This will be long.
This week our household got some very exciting but potentially very nerve-wracking news. We found that that D is going to graduate this year, and he has immediately started working on applications to post-doctoral positions.
Those of you with experience in this know that the post-doctoral application process is intense; after one day D has identified over 30 positions he will apply for all over this country and several others. Applications are due between now and December and we probably won't know anything until at least March, if we are lucky.
This would be scary enough if it were only one of us who would be starting a new career or if we didn't so much care where we moved. But, get this: I am also graduating this year, and we have very, very strong preferences of where we live. And my degree is one that can be used almost anywhere, whereas D's is a very specific subset of a very specific field that can really only fit into a University with very similar research interests. So if we moved to the town where we both want to live I could find a suitable job fairly easily, but if D can't get a post-doc near there (which is basically not an option) than he would need to take a private sector job. He has always said this that he isn't too sure he wants to be a professor, so giving up a post-doc for a private sector job isn't terrible...but I can't help but think that when you've gone this far to get a PhD you should keep going.
To provide a little more context to this, let me go back in time a little. D and I started dating during the last semester of our undergraduate careers; a few months into our relationship I discovered that I had been offered a scholarship to live and study in West Africa for almost a year. D was slated to start grad school in the U.S. We lived apart, had a open but committed relationship while I was gone (a story for another day) and I moved back to join him when my time in West Africa was over. We have been here ever since.
The decision join him was one I made fairly easily because a) I wanted to be with him, b) he had a life-plan, and I didn't, so it made since to follow his plan for a while and c) there was much more opportunity to work in my field where he was living than in my hometown, which was where I had originally wanted to go after graduation/Africa. But the ease of the decision does not mean that in my worst moments I didn't heap all kinds of guilt upon him about it. The truth is that I would never have moved back to this town if it weren't for him, and sometimes this gets to me. But the other truth is that I really love the town I live in, I have really good friends here, and I have had good work and educational opportunities the whole time.
So we are entering this new phase with the knowledge of our past, and obviously the potential for fights, heartbreak, disappointment and sadness are huge here, and honestly I think we are both trying to hide how scared we are. Neither one of us wants to be so petty as to say "Well, we followed D's dream for a while, so now he has to sacrifice his so that MWK can live where she wants" or so gender and academia-normative to say "Well, a post-doc is the most important thing, we will move wherever D gets one and MWK can just wait a few more years to pursue her own career until D gets on his feet." Both of those options are basically shitty.
Why? Well I am scared that if we move to where I get a job, possibly meaning that D takes a private sector job instead of a post-doc, that he will grow resentful and unhappy. On the other hand, if he gets a post-doc in a tiny town in Canada I don't know that I can move there with him and not grow resentful and unhappy. [Note: I have nothing against tiny towns in Canada, except that they are far away from my family and friends and would make it hard for me to get a job I liked]. And the option of living apart is not one we are willing to take; yes we both have our separate dreams, but we have a damn lot of dreams that involve the other person as well.
There are couple pie-in-the sky options, like D's dream job, that would combine the place we want to live with great opportunities for both of us, and I have to try very hard not to emotionally think of those as realities. Up until now I have been really successful at figuring out what I want and working like a dog to make that happen, so it is hard for me not to believe that simply wanting something so bad won't make it happen. But seeing how much I want something only makes D feel more stressed to "make it happen" and I don't want to put unfair pressure on him that may cause him to give up something he truly wants in an effort to make me happy. I am pretty sure he feels the same way, (he worries out loud all the time about making me follow his dreams again when we have been doing that for years) but he has been keeping his feelings about this a little closer to his vest these days.
So we are coming upon a big, scary crossroads here in the first year of our marriage, and we are both very nervous. We have always said that we will both apply for jobs all over the place and than the person who gets the best job will "win." But we haven't really figured out how to decide what the "best" job is, and neither one of us would feel comfortable "winning" at the expense of the other.
I am trying hard to think of all this as exciting: a new town, a new apartment (or, inchallah, a house, even if we are renting) actual salaries for both of us. And all of those things will be exciting. And I know we love each other, and that ultimately we will make a decision that works for both of us. And that, if we are thoughtful and loving and respectful, at least most of the time, then we can come out as a stronger team in the end. But I am still nervous, and probably will be until...actually I am not even sure when I would stop being nervous about this.
My mom gave me the advice to "Remember the vine maple: use anything that happens as an opportunity for further growth." And this is what I will try to do.