I’m a senior and applying to grad schools. My boyfriend already has a job offer in the area and he’s dead set on taking it and living in New Jersey forever. He said we’ll probably get married within the next four years or so. The problem is that most of the grad schools I’m applying for are nowhere near the tri-state area. What I want to do is very specific and there are very few good schools that offer what I want. I absolutely cannot pursue this career I want without furthering my education. I’ve discussed my desire to apply somewhat with him and he suggested applying to schools in NYC or Philly part-time, but to be honest, they don’t have what I need. I haven’t even told him that I’m applying yet. Our plan has always been to move closer to his job, get an apartment, and he’d work while I get the place settled and think about what kind of job I can get in the area. I know exactly what I want to do and how to do it, but I have no clue how to go about telling him. This sounds totally stereotypical, but it’s my real life.
Dear Hopelessly Devoted,
I don’t need to tell you we’re not living in our mothers’ generation. “First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes baby in the baby carriage.” We’ve been singing that teasing rhyme since childhood and I’d assume young children still chant it on the playground at Suzy and Sammy, the class sweethearts. I’m hoping that now Suzy says instead, “No, I want to be a lawyer and single mother who adopts,” but perhaps I’m being a bit too optimistic.
Once upon a time, that song was a very accurate portrayal of how the romantic relationship progressed. One could even put it on a timeline, assigning an age to each step.
But notice that nowhere in that rhyme are the words “college” or “career.” Where are we supposed to get an education and develop our minds, identities and future? Where do we become CEO or start our own business? I mean, I guess we can “have it all” (though many would disagree). Technically, we can follow that timeline while attending a four-year school. You can do table arrangements during class. You can do dress fittings hungover on a Wednesday morning and have your bachelorette party at Kat Man Du during Senior Week.
It can be done. But if your only goal is to procreate with someone tall, dark and handsome with a trust fund, why bother going to college at all? Sure, college makes you a more well-rounded person and I’m sure you’ll impress the PTA when you namedrop Nietzsche or Foucault. But we’re here, spending our parents’ or our money to make something of ourselves, to create a future and then live it out.
But keep in mind, people spend years planning for a wedding and relatively little time anticipating the actual marriage: cohabitation, shared bank accounts and bathrooms, his and her towels and household chores. If you’re having this many doubts about what the future entails with your boyfriend, you deserve the time to figure that out. As you pointed out, he never outright said, “Me, man, breadwinner. You, woman, baby/washing machine.” However, his suggestion that you hold off on a career to mind the house and “decorate” while he goes off into the professional world worries me. If you were one of those Wellesley girls content with choosing laundry over law school, that’s perfect. A dream come true. But you are obviously not.
The fact that you applied to graduate schools all over the country without even telling him shows that you definitely have a problem communicating what you want. There’s no day like today. I know what you’re thinking, I’ve been there, too: “Maybe I won’t get in and then I won’t have to address it.” I too am applying to schools in California, Seattle and Texas – everywhere but a car ride from where my partner and I grew up and live today. Although he’s not thrilled with the idea, he understands. He recognizes that this is my passion and that I’d never be satisfied with myself or my life until I make the great accomplishment of receiving my Ph.D.
Have you talked to your boyfriend about other job opportunities? I certainly don’t expect him to completely change his life goals overnight, but perhaps there is an extension of that company on the West Coast or in other parts of the country more conducive to where you want to study.
Compromise, compromise, compromise. That’s what relationships are all about; if you haven’t learned how to do that in your courtship, that could be a problem. Marriage (and not to mention child rearing) is all about compromise. Marriage doesn’t have to be a “struggle” per se, but it definitely takes some compromising.
Just picture this. With that childhood rhyme in mind, imagine how your life can pan out. You can move with your boyfriend for his job, do a killer interior decorating job, do a lot of window shopping and reading for pleasure. Your husband is happy, content. He has the career he’s always wanted, power lunches with his boss and his beautiful wife at home. It’s a dream come true, I’m sure.
But it was only a matter of time before that dream shattered. In this country’s democracy, with its capitalist focus on making more and more money, with its American dream of bettering the self in every way through education and experience, it was only a matter of time before women fought back and wanted their share of the world, too.
And I see where your struggle comes from. You want that fairy tale. You love your boyfriend and you want to make him happy. If you totally disregarded his feelings and applied to a graduate school in Hawaii with no regrets, that would be a problem, too. But that doesn’t mean your relationship has to end. There are definitely going to be some bumps along the way, but you need to talk to him.
You need to explain to him how you can’t have the education and life you want without this degree, and that without getting the right degree from the right school, you won’t have the career or success you want either.
If it takes too much explanation and fighting and he refuses to compromise, maybe he’s not the man of your dreams after all. Relationships should be about mutual respect and honesty, and if he can’t see the fire in your eyes and the passion in your heart, then he doesn’t see you. And if he sees it and chooses to ignore it, then he’s something even worse.
I wish I could offer you a concrete solution, but there are many other issues you need to consider as well. If you’re stubborn and decide to stay together long distance, that’s a whole other column.
Good luck and keep in mind that you don’t have to do what other men or women see fit. If you live your life for other people, you’ll never be satisfied with who you are. Make your own decisions (and compromises) and stick to them. Love can make these decisions trickier, but nonetheless, this is your life and you deserve everything you want.