written by Angeline, a former graduate wife
I’m Angeline, and I didn’t start out as a Graduate Wife, in fact I was a graduate myself. My husband and I met at Oxford, where he was studying for his PHD. We met, married and began our life together as students. After 5 years in Oxford together, we’ve just made the move to the big city (London) to begin life as professionals…well almost. Between you and me, my husband still has one more chapter to write.
When I first was asked to contribute to this blog I immediately said ‘yes’, full of enthusiasm and certain that with many years under my belt as a seasoned Graduate Wife, the stories would flow forth freely. The reality was quite different – I had the most difficult time trying to decide what I would write.
Why? Because I began to realize that being a Graduate Wife is more than one role. In fact, you wear many constantly evolving hats all at the same time. After some reflection, I’ve compiled a ‘pro/con’ list from my time as a Graduate Wife. I hope some of things I learned along way will be helpful and reflective and even being aware of some of my ‘con’ points might prevent them from becoming that for you.
Moving is always hard, but compounded by the fact that your husband has a built-in friend and support network and you don’t, can feel very lonely at the beginning. I think it’s always difficult when you feel like you are putting your life on hold, to support someone else and it can easily start to mess with your identity and feelings of self worth. So far this point isn’t sounding like a ‘best’, is it? However, the best thing about my Graduate Wife experience has been the community I’ve found. For us, it was being connected into a post-graduates society at our church, where people were all going through the same experiences either as the partner or graduate. Eventually, this place really became our home and the sweetest and truest of friendships were forged. Our community in Oxford became our life – we found people we were able to call friends, mentors, brothers and sisters.
2) Time & Flexibility
This was probably the only time in our lives that you didn’t have to play by the rules, and we took advantage of it! My job provided me with the ability to control my own schedule, so I synchronized my time with Jed’s (who happens to be a night owl). It just so happens, he does his best writing and thinking from the hours of 7pm-6am. This season of time flexibility allowed us to sometimes stay up and watch movies all night long if we wanted to, or have picnics on the living room floor at 3am or take naps. We felt like kids at time getting to ‘break the rules’ of time.
3) The Budget Game
After we got married, I realized for the first time that I had to face the ‘b’ word. It’s strange being newly married, on your own for the first time, responsible for another human (!) and having to manage your own money – these were all new concepts for me. We decided to turn budgeting into a game of sorts. Not letting it control us, but trying to make the most of it and enjoy it. We were constantly reminding each other that this was just a very short chapter in our lives and that we wanted to gain all the wisdom we could about frugality, living within our means and being responsible. In fact, we both feel that this is one of the most valuable things we got out of our experience as married grad students. What could have been a wasted time of ‘making do’, was a really excellent training ground for our marriage.
4) Bonding Experience
I firmly believe that moving away from everyone you know is a very good thing for a couple when they are first married. You have no home to run back to when someone is getting on your nerves, no way to avoid facing issues as you are probably stuck in a smaller space than you are used to – you are in it together and it’s the both of you against the world. We loved that feeling of unity, oneness and support found in each other. It’s not quite the same now that we are living in the ‘real world’. The time of being students was the sweetest time of our marriage so cherish it and squeeze it for all it’s worth!
5) Once in a Lifetime Experience
While there is still a list of ‘worst’ to come below, even taking all that into consideration, this was such a special time for us. Being able to support your partner in achieving tangible goals, taking time out of the real world to do so, being surrounded with likeminded people – it is the best experience and we would do it all over again without a second hesitation! The dark, long, exhausting times will pass…and indeed you will miss this season when it comes to an end.
1) Not much money…
There’s nothing wrong with being ‘student poor’, it is all part of the experience – however, this girl had a lot to learn. Those lessons were (beyond valuable as mentioned above) but incredibly difficult and relentless, I’m not going to lie.
2) Becoming the Breadwinner
One thing I really struggled with was being the primary breadwinner when I was done with my masters and my husband was still in school. My husband was on a scholarship, which provided a stipend, but I was still keenly aware that I was the only one working to make ends meet. It was not an issue that he wasn’t the one working, more that I felt troubled by feeling the weight of the responsibility of being the breadwinner. It really challenged a lot of my fundamental beliefs about gender roles in a marriage.
3) Uncertain future
I don’t know about you, but I am a planner. This was probably the one thread of ‘con’ that ran through my whole experience – I want to know what this all means for us! What next, what city, what position? Because being a student is a transient state, to a degree you have to be able to let go of knowing – and this I found very difficult. (Writers note: it all worked out more perfectly than I could have even planned it myself – and I believe it always does).
4) Living in a transient community
This was the second most difficult thing about living a Graduate Wife lifestyle – everyone else in your community is going through the same thing. Which is good on one hand, but it also means that people are constantly moving and there is a revolving door of friends, hellos and goodbyes, which after awhile can really take a toll on your spirit.
I don’t think that this issue is exclusive to being a Graduate Wife, I think it is one of the circumstances in life that highlight it. It is a subject we will always struggle with I believe, but being a Graduate Wife challenges you on it in a very aggressive way. For me it brought to the surface questions like ‘what makes me feel important?’, ‘what do I value?’, ‘what actually makes me, me?’. It is easy to feel like you are playing second fiddle, especially when married to a national treasure like my husband. :) After lots of soul searching, I realized there is nothing wrong with being Robin to the Batman, especially since realizing that is exactly the way my husband views himself in my show. There is zero competition between the two of us, and we both play supporting roles to each other. The reason this is in the ‘con’ category is that going through this journey of identity questions can often be painful before it becomes helpful and flourishing.
What are some of the things you cherish most about this season in your life? What are some of the things you find most challenging?