our families once a month.”
The Kilgores say they don’t spend less time together now than they did when they lived in Boston.
On Fridays, they both work from home. They walk the dog in the morning and have breakfast, lunch and dinner together. They walk the dog and eat breakfast together on Monday mornings before Mike flies out to Dallas.
“I’m having more meals with Stacie now — 11 out of 21 meals (are) with Stacie on a weekly basis,” Mike said.
“It’s about discipline. I never change my watch from Eastern time,” he added. “I try to keep my mind on Eastern time so Stacie and I are on the same schedule. I try to get enough rest.
“Being apart, the exhaustion of travel — all of those are downsides. But you have to be smart and disciplined in how you manage that.”