Relationships and Grad School: Part 2 – The personal shit

Or, the life of a grad student with +1s.

Where we last left off, I was describing my reaction to a blog post and article that brought up the topic of relationships in grad school, and especially the “grad student’s wife” as a source of cheap labor for the university and for the home. Now I’m going to talk about myself a bit, in vague terms.

I’m about to get a bit personal, so don’t mind me off in my corner here. For background, I’ve just started a doctorate program at a new school (let’s call it University A), after finishing a master’s program at University B, which was itself after my undergrad work at University C. All three of these universities are in different states, but B and C were both on the East Coast and A is in Texas. When I started my master’s program, at University B, I was three and a half years into a relationship that had started while my ex and I were at University C. That relationship ended in November of my first semester. Right now at the start of my doctorate program, I’m almost a year into a relationship that started while I was at University B.

That was probably quite confusing, but suffice it to say that at the start of both graduate programs, I was in a committed romantic relationship. Both of the boyfriends in question were not in grad school and had no immediate plans of changing that. My ex was actually in Japan working right after undergrad, even though I asked him to move in with me (he refused). We decided we’d try a long-distance relationship, because we’d already been doing that every summer. It didn’t work. He’s currently happily attached to someone else who is in Japan with him. He works full time, as a salaryman, and is considering business school for the near future.

When we were still in a relationship, our schedules were pretty much incompatible. Japan is 14 hours ahead of EST, so when I was in class from 10-5 or so, and then working until 3 or 4 am, he would be asleep and then working. We had a small window to talk when he woke up for work but before he went in, so around 5-8 pm EST. This meant that communication was difficult, and when problems appeared, we couldn’t deal with them together (and usually ended up stewing and then exploding at each other on the weekends). It wasn’t just schedules, though; our values and priorities were completely different. He wanted a stable, income-generating life and the ability to support and nurture children. I was expecting to be in grad school for the next 5-10 years, and did not want kids at all (still don’t). Like one of the couples in the Scheinkman piece (more reasons you should read it too!), he didn’t understand my work habits and procrastination. All of these little differences that were there in college just became insurmountable when I was in grad school and he was working. I had my ideal life, he had his, and neither of us wanted to compromise. I hope this doesn’t come across as judgmental, because I still consider us to be friends, and we do support each other occasionally even today, nearly two years later. I haven’t seen him in person for at least that long.

…to be continued…

Part 1 – The background

Part 3 – The response

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Relationships and Grad School: Part 1 – The background

Or, the grad student’s wife and the grad student wife.

This post is massively overdue, but I had things on my mind and then there were things to do, and now I’m just like, “okay need to get in the habit of writing despite things.” So here’s a post. It’s also massive, so this is part 1 of 3.

A few weeks ago, I came across a tweet that linked this post about graduate students’ wives as a category of gendered labor. The whole post is worth reading, and the author breaks down all sorts of historic examples of how wives of graduate students are bound to the institution by their relationship with the student, and how the institution knows this and can exploit it for “low-skilled” clerical labor.

The other component of this “gendered labor” is the wife’s duties in the household, as she is often also responsible for the student’s material comfort. In it, the author, Zach, explicitly admits his interest in

the ways in which these women were often working for the university in the formal sphere of clerical and other forms of waged labor, and in the informal sphere of reproductive labor as unpaid workers often making possible both the subsistence of both the household and the reproduction of the academic labor force.

– “Graduate students’ wives as a gendered labor category,” Weapons of Class Instruction, 5 Sept. 2013

This post also links to an article from the late 1980s by Michele Scheinkman on “graduate student marriages.”  In this article, Scheinkman identifies a framework for understanding the unique difficulties of graduate student marriages, whether this is two graduate students, a working wife, or a working husband. She also identifies major threats to the stability of this marriage, but her focus is primarily on how to help these couples in therapy.

Scheinkman explicitly avoids discussing gender as a defining category for these relationships, claiming that

As will be discussed in the following section, gender indeed defines differently the meaning of the inequality and the ways in which men and women experience their respective roles of “dependent student” and “working spouse.” Nevertheless, the central contention of this article is that the major problem of graduate student marriages is not only one of gender. It is the asymmetrical organization itself that, in a sociocultural context of egalitarian values and/or dual-career expectations, is inherently problematic and preconditions graduate-student couples to being especially vulnerable and at risk.

-Scheinkman, “Graduate Student Marriages: An Organizational/Interactional View,” 1988.

As a kind of central theme in this article, she indeed focuses on the asymmetry in relationships, defined over a variety of fields (e.g. difference in schedules, difference in ability to focus on housework, etc.). For Scheinkman, the most important factor is for couples to recognize the transience of this imbalance, and not to ascribe the imbalance to intractable personality factors. I found this paper to be accurate even today, and useful not just for romantic relationships but for all kinds of interpersonal relationships; in short, read it. I very much agree with her general assessment of the problem, based on my personal experiences of balancing relationships and grad school. But I think gender is a huge part of the asymmetry, due to the expectations placed upon differently-gendered members of a (cis, het) couple.

…to be continued…

Part 2 – The personal shit

Part 3 – The response