A two-body problem
February 21, 2017 3:42 AM   Subscribe

What do we do?

Hello y'all,

I will try to make this as brief as possible. Six years ago, I started dating a wonderful person who is an academic. I moved to his city when he got a postdoc, turning down my own prestigious PhD opportunity in the process. The whole thing went very sour - I enrolled in a grad program that wasn't right for me, suffered a debilitating bout of depression and physical injuries as well, and we ended up breaking up when he moved for another job. That was three years ago.
We have worked our way back together very deliberately and slowly - believe me when I say that we are doing such an amazing job communicating, sharing our feelings and being much more honest than we were in the past. He is kind and funny and a good man - we are trying to really plan a future. We both spent three years trying to get over each other and failing.
But of course, he's on the job market again. He's gotten a job offer from a wonderful school that is extremely far away from our respective cities - I know academia, and it's the kind of job offer that comes along once in a blue moon. However, in the interim, I have developed much better coping skills in my current city, found good mental health professionals to help me, and, as of this past fall, finally found a job that I really really love. The idea of moving again for his career feels very very scary and like a recipe for a lot of resentment. Even though I am technically the more portable person here, I just feel like I have already made a big move for him and, if we are really in this together, there has to be some give and take. It literally took me three years after grad school to find a full time job that is relevant to my career - I just started doing it! I don't want to stop!
I've talked about this with my therapist and we've all been talking honestly and clearly, but that doesn't change the facts of the situation. He definitely has serious reservations about the job too, including the fact that it wouldn't be right for me. But I'm afraid that this kind of sacrifice on his part will lead to lifelong resentment. Even though he can stay at the job he currently has for at least another year, jobs like this just don't come along very often.
Mefi what do I do? I'm making myself sick over this worry, and so is he. I think he's my person, but I need my person to show me some of the effort that I've already exerted to make this work.
Thanks, y'all.
posted by bookgirl18 to Human Relations (32 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
You're worried that he will resent you for costing him this opportunity? He's already cost YOU three years of a PhD opportunity. Was he at all worried about you resenting him when it was decided you would be the one to take the hit back then? And now the idea is being floated that you do it again? No. Just no.

You've finally found a situation that works for you after it was all upended and in chaos due to accomodating his needs last time. Someone has to put you first for once. And if he won't, you should. Your career matters, heck, your mental health matter too. The fact that you've broken up once already does not bode well for the future of the relationship and if it should happen again, you need a strong career and support system to fall back on. I'm sure he's a great guy. Here's his chance to prove it.
posted by Jubey at 3:59 AM on February 21, 2017 [52 favorites]

My gut response is that you shouldn't move again.
On second thought, if you must move again, don't move until you have a good job offer in his new location. Until then, stay in your current location and in your current job.

Academia and two body problems suck.
My husband and I lived in two different cities while he did a postdoc. It was hard but workable.
posted by sciencegeek at 4:04 AM on February 21, 2017 [12 favorites]

Is this job offer tenure track? Unless you want to start having children and you need to be thinking about this in the very near term and children are a priority, I would stay put where you are until he gets tenure. Keep with the long distance, have him come visit you during the breaks as much as he can, and make him do the effort.

If it's a staff position that's more or less stable, still wait for a year or two before moving. What if this job goes sour? You'd have to move yet again.

And what sort of conversations have you had about your future? Are you both thinking this is for the long term?

I say this as someone with a PhD with a lot of friends in academia - many of us are little selfish when it comes to jobs. Most of us put school and prestigious, rewarding jobs above the happiness of our partners and families, including uprooting everyone to go to tiny towns in the middle of nowhere. But it doesn't have to be that way. We get wrapped up in - I spent years doing this, jobs are so rare, this is my passion - that we sort of get blinders on. Yes, jobs are rare, yes, leaving the academic world is tough, but people do it, often if love comes first. You're not really his number one priority is what this is coming down to. And that's so common in the phd world, and I'm not saying this is wrong or right. But you have made major efforts to put him first already. If he takes this job, and he probably will - because if I were him, I would - then he needs to make the effort to make sure you are then a major priority again. Let him step up. Yes, he'll be stressed from the move, and the job - but he has to show you how important you are to him. It's his turn to repair the damage. And if he doesn't, or can't? Then you know that he isn't your person, and thank your lucky stars that you didn't move, again.
posted by umwhat at 4:26 AM on February 21, 2017 [22 favorites]

I'm someone with a PhD and a non-academic job in a relationship with a PhD student. (He's in a subject where you move between MA and PhD, so we just did this.)

There's little question to me that unless it's impossible for you to live in the location in question (zero job prospects, inadequate access to medical care, etc), he should take the job. There's no way to know that a comparable job, or any job for that matter, will open next year, nor that turning down this job won't hurt his chances of getting an offer next year (because people talk and, depending on the subject, the needs of one's partner may be viewed as a "frivolous" consideration). It feels like you're holding out hope that he'll get a job next year in one of your current cities, but, realistically, it's not going to happen. Yes, it's unfair and asymmetrical that his job dictates where he lives without much concern for either of your preferences, but it's the cost of the academic job market.

However, you should not be upending your life to follow immediately. It sounds like you guys aren't (yet?) at the level of commitment where you should unquestionably be following him immediately (if anyone "should" follow ever a partner immediately), quadruply so if this is not a tenure-track or otherwise permanent position. Follow if/when it's the right choice for your life. I do think he has to bear the brunt of the travel in this scenario, both because you've been doing most of the sacrificing thus far, it sounds like, and because it's generally easier for the person in academia to do most of the travel.

I avoided mentioning this because it feels like I'm telling you what you should have done in the past, but it feels like it inescapably informs my answer: I would not have turned down the PhD position for the relationship, so I'm less inclined to feel he "owes" the relationship something similar at this point.
posted by hoyland at 4:37 AM on February 21, 2017 [8 favorites]

Just clarifying - yes, this job is tenure track. It is totally possible for it to be permanent or long-term, unlike other jobs he's had before.
And, while I did turn down an opportunity in the past, I think my own experiences and circumstances have shown me that academia is just not for me - I'm much happier doing what I do now than when I was in grad school. (He is in math and I am in the humanities.)
posted by bookgirl18 at 4:47 AM on February 21, 2017

He should go. You should stay. Live *your* life. Even if he is "your person," you each have to put your individual lives first, before the shared life. That means focusing on your career and your health and your life instead of starting all those vital things from scratch again. The irony is that if your career were farther along and your health were stronger, you wouldn't even consider uprooting your life for someone else. Your life is your story. Be the protagonist.
posted by headnsouth at 4:53 AM on February 21, 2017 [53 favorites]

I took the tenure track job, my long term boyfriend stayed back for his academic job, and then we broke up for totally unrelated reasons. We would not have lasted if I hadn't taken the job either.

Prioritize yourself. He should go and you should stay. Look for work where he is, if you want. If not... I know you love him and life without him sounds unfathomable. But a life where you put your needs first and take care of yourself really is worth the cost.
posted by sockermom at 5:03 AM on February 21, 2017 [35 favorites]

Yes, what sockermom and headnsouth said. He goes, you stay. You stick with your current job and start looking for opportunities in the field you love in the city where he is now located, something much easier and much less stressful when you already are in a job and have a support structure in place where you live (as opposed to doing it completely from scratch in a new city where the only person you know is the person you're in a relationship with - I've been there and it sucks). In the meantime, you make it work long-distance with him coming to visit when he can. If the relationship doesn't last, so be it. You have to take care of yourself first.
posted by sailoreagle at 5:10 AM on February 21, 2017 [4 favorites]

I'd wait to move to see how your relationship continues to progress and how he likes the job/area. Go ahead and casually keep an eye out for a great job in his area in case one pops up, but if he winds up hating his department or it's not a good fit, you guys may just end up moving again. Better to make sure it's a long-term position before moving.

I know long distance sucks, my husband and I did it for a couple of years. But even if you're the more portable party, you don't have to jump as soon as he has a new job. Take some time to find the best job possible before moving (and making sure it's a move that'll stick).

As things get serious between you guys and with his job, you can start looking more earnestly. Even if the job you wind up with isn't perfect or better than what you could find if you rushed, it can be a lot easier to tolerate imperfection when you take it on your own terms rather than simply being blown about by the academic job market.
posted by ghost phoneme at 5:51 AM on February 21, 2017 [3 favorites]

I moved across the country and didn't even start a proper national job search in my own field when my spouse got a TT job offer. I've managed to patch together soft money jobs and stay in academic research since then, but I may never get a TT job here. Anyway, this wasn't a terribly hard choice for me, because we'd been alternating following each other around for many years at that point, were married, etc.

I don't know if that helps but thought you might like to hear the anecdote for perspective.

(Also keep in mind tenure rates are not terribly high, and lots of very good people are counseled to move on after 3 years at a TT job, or are flat denied tenure at 6. This is especially true at high prestige institutions. They act as grist mills, churning through young men and women chasing a carrot that's always just a little out of reach ... it's a little bit sickening.)
posted by SaltySalticid at 6:01 AM on February 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

Long distance. It will suck, but giving up a TT job in this climate is bananas, and I bet you're right that he'd resent you - even though that would be kind of unfair - ever after. But on the other hand, ruining your career would make you resent him!

I think you should stay in this new job for a couple of years, long enough to build your resume and network, and then look for better work near him, assuming his job goes well and your relationship is healthy.

I think that this is a lousy situation for both of you, and either person who gave up their career (and it would be a huge deal for you to give up your new job! don't discount that!) would be in a much more resentment-making and precarious situation. So to me, the thing that has to give is the living together part.
posted by Frowner at 6:06 AM on February 21, 2017 [8 favorites]

Agreed with the above, from the perspective of someone who works in academia but in a non-faculty role, so I've seen a lot of this but only from the sidelines. He should take the tenure-track job, but that doesn't mean you should immediately uproot the good and stable life you've worked so hard to build for yourself. You should stay, see how he settles into his new job, and how you feel about his city after you've visited him there a few times.

Meanwhile, keep working at the excellent progress you've made with your own health and career, which are good achievements to be proud of. Table the moving discussion for some pre-arranged amount of time - six months, maybe? - so you don't drive each other crazy worrying at the topic in the meanwhile, and then check in at that point and see how you're feeling about possibly moving to join him. Part of the effort he can make here is giving you all the time and space you need to keep working on your own stuff, and to make an informed decision about whether you want to join him later on.
posted by Stacey at 6:07 AM on February 21, 2017 [7 favorites]

Do not move for him. Stay right where you are. You found a job you enjoy and established a support system -- it would be disastrous to throw all of that away just because you recently "found your way back" to an ex. Let him find his way back to you. If he wants to be with you more than he wants this job, then he will make a way. And if you're "meant to be", then you can still be together long-distance while you prioritize your health and career. You've already sacrificed enough. Let him make the hard choices now. Your choice is easy: take care of yourself.
posted by Gray Skies at 6:39 AM on February 21, 2017 [13 favorites]

As a tenured professor who moved to a new region many years ago with dread and now loves it here:
If I were you, I would try not to see this decision in terms of a quid pro quo.
It took you three years and you couldn't get over him. This sounds to me as if you want it to work. Just as TT jobs don't come around often, well... neither do people you bond with so deeply, really.
This doesn't sound like he's being selfish. Academia is filled with many freedoms but geography is not one of them. Not by a long shot. If he could move to where you are and still have a career, he would do that...right? But he can't. And his getting a tenured position will benefit you and a family you may have in many ways --health insurance, stability, etc.
Do you want to make a life with this man? That's what you really need to ask yourself. If you do then don't resent the fact that he needs to take this job. He really does need to. Not taking it would be a very poor decision, and not just because he might resent you.
If you really want to make a life with him, then one thing you should do immediately is have him ask if he can negotiate some kind of position for you at the new university. It might be comparable to what you have now.
If you can picture yourself living happily with your new job in your current town, without this person, not spending the next three years plus more feeling that you have a hole in your heart, then stay put. But I will also tell you from my experience that there are one or two people in life you just don't get over, even when you move on to new partners. and making lists about fairness pales in the end.
posted by flourpot at 6:40 AM on February 21, 2017 [8 favorites]

It sounds like you are the one always expected to give up your opportunities, dreams, and resources. Why is that?

If he loves you, he should want you to soar. Or is he just wanting some kind of backwards 1950s partner who will put him first in everything and bury her needs?
posted by blueberry at 7:30 AM on February 21, 2017 [6 favorites]

I want to clarify that I would say the same thing to HIM if you were the one with the TT job, of course. My answer is not gender based. It's based on the fact that TT jobs are rare and pretty much the one thing he's been working towards. If your job now is really your career in the same way that a TT job is, then my answer would be different. But it didn't sound that way... and in my experience, the friends and networks one makes in a few years before family in a college town shift a lot as people move on.
posted by flourpot at 7:42 AM on February 21, 2017 [4 favorites]

The last time you gave up an opportunity to move for him and give the relationship a chance you sank into a morass of misery and depression. What would make it different this time? It seems like the gains you've made over the last few years have been hard-won and well deserved, I'd be very careful about starting over from scratch for this guy for a second time.
posted by cakelite at 7:47 AM on February 21, 2017 [17 favorites]

I have a PhD. I'm out of academia, but I know a bunch of people who have faced this dilemma. And so I know where flourpot is coming from.

Don't do it. Stay where you are, with the friends you have. Being in academia sucks for your love life, and your partner ought to know that. There are people who are able to easily adapt and move from place to place, as well as have a flexible career. You are not one of them.

Upon a reread, it looks like you're already living in different cities. How often are you seeing each other? Are you living together? Being a professor means you have NO time, and, unless you have a very well established relationship, this will fall apart. Stay where you are. If he has time (and he may not) and both of you are willing, maybe you'll stay together as an LDR and THEN you can move. But it doesn't sound like you're used to seeing this person all the time anyway.
posted by steady-state strawberry at 8:09 AM on February 21, 2017 [3 favorites]

I totally feel you and agree with this: I need my person to show me some of the effort. But, the thing is, I don't think he CAN turn this job down. You know that too, I think, although you secretly wish he would, but you know it would be professionally suicidal.

So the effort he's going to have to show can't be that. It could be in the form of LDR, and - hopefully, if you guys really are devoted to each other - eventually helping you set up successfully in the new town: helping scout a great job (maybe with the university), helping scout mental health resources, making sure you aren't stuck with isolating housekeeping detail, setting up a social life you can integrate into... those are big demands to make on a junior academic, but not suicidal ones.
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:21 AM on February 21, 2017 [3 favorites]

Moving for my then-husband was a huge contributor in our divorce. Don't do it, you will resent him.
posted by Marinara at 8:29 AM on February 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

If this is a tenure-track offer, then the university ought to be working with him to help you find a good position there too. (Not at the university necessarily, but they often have connections within industry that's nearby too). He should specifically ask for this as part of his negotiations.

If that fails (either they can't help you find a position at all, or what they suggest is worse than what you have where you are now), then he should go, and you should stay.

Why? Because as long as that university continues to like him, they have an interest in helping you out. He's a retention case. And TT can be permanent, but lots of people on TT or with tenure still move. He can go back on the job market in the future, and will be in a different, possibly better, position already being TT (or even tenured, depending on when he does this).

Another why-- because if he moves for the new job, you can always choose to move to join him later (if your current job starts looking less rosy, or if you find something good out where he is). Choosing not to move isn't necessarily a permanent choice, whereas giving up your job to move there is.
posted by nat at 8:40 AM on February 21, 2017 [7 favorites]

Oh, I'm also saying this as an academic with a two-body problem who has spent the last 6 years living separately from my partner. That's ending this fall, mostly because we kept working at it - his university originally couldn't get me a position, but they figured it out once I got a TT position somewhere else (and that place got him an offer, so it was a retention issue).

TT offers don't come along often, especially initial ones-- but once he has one, he's in a much better negotiating spot for the future. This is a long game.

(And a long game that you can choose to leave at any point in the future, if you don't want to play it anymore.)
posted by nat at 8:43 AM on February 21, 2017 [2 favorites]

Frankly, I would not make another big move for this guy without the financial protections of marriage.

Not saying you should run out and get married, for sure, but that if you aren't ready for marriage yet.... moving to a totally new place and having no financial cushion if you break up or are miserable there and want to move back, is almost as big of a commitment.
posted by nakedmolerats at 8:45 AM on February 21, 2017 [12 favorites]

What I'd worry about is a sequence like this: you move and lose ground in your career; either he neglects you due to work, the pressures of the move mess up your relationship, or he (and forgive me for saying it, but people I know have done this) takes up with a grad student or a young academic peer; and then you've messed up your career and don't have a relationship.

I am sure your partner is a lovely person, but men in academia have a lot of opportunities to cheat or decide that the grass is greener; in my extended-extended social circle, there have been a number of divorces/splits followed by getting together with much younger grad students from the department. A former friend, in fact, moved himself and his wife for a new position and cheated on her with a colleague. I would have sworn up and down that he was not the type to do this, but apparently the long hours, the "you're a new face" and the bonding over department stuff did it. They divorced, and that's why he's a former friend.

I really think that women in general should not put their careers on hold for men. Women have it a lot harder economically and career-wise anyway, and it's very, very easy to make a life with a guy, have him decide that he wants a do-over with a younger woman when he hits his forties and end up with nothing.
posted by Frowner at 9:11 AM on February 21, 2017 [30 favorites]

In this economy, it's madness to give up career momentum, if you've got anything close to good going on professionally. This is not a time in which it's possible to just pick up where you left off. If you go, you'll probably be condemning yourself to a) crap jobs and b) some measure of dependency on this relationship. It also gives your partner more leverage, inevitably. Your issues as a couple were likely not *just* a matter of resentment on your part, so leaning on this relationship seems like a shaky proposition anyway, but since you'd be sacrificing career *again*, odds seem good it'll come up again. Because no matter how you manage your responses to things, the material reality will be what it will be, and it's going to have consequences. Nth that you should stay, and he should go, and you could try long distancing it. (Not an academic here, just someone who made a similar bet on a relationship and lost.)
posted by cotton dress sock at 10:20 AM on February 21, 2017 [2 favorites]

Don't move until you feel in your heart that you really want to.

Based on my observations as a graduate student, tenure track faculty pre-tenure are extremely busy and stressed out. If you move you will likely be lonely, and he will feel torn between the relationship and working his ass off to secure tenure. He will feel like you knew what you were getting in to, and that he's just doing his best. You will feel neglected. The relationship will suffer.

But if you stay where you are, you can keep building yourself up and see what happens. When it comes to a point where you feel that being with him is more important than whatever else you will be able to move, and be at peace with your decision, and not resent him for it because it was yours. And hopefully at that point he will have settled in and can actually support you.
posted by 12%juicepulp at 11:03 AM on February 21, 2017 [6 favorites]

There are plenty of people out there for you. You feel comfortable with this one. I can't decide for you, and I think your best course of action is to decide together...so I just want to give you some feedback: you are worried that he may resent you if he declines the job. That is not really something you should spend time or effort worrying about. You can certainly raise the concern and find out how your partner feels about it, but his future resentment will be caused by his perception of his current decision, which is not something you can really control.

For your part, you do have an indication of how you might feel if you pull up stakes and move again. It was not a positive experience the first time you did it, and it sounds like past you would have chosen differently to avoid some difficult feelings that present you had to experience.

I may be completely off here, but it looks like you might be working on the premise that you have found your soulmate, and also I sense that you might believe that one person has to do some wrong to the other person for a romantic relationship to end. I'm going to disregard the "soulmate" issue (except to tell you that, from my own personal experience, the rationalization that I might have ended up with someone completely different and been just as happy makes it easier for me to cherish my wife, since it becomes a willing decision on my part to be with her, and not a matter left to fate) and I want to zoom in on the tendency I see in other adults to maintain relationships at all cost, unless there is abuse or mistreatment from your partner. You have every right to end your relationship at any time and for any reason. His career ambitions and your ambivalence about moving is actually a pretty good reason. But I won't go so far as telling you to end it, because it's clear from what you wrote that you don't want to. Here is my advice, instead: let him go and stay put. What he really wants and what you really want will become abundently clear if you do this. Then you can act accordingly. Things might not work out, of course, but that also depends on things you do not control. To find out if you will live happily ever after, you need to get to "ever after," after all.
posted by Mr. Fig at 12:05 PM on February 21, 2017 [3 favorites]

He should take the job, you should stay where you are and you're happy, and try long-distance for a while as you slowly (re)commit to each other. There is the cliche that "absence makes the heart grow fonder"; in academia, this might be a necessary truth. I know many academics who have made long-distance (we're talking NY-CA, transcontinental type relationships) work for decades. Including with children, though of course that's complicated and the help of an extended family support network can be crucial there. But for now: he should absolutely try this blue moon and see just how permanent it's going to be, and how you continue to feel about each other, before you move again.
posted by TwoStride at 2:14 PM on February 21, 2017

You finally found a job you really, really love and have access to good mental health professionals? Oh hell no, OP, you are not moving. Not any time soon, anyway. Take it from me, a job you really really love is just as rare as a tenure-track position. Please stay put. Do the long-distance thing until it doesn't work anymore. Then the two of you can decide together what to do. Unless you can't decide, in which case you still have your fabulous job and your fabulous healthcare professionals. It's not like it's easy to find fabulous healthcare professionals, either. It's taken three years but you have made a life yourself, a good one. If the two of you are meant to be you can work it out without either of you having to sacrifice your futures. You got your Skype, you got your texting, you've got your academic breaks from time to time. You don't have to decide everything forever right now. In fact, you can't decide those things right now. So pick yourself and let your honey pick his self and keep on keeping on and see how it plays out. Good luck!
posted by Bella Donna at 6:17 PM on February 21, 2017 [3 favorites]

I'm the non-academic in a two-body-problem relationship. I have moved, and will move again; the way I've found peace with it is to make the move when it works for me, not when her job starts. So basically, nthing what everyone's said here: stay put and LDR it for a while, and if you're going to move, do it at a time when it feels like the right move for you.

I will add one new idea, though: are there ways to give and take a little bit without giving up that once in a blue moon job? When my partner got her TT offer, she asked during negotiation for a 1 year deferral so she could bring her start date closer to my finish-grad-school-and-move date. Ultimately she was able to defer by only one semester, which at least gave us a few fewer months of LDR. Since your person can stay at his current job for a year, maybe he could explore something like this?
posted by snorkmaiden at 6:32 PM on February 21, 2017 [2 favorites]

If this is a tenure-track offer, then the university ought to be working with him to help you find a good position there too. (Not at the university necessarily, but they often have connections within industry that's nearby too). He should specifically ask for this as part of his negotiations.

In my experience, we don't do this for unmarried couples. YMMV, but none of the large universities I've worked at have been terribly interested in spousal hires, especially in unmarried cis-hetero situations.
posted by sockermom at 9:02 PM on February 21, 2017

Thank you everyone for your incredible advice. I don't think I'm going to move, at least not now - and definitely without a new job of my own.
posted by bookgirl18 at 6:41 AM on February 22, 2017 [8 favorites]

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