Friday, October 30, 2009

In Limbo

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.


  1. Oh my goodness what a minefield this issue is! And I share your anxieties. My boy and I work in fields that require relatively frequent moves around the country. We lived apart for a bit, together so that he commuted, together so that I commuted... all of which was fine to a degree when we were 'single'. Now we're married and being geographically together is a priority for us both. So is not having long commutes since we've both tasted how annoying that is. But a near-impossibility to achieve. The time draws near for more job changes and I just have everything crossed that it will work out, but in the full knowledge that for most other couples in our particular position it often doesn't for years. Boo. And my field is a bit less competitive than his, so I think I'll be following him for a while. And I'm not entirely sure how I feel about that.

    (Sorry for the ginormous comment but this post struck a nerve!)

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. For pete's sakes no apologies needed! I figured maybe this was something that a lot of newly married couples were dealing with which is one of the reason I let myself go on about it. One of the side effects of a gluttony of choices, I suppose, and sometimes I feel guilty complaining about what is essentially a good problem to have, but it definitely can be hard. And it makes it even harder when other people start putting their judgments on you "will they think I'm not a feminist if I follow him about? Will I NOT BE a good feminist if I follow him about?" All that sort of sillyness when it is hard enough just to make a decision as partners who love each other.

  4. Bless you - this does sound like a bit of a nightmare (although one that it is positive to have, as you ackowledge).
    I think, from what you have said, that the two of you are really trying to find something that pleases both of you, and that is such a good thing to be able to say. I think you should try and take comfort from that if you are able, and trust in the two of you.
    F*ck any worries about feminism and other people's judgments. I can't see how it even comes into this debate for the two of you, which is hard enough on its own.
    Take care, and keep us updated!

  5. I know this is late but I'm in the exact position as you. The husband is on post doc number two finishing around the time when I will *hopefully* be graduating, but there's the chance that I'll have another semester to go. He's in astro physics I'm an art historian, jobs aren't abundant. Throw into the mix the fact that we have different citizenship for a whole extra layer of stress. It's tough, it sucks, it makes me freak out on a regular basis.
    It's so hard to "decide" who's career is more important,how do you choose who will make the sacrifice? I moved down to DC for his current post doc. I hate it here, so your fears of resentment are totally justified. I don't resentment my husband for making me move (my choice) but I have trouble hiding my dislike for DC and my homesickness for NY, and I feel guilty because he feels like he's dragged me away from home.
    Sorry your post has inspired this too long rant. It touched a nerve. I guess my advice would be really think, talk a lot and don't ignore the fact that certain jobs will make him unhappy and certain places will make you unhappy. The situation is what you make of it

    I might sound really whiney but I'm not, DC is ok... but new york is home. Anyway, I understand

  6. Kristen,

    Wow, our situations are veeery similar, and I feel for you. (Funny, because D.C. is a good option for both of us but neither one of us want to live there at all). I think you are right; the temptation is to say "oh, it'll be okay I can do this for a few years," when you really know that you might be miserable.
    It sounds like you guys can make it work, and I'll keep my fingers crossed for you! And neither one of you should feel guilty - hopefully if we all realize that this situation is more common than we think then we will stop feeling so guilty for having our own wants and needs.

  7. I don't know if you'll ever see this comment, since it's way back in the archives now... but I just had to add -- I can't believe how much your situation echoes my own. I feel like I could've written this, including the same worries about resentment and tiny towns and who's career and wishes should take priority.

  8. @Margaret - don't worry I get emails when I get a comment so I don't miss any (and I love getting them). I am sending you my support and patience vibes. Although my patience vibes might not be very helpful since I am very, very impatient.