I have been reading too many Chronicle of Higher Education pieces on the academic job market (on academia in general, really) and people’s personal lives (grad students getting married and hiring academic spouses). These articles portray the work/life choices of academics as abominable, and even worse, it feels like the Chronicle is building a case against marriage. Societal views on the importance of marriage may be waning, but the importance of partnership remains strong (at least in my house it does).
I never used to believe in marriage as a concept, though I knew that marriage would validate some other life choices I hoped to make in the future (namely having a family). The nature of all of our relationships changes over time, so why would we think that we could commit to someone for 20, 30, 40 years without ever struggling to make that relationship work? I have been alive long enough now to have one very close friend of 27 years (from childhood) and several others close to 20 years (from college). I have made friends and lost friends, rekindled friendships, and sought totally new friendships. So I know that it’s not always my relationship with my husband (who I have known for 11 years but been married to for 6) that takes the most work.
Yet in academia, it seems having a partner (and caring about one’s relationship with that person) is a liability, something keeping you from having the most publications or competing for the perfect job in the least geographically desirable place. Considering I live a pseudo-academic lifestyle, these recent Chronicle cautionary tales of marriages put to the test (through graduate school, the job market, and the pursuit of tenure) have me wondering how my own marriage is doing.
One thing I know for certain: being in academia [or any job, really] is more bearable with a partner. That partner could be a sibling, a parent, a friend, but my partner, my husband, is fully committed to me. [My husband actually hates it when I call him my partner instead of my husband, but that’s how I think of him. He’ll probably hate these sentences, too.] He has made sacrifices and compromises in his professional life for me (staying at the same job and at the same company). I have done the same (adjusting some of my future plans for the sake of a stable home life). We have divided the labor of the household and we do our invisible work to support the success of our family and of our marriage. This whole operation works for us. Not seamlessly. Not always functionally. We do raise our voices or disagree. But in the end, we know we need each other.
Out at a children’s consignment store this past weekend with our girls, the owner of the store had watched us discuss, wrangle, and finally decide on some clothes for the kids. As we checked out, she said to us, “You guys work well together. It’s nice to see that.” I didn’t think our interactions in the store were all that remarkable. We were simply being ourselves. But we are making it work in our personal lives, perhaps at the expense of our professional lives. Academia might not approve, but for now, it’s working out just fine.