Hello, my name is Nicole, and I’m a grad school spouse.
That’s how I’ve introduced myself…never.
I’ve seen blog bios that go something like this: Graphic Designer, Mom to a sweet Pup, Army Wife.
Lists like this make me think about all the identities I claim:
I always get hung up on that last one. Bret has impacted my life in a million ways for the better. He’s my primary source of love, encouragement, and comic relief. I’ve felt so much more joyful and centered and purposeful since we started dating a few years ago. So, certainly, my relationship with Bret contributes to my identity, but maybe not enough to enter a three word bio?
Why am I even thinking about this?
Med School Spouse
Last week, I found a blogger’s bio that read, “Med School Wife” meaning that her husband is currently in medical school and his med student status impacts her life in such a big way that it’s how she defines herself.
At first, I thought it was kind of sad.
I used to work on a publication for pre-med students. I spent one afternoon pruning through the archives and found chapters from the 1940s describing how the stresses of medical school may impact a marriage. There were ARTICLES cited advising [male] medical students how to choose the right kind of “Med School Wife” as if she was an optional school supply. I read about needy “baby-doll” wives who require a lot of attention and therefore don’t make good companions… it was ridiculous.
It’s the first thing I thought of when I read this blogger’s bio.
Then, I thought about how consuming it could be to know your favorite person in the world is dealing with sickness and death every day, how frustrating it could be to have a date nights cancelled because your spouse is on call, how disruptive it could be when your love ends up working over night shifts all the time… it’s a lot. And it would impact your life in a big way. And I’m sorry I smirked when I read your bio.
I definitely understand why people place themselves in categories of “Army Spouse.” There are a lot of shared threads between a community like this. I’ve read some “Army Wife” blogs and these bloggers deal with so many challenges that I can’t imagine facing on a regular basis: having to quit my job on a whim to move to an army base in the middle of no where, finding out my partner will be deployed overseas for months at a time, having to spend our anniversary alone with no notice. I’m so grateful for the people who knowingly place themselves in these positions. And I feel grateful that this is not my reality.
So, I realize I don’t really know what it’s like to be married to a doctor, or a military officer, or a fire fighter, or a top secret agent. I don’t think I would deal well if my partner or I had a career that routinely took precedence over “our” time. I like being able to turn off my computer (and my phone!), and I hope I’ll always work somewhere that values a healthy work/life balance so I can do that guilt-free.
College Professor Spouse?
So, [I promise this is going somewhere] one day I will be married to a college professor. He’ll also have relatively flexible work hours which means we will have a lot of time to be together and we’ll be able to do work travel together and share day-to-day responsibilities. This is a real, real blessing that I never want to take for-granted.
For now, I’m not married to a college professor. I’m married to a grad student.
Just for fun [read: please don't take this too seriously], I thought about the ways Bret being a Ph.D. candidate has impacted our lives so far. I put together this list for anyone who is wondering what comes with having a grad student significant other:
Am I selling it well? The way I see it, it’s such a positive experience.
I never wanted to be the person who puts her dreams aside to follow someone else. It was the reason I stayed in D.C. as long as I did. To support Bret, I moved, changed jobs, and said [a temporary] goodbye to everyone I’ve ever known. That’s one way dramatic to look at it. I did it because I wanted to see Bret every day. And also because I knew that Bret would do all of that for me if it was the other way around.
There are times I’ve felt like my personal career goals shifted with my job change, but then I remind myself that shifting is healthy and what I’m doing now is valuable. Some days I really miss my family, and some days I really miss Georgetown Cupcakes for lunch, but most days I LOVE being in Florida. Sometimes I just need to come up for air and look at the big picture and trust… trust that it’s all good. Because it is all good.
While Bret is in grad school, there are periods that are going to feel more stressful/all-consuming than others… like next month when I’m getting ready for my work’s Annual Convention and Bret’s going in to take his Preliminary Exams, but then things will calm down and we get to go to Disney World again [several times] and then it will be Thanksgiving and then the most wonderful time of the year Fa La La La La and before you know it, time will fly by like it does and we’ll both be on the job market again.
It’s worth the temporary investment. It can be a healthy challenge if you have a good attitude about the process.
If I’m being honest, there’s a part of me that would really like to know where we’re going to be living in three years. In a big west coast city? At another Florida university? Back in Virginia? And what will my next job look like? Will I get to be commuting back to D.C.? Will my D.C. friends still be there or will they have moved into the suburbs to have babies? And I wonder what our life will look like in five years. Ten years? What if one of us gets an awesome job in Michigan and the other gets stuck making moose glasses (5 year Engagement Anyone?!)
What happens then?!
I’d like to say that’s when you look at the big picture and trust, but I think, really, we just have to hope that doesn’t happen. We have to have faith that this Tallahassee experience is amazing so the next one will be, too. It’s not really about what your partner/spouse/wife/husband does… it’s who they are. I’m married to an incredible person who loves me and empowers me. And no matter what, thank goodness, we have each other.