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New Beginnings, Long-Distance Love, and Mother-Activist Woes

A timeless problem-solver if ever there was one, Emma Goldman dishes out life advice to 21st-century women in JWA's Advice Column, Ask Emma. In her responses to letter writers, the legendary anarchist, freethinker, and feminist offers up pearls of wisdom and a no-holds-barred approach to life. Send your questions and quandaries to Emma!

Dear Emma,

I’m about to start law school in another city, and I’m really excited. The only problem? I will be leaving my partner behind, so our relationship will be long-distance for three years. I’m really nervous about it and I am afraid of how this will change the dynamic in a really loving, affirming, and equitable relationship. Do you have any advice for how I can confidently maintain our relationship while taking this next step?

––Leaving My Heart in Boston

Dear Heart,

Enjoy your new unfettered life! I understand the pull of a distant love: my own lover, Alexander Berkman, and I maintained a long-distance (and non-exclusive) relationship over many years and many miles and that was in the time of letters and steamboats. Now, because of the ease of travel and technology, you can still be in each other’s daily lives, and long distance doesn’t need to be filled with the dramatic longing it once was.

The bigger red flag for me? You are about to start a three year program and seem to be fixating on a romantic relationship! While those relationships are important, and while, to be honest, I don’t agree with your decision to pursue law, since no great idea has its beginning in the law. I do think that it is important to focus on you, your independence, and your development during these next three years. If this person is the right person, three years is a drop in the bucket.

Focusing on your intellectual development over the next three years gives you the best of both worlds. I liked having the space to do my writing and thinking without distraction; plus, cultivating my own intellectual life kept me growing. The result of loving while being independent means the people in the relationship get to have separate lives and grow, bringing new ideas and new perspectives to discuss.

And, there is nothing like the steamy reunions with your long-distance lover (or lovers!).

Emma

Dear Emma,

I’ve been a political activist for years and I’ve developed a wide network of activist friends and colleagues. Earlier this year I had my first child––which has been a life-changing and amazing experience. However, I’m finding I now have two problems: I am so tired juggling my home and work lives that I can’t keep up my former level of social action, and my activist friends are judging me for “dropping out” of the fight. How can I convince them that I don’t care less about the injustices of the world; I just need a little time to focus on my new family and on my own energy? Am I a bad person for putting my activism on hold?

–– Need a Time Out

Dear Time Out,

I myself felt like having children would conflict with my anarchist career and my decision meant that I did not have children. You don’t have to make this decision; you don’t have to prove to anyone that you are “enough of an activist.” You know you are.

Life is long, and so is the arc of justice––so enjoy your time with baby, applaud yourself for creating a new warrior for social change, and whenever you’re ready down the road, go out with renewed conviction to change the world. You will be that much stronger and more valuable to the cause, I can assure you.

As for your judgy friends, wait ‘til they have major, disruptive events in their own lives. They’ll probably need to take time away, too. Sometimes you’ve just got to focus close to home for a while, and sometimes you need to recharge your batteries so you don’t get cause fatigue. Don’t give it another guilty thought; the work will always be waiting for you.

Emma

Dear Emma,

My family and I have decided to take a major leap of faith and start a new life halfway across the world. My kids are young, and I’m wondering whether to teach them simply to adopt their new culture and nationality, or whether I should also reinforce the national identity they were born with. I’m worried it will be confusing for them to have a foot in both worlds, and they’ll feel like they don’t belong anywhere. Do you have any advice for us?

–– Stranger in a Strange Land

Dear Stranger,

I threw myself into my new homeland after moving to America as a child, but as I got older, I came to appreciate the mixture of traditions that shaped me (and that I was equally excited to shake up!). We’re all citizens of particular societies, but we’re also citizens of families––and every family has its own unique culture and identity. If you model both adaptability to the new culture and respect for (and contact with) the old, your children will take their cue from you. They’re lucky that you’re giving them a rich, multicultural experience of the world, and your new society will benefit from the unique perspectives they bring.

Bon voyage!

Emma

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How to cite this page

King, Emma G. "New Beginnings, Long-Distance Love, and Mother-Activist Woes." 2 August 2018. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on October 18, 2018) <https://jwa.org/blog/new-beginnings-long-distance-love-and-mother-activist-woes>.

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