How do my boyfriend and I compromise on geography v. career?
December 12, 2010 11:12 PM   Subscribe

What options do my boyfriend and I have to live life under our personal constraints of work and geography?

My boyfriend and I want to spend our lives together. However, there are external conflicts. I'm from the San Francisco Bay Area, and this is where my family lives and where I'd very, very much like to spend my life. It's important to me to live close to family, and more importantly, to have my children grow up with their extended family, also. I truly want that for my future family.

My wonderful boyfriend is a senior postdoc down in LA, where we met - in cognitive neuroscience at Caltech. He probably has about two years more to go before he's on the job market, but I already foresee difficulties, because academia is a difficult, difficult place.

In an ideal world, he'd be accepted to a tenure track position at Stanford, Berkeley, or UCSF. He could apply to the neuroscience departments, psychology, or potentially economics if the school in question is developing a behavioral/neuroeconomics area. However, I realize this is not something to bank on. Next best would be maybe UC Davis or UC Santa Cruz - schools that would be within 1.5 hours of my family, and would enable frequent weekend visits. Otherwise, I promised him I'd be happy with anywhere in CA, but to be honest, it makes me sad; once one has to get on an airplane to get home, it takes a lot more planning than I dreamed of for my family and me. I genuinely want more closeness and potential for spontaneity than that. And then, most realistically, I have to consider the potential of him not getting any position in CA. I know you can't always have everything in life. But I'm wondering if there are options he and I are not considering.

He's open to considering other jobs, but isn't really coming up with much. He suggested he could teach high school, which I wouldn't allow him to do - he deserves to use the highly specialized skills he's been developing for a decade now. So what else could we consider?

To boil down my questions:

1. Has anyone been in the position of having to live away from family for a spouse despite having always dreamed of proximity? Tell me about the experience. Did you end up resenting your partner and leaving? Was it, ultimately, a sacrifice that didn't leave you wanting to cry regularly?

2. Outside of Berkeley, Stanford, UCSF, UC Davis, and UC Santa Cruz - where can a cognitive neuroscientist research around the bay area? Are there think tanks we're not aware of? Companies that would want research for consulting? Anything?

3. If not research, what could he do? Consult for marketing? What industry positions are suited to a guy with lots of behavioral economics, neuroscience, and statistical experience?

4. If we do end up having to move away, what kind of compromises can we consider to make me ok with this? For 5 years I go with him anywhere, then we move back? We spend every holiday with my family (not really fair - his immediate family is overseas. Yes, I recognize he is making huge sacrifices)?

And, I guess...
5. Is this actually something worth considering ending a relationship over? We're happier than we've ever been with past partners, and I love this man and want to be with him, but I worry that these issues will lead to massive resentment, or that we'll end up in a situation where it's just a trade-off of who's miserable...

Thanks in advance, sorry for the length.
posted by namesarehard to Human Relations (36 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Something you may want to consider: If you are planning on dating someone who is focused on pursuing a single career track (especially a professional one), rather than someone who is content to jump from a bartending job here to a sales job there to a construction job there, it is much more likely that at some point in their lives that there will not be a job for them in your very specific area and they'll need to move in order to pursue that career rather than switching to another low-level job. Exceptions are tenure track positions, as you have mentioned, but those are extremely difficult to obtain.
posted by Anonymous at 11:23 PM on December 12, 2010

Unfortunately this isn't how academic jobs work.

IMHO (as an academic and parent), your desire to have your kid (unborn) near your family is the unrealistic point here.
posted by k8t at 11:38 PM on December 12, 2010 [12 favorites]

Best answer: I think the situation you are describing is just a fact of modern life, especially for people with advanced degrees who are highly specialized. And really if you want to live in the bay area you are probably going to need the kind of income that requires some sort of advanced degree.

I think you do what most people do, you do the best you can. Really you are in a better situation than most because your boyfriend is on the same page as you and is apparently willing to make huge sacrifices to get a job in the bay area. What happens to most people, from what I've observed with my own friends graduating and getting married, is there is usually a concerted effort get a job in a specific location and sometimes it works out and sometimes it doesn't. And then sometimes when they make their next career move they are able to get back to where they want to be and sometimes they aren't. And sometimes they start out where they want to be only to be transferred to somewhere else. A job is not for life anymore. I think most people are happy if they get a job in a city they like with at least a couple people they know, but from what I've observed it's luck more than anything to get your #1 choice.

I have no idea what kind of work he can do with that degree, but I'm guessing his professors at Caltech can give him A LOT of good advice. He needs to be telling everyone he knows that he is looking for a job in the bay area. Also, you need to remember that just because he may not have a lot of choice when it comes to his first job out of school, with a few years of experience he will likely have a lot more options.

At the end of the day you can't plan out your perfect life. Personally I think it's absolutely insane to throw away a good partner because he can't guarantee getting a job in a specific geographic location, especially when he wants to, but that's just me and I'm of the opinion that nothing in life is 100% perfect and that if you throw away really, really, really good because you think that perfect is exists you'll spend your whole life searching, but that's just me.
posted by whoaali at 11:56 PM on December 12, 2010 [3 favorites]

The title of your post asks how you and your boyfriend can compromise, but he's already made it clear he's willing to compromise (career); you won't let him.
In that case, it's up to you - either you compromise on your unwillingness to leave San Fran, or you end it and set yourselves free to pursue other life tracks.
posted by mannequito at 11:57 PM on December 12, 2010 [6 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks, whoaali and mannequito. Mannequito - We're both open to career compromises, but I know I it needs to be a compromise that allows him to utilize his skills, unlike teaching high school... But thank you for your point.

If it will somehow curb judgmental comments, I'd like to point out that in my culture (first generation immigrant), familial closeness is highly valued, so feel free to refrain from letting me know my interests are foolish and unrealistic.
posted by namesarehard at 12:03 AM on December 13, 2010

It sounds like you are far more devoted to your family and raising your potential child with them than your partner - either you need a partner that you like a lot more, or someone in your family's area that is also devoted to their family there or who loves the area and won't move away under any circumstances.

Possible other options: getting close family to move with you if they are amenable and you get a house with mother-in-law flat or help them buy a house close by; or getting a sperm donor and raising a kid without having to worry about a partner.
posted by meepmeow at 12:03 AM on December 13, 2010 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Another point to consider is that he could do an assistant professorship elsewhere with the goal to get to the Bay Area.

BUT - do those faculties have hiring freezes or hire in people at the assistant level? Do they match him in terms of goals and lab types?

He should/could do as much as possible to network with people up there. Offer himself to come up for colloquia, collaborate with them, whatever he can do to get noticed.
posted by k8t at 12:10 AM on December 13, 2010

This is totally worth ending a relationship over, yes.

There are many, many men in the Bay area with whom you could settle down locally. The career of an academic, however, pretty much comes with relocation. It sounds like trying to make this work will lead to bitter, bitter loss from one or the other of you - loss of family for you, loss of career for him. It would be a rare relationship that could survive that kind of debt, especially once the stress of kids are added.

Two adults can be entirely compatible on all things except one - having children, where to live, religion, politics - and that one thing can absolutely be the reason that the relationship is simply incompatible with longevity. In adulthood, love is not enough; you need a lot of other practical things to fall into place, too.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:13 AM on December 13, 2010 [14 favorites]

I don't know how big your extended family is, or how old they all are, but you also have to consider that over the years, some of them might move away too. 10 years ago my 5 brothers and sisters and I all lived within an hours' drive of my parents. Now, we span the US and my parents themselves moved 3 hours away from their old house.

I guess I just wanted to point out that even if your boyfriend gets a job in the area, and manages to advance his career while staying there, you may not still have the perfect family-centric life you envisioned. I think whoaali said it with "you do the best you can."
posted by cabingirl at 12:16 AM on December 13, 2010 [4 favorites]

PS, I think that you're Korean based on previous comments (forgive me if I'm wrong), and based on my observations of NUMEROUS Korean (US and Korean-born, for variety...) academics, it seems like most of my pals have forged ahead and moved to different locations for their academic careers. They make it work. They find small new Korean communities. They keep in touch with Skype and Facebook and frequent visits. As someone else said, this is modern life.

I'm not trying to discount the cultural aspect, but breaking up with a great guy over this seems so strange to me that I wanted to bring this up.
posted by k8t at 12:17 AM on December 13, 2010

I don't think people are saying your desire to stay near your family are silly, I think they're saying that your desire to both stay near your family AND your partner finding a job that you feel best utilizes his skills and degree (academia, consulting, etc) are incompatible, if not now than very likely sometime in the future. Even without the poor job market, it is extremely, extremely difficult for any specialized professional these days to be able to limit their job search to a specific location and find something that meets their needs and career path. To make matters worse, you are living in an area that attracts a glut of young professionals. Network the hell out of every contact he has in academia and the professional world, but accept that you may have to make a choice between changing location or him accepting a job that you may not feel is "worthy" of his education.
posted by Anonymous at 12:20 AM on December 13, 2010

Doh - you're Israeli! Nevermind the Korean example. !
posted by k8t at 12:22 AM on December 13, 2010

To answer question 1: I'm in that position now. It kind of sucks. Most of the time I don't resent my husband for the situation, but the situation itself does make me pretty miserable very often. We're trying to brainstorm creative solutions to the problem, but the reality is, something has to give. You need to think about this long and hard. The reason I don't resent my husband for more than a fleeting moment now and then is that I remind myself of the reasons I agreed to do this. Sure, it would be great if both of us could pursue our careers and be near family, too. But if work is not available near family, then what? Someone either takes a job that isn't quite what they had planned, or they move away from family. Or the nuclear unit splits up. The need to make a living puts some really hard edges on the problem here.

You don't say what kind of work you are doing or plan to do. Perhaps one solution is for you to find a way to spend more time with your family even if you do end up moving?

On Question 4: I think it's unfair to expect that you will spend all holidays with your family, even without kids in the equation. Since you are planning to have kids, there's a whole new set of considerations there. Granted, there is a tremendous variation in cultural norms, but pretty much every culture values grandchildren. Barring lack of desire on your partner's part to maintain a relationship with his family, you can't really cut a kid off from paternal family, which is what it boils down to, given that they already live overseas.

I think the "5 years and then we move" compromise wouldn't work at all in academia. Assuming all goes well with his career, you could consider spending sabbaticals in CA, but my point is that you would need to mark career milestones, rather than time. Another possibility is him agreeing that he will always apply for any relevant faculty opening in the Bay area.

Finally, on 5: Only you can decide if proximity to your family is more important to you than continuing your relationship with this man. As I said, in my case, the only thing that keeps me sane here is my commitment to my child and marriage. Absent those commitments, I would have been in Pakistan or the US a few months into this stint of ours (18mths and counting). If your partner's actually willing to teach high school rather than university because staying in the Bay area is important to you, then I submit that this kind of mensch should not be given up on.

Good luck, and feel free to memail.
posted by bardophile at 12:28 AM on December 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Maybe this is something worth agonizing over once he goes on the job market and has some idea what the options are? I think whoaali is right--love is hard to find, and I would be very hesitant to throw away a good partnership with someone (who seems to understand your values and is willing to make sacrifices to stay together) over what might happen in 2 years. When you're thinking of spending your life together, you commit without actually knowing how life is going to play out.

He's coming out of an excellent program. There are great universities in the Bay Area/ Northern CA. There's also the whole bio-tech industry (SF is one of the main hubs for this), and the tech industry (maybe there's some tech start-up that would be interested in his skills). So there's a better-than-zero chance he'll find a job here. There's also a good chance he won't, and at that point, you can start brainstorming other options. That's the decision I've made, anyway (as a person in a serious relationship, and 4 years into a PhD).

I don't think your interests are foolish, or that family is a silly thing to value. I will say, though, that you have to choose your priorities. If staying in the Bay Area is your 100% top priority, then you need to know that, and make decisions accordingly. You might choose to give up being with this guy, if he can't make it his #1 priority too. If this is your #1 priority, then that means you would be willing to marry someone you love less than this person, or to not get married, in order to stay near your family. This is not a forecast or prediction; maybe you'll meet Mr. Even-Perfecter tomorrow. But that's the nature of priorities: if something is #1, other things are all #2+. Only you can decide what is #1.
posted by pompelmo at 12:28 AM on December 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I think that wanting to be geographically near your family as you look towards starting your own family is not a bad thing. After grad school in the Northeast, I moved back down South. There are always tradeoffs (in my case money, prestige), but I quickly realized that those things were not my priorities when I began looking for a job.

My husband (who I met and married down here) and I are now looking to start our own family, and the only thing that keeps me from being terrified about having child and working is the fact that our families are so close. The support and help that our parents, siblings, and extended families will provide (and have provided for cousins) is priceless IMO.

The bottom line is that if these values are important to you, keep them as factors in your future decisions. But don't let something over 2 years away rule your life now. Will you guys stay together forever? Maybe. But there are too many variables right now. He may find the perfect position in SF, you may have a huge falling out with your family, your family may decide to move to Houston...two years brings about an infinite list of possibilities, many (related to health, etc) game-changing.

I also agree with meepmeow, you really want your future spouse to be as devoted to family as you are or you will always be dealing with those conflicts.
posted by Kronur at 12:28 AM on December 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You're running into one of the ugly realities of academic life and other highly specialized professions -- to stay in the field, one goes where the job is, and often this means the job is in a place one wouldn't have picked. (It's worse if you are a two-academic couple!) I've known people who deal with this by getting jobs in different cities and living apart, even when their kids are young, for years before they can get jobs that let them live in the same place. It sucks. This is not to discourage you, but just to explain that people may be answering your question who have had (or seen friends have) some quite unhappy experiences in trying to solve this kind of problem. It's not an easy problem. You already have a pretty good handle on the parameters -- you'll have to decide individually and together what you are really willing to compromise on, and be willing to revisit those decisions as you get a better handle on what the compromises really mean. That's the only answer.

For myself, when I was younger I thought in grand terms about how I would be willing to move anywhere to pursue my career, and as I've gotten older, being close to family is more and more important to me. But I know people for whom those priorities are reversed.

Also -- if you end up not getting any answers here about alternate jobs for someone with his qualifications, you could ask that question as a separate one next time; that way people who can give answers to that (fairly specialized) question are more likely to see it.
posted by LobsterMitten at 12:31 AM on December 13, 2010

Oh, to sort of echo an earlier commenter, I actually built my career around being near my parents, and then watched them decide to move halfway around the world. At that point, I was no longer in a position to just up and move also. So, there really aren't any guarantees in this kind of thing.

I really do understand your desire for familial closeness (my Jewish friends have often pointed out that Pakistani culture seems very familiar to them). I don't think the desire is foolish or unrealistic. I just think your question is hoping that there is an easier solution than exists in the real world.
posted by bardophile at 12:35 AM on December 13, 2010

How old are you? First generation immigrants I have known often have this attitude in their late teens and early twenties but as they move into late twenties, and cousins and sisters have kids, and kids grow up and start going to high school etc, it can fade somewhat. This isn't always the case, but I have seen enough cases to know that it's not uncommon, at least here in Australia. Growing up can, sometimes, mean growing your own more separate life.

This said, it's totally something to break up over, yes, and to be honest, if this is what your heart is set on, then it's something worth thinking about depending on when/if you want to have kids etc. I have known couples that have broken up over this, and those that have stayed together. Both options worked for the couples in question. I have also known couples that broke up, and then spent a few years apart, and then came back together.

Being away from your family probably shouldn't make you cry regularly; I mean it can be hard and whatnot, but that's some pretty co-dependent stuff right there. Families all over the world for millennia have separated for a variety of reasons for a variety of time units. They keep on. As you get older, you start forming your own family/unit and it becomes a sustaining source. Not as a replacement for your family at all, but as a new thing.
posted by smoke at 12:40 AM on December 13, 2010

As a former high school teacher I'd like to defend my profession by saying that your bf will need another 2-3 years of schooling if he wants to teach in a public school regardless of his PhD. It's not something you can just decide to do (far from it).

He could look into private schools, but the pay is truly terrible. I know that many public school teachers in San Francisco can't afford to live there. This would be doubly true for a private school teacher.

That said, if staying in the Bay Area is what's most imortant for him then he needs to start doing his homework right now. He needs to start talking to his prof's about private opportunities outside of academia (of which there are many). If he's serious about going on the academic job market, just forget about it -- he'll have to go where the potential job is (or in this economic climate, where they aren't due to budget cuts).

Just be grateful he's not a PhD student in the humanities.

And you guys really need to have a big talk.
posted by bardic at 1:44 AM on December 13, 2010 [3 favorites]

I'm not trying to be critical of your desire to be near your family and raise your children near them, I think that's a very wonderful goal, but unfortunately I think it is one shared by many, many people and only some actually get to do it.

If that's your number 1 priority in finding a partner, then that is your priority, but you need to accept the fact that you will likely have to compromise in other areas. Some people find it very easy to find partners and others find it very difficult. If you are the type that regularly meets people you could see yourself being happy with, maybe it's worth it to not compromise in this respect, but you need to remember that there are no guarantees in life. Just because someone appears to have a stable job in the bay area, doesn't mean that job will exist in 5, 10 or 20 years.

You are absolutely entitled to determine what your dealbreakers are, but carefully weigh the consequences.
posted by whoaali at 1:49 AM on December 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

The only question I can really answer is #5, and unfortunately the answer is yes. This is a big enough deal to end a relationship over. My feeling is that if there is too much compromise (he teaches high school, missing out on his dream of been a tenured faculty member at a prestigious university or you have to live 1,000 miles away from family) that you will encounter problems.

This is one of those "deal-breaker" kind of issues, as someone mentioned upthread. However, you have a chance to end it amicably now and remain good friends without there being as many feelings being hurt as there will be down the road.
posted by King Bee at 1:58 AM on December 13, 2010

He's open to considering other jobs, but isn't really coming up with much. He suggested he could teach high school, which I wouldn't allow him to do - he deserves to use the highly specialized skills he's been developing for a decade now.

I don't have the right experience to comment on the rest of your question, but this leapt out at me. If he is considering high school teaching (an important job and not one to be considered lightly), and if this could keep you together and it's a compromise he's happy to make, then you really need to think long and hard before you decide you won't allow this.
posted by altolinguistic at 3:52 AM on December 13, 2010

I should preface this by saying that I don't really know what I'm talking about here.

However, Silicon Valley seems like a relatively great place for a brain/cognition person to look for work. Worry about your question after you've done an extensive search for work in high tech companies, startups, Xerox Parc, etc (not to mention applying for academic positions). Don't rule out looking at companies just because they don't immediately seem to have anything to do with cogsci.
posted by trig at 4:31 AM on December 13, 2010

Best answer: "Has anyone been in the position of having to live away from family for a spouse despite having always dreamed of proximity? Tell me about the experience. Did you end up resenting your partner and leaving? Was it, ultimately, a sacrifice that didn't leave you wanting to cry regularly?"

Yes, and no, and yes. I lived the first several years of my marriage a 13-hour drive from my tight-knit midwestern family. It wasn't my favorite thing or my first choice, but it wasn't that big a deal either. We talked, we e-mailed, we visited; day to day it wasn't such a big deal.

Later we moved back to the midwest, within a 3-hour drive of my family (managable, though not ideal). And my sister up and moved to an entirely different continent for school and my parents up and moved TO WHERE I'D JUST COME FROM! (They actually split their time between the two states, it's complicated.) My brothers are still nearby but who knows for how long? I'm glad we chose a place to live based on it being a good fit for us in terms of career, interests, and family-friendliness, and not solely based on being near my family.

As you start a marriage and then a family, you begin to build your own life, moreso and in a different way than before we had kids. We are rooted in our community in a way we weren't before, and happy here. Yes, it's hard to have family not as close as we'd wish (and we live in a community where plenty of people live seriously down the block from grandma and grandpa!), but video chat is a wonderful thing, and I wouldn't throw our lives here away if my family suddenly had a Kennedy compound to go live on.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 4:55 AM on December 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If it will somehow curb judgmental comments, I'd like to point out that in my culture (first generation immigrant), familial closeness is highly valued, so feel free to refrain from letting me know my interests are foolish and unrealistic.

Well, in a similar situation to yours, it worked out for my parents: both first generation immigrants/immigrants themselves, both professionals, both looking to move closer to their own families, with one of them looking for a tenure track position.

This is complicated and involves a certain amount of risk and sacrifice. In most other situations I've observed, one partner is the "alpha academic," and the other partner is the one whose career choices have to be more flexible to allow the other to follow the tenure track positions wherever they lead. Though the last guy I knew who was a postdoc at CalTech ended up getting a faculty position at UC Berkeley -- so it might happen.

I hate to say it, but the academic system in the US is focused around gathering the best minds from all over the country and all over the world to top universities and then dispersing them throughout the rest of the country again at those tenure-track faculty positions.

I guess what I'm saying is that it's not impossible for your boyfriend to find a tenure track position at a university located between UC Davis and UC Santa Cruz, but it's a big gamble-- a gamble you kind of have to be prepared to lose.

where can a cognitive neuroscientist research around the bay area? Are there think tanks we're not aware of? Companies that would want research for consulting?

There are lots of universities in that corridor you didn't mention: Santa Clara University, San Jose State, etc. There's also the R&D company SRI which does a lot of research in various fields. It's less secure and less academic than a tenure track faculty position, but it probably pays better.
posted by deanc at 6:14 AM on December 13, 2010 [2 favorites]

DarlingBri hit the nail on the head, I think. It sounds like you and your boyfriend have at least one irreconcilable difference. You shouldn't ask him to compromise his work for children you don't even have yet (and might not ever have).
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 6:25 AM on December 13, 2010

Best answer: Your question is extremely eerie to me, because what you're anticipating two years down the road is exactly where my life is right now. My partner is in the same general field as your partner (cognitive neuroscience), but is finishing his postdoc and doing the academic search. We'd LOVE to wind up in California in order to be close to our families (though with nowhere near the devotion to this priority that you seem to feel). I just finished my PhD in a different field and need to find either a postdoc or a job.

You're being incredibly unrealistic about the likelihood of your partner getting an academic job in the Bay area, or even California at all. Extremely unrealistic. Here's why:

This year, a *very* good year for hiring in your partner's field, there are around 25 tenure track jobs advertised across the US. Competition is extremely intense, often with over one or two hundred applications per position. Often the top 30% of the applications are considered equally awesome by search committees, and decisions on who to interview (between 4-8 candidates per position) become a bit arbitrary. This year there are actually jobs at UC schools.. assuming the budget lines don't get cut sometime before hires are made/contracts are signed/the fall '11 semester starts (this is extremely common lately in CA). There are roughly five job advertisements in this field in CA this year -- and that includes places like UC Riverside, not Davis or Berkeley. Last year there were 3 searches, one of which was canceled before interviews occurred. In two years? There could be 7, or 1, or none at all. Being geographically desirable, though, means that the competition for these is even stiffer than elsewhere. Your partner will be exceptionally lucky to get academic interviews anywhere, nevermind at these places, nevermind jobs.

Now, there are definitely nonacademic options in the area. Yahoo, Google, Xerox PARC... Silicon Valley has a lot of industrial research that is relevant, and probably has better hiring rates. And pay.

Choosing to be a partner to someone in academia means that you are embracing the possibility that you're going to spend years of your life toiling away in Lincoln, Nebraska, or wherever. If this is not something that you can do, that's completely, 100% okay, but it does mean that you're not compatible in the long run. Your partner can also choose not to be in academia, which is great too. But choosing academia means forfeiting any semblance of control over geography.
posted by amelioration at 6:29 AM on December 13, 2010 [3 favorites]

One theoretical compromise I can think of is that, should you and your partner settle somewhere far from your family, you plan to buy a two-apartment home or a property with a little cottage on it. Then, if your older relatives retire, they can come live/stay with you for long periods of time and really get to know the children. (But on that note, I would ask your family about their retirement plans. They may have ideas about spending some of their retirement elsewhere, and that location could be another place for your partner to look for work, or the very idea could free you from the Bay area.)
posted by xo at 6:38 AM on December 13, 2010 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I'll tell you my story as a point of reference.

I come from a culture in which family is the first priority. I had an insanely close relationship with siblings, cousins, parents, aunts and uncles (and grandparents before they passed away). I also come from wealth and socio-economical privilege.

I met husband at 19. We were together on and off, until my last year of school, in which we got "serious". I always panicked about the same things you’re panicking. Getting married, having kids away from my parents, etc. But hell, husband (boyfriend in that time) was the love of my life.

So at 23, I graduated in engineering, and I ran to the US to marry him. 6 months later I was working at a gas station (sometimes third shift), had no friends, and cried myself to sleep at least twice a week, thinking about how much I missed my parents and my sisters. I felt like a professional failure, a social ugly duckling, and alone in the world. This also coincided with my having to clean my place for the first time ever. I felt miserable. It seems kid of ridiculous now.

But truth is, time passed. I forged a new tiny family with husband and kitty. I can never feel alone with him around. Little by little, my life fell into place. I found a great job, I met new friends, I got used to having 2-hour-long phone calls with my parents and talk with my sisters almost every day.

I guess I just want to illustrate that what you think is happiness for you right now is defined by your experiences and the things you know, right now. Realize there are other ways to be happy. Never in a million years could I have believed myself capable of living in the US (I'm a socialist) and having a wonderful life, away from my family. Hell, I never even thought myself capable of keeping my own house!

I say if your guy is a catch, try and fight for it. Just because things are not going to be exactly like you wanted them to it doesn't mean you won't be 100% happy.

If however, you think it’s out of the question, then it's time to stop wasting time.
posted by Tarumba at 7:06 AM on December 13, 2010 [5 favorites]

I notice a conspicuous lack of discussion about where his family lives.

Do they also live in the Bay Area?

If you concern is the child's extended family, that should be a consideration equal to where your family lives. On the other hand, that seems like it could also be a "think of the children" style misdirection for you just not wanting to move away from your family for personal reasons.
posted by toomuchpete at 8:04 AM on December 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

I notice a conspicuous lack of discussion about where his family lives.'

The OP said his family lives overseas.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 8:07 AM on December 13, 2010

I am not seeing you compromising here. I'm seeing him compromise about living near your family (not his), where you want to live and presumably have a job (not him) and your compromise is that it's OK with you if he commutes? Am I missing something really important?
posted by Sidhedevil at 8:10 AM on December 13, 2010 [3 favorites]

While housing in the Bay Area can be expensive, it shouldn't be an issue for a young professional couple without kids, as long as you are flexible in terms of living situations and locations. Friends of mine are living in a little studio for $900-something, in Berkeley, near BART stations. It's a funky granny unit over a garage, which may not work for everyone, but it works for them.

If he's really willing to go as far as to teach high school, it sounds like you can make this work.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:10 AM on December 13, 2010

If it will somehow curb judgmental comments, I'd like to point out that in my culture (first generation immigrant), familial closeness is highly valued, so feel free to refrain from letting me know my interests are foolish and unrealistic.

It would be wrong to say anyone's interests are foolish. However, to say someone's interests are unrealistic isn't an insult.

Here's the facts. Your desire to be close to your family is very likely to conflict with your boyfriend's stated career goals. Acknowledging this is the first step to perhaps finding either peace with not being close to your family, or acknowledging that this man, whatever his great qualities, is not for you because of his chosen career path.

You may have hard choices ahead.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:12 AM on December 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I have been, am in, and will probably continue to be in your situation for the foreseeable future, and unfortunately, it's never easy, but that doesn't mean it's not worthwhile.

I'm also from a large, close-knit, minority family, and I met my boyfriend when he was still in grad school. To be perfectly honest, I don't think either of us fully understood what the academic lifestyle would mean in terms of our future, but after five and a half years, a 3000 mile move, and one very busy postdoc appointment, we're still together. Today, he's back on the job market, and we're once again faced with some tough choices about our future. Happily, we're crazy about each other and content with the choices we've made, but it's taken a lot of communication and compromise on both sides to keep it working.

Something I've come to learn about academics is that you can't be one if you're not seriously committed to what you do, because it's hard to imagine how it would be worth it otherwise. The academic job market for every single discipline is brutal, some much more so than others, and the battle for tenure can be equally ugly and can go on for years and years. While tenure tends to give you more job security, it still won't make you rich and even then the responsibilities are considerable, so you really have to love what you do, almost at the expense of all else. There are certainly benefits to being or being with an academic, but it's not a lifestyle I would enter lightly, particularly if geographic stability and proximity to family are major concerns.

Because I value community and family so highly, moving 3000 miles away was a little terrifying, but we've worked hard to build a stable circle of friends where we are, and we also try to see my family whenever possible. We spend at least a couple of weeks a year with them, but I also talk on the phone with them regularly. I IM with my brother almost every day, and we make time for playing games and video chatting with them on a frequent basis. It's not perfect, of course, but it's not nearly as isolated as I feared it might be when I first moved, and since moving, my relationship has deepened, and in many ways, I've actually grown closer to my family.

Most academics I know have had to make some tough decisions that affected their relationships. A couple of my married friends (cognitive scientists, in fact!) just moved to the middle of nowhere, leaving behind pretty much their entire social network because that was where they could both get jobs. I know of several couples who live in different states or even countries, who fly back and forth to see each other when they can. I've had friends who dropped out of academia because they couldn't bear the instability, and others who have stuck with it only to move every few years and despair of ever having a long term relationship. As for me, I made the conscious choice to put my boyfriend's career first so we could stay together, but it's meant less professional fulfillment for me and also being several thousand miles away from my family. These are the kinds of choices I've watched academics make all the time, and it's never easy and always highly individual.

Your values aren't particularly uncommon, and it's a perfectly valid reason to break up with your boyfriend, but that's something only the two of you can decide. My boyfriend and I were pretty clueless going into our relationship, so it was mostly through dumb luck that we managed to muddle through the messy process of establishing shared goals and values and found ourselves in pretty firm agreement. If that hadn't been the case, I'm pretty certain my relationship would have fallen apart during the job application process, because it's stressful enough to try to plan out several years of your life without having to take the needs of another person into account. I don't resent him for the path my life has taken, but we both recognize and occasionally mourn that it's probably not the one I would have chosen for myself. I also freak myself out occasionally at the thought of raising children so far away from my family, but then we sit down, have a serious talk, and we do our best to smooth things over.

If he's truly the one you want, it can definitely work, but recognize that with your particular values, it will probably always be something of a struggle. It's important that you be able to reconcile yourself to these obstacles, because they will probably always be there if your partner is truly dedicated to his career, and if you're prone to resentment, this is definitely the kind of deal-breaking issue that will only grow over time. There are lots of date-worthy men in the Bay Area in professions much more geographically stable than academia, so definitely talk to your partner, because in the end, you are the only ones who will be able to decide if this is worth fighting for.
posted by Diagonalize at 1:07 PM on December 13, 2010 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Looks like SF is a 6 hour drive from Los Angeles.

I live around 6 hours away from my folks by car. It's really not as bad as you think. We make it down there around 3-4 times a year. Just jump in the car and drive down. Once your kids are older, books on tape will make it much easier: choose the right story and the kids will be transfixed and will barely notice the passage of time at all.

If you want your family to have a real presence in your children's lives, things like phone calls, video chats, and handwritten letters will keep that connection going. If you're serious about keeping the connection, the connection will be kept.

Assuming you are starting to think about things like family and children and whether this work means one of two things: either you are serious about starting a new life together, or you are trying to find reasons why this relationship isn't going to work. Figure out which of those two is what is really going on here and act accordingly.
posted by Deathalicious at 2:37 PM on December 13, 2010

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