I'm worried about my girlfriend quitting grad school - and she hasn't even started yet!
July 26, 2010 10:01 AM   Subscribe

How can I best ensure my girlfriend's success in grad school?

my girlfriend is applying to various grad programs for 2011, and I expect that she will be accepted somewhere. I have already agreed to move to wherever she is accepted (my job is completely portable, and I have minimal ties to our current city) while she works on a 2-3 year MSc. I'm worried that she might flake out (drop out, fail out) etc. of the program. I really want her to succeed, but am worried that her background (entirely different field), and drive (we're both sort of slacker-ish) might make it difficult for her to go the distance. Currently I am just being supportive, and holding my breath. I know that I should have more faith in her, but my own (extensive) academic background makes me worried that she will take the program too lightly (she has been cavalier about deadlines and requirements in applying) and have bad results. Am I too worried about how this "looks"? Is my ego getting in the way? She's extremely sensitive to criticism, so I'm loathe to even hint at the upcoming difficulty of first year grad school.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (19 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Find her a mentor someone she likes that has done what she's trying to do and has a similar personality.
posted by Rubbstone at 10:05 AM on July 26, 2010

Currently I am just being supportive, and holding my breath.

This isn't your thing. This is her thing. It's your job to support her following through on something she wants, even if you think she is going to fail. She's going to fail sometimes, and the last thing she probably wants is a partner who thinks they know what she can and cannot do better than she does. She may also succeed, at which point you just look like an ass for having tried to stop her.

So exhale, understand that it's not your job to prevent her from failing at something she wants to do, and help her out any way you can along the way towards success.
posted by Hiker at 10:30 AM on July 26, 2010 [2 favorites]

What are your options? Drag your feet and remind her how difficult school can be? OR Tell her that you are here to help out anyway you can. Healthy relationships aren't based on one side's perception of the future. If you think she can only accomplish what you think is possible, than you are doing a great disservice to her and your relationship. Pass or fail, you're really not in a position to assume her potential.
The other piece is that you are fully aware of the committment it takes to complete a competitive program. Make sure you're on board for feeling second place to school at times.
posted by WhiteWhale at 10:30 AM on July 26, 2010

You can't ensure her success. You can only support her success. The fact that you wrote "ensure" may indicate you need to step back and take a deep breath. This is her degree, not yours. You just need to focus on supporting her.

The thing that you can ensure is your own stability throughout the process. That you should do.
posted by alms at 10:31 AM on July 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

Speaking as a natural slacker, I found it all too easy to complete both my grad school programs because it was easier than trying to work out what sort of job I'd do to earn money if I dropped out (since my purpose in going to grad school was to make myself employable in a field where I didn't have to answer telephones all day).

Also, it helped that I was at least interested in the subject matter, unlike your typical office job, which bores me to tears.
posted by telophase at 10:33 AM on July 26, 2010

Am I too worried about how this "looks"?

Looks for her, or looks for you? Are you worried about having a loser-slacker girlfriend? Would that be a blow to your ego? There should be a clear line between what is embarrassing for her, and for you. She is not an extension of you, and her own shortcomings are her own. Not a doctor, nor do I play one on the internet, but these sound like classic symptoms of narcissistic disorders. Your girlfriend is a person, a wholly independent human being whom you cannot control. She is not an extension of your ego, please don't treat her as if she is.

Ok, that was a bit harsh, but I wanted to get it out of the way.

My current situation is similar to yours. My BF is finishing up a masters, and I moved with him to our current city. I think just being supportive has helped a lot. Everything from talking him out of pessimism-driven doubt, to just cooking dinner some nights. I didn't know how hard grad school was going to be, and neither did he. Don't worry, he figured it out right quick.

Love your girlfriend, be there for her emotionally. She'll be challenged like she hasn't before. She'll probably have her ego assaulted by every problem and test that kicks her butt. If she rises to that challenge or drops out is up to her, but give her every chance to succeed and make the other things in her life as easy as possible.

Don't tell her you're already convinced she will fail. Better yet, have some faith in her. Do, realistically talk about what your situation will be like if she does drop out. Just as you should realistically talk about what would happen if you got a job that would move you away, or other "what if" situations. That's healthy. Planing on her failing isn't.

If my BF had dropped out, it wouldn't have been the end of the world, nor would I have thought any less of him. He is being funded/paying his own way, so it isn't as if I'd be out any money, and I enjoy the city we choose to move to, so it's not as if I've lost time in a place I don't like. What is the bad outcome you are worried about? Certainly my BF would have been very disappointed in himself, but its not as if some permanent damage would have been done. Your GF might be out some money, and time. So what?
posted by fontophilic at 10:39 AM on July 26, 2010

I have already agreed to move to wherever she is accepted (my job is completely portable, and I have minimal ties to our current city) while she works on a 2-3 year MSc.

Sure, there's no way you can determine how she does in graduate school. That's out of your control. You seem to know that.

If you're moving with her then going to graduate school is not all about her. The decisions she makes about graduate school will directly affect you.

What is in your control is the decision to move with her. Following someone to a new city is a big deal, whether or not you have ties to where you live now.

Whether your doubts about your girlfriend are legitimate, it's hard for the internet to say. But since you do have doubts, maybe you should reconsider your plans to move with her. That might hurt your relationship, but don't ignore your gut on this one.
posted by vincele at 10:47 AM on July 26, 2010

I can just tell you that my ex approached my school in this way, and it made me miserable and I felt doomed to failure, which then became a self fulfilling prophecy. Having a partner who isn't pushing me, and is just being my support is making it a whole different experience. It's her schooling, it's her goal, please please please don't make her feel like she can't do this because of your perceptions.
posted by Zophi at 10:53 AM on July 26, 2010 [2 favorites]

"MSc" gives you away as Canadian- might wanna watch that if you want to be (really) anonymous.

You're set with your portable job and your lack of ties to your current city. This is her deal- what is the problem, exactly?
posted by ethnomethodologist at 11:19 AM on July 26, 2010

It's really not your place to "ensure" your girlfriend's success in grad school. This is her deal.

I don't see what moving cities to live with her has to do with it, either, unless you are reluctant to go in the first place. In which case you should be honest with her that you don't want to move in order to be with her.
posted by Sara C. at 11:45 AM on July 26, 2010

There's nothing you can do but be supportive. But for me, the key to grad school success was having a support group of friends in the same program. Encourage her to form or join a study group.
posted by coolguymichael at 11:50 AM on July 26, 2010

Currently I am just being supportive, and holding my breath.

"Being supportive" can often require a lot more than holding your breath. It's not uncommon for women in academia to say, "I need a wife!" And based on my experience with academia, I've often found that some of the more successful women in academia I knew weren't afraid to insist on some "wifely" support every once in a while from their male partners. In other words, bear in mind that you may need to provide emotional support and do extra chores and act like a personal assistant for your girlfriend, at least that is if you want to be "supportive" like you say you do.
posted by jonp72 at 11:57 AM on July 26, 2010

My friends try and fail at things all the time: failed marriages, trying to have children, trying to adopt, new jobs, boyfriends, girlfriends, relocating, learning belly dancing, going through an annoying tai chi phase, indie films, screenwriting, going to cooking school, and the list goes on.

If you've never tried and failed at anything in life, then you haven't really lived. Not to be all cliche about it, but if you haven't failed yet, don't worry, you will. And when it does happen, I hope your girlfriend is less of a jerk about it than you are.

This is her failure, if it is a failure. If you need a status symbol instead of a life partner, then please get another girlfriend.
posted by micawber at 12:14 PM on July 26, 2010 [6 favorites]

maybe, if you remind her of the investment in your (shared?) future you will be making by moving with her, then she will appreciate you fears
posted by youchirren at 12:16 PM on July 26, 2010

Disagree with micawber on one point:

"If you need a status symbol instead of a life partner, then please get another girlfriend."

Don't get another girlfriend. Get a car, get a watch, get a boat, but don't "get a person" as a status symbol.
posted by leafwoman at 12:19 PM on July 26, 2010

The most important part about being supportive is to let her make her own mistakes.

Don't enable her in the process of her getting into grad school. Don't remind her of deadlines, don't write her application, don't research different schools for her. The best way is for you to let it go - don't even learn about the deadlines, requirements, etc. If you can't help yourself and you learn about a deadline, the *most* you should do is to just casually mention it to her on your way out the door.

If she asks you to help her, tell her that she's got to manage this process on her own, as it's a way for her to "own" this life change and have it be something that reflects her.
posted by jasper411 at 12:46 PM on July 26, 2010

Do her dishes.
posted by Stynxno at 12:49 PM on July 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

As someone about to embark on her (gulp) ninth year of science grad school who is fortunate to have a wonderful boyfriend:
You should be her biggest fan, her best friend, her cook and housekeeper, her sanity restorer.

You should try very very hard to never criticize or judge her academic efforts endeavors, recognizing that, no matter what your extensive academic background might be, you are not her and are not in her program right now.

You should be her refuge from all of that and her one safe place where the backbiting and judging and just general harshness of grad school is totally absent.
posted by hydropsyche at 3:12 PM on July 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'll only add to all this great advice that if/when she goes about this dysfunctionally...like, I don't know, staying up all night to do her work and then taking breaks to post online about other people's problems...you should (when you can) stay up late with her, tell her she's awesome, and when she frets that she's dysfunctional for pulling an all nighter tell her that's just how geniuses work. If she is afraid that she won't finish, say "so what if you don't? The only thing I'd hate is if you wanted to finish and didn't because of some hangup I could help you with."

And please try to erode your instinct to worry about how something that SHE does "looks." All of us have, at times, a little circle of self-doubt and insecurity that emanates from us. When you love someone you can either pull her into it, like "I'm not so sure about myself, and you're awfully close to me, so I don't quite know about you either" - or you can cherish the fact that she's actually outside it, like "I'm not so sure about myself all the time, but you're AWESOME." You feel how you feel, but I'm telling you, if you consciously try to replace the former thought pattern with the latter, it will make a difference - and it's how you feel about her anyway, you know it is.
posted by Betsy Vane at 12:47 AM on July 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

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