Living with a busy grad student?
November 29, 2005 7:26 PM   Subscribe

Any tips for living with a busy grad student?

My wonderful boyfriend is in the middle of his first year at a fancy-pants two-year program in an otherwise lackluster (at least from my experience so far) part of the world.

I thought I knew what I was getting into when I moved here with him, but I am having trouble dealing with his long hours and constant traveling. Also with feeling like a lower priority than the work, which sometimes is legitmately the case (grad school is intense and throws work-life balance off kilter). Then there's the faculty-wife-Sylvia-Plath issue-- I feel a like a little bit of a shadow at times, which is not a comfortable position for me. Plus, we used to be each other's main sounding board. Now he has professors and colleagues and such, and I feel displaced. I get irritable, even, with the attention he does give me. I feel like it's always on his timetable and all that.

I am trying very hard to have my own life and interests, but I miss my friends and my life in my former home and am looking forward to my next step after this. I communicate openly about my feelings, but I almost think that that's causing us to bicker all the time. I understand what a stressful/special time for him this is for him, but it's still hard.

This is an otherwise pretty happy, functional relationship, but it is truly feeling strained.

Any other tips?
posted by lalalana to Human Relations (14 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
He moved there with a busy demanding life waiting to engage him. What were your circumstances upon arriving? Getting more involved in things that interest you nearby might divert more of your attention and cut into your alone-and-feeling-alone time. Go audition for a play. Always a hoot.
posted by scarabic at 7:29 PM on November 29, 2005

what do you do? i mean, do you have a job or stuff that otherwise keeps you occupied, and it's just the (lack of) "together life" that's frustrating, or do you have "nothing to do" all day? is the problem more that you're bored, or that you're fed up with him?

(maybe that sounds odd, but wives (in theory spouses, but in practice wives) where i am are banned from employment, for example).
posted by andrew cooke at 7:37 PM on November 29, 2005

When pips was in grad school, I had a job and that kept me busy, and I cultivated freinds at work and in the new city (which I hated, but you make do) we lived in, by finding new haunts.
posted by jonmc at 7:41 PM on November 29, 2005

I do work, and I like my job okay. I'm taking a couple of post-bac classes, too, which I like okay. Really, I do stay busy, but not always not-bored. Next semester, I'm taking more interesting classes, so that should help. I'm always coming up with new projects and ideas on how to keep busy and interested, more so lately, so maybe that will help.
posted by lalalana at 7:50 PM on November 29, 2005

I live with a law student, currently 3L and I sympathize. I learned to split up what were sort of legitimate relationship issues [I have to do all the chores because you are never home, I would like to have some time to tell you about my day] and what were just me being lonely and/or feeling second-banana and/or bored and missing my previous life with him. What worked for me were a few things

1. Getting a job that I obsessed over. Not always the easiest thing to do, but it was great for me. Now some nights I'm home late and some nights he is and we both feel busy. Also, MetaFilter.

2. EXERCISE. This can be your own routine, is great for your mood, gives you something that is all about you, and often comes with some built in group of associates. For me it's the pool, but look around, maybe there is yoga, a basketball court, something else.

3. Talking. We set up some guidelines in a general sense so that I didn't always feel that he'd come home and say "I have a lot of work, you'l have to make dinner/do laundry/walk dog/whatever" and we built in some time that was just us time. It's hard to go from being more free-form in your relationship to having set times to talk about things, but it was helpful for us. When whichever of us comes home, we take 30 min or so and catch each other up on our day. We have coffee together in the morning. We split up tasks so he does ones he can fit into his schedule [laundry] and I do ones that take up more out-of-house time [shopping, car to mechanics] and if one of us feels that they're doing too much work, we renegotiate. Keeping the deals we make is one of the small things we do to make sure we're both comfortable with how things are going and I think he likes sort of knowing what the plan is and I like knowing that we're both responsible for at least part of the work of running our home and work lives.

He gets a free pass for finals week and the week before it, and I usually leave town so that he can really go crazy with work and not worry about me.
posted by jessamyn at 7:51 PM on November 29, 2005

what we do (way past grad student, but it doesn't ever seem to get any better, i'm afraid) is plan out who is where, when, along with deadlines and stuff, and then work out when we can actually get some time together. and fixed, smaller things, like always having weekend breakfasts together.

and i'm lucky, in that i seem to have a pile of things that i can always think of to do. writing software being the main one, but also, at various times, painting, printing, woodwork, bass guitar, electronics, etc etc. but i feel your frustration - it's hard knowing how much to complain, or exactly where the "just" balance is.

as for surviving a less-than-perfect town/city. again, i guess i'm lucky, in that for me the important things tend to be downloadable or shippable from amazon. and while this place doesn't have everything that i think important, i've learnt the importance of some things it does have (wine and food, particularly).

i seem to be just repeating jessamyn - the next thing on my list is exercise. for me that's not a group thing, and sometimes it's a grind, but i feel so much better afterwards. and when you're unhappy/frustrated you can dump some energy into it.

having a co-operative (albeit work-obsessed) partner helps hugely. if he's going to stay in academia then post-doc will be similar. so you need to develop some decent communication and a common understanding of where the line is, and what is at stake if both sides don't put effort into making it work. but i have no idea how you get that, apart from surviving worse times.
posted by andrew cooke at 8:20 PM on November 29, 2005

My advice is to have a routine of something meaningful you do together every week. During grad school, my guy and I would always go grocery shopping on Sundays - just the two of us. It was a nice little routine to have even though it sounds boring.

We also attended Happy Hours and other work/school-related social events together, which was a good way for us to get to get to know each others' colleagues.
posted by coolsara at 8:36 PM on November 29, 2005

Is his work something that you can follow, at least somewhat? If so you could ask to proofread his assignments. In fact in many fields the standard of clarity is writing so that a layperson can understand the general point (even if they miss some of the details). By reading his stuff you'll help him reach that standard and feel more involved in what he does. You'll also be a little better off when you are around his colleagues and they start talking shop.

My wife and I make time to have dinner together at least 3-4 times a week. The first thing I do when we sit down is ask her was how her day went. Dinner usually takes about half an hour (I know that is not very much). Then she goes to watch to TV while I spend yet another night awake until 3AM writing or reading.
posted by oddman at 8:41 PM on November 29, 2005

Take advantage of the only real benefit of graduate study: long vacations. Plan some excellent trips, and find out if you might even get them covered by his department for research or for a conference.
posted by Sara Anne at 10:36 PM on November 29, 2005

I quit my job and moved out to Long Island, NY with the woman who would become my wife, so that she could go to grad school there. I ended up socializing mostly with the other grad students and faculty in her department, because there wasn't much else in the way of social opportunities (since the village didn't really want the university there, the university community was sort of insulated.)

I met a lot of really great people, formed lasting friendships, and learned a little geology in that time. I ended up getting a pretty good job though connections I made in that department too, but still mainly socialized and recreated with folks from my (then) girlfriend's circle, and never ended up forming one that was distinct from that one. This was facilitated by attending and throwing lots of parties, and large group activities, as well as going on field trips (like going to dig in the mud for fossilized fish poop; what could be more fun?).
posted by jimfl at 10:39 PM on November 29, 2005

I empathize. My first marriage ended (for many reasons we ultimately concluded) with the statement that: "You care about grad school more than me."

As andrew cooke noted, you could replace "grad school" with "consuming profession/avocation" and be in the same situation. Currently my spouse (of 10 years! yay!) and I both have very consuming jobs that we're passionate about and that often have opposite schedules. This works for us for a couple of reasons: (1) we're each passionate about what we do *and* are each other's biggest fan club--we want each other to do their thing to the fullest, and (2) we cherish small little routines that may seem mundane but are a source of great joy and connection.

(1) It's a bitch following someone somewhere when you don't have either a gig you love or a sense that you're more than temporary in the place you're at. It's tough and I've had many friends go through this. I'd turn it around and look at it as an opportunity for you to dig into/figure out what your passions are and pursue them as intensely as your bf is pursuing his degree. (see Jessmyn's 1st point)

(2) Some anchor routines together, even if they are small. For us it's going out to brunch on Saturday and me cooking a great dinner to share on Sunday (sometimes the only homecooked/shared meal of the week). Oh, and rubbing feet together as we fall asleep, though my entry into bed is often a couple of hours after hers.

At the core of this all is a commitment to be together and that commitment is based on a shared vision of our life together, one that allows for extended periods (measured in years) where the arrangement may not be perfect but it is perfectly getting us each (and thus together) what we want. That happens, as echoed above, through lots of communication and very concrete discussions about why I'm doing what I'm doing, why she's doing what she's doing, and why we want to be doing these things side by side.

Sometimes I'll get mopey and I stop myself, back up, and remind myself that we're doing what we're doing for reasons. You can always re-examine these reasons but having them in the first place is, I believe, a requirement for any relationship-lifestyle.
posted by donovan at 10:42 PM on November 29, 2005

sorry for commenting again, but i thought of something while out running just now.

a home helps. for many years we lived in rented furnished accomodation, moving regularly. it was only in the last post-doc before a permanent position that we bought a house, and i wish we'd done so sooner, despite the hassles involved in buying/selling and moving furniture.

really, buying isn't so important, but furnishing/decorating is. having a home that you've made together, that reflects your common interests, is a powerful symbol. for me this raised interesting philosophical questions - to what extent is it "my job" to make a welcoming home? for a woman, however, that might be less amusing.

this may be too early in your relationship for such a commitment, but a possible suggestion is that you do get somewhere you can work on yourselves, and you plan your "together time" to work on that. the advantage, over going shopping or buying food, is that what you build stays around as a symbol of shared commitment (at least til you move!). the disadvantage is that it's a shitload of work decorating a place from scratch, especially if you're hard up grad students who can't afford to pay anyone. and, of course, if you're pushed for finding time together the work may simply not get done.
posted by andrew cooke at 4:57 AM on November 30, 2005

I'm a 1L (law school) with a full time job. My wife has been a saint. He cooks, cleans, packs me 2 meals each day and works full time herself.

Andrew Cooke and the other folks are dead on with the practical things.

1) Us vs. The World-
Wife and I are 2 years into the marriage. When I was first looking into law school we agreed that our marriage came first, that law school was second and everything else came third. This way of seeing things has kept us sane.
It's aloft of dedication and effort from both of us: However when things get hard or we have trouble communicating we both know how hard the other is working on the relationship. Seeing that effort is sometimes comfort enough.

2) Date Night- For us it's same Italian place every Friday. It's quiet, we talk and neither of us has to cook. The nearly ritualistic regularity of date night can be a great comfort.

3) Be each others "biggest fans." - that kind of mutual support builds life long partnerships that will keep you spiritually well long after youth has passed. ;-)
posted by BeerGrin at 6:11 AM on November 30, 2005

I had something like this almost ruin my relationship.

My conclusions now are that one has to live their life as you would wish to do in as best as possible way. If the dynamic ends up being set of you being the sacrificer and he the one in the position to call on that, you will get in trouble sooner or later, feel trapped, compromised, etc. So keeping one's identity, being upfront and strong about your needs and feelings, and doing what you need to do to develop yourself outside the relationship are immensely important. On the other hand relationships are worthwhile some of the time, and it makes sense to make contingent sacrifices to go with something that's good. I think it's just how you orient yourself to it all, and it sounded maybe like you were getting bogged down in the lopsided dynamic yourself (which is normal).
posted by aussicht at 10:03 AM on November 30, 2005

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