Can a woman who goes back to school have a normal life?
November 17, 2016 4:05 PM   Subscribe

Guys who go back to school in their 30s seem to not have the rest of their lives suffer, but I'm worried that I'll have to give up a future of being able to find a partner + have kids + better friend group if I choose to further my education. Do women fear worse socially/romantically if they return to school? Please prove me wrong, Metafilter!

I'm in my early 30s and have an undergraduate degree and very good career experience in my field, which is one that people usually enter with a graduate degree. In order to stay even remotely competitive in the job market, I know I'll have to leave my stable job go to grad school, or get a second bachelor's degree/do a qualifying year, and/or do intensive second-language training (I'm in Canada). Whatever combination of things I choose, it means I'll be spending time and money on career development rather than on experience that help one's social life like travel and hobbies. I'm a bore, I know.

I know a number of guys in their 30s who've gone back to school and managed to maintain a group of friends and have a serious relationship, but it seems like women who do the same end up...adrift and lonely. It's as though it's hard to find commonalities with similarly-aged women if you're not focused on long-term partnership or children, and hard to date men close to your age if you can't settle down in a year or so. Even a part-time MA means I'll have less time for a life, and a lot of people simply don't want to date a student or someone who has responsibilities once they leave the office - women are expected to have lots of energy for emotional labour, and I've already dealt with being treated badly by a partner over my 50 hour workweeks.

I'm honestly scared about whether my concerns are realistic. I already feel like it's very hard to make friends, and I'm concerned it'll be worse once I'm further out of step with my peer group because I've temporarily left the labour force. Deferring or perhaps never having children for the sake of education seems like something else that is potentially alienating, both to friends and potential partners. Maybe this would be easier if I were starting this new chapter of my life with a lot of friends and an SO who actually cares about my future, but I'm not, so there's that.

So, Metafilter, do women actually make this work? Should I work on the rest of my life in lieu of putting more letters after my name?
posted by blerghamot to Education (21 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
 
Alternative: can you go to grad school part time? Like at night?
I went to grad school with plenty of professional women. They had jobs, partners, kids, all of the above.
posted by Neekee at 4:10 PM on November 17, 2016 [5 favorites]


I went to grad school at 28, and started dating my husband while attending school. He wasn't a classmate, but there are tons of alumni matches in my program.
posted by snickerdoodle at 4:22 PM on November 17, 2016 [3 favorites]


I understand your concerns, because I agree you do have to decide what to prioritise on at different parts of your life. That being said however, mid-life career interruptions (job loss, school, caregiving) are more the norm than not in my experience. Is the grad school with a primarily female cohort? Because meeting someone else your age that is also ambitious and smart like you is a distinct possibility in co-ed grad schools. There is also the possibility that you don't go to school, don't meet anyone, and have neither the career or partnership you want. At least the career is something you have a fair amount of control over.

I did go to grad school in my mid-thirties; it was hard and I missed out on a lot of things at the time, but since then it has opened my life immeasurably and I am so glad I went. I went FT while working FT, but going PT while staying working would be my preferred route to keep your network close.
posted by saucysault at 4:36 PM on November 17, 2016


I went back to grad school full time at 28 (30 and still in it now). At the time I had a partner, but not many friends. I still have the partner, so can't speak to that part of your question. But importantly, I now also have grad school friends, who are awesome. My program trends a bit younger, but my best school buddies are women about my age/older, and I anticipate that we will remain friends once school's out. I would say grad school has had a net positive impact on my social/personal life.
posted by snorkmaiden at 4:39 PM on November 17, 2016 [2 favorites]


You already don't have "a lot of friends" or a partner, so it's hard to see how adding a structured social group and more social interaction (plus a larger network) will limit your social life. You might find that for someone in your position, graduate school expands your social opportunities substantially.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 5:09 PM on November 17, 2016 [30 favorites]


Or, in other words, you feel that you are out of step with your current peer group. Graduate school can provide a different peer group, with whom you may find yourself very much in step.

In contrast to the suggestion of a nighttime program, I would suggest a daytime program with other similarly-situated students, and a concerted effort to make friends with other students and with professors (who are viable friends in many graduate school settings).
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 5:11 PM on November 17, 2016 [8 favorites]


Deferring or perhaps never having children for the sake of education seems like something else that is potentially alienating, both to friends and potential partners.

no worthwhile friend would be alienated by a decision that private. It does seem easier to make superficial friendships if you have a young child, only because there's always something to talk about with the other mothers and places to go to cluster together -- early child development is as all-consuming a small-talk topic as the weather, if you need it to be, but if you're not passionately interested it would make you more feel more alienated, not less. If you want children, of course have them (but get the second degree first), but you sound much more worried about friends and partners.

I am in my late 30s with no children, and I have a hard time initially meeting women my age who do have children, because we tend to go different places and do different things. but when I do meet them I have no trouble being friendly with them. nobody has yet seemed alienated. or if they have, it's just by my charming personality and not my life choices. Being willing to talk about their children is way more important to making friends with them than having any of your own, I have found. but really, I don't feel a lack of things in common with them, they're just always busy so I rarely get to explore those things.

I also don't think you should worry about missing out on travel as an experience that helps one's social life, unless you mean in order to have stories to tell strangers. but if you go into a demanding academic program, that should be even better for having something to talk about.

I do understand your worry about losing a peer group; my friends are mostly either 10 years younger or 10 years older than I am. this is great in its own way but I just want to know where all the goddamn women in their 30s are, sometimes. but if the answer where you live is that they're temporarily nested in their own houses reading to their kids and staying in with their husbands every evening, having kids and a husband of your own is not going to lure them outside to you. unfortunately.
posted by queenofbithynia at 5:20 PM on November 17, 2016


A friend of mine who is in her mid 30s now went back to school to become a therapist a few years ago. She moved out of state to do so after being accepted to a program that was exactly what she wanted to do. I'm sure she was having a lot of the same thoughts, uprooting her life, moving to a different part of the country on her own as a single woman, knowing about biological clocks and the demands of grad school, etc.

She met someone in her program and they started dating soon after she started school. They had an accidental pregnancy and decided to have the baby. They are now married with a one year old child. I believe she took at least a semester off of school because of the baby and took a lighter courseload for a while as well. However, she just graduated and is preparing to start her new career. She seems happy, and as far as I can tell aside from a few bumps in the road everything has turned out fine in terms of school, relationship, family, etc.

I'm not sure if her story would be rare, but I know a number of women who've become nontraditional students in one form or another (single mom law student, later in life nurse practitioner, journalist friend who decided to become a nurse and also met/married someone in the process, etc). It doesn't seem to be a life-killer from where I'm standing.
posted by Sara C. at 5:26 PM on November 17, 2016 [3 favorites]


From my experience and that of people around me, it is harder on women. Most of the people I know who went back are coupled up, though; men who are not in school don't seem to step up the way women who are not in school do, and the women who are in school continue to expend the same amount of emotional and actual labor. I think this may translate to single students as well, and that your concern about emotional labor is valid.
posted by mchorn at 5:52 PM on November 17, 2016 [2 favorites]


It depends on how much time and energy (also, money, sure) you have for socializing. And how efficient you are at your coursework. (And I guess health.)

But if all that's set, you can *totally* meet people through school, at your age. Especially through a grad program, where there are formal opportunities to make connections - that's often the point! I know a few people who went at around that age and had a great experience, met tons of people (including partners) - found it really expanded their worlds, as others have said.

You might not be hanging out as often with friends who are in the middle of their careers and *just* earning (into restaurants, trips to Mexico, shoes), or those having kids, but you'll be cultivating these other relationships.

Then, in a heartbeat - assuming you're successful at the program and finish it on time, which I am definitely assuming - you'll be out with a strong credential, plus all your experience. And soon enough, you'll be up for dinners and adventure vacations, too.

Now's the best time to do it - get it out of the way before you have too much responsibility and not enough energy. (Also, if you wait *too* long, parents might start facing age-related health issues, and that can really mess up plans. )

It *is* true that women are on a tighter timeline than men. (Especially those wanting kids, not sure if this is the case.) Packing an advanced degree, career ambitions, a relationship, and maybe a family into a decade does demand focus, but it's possible - as long as you're intentional and clear about your goals, and don't waste time on bad relationships (that is the #1 focus vampire for women, ime).

If you were talking late 30s/early 40s, I'd agree, study at that age can be isolating. Most people start to get a little insular around then, just because of obligations (or fatigue, health stuff, etc).

But look, you've got two years for this program. Hopefully, it'll also be fun. Then, you're out and working. If you want kids: you then have ~5 more years for earning and dating/settling in. Check your health, but not impossible to have kids at 40, or even into early forties.
posted by cotton dress sock at 5:59 PM on November 17, 2016


+1 to Rock 'em Sock 'em, though - don't drag it out with P/T study, if you can - get in (really in, have the full experience) and get out.
posted by cotton dress sock at 6:02 PM on November 17, 2016 [1 favorite]


This is specific to your program (though it seems plausible for language training) and your education style, but could there be online classes (fully or partially), which would give you more control over your schedule? I'm a returning student and I've really appreciated the extra time and reduced stress this has offered me. I don't drive 1-1.5 hours to class and back, plus I can usually be sick or tired without missing any deadlines.

Also, I'm pretty sure grad students study abroad, so you could travel! I go to a state school and I see ads for programs where you pay the same tuition you would normally pay (I'm in-state). Look at websites or call the school for details.

I'm honestly scared about whether my concerns are realistic.

it seems like women who do the same end up...adrift and lonely

This is your fear, not necessarily reflective of reality. You do not know always what will happen before it happens. "Women" are not a homogenous mass and not every woman has the same experience.

a lot of people simply don't want to date a student or someone who has responsibilities once they leave the office

I'm confused by this because it seems it applies to a large number of adult people?

I'm a bore, I know.
I've already dealt with being treated badly
I already feel like it's very hard to make friends
out of step with my peer group
Maybe... if I were starting...with a lot of friends and an SO who actually cares about my future, but I'm not...


Above are depressive statements. If you are going to make a significant life change, don't keep defining your self worth to self-deprecating, your past, social anxiety, comparing yourself to others, or how many friends you have.

Focus on your future, do what you want, focus on the research/work you have to do. Find a therapist if you are distracted by your past, or to talk about how to avoid bad relationships. Don't worry about friends for the moment - you'll make them in school. Your peer group will change and become more diverse and specialized over time.
posted by aralymn at 6:03 PM on November 17, 2016 [1 favorite]


So say you're still single at 40, like I am. What will you wish you had done?

Grad school (depending on the program, I'm sure) is a fantastic way to make friends and meet people who like the same things you like. 90% of the people I'm really close to are folks I met during my grad school years at the age you are now. And no, I didn't come out of grad school with a husband, but I certainly dated plenty and had plenty of relationships.
posted by MsMolly at 6:31 PM on November 17, 2016 [4 favorites]


Relevant aside--I'm the oldest in my professional school class at 39 (F). There are quite a number of men in their 30s in my class who have wives who either stay at home or have lighter work schedules. My SO has supported me in many ways, but one thing he's not going to do is have dinner on the table when I come home. So I not infrequently come off as less "together" or more frazzled or whatever, compared to my agemates with a wife at home. Just FYI.
posted by 8603 at 7:11 PM on November 17, 2016


One more note--while it's not as bad as all that, I don't think your worries are groundless. Make your move now, in your early thirties. I had the idea for this career switch at age 31, but I didn't start school until age 37. It took me 6 years to take all the prerequisites part-time while working, and then another year to apply and get accepted. So now's the time. Don't put it off.
posted by 8603 at 7:14 PM on November 17, 2016 [4 favorites]


I predict you will meet your husband in grad school. Like I did. Good luck!
posted by Toddles at 10:40 PM on November 17, 2016 [1 favorite]


I'm a philosopher. I also just finished my Master's degree last week (yay!). It never occurred to me that I would be missing out on anything by studying more. I guess because I believe that we have many possible paths open to us and all of them offer valuable opportunities and experiences. We can never know what will come next*. If grad school is important to you, go do it.

I've been married a long time and have children so I think I have also accepted that my life will be busy for some years. I find I can handle 2 big things and 2 small things at the same time on top of my normal family & social life. My current bigs were work + part time study. My smalls are a Saturday morning art class and being an unnatural blonde. You'll find the balance that works for you.

Take a deep breath and go do what you want.
Good luck!

*i was going to say "and we can never do everything we want" but I just wrote my masters thesis on radical life extension and well, maybe we will be able to one day soon!
posted by stellathon at 11:26 PM on November 17, 2016


Something to consider is that the "social" aspect of grad school will vary greatly depending on the type of program. If it's a structured, largely class-based degree where most of the cohort takes similar classes, then you will undoubtably come out with some strong friends - I've seen this with my peers who have gone to do policy masters, or law school. However, I'm a 30-year old lady in an engineering PhD, which means individualized courses to my interests, no real cohort to speak of (small program) and lots of solo lab time, and I can echo some of your fears: I've found it hard to make friends (everyone is so much younger/at different places in life), and I don't have the "shared experience" of long group cram sessions, etc.
posted by Paper rabies at 12:08 AM on November 18, 2016 [1 favorite]


it's hard to find commonalities with similarly-aged women if you're not focused on long-term partnership or children, and hard to date men close to your age if you can't settle down in a year or so. Even a part-time MA means I'll have less time for a life, and a lot of people simply don't want to date a student or someone who has responsibilities once they leave the office - women are expected to have lots of energy for emotional labour, and I've already dealt with being treated badly by a partner over my 50 hour workweeks.

I already feel like it's very hard to make friends, and I'm concerned it'll be worse once I'm further out of step with my peer group because I've temporarily left the labour force. Deferring or perhaps never having children for the sake of education seems like something else that is potentially alienating, both to friends and potential partners.


It seems to me that perhaps part of the problem is that you have surrounded yourself with people who have prioritised finding a partner and starting a family and you haven't felt the need to prioritise that so far. If having children soon or at all is a priority you'll have to find ways to make that happen. Taking on additional 'professional' obligations may not be the way to go unless you can free up time elsewhere. But for these things to happen you have to take active steps to make them happen.

On the other hand, if you do not actually want to start a family right now or at all starting such a program would probably bring you in contact with many other women, some will be childless, some will have families and you may find a more balanced peer group. Because I am in my late thirties and I have neither partner nor children and nobody in my peer group is judging me for those choices. Some of my peer group have children, some don't.
posted by koahiatamadl at 12:34 AM on November 18, 2016


Adding another data point: I went to grad school at 28, when I was newly single and feeling "left behind" by all my friends who were pregnant and raising families. It was amazing, refreshing, and empowering to meet so many women (late 20s through late 30s) who were smart, well-read, career-driven, and doing interesting things. We had a small cohort (about 25 people), of which maybe 2/3 was female, so I quickly realized I was NOT going to meet any eligible men there. We were probably equally split between single and coupled. But the friendships I made have lasted, in part because our program required a lot of group work and we often got together on weekends to study. We all understood each other. And now, four years after graduation, there's a baby boom among our cohort, after several weddings. (Personally, I dated just a tiny bit while in school, but started online dating seriously right after graduation and met my now-husband two months later.)

Grad school helped my career tremendously, while also widening my world and introducing me to an entirely new group of people. Two thumbs up.
posted by writermcwriterson at 10:49 AM on November 18, 2016 [1 favorite]


I'll echo the general sentiments of the thread. I've actually made many more close friends in my couple of years thus far as an un-partnered female non-traditional professional school student than I ever did during my years working in industry -- the people I met through work were much more firmly entrenched in their social groups from college or through partners and families, so while I made a few close friends during those years I didn't really augment or build up a social network (while my own network from college dwindled due to marriage and cross country moves).

In grad school, although I am older than average, most of my cohort is geographically displaced to some extent, we have a strong common interest, and we spend a lot of time together. I think the people who have it the hardest are the non-traditional/older students who are already partnered (especially those with children) because their stage in life is so radically different from their colleagues'. I definitely have classmates who I really don't connect with because of the age difference, but that's more of an exception and not the norm.
posted by telegraph at 11:48 AM on November 18, 2016 [1 favorite]


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