Thursday, July 1, 2010

Internet Anonymity? Well, hi Internet.

I haven't written a blog in a long time, and it's been quite a while since I seriously felt important enough for some free bandwidth. I'd like to hope I'm anonymous, as some of the things I'd like to talk about on this blog might hurt some people's feelings.

It does feel good to do this.

I am 27, and I hold a bachelor degree in a liberal art. It is somewhat worthless, but I have a job that pays well and doesn't put me in danger. On a day like today, I really should be so thankful for the air conditioning. I got married some years ago, and my spouse is in grad school. Ze(I'll attempt to stay gender-neutral*) are very close to finishing up a PhD and already looking for jobs. This blog is about being the one without a career path yet, married to one on zes way.

For the past few years, I've been in a limbo waiting to see if I'd be here for a while, or moving on. This limbo has caused me to make excuses about not doing things that will take a commitment and feeling resentment against my spouse. I knew what I was getting into when I said I'd follow zem everywhere. But I didn't. This was my first real relationship, one that lasted longer than the initial flares of passion and went into truly getting to know someone territory. But this wasn't a lesson that could be learned by thinking really hard about it. The reality has been hard on me.

When we got married, I was under the impression that ze was almost done. We told our relatives (somewhat jokingly) about moving to another country. My biggest problem in life has always been my fear of asking questions. The questions that would get me where I need to go and let me know where I stand. I guess I never straight-out asked how long this could take, and so I lived for years thinking "I'll be gone in 6 months". I packed boxes every once in a while. I sold boxes of books. I quit a non-work activity because I thought I couldn't commit for the term necessary. I put off looking for a better job, even though the one I had was killing me. For a while I even shied away from making new friends, thinking it wasn't worth the effort.

It wasn't until last year that my facade of faithful sidekick crumbled and I told zem all about how unhappy I was with not knowing. Ze wasn't happy about it either, and my telling zem didn't help. I knew it was my right to talk about my feelings, but I felt horrible that I'd put more pressure on zem than ze already had. (This is my first time writing with these pronouns, and I feel clunky, but I feel it's for the greater good). I had and have a right to be happy and a right to be unhappy. Playing the part of a loyal and uncomplaining spouse was a great way to go crazy. Believe me, I went a little crazy.

Advice for the "trailing" spouse (though this usually refers to a two-career household) is usually not to complain, though this is usually only directed at women. There's some truth to that, but it's only to not complain all the damn time. If you've told zem you're unhappy and why, and try to fix it or ask them to help you fix it, that is totally ok. But if you're letting zem know at every turn that they need to pick up the speed and get done already, that may be edging into some non-productive territory.

So, here I am, at a middling job, with a bachelor's degree in uselessness, married to a wonderful person who really is trying as hard as ze can.

It is a job. And I am thankful for that.

And my degree, while seemingly useless, is a stepping stone and helped me get said job.

And my spouse is my favorite person in the world.

And if I try to write down everything I've thought about for the past three years, this will be a terrible blob of a post and no one will reach the end of it before they perish.

I hope this can be a resource or a voice in the dark for other people, married or not, who need an outlet for the fear and helplessness that this situation can make you feel. I learned that it's totally ok to feel this way, but it's not ok to keep it all inside. If you can talk about it, you can figure a way out. I'm stilling digging myself out of this pit, but I could use some company.

*For a good guide to this, if you care:

[UPDATE 1-8-11] Lots of you are coming here reading this post, but rest assured this was the first one and I've come a long way, including dropping the badly-done gender-neutral pronouns.  Thanks to Drug Monkey for the good press.


  1. This is a very tough one. I've seen this quandary many times, from many different angles.

    Maybe I can add a couple things. Graduate school is one of the most bizarre experiences anyone can go through. As a student, it's almost never what one expected it to be. There has never been a time in my life when I have had less control over my circumstances or my destiny. In many cases, this extends to not having control over decisions that affect others in my life. It's a tough place to be, and it's not specific to me. It's the general condition.

    Presumably, there was a good reason for starting this, and there will be a benefit when it's done. In the middle, there is a lot of "this is not what I signed up for," "why am I doing this," and "why did I ever think this was a good idea?" Also a lot of "what am I doing to the people I love?"

    The student has next to no control. The spouse, even less. This is understandably difficult, to say the least.

    It is a temporary situation. It will eventually end. In the middle years, the most painful question one can ask a grad student is "when will you finish?" But it's the question on the tip of everyone's tongue, because it's the logical question. It's painful to hear because we don't know, and we have no control over it. To answer the question would be to lie, to ourselves and others (although that's not always clear until things go other than as we expected).

    Presumably, the degree will be beneficial to the family unit in the end, and presumably, there was a good reason for starting it to begin with. My best advice would be to try to experience the uncertainty as a team, rather than separately. I'm certain you both have the same worries. One of you has little information, and the other has even less. Neither of you has control.

    It would actually be the same if one was unemployed, or had an illness that brought a high level of uncertainty. You would probably meet the challenges together, as a team. Academia is obscure, so the external factors are more shrouded. I used to tell people that asking a grad student when they will finish is akin to asking "when will your cancer be cured?"

    For the couples I know who have stayed together, the benefit ends up being worth it, if there was a sense of common cause. Sometimes the resentment builds to a point that it is unmanageable. It a tough one.

    My advice would be to build common cause against a common enemy...uncertainty. You're adrift in the same ocean. Cling to each other.

  2. Since I wrote this first post, we've had a lot of breakthroughs in our relationship and I've become so much happier. And since I told him about the blog I've felt lighter.

    I read him your PhD as cancer simile, and he thought it was extremely apt.

  3. That's great to hear, I'm really glad for both of you. I hadn't noticed the date of the post.

    I'm a few months away from finishing myself. As soon as I saw the light at the end of the tunnel, the world looked entirely, remarkably brighter :)

    Very best to both of you.


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