going the distance for love

Craig DeSilva
October 07, 2019

Marjorie Mau, M.D., and her husband, Ted Mala, M.D., may be an ocean apart. But the bridge that connects them emotionally, physically, culturally, and spiritually is strong.

The couple has a “hybrid” long-distance marriage. For most of the year, they live in Hawaii with their twins. In the summer, Mala heads to his home state of Alaska to escape Hawaii’s hot weather.

As strong proponents of indigenous health care, Mala and Mau are culturally rooted to their home states. “Although there are months when there are miles between us, we still feel that sense of connection from our love, trust, and understanding,” says Mau, director of research at the John A. Burns School of Medicine’s Department of Native Hawaiian Health. They communicate and stay connected throughout the day using technology and social networking.

The couple met at a health conference in 2002. Over the years, they kept in touch and visited each other and eventually their friendship developed into a romance. They had a lot in common, including a passion for public health research. In 2009, they made a long-term commitment and got married. “We enjoy each other’s company,” she says. “Developing that friendship first was important to both of us.”

When Mala retired from his full-time position in Anchorage, Mau knew he wouldn’t be happy leaving Alaska, which he’s always called home and where he has deep-rooted community ties. “Alaska runs in his veins,” she says. “I knew eventually it wouldn’t work.” So they decided to live in the “best of both worlds.”

Then at age 55, Mau became pregnant with twins. “It’s been a blessing,” she says. Being older parents has added more joy to their relationship. “When we were younger, we were focused on building our careers,” she says. “With the twins, Ray and Mia, we have the time to share all those precious moments with them.”

Their children get a unique perspective by being exposed to their Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian heritages. “They’ll be on the beach then dog sledding in the snow,” says Mau. “We hope they’ll develop a sense of place and feel at home in both places.”

Having a hybrid relationship, however, comes with a few caveats, such as maintaining a calendar and schedule for school and work. Maintaining two homes is also an important consideration. But Mau says it’s worth it. “He’s my soul mate,” she says. “Not everyone finds that in their lifetime.”

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