My husband and I moved last summer (#academiafilter). I'm miserable.
February 13, 2020 6:05 PM   Subscribe

We moved from the urban East Coast to a small town for my husband to take a tenure-track academic job, and I'm having massive trouble adjusting. Please advise. Sorry in advance for the wall of words.

I'm originally from a large city on the East Coast, and have lived all my life in urban Europe (adolescence/much of 20s) and in a couple of major cities on the East Coast (20s onwards). I met my husband in a major urban city on the East Coast. We both loved the walkability and beauty of this city where we met, although my husband didn't like the high cost of living. He went on the academic job market last year and got an early offer for a tenure-track job at a prestigious professional school in the small-town Midwest (School A). He was immediately extremely enthusiastic about this offer, because the school is prestigious, he already knew many of the faculty there and liked them a lot (not always the case in academia!), the culture of the school was an excellent fit, and my husband has family nearby whom he missed. One of our few huge arguments last year happened because he got to the final stage of the hiring process at a very top school in an East Coast city I'd most want to live in: while he ultimately didn't get the offer, he had said while the process was ongoing that he wasn't interested in going there even if he did and that he was just doing going through the process for salary leverage at School A. I would have loved for him to get a job at this school on the East Coast, and felt that the fact that he had made a unilateral decision about it belittled me and my place in our relationship: I felt that we both should have an equal say about which school he would choose.

I felt at that time very strongly that I would hate living in the small town that School A is in. I am not a confident driver (due to adolescence in urban Europe), have SAD with too much gray sky in the winter, and generally feel happiest in a walkable dynamic urban environment. My husband has known this about me for as long as he has known me. I wanted more than almost anything for my husband to get the other offer and take it, which I was very clear with him about. There were a couple of other schools on the urban East Coast that indicated to my husband that they would give him an offer if he indicated to them that he would be receptive; however he was not excited about these schools because they are somewhat less prestigious than School A (maybe 20 places down in the rankings), he didn't know anyone on the faculty at either, and the schools seemed less good of a fit generally in terms of culture. I didn't push for these schools because I knew less about their locations and was afraid that him taking the prestige cut pre-tenure might result in less mobility later (that was his view).

Well, it's been six months here and I'm so unhappy. I've tried to give it my best shot but it's even worse than I had expected. The positive professional aspects that my husband was excited about are definitely present (good fit with the school, friends with his colleagues). The people here are also remarkably kind and hospitable - so much that I feel very ungrateful disliking the place. But I'm miserable. Out of everything in life, I enjoy walking: there are no nice places to walk around here, and you hear traffic noise all the time because it's so car-heavy here. There have been low gray clouds for several months straight almost without interruption. I also enjoy cooking, and groceries are oddly expensive here (1.5x our previous city) and it's an ordeal for me to drive to get the groceries and I can't find all the ingredients I'm used to. I was hoping to get a part-time job here in a specific corner of university administration (like the job I left to move here), and after some investigation, that will not be possible here for reasons outside my control involving university bureaucracy. Being here feels to me isolating, claustrophobic, noisy, and lonely. Our friends here are lovely but are also very busy, so it is surprisingly hard to socialize with people.

Since we've arrived here, we've also had bizarre amounts of problems unrelated to the town itself that have been unpleasant and stressful (bought a house that was not in the condition disclosed by the seller and we will probably have to take a large financial hit to offload it, broke a bone a few months ago [with high-deductible health insurance] and have not been able to cook or exercise, both of our cars unexpectedly died and have required a lot of money to resurrect them, house renovations have gone unexpectedly and have required more money than we'd anticipated and dealing with our contractors has been extremely unpleasant and we've felt taken advantage of). It seems like everything goes wrong here for us.

Although my husband's salary is objectively fairly high, we haven't been able to save money and our financial stress is very high (we've had to borrow money from both sets of parents and haven't repaid it yet). My husband has also found the job itself much more difficult and stressful than he'd expected, so he's at the office often until midnight (coming back for an hour or two for dinner and to run errands in the car with me). He's often grumpy or irritable with me because he's so anxious. I think I normally would be able to handle it better but my emotional reserves are so depleted from living here that even a harsh comment can make me feel upset for the whole day. I think our styles under stress mesh very poorly. The whole situation has been very stressful on our relationship, which is wonderful when it is good, but then has periods where it is not good at all - no affection, just stress and irritability and tears. My husband has said that he can't be responsible for dealing with my unhappiness for me. Some days seem okay and some days (like today) I just can't stop crying. My husband is frustrated that he is the one holding us up: he's holding down the stressful job, he has to take me to run errands after work because I can't drive yet by myself, because of my broken bone I was unable to cook for several months so we had to eat mostly fast food, he's had to be the one to talk to our contractors because we've had a number of circumstances where they've ignored my clear instruction but responded well to him saying the same thing, and some days I've been too depressed to be very productive. I know that my husband thinks he's overworked and that I'm a deadweight here. I understand his frustration about this and share it, but also feel that I'm doing my best and that this situation is not my fault. In other places and other circumstances, I have been very competent (I have multiple graduate degrees, and while I admit that I am not ambitious about a career, I have had glowing praise from past jobs, etc.). I think I do have many talents but this place plays to my weaknesses rather than my strengths (which, as I have told my husband, I had feared would be the case and which is why I didn't want to move here: I had told him I was willing to move here for him, but warned him that it would likely be a poor fit for me in all the ways it turned out to be).

We had agreed that after our move here, since his salary went up 2.5x because of the new job, we would focus on having a baby and I would be a stay at home mom (something that should be very comfortable on my husband's current salary, and something I have been clear that I wanted to do); but now my husband wants me to get a job here, any job, since things are so financially tight. I left a job I liked and was good at to move here with him, and the only jobs available in this town that I might be able to get are low-paying things I would hate (e.g. Starbucks barista), and I feel that I have made enough of a sacrifice moving here for him and his glorious career that I don't also want to be forced to do something poorly-paid that I would hate for 40 hours a week, while he gets to do something prestigious that he (in theory) loves. If I were going to do anything career-wise, I would want to go back to professional school, which I may do after our (hypothetical) kids are in school (but cannot do in our current town). I know another faculty wife who is in a similar boat: they moved here also from an East Coast city, she left her job to do that, and she has been applying for jobs all autumn and has landed nothing. We actually got a signing bonus for my husband's current job that the dean explicitly said was to compensate for the fact that I would have to leave my job and wouldn't find anything comparable here. My husband also sick of me crying all the time and not being fun. We hope to have our first baby this year and I'm afraid it might make the situation worse.

I don't think this is a simple case of homesickness. When I moved to the East Coast city where I met my husband, I loved it immediately. I don't think I will ever feel even okay about this town. I find the suburbia and strip malls existentially depressing. I feel trapped here because academia isn't like any other field where you can just apply for other jobs elsewhere. We basically are stuck here for another 4.5 years until he (hopefully) gets tenure. There's a possibility we could move to a city a few hours away and he could commute here for a few days a week (we'd rent a room in this town for him, and an apartment in City). We could definitely do this post-tenure, although the idea of living in this town for 4.5 more years feels almost more than I can bear. We could maybe do that before tenure, although we can't afford to do it for a while since we've lost so much money over the past six months, and we've heard reports from others who do it that their productivity drops because of the long commute and the stress of living in two places. I don't know much about City but I think it must be better for me than this, although I don't want to jeopardize my husband's career since we're a single-income family, and City is also not really where I'd like to be ultimately. (We own a lucrative investment property on the East Coast that I bought a few years ago, that probably should be sold if we don't move back there; I would really like to move back to that city or one within a few hours of it, in part to manage it and mostly because I love urban coastal living.) He could also see if he could make a pre-tenure move to a different school - almost certainly to a less prestigious one. I don't know how possible that is. That kind of move might likely also impact his tenure chances negatively.

I'd love to hear any thoughts or advice, either about what we should do practically, or how I can better face things personally. I want to become a better driver but my husband doesn't have time or patience to drive with me. Not being connected with the university myself, I'm finding it hard to meet friends and am finding it very isolating, as everything in this town revolves around the university. I'm finding the gray skies and lack of enjoyable walks very depressing. I applied for a summer position elsewhere that comes with housing, figuring that we could escape this place outside the school-year, but I think it's likely I haven't gotten that job. Many things that might improve our lives or relationship, or that would lower our stress level, take money that we don't have right now. I know I come across as a provincial and unsympathetic East Coast snob, and I guess I am, but I don't know what to do about that. Please help.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (83 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
It's interesting that the gist of this question is almost the exact inverse of a very similar question asked a few years ago with the spouses switched. Perhaps reviewing this previous Q&A, written from your husbands point of view, will provide additional things to consider as you review the responses here.
posted by seesom at 6:20 PM on February 13 [6 favorites]

I was a late-learning driver and probably extra nervous as a result, but I managed to practice on my own by driving at night after 8 or 9 pm, because the roads were mostly empty so I could take my time looking in the mirrors and changing lanes and just generally getting adept at it. You don't need your husband to help you drive.
posted by xo at 6:33 PM on February 13 [7 favorites]

You are a brilliant and capable person and you don't need your husband to help you drive. There will be driving schools where you are. Take lessons to get more comfortable and then practice driving. If you've only got 1 car then go with your husband to work and then drive back. You've now got the car for the day to run errands and see a bit more about what your town has to offer. Maybe there's a park or wooded area where you can walk that is more pleasant than a suburban street. When the weather gets nicer you can bike around and maybe once you are in the habit of biking around you can continue doing it when the weather isn't so nice too.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 6:46 PM on February 13 [24 favorites]

We hope to have our first baby this year and I'm afraid it might make the situation worse.

dude. make it worse? might? it will destroy you. do not get pregnant in this town. after all the ways you listed out that your husband is ungrateful for your profound sacrifice, unhelpful to you personally, and unlikely to change (because his job is legitimately both stressful and precarious) I'm amazed it's still even an option on the table.

look: as things stand, the very second you decide you've had enough misery you can stand up, drive out of that town (with only the briefest of pauses to finish learning to drive) and never come back. It's up to you. Every day you don't buy a plane ticket, it's a choice you're making. Once you have a kid with a husband, that is not true anymore and may not be true again for 18 years. 18 years!

You are free right now and you look away from that freedom because you want to continue to be married. That's understandable. but don't throw that freedom away just because you don't think you want to exercise it quite yet.

nobody should do that to anybody; don't do that to yourself. If you find out you're pregnant, leave before you give birth. If you still love your husband this much at that point, wait for him to come and join you.
posted by queenofbithynia at 6:48 PM on February 13 [141 favorites]

I have a few thoughts:

Would the other faculty wife be willing to go out driving with you sometimes?

Is there any part of your community or a nearby community that's city-ish? Walkable, good food, theater, music, whatever you're into? If it's a university town there must be something. Is there an easy way to get to that area that minimizes your amount of driving?

I hear you that money is tight but sometimes you can shift your spending priorities because you need a happier, less-stressful life. Could you, for example, sell one of your cars, move closer to the walkable area, and rent out the house?

Are your parents and in-laws pressuring you to pay them back, are they charging you interest, or are you on a set schedule with all of them? If not then let your stress about that go. I'm in the same boat as you - my mom and her husband have given me a significant loan in the last few years. Their terms are zero interest, take as long as you need to pay, deposit your payments in this shared checking account and if you need the money, borrow it again from the checking account. But I *totally* feel that pressure from the loan and I'm the only one applying the pressure.

Best of luck. ❤️
posted by bendy at 6:59 PM on February 13 [2 favorites]

I'm not the parenting sort but the thing that leaps out at me is that this would be a very bad time to have a kid. Misery and resentment plus, I understand from kid-havers, a year or two of very little sleep sounds like a recipe for disaster.

The rest of tough. I moved to a place I basically knew I didn't like but was willing to give a chance, and I have never grown fonder of it. The things that bother you about a place, I mean they CAN get less bothersome, but the way you talk about it is the way I feel about where I live, which is to say your heels are dug in.

This is not at all me giving a standard Ask answer of "dump him immediately!" I wonder if there's any way for you to talk to other people who moved there from more interesting places and see how they found something to love about it. It might help some.

The really hard part is that, on one hand, it's important that you're pretty direct in expressing how minimized you feel by having had to move somewhere you didn't want to because academics are prestige-obsessed, because if you bottle it up, it's going to come out one way or another. But, on the other, he knows and is reacting to it already.

Couples counseling maybe? It can be a neutral/moderated zone where people can express the stuff that feels volatile.
posted by less of course at 7:00 PM on February 13 [1 favorite]

ETA..some advice I will now preach more than I practice: figure out which things you're making more of than you need to. I'm thinking of the driving thing. You sound really smart and driving is stressful but also not that hard, especially in a small town. Is it possible you're letting this be a reminder to you and him of how you don't want to be there, and that you could practice a little and get comfortable with it and cross it off the list?
posted by less of course at 7:03 PM on February 13 [21 favorites]

I think the main reason I'm trying to give an answer to this is that ... it is many years now, but once upon a time I had a faculty job (and offers for faculty jobs in cities that sound similar to where you live now) and even though that was what I worked for ... I was so miserable I walked away from academia (and I still look at it as one of the most miserable times in my life). I'm mentioning this because I really, really know how hard and different it can be in some of these places, and as you mentioned, you cannot easily change jobs without a loss of a lot of time (as you know, probably a good 6 months) plus there would probably be economic costs, too. But it sounds like you've already thought that part through.

Some ideas that might not be possible:
-"I know another faculty wife who is in a similar boat: they moved here also from an East Coast city, she left her job to do that, and she has been applying for jobs all autumn and has landed nothing." Have you tried to hang out with this person as a potential friend? I also think that if you get a chance to meet other (new to the university position) faculty's partners /or new single faculty who just moved there - it is probably a great place to at least meet an occasional hangout buddy or friend vs the isolation you have right now.
-Have you looked for remote positions? Or tried to contact your old company and find out if anything could be done remotely?
-Instead of making that nearby city a hypothetical, run every day and see what jobs come up there ... that will at least tell you if there are or are not jobs there. If there are, then you can consider/discuss moving to be closer to that city, etc.

If you were my friend I would highly encourage you to think of what are the one or two things that *you* want the most right now. The other nearby city? Going back to school? Because I really am shocked that all these decisions were made without your input/feedback and then you are looked at and told he does not have the bandwidth for this and that you should get a job. Honestly, it makes me angry and I don't even know you. So if you are deciding to stay - please, please, ask for one of those things you want. If it is to live in a nearby city and he has to commute - then he gave up one small thing. You've already given up a lot.

Good luck. I really am hoping things improve for you.
posted by Wolfster at 7:04 PM on February 13 [32 favorites]

I'm a die-hard big city girl, so I'm deeply sympathetic, but it does sound like a lot of your unhappiness is the kind that could (could!) just be natural when you're in a new kind of place and have a series of really inconvenient and unpleasant events happen to you all at once while also considering making a major life transition (kids). Because there really is a good reason to stay (his career would no doubt get a substantial boost from tenure at Prestige U), I would try to ameliorate conditions in the short term and see if I could get more used to the place. Couples counseling would be a wise move; it sounds like you're getting a whiff of contempt off your husband, and whether that's true or projection, it's deadly to relationships. I'm sure there's a driving school you could attend to work on your driving, and thus improve your freedom. Do the things that constantly get recommended on here for lonely people, like Meetups--you're definitely going to have to put yourself out there to make connections, which is stressful, I know, but it shouldn't be impossible. (I assume no church affiliation, or you'd already be hooked up.)

I was trying to decide whether Small Town was Ann Arbor or not, to give more specific advice, but it just sounds way too unpleasant to be.
posted by praemunire at 7:11 PM on February 13 [9 favorites]

broke a bone a few months ago [with high-deductible health insurance] and have not been able to cook or exercise,

So, I would not make any decisions while you are dealing with this, and I think you should also put off having a kid for about a year because of this, so you can get your health back together, get stronger, and make sure you're 100%. It's really depressing to deal with this kind of an injury, and it warps your thinking.

I'm concerned about your description of your husband as thinking that you're "dead weight." It does not sound like a loving way to feel about someone who has experienced an injury. Are you sure that he feels this way? Is this maybe depression talking, or maybe how you feel about yourself, combined with him being stressy and unpleasant? If it is how he feels, I think maybe the problem is the marriage, not the town. Yes, you're expected to do what you can to help the family, but you are injured, and it is not okay for you to be treated badly or criticized because of it.

Do you have family you can stay with for a month or two while you continue healing? Maybe get some sunshine? This is what I would suggest for the broken bone if it's at all possible.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 7:27 PM on February 13 [33 favorites]

What a lot of things.

I think I would counsel first just resting, which includes not getting a big a month or two maybe look for a little job, part-time, where you can meet people. I have both had the forced-spouse-move (after our daughter died and he freaked out, no less) AND broken my leg, and breaking my leg made me cry a lot, I think it's part of the healing process, not that living where you don't want to isn't also cry-worthy. The longer time to pay things off will have to be something your husband absorbs as the cost of his end of your decision-making, and a month or two should be ok.

Then try a few things -

Take a course, get involved with something that you believe in.

Take driving lessons.

Wait for spring and see if there are spots to walk and fall in love with. Maybe if you posted on Facebook or NextDoor or whatever is in your area, people would share their favourite walks and haunts with you.

This may not be the place for you, but it hasn't /caused/ the house etc. issues. You may have rushed into the purchase, don't rush to the next step. Try to breathe. You aren't trapped in the town forever. You aren't even trapped in the marriage forever. It's okay to be sad right now. Your relationship to the town may change. It may not.

If things don't improve in about a year, then you talk to your husband about the need to move.

Definitely don't have kids while you are sorting this out.

All strength to you, it is hard, and he needs to be a better partner.
posted by warriorqueen at 7:32 PM on February 13 [11 favorites]

Not long after getting married, my mom moved with my dad to a small Midwestern town after his search for a good position at a school. She didn't like the community, but there were promises of it being a stepping stone. 50 years later, she's still there and she's still deeply bitter and resentful about it all.
posted by I EAT TAPAS at 7:35 PM on February 13 [29 favorites]

he's had to be the one to talk to our contractors because we've had a number of circumstances where they've ignored my clear instruction but responded well to him saying the same thing

this is an absolutely outrageous thing for him to be annoyed with you about, btw.

What concerns me most is the idea that it was important to take this prestigious tenure-track job because it would afford him "mobility" in the future, and the possibility that he presented this to you as an implication that he would be mobile at some point. when a huge reason people -- even people without well-loved "family nearby"-- compete so hard for tenure-track jobs is so they don't have to leave in a year or two years or five years. immobility is the dream!

you have already had one taste of thinking the two of you were on the same page and having the rug yanked out from under you when you found out he was never serious about the job you were hoping so hard he'd get. Don't get your hopes up again for something (like a job search in a year or two or five) that he hasn't explicitly committed to.

If I were you, and if I was right about his present mood and attitude, I would be dreading the day he was denied tenure and blamed me for not being supportive enough.
posted by queenofbithynia at 7:48 PM on February 13 [33 favorites]

I would have loved for him to get a job at this school on the East Coast, and felt that the fact that he had made a unilateral decision about it belittled me and my place in our relationship: I felt that we both should have an equal say about which school he would choose.

This is the problem. It's not my place to tell you whether you are right or wrong. What I can say is that it will cause no end of misery if you and he disagree on this point.

Everything else is fixable, or at least has not yet proven to be unfixable. But this you and he need to figure out.
posted by meaty shoe puppet at 7:48 PM on February 13 [16 favorites]

There is no indication in this question of why you and your husband are together. He did not seem to seek your input on his career move and rejected it when you tried to give it anyway. He moved to a place in which you would not have a job and were vocal that you would be unhappy. He’s annoyed that you are as unhappy as you predicted instead of pretending to be happy.

You are not happy, sure, but there are a lot of indications in this question that you’re rejecting everything about this town at every turn. If you chose to, you could be creative about things like driving, cooking, socializing, etc. But you are understandably angry and annoyed that you are in this position—not just geographically, but also relationship-wise. If you were truly, deep in your bones bored of life in this town, you’d welcome being a Starbucks barista or anything really, to get out of the house. I don’t think the town is the root of the problem here: instead, it’s that your husband chose (without any real agonizing) to care more about his career as an individual than your feelings and your life together, and he assumed you would just follow him.

Do not have a kid with this selfish person.
posted by sallybrown at 8:00 PM on February 13 [63 favorites]

What is the time frame for staying in this small town? Is it a permanent thing or is it just for a few years? My knowledge of academia and tenure track is paltry, so I don't really have a feel for just how long we're talking here that you will be there.

That being said, I'm viewing your problem from a completely different lens - I grew up in the suburbs and have been driving for close to 30 years now. I honestly can't imagine a way of life where you walk everywhere (not that I wouldn't like it - just not feasible anywhere I have lived). If I was to move to your old east coast city, how long would you expect me to acclimate to it? Honestly, I think six months would be on the low end of what would be reasonable.

So why should you try to acclimate in six months? This is a YUGE change for you both, but especially you and you should treat it like the major shock wave that it is. Plus, you have had some spectacularly bad luck in those last six months to boot. I think you are in that place where you need - seriously need - to talk to someone, i.e. a therapist, about how your fish out of water experience is playing out and how to change your thinking. Because if my understanding of tenure track is correct, your husband will be there for the long haul, right?

I also recommend couples counseling. And above all, DO NOT HAVE A BABY YET. I wish my husband and I had couples counseling before we had kids (and we weren't going through nearly this much upheaval) because things changed so much once we had a kid. It was almost comical (but it wasn't). I kind of feel like this is one of those situations where you really, really want to take your time in making these kind of decisions because this is a bell that cannot be unrung and echoes through the ages at the same time.

Above all, remember, that this too shall past. There will things that you enjoy in this new place and things that you miss from your old place. You are growing and that process can be painful at times. I agree with the other suggestions to seek driving school. It is amazing how much more independent you will feel once you are driving yourself. It's a game changer.
posted by tafetta, darling! at 8:00 PM on February 13 [8 favorites]

(We own a lucrative investment property on the East Coast that I bought a few years ago, that probably should be sold if we don't move back there; I would really like to move back to that city or one within a few hours of it, in part to manage it and mostly because I love urban coastal living.)

Go take a weekend to stay in the property you bought and see if it helps clear your mind. There’s a lot of treating you like an accessory in this question; maybe take some time for yourself and see what that feels like. Best of luck.
posted by moonlight on vermont at 8:06 PM on February 13 [29 favorites]

I did this. We moved with the agreement it wouldn't be forever. But my husband loved his job and couldn't imagine being happier anywhere else. He said he was willing to "take turns" and move somewhere for my career next, but he was dragging his feet about looking for jobs. It clearly wasn't ever going to happen.

His workplace organized a social group for all the spouses so we wouldn't feel so isolated. In my case, it backfired. Seeing how much these wives all seemed to be merely treading water extinguished whatever hope I had left.

After 2.5 years living in that miserable town, I left him. I moved across the country and started over on my own.

Was our marriage doomed from the moment we arrived in that stupid town? I don't know. I probably should have demanded couples counseling before I got to the point where I was just done. I was so miserable there and I've been so much happier and saner getting to chase my own career and live in a city I love and just not feel like my life is on hold.

The advice you're getting is coming down pretty harshly on your husband. I don't know how you're going to take that. Maybe it's a relief to see people taking your side. Maybe it's alarming to see people telling you that this will end badly. Maybe you're taking the optimistic route and focusing on the advice about how to make your situation more tolerable.

Listen to your feelings. I think -- somewhere in your heart/brain -- you probably already know what needs to happen. Do what you need to. I'm glad you're asking for help. I hope we're helping you focus your thinking and decide what to do next.
posted by katieinshoes at 8:17 PM on February 13 [50 favorites]

I don't know if this is a good idea, but what I'd be thinking about if I were you would be getting away from there for a while. Maybe just for a month or maybe getting a job in another place and renting an apartment there indefinitely. I know you don't have a lot of money to spare for traveling, but is there a low cost option you would enjoy? If it were me, I'd think about driving somewhere warm and camping for a few weeks. If you're not the camping type, could you stay with your parents or a friend or in the investment property you own? Or why not start job hunting in a place you'd like to live? Not for your dream job necessarily but just for something that would pay enough to cover rent so you could stay for a few months. You've had a chance to see what it's like living with your husband in a place you hate. It might be helpful to see what it's like living without him in a place you like. Which will turn out to be more important to your happiness - being with him or being in the place you want to be? You can't really know until you try it. If it seems too drastic to move all the way back to the east coast, maybe you could try moving to the nearby city so you and your husband could still see each other fairly often.
posted by Redstart at 8:27 PM on February 13 [2 favorites]

Here's a dirty little secret of academia: it is MUCH MUCH MUCH MUCH much much (much) easier to move to a different university before tenure. If your husband says he is open to moving, he should be looking now. If you wait until post-tenure it will never happen.

My advice to you would be that if he doesn't want to look for other jobs you should leave him.
posted by medusa at 8:45 PM on February 13 [44 favorites]

feel that I have made enough of a sacrifice moving here for him and his glorious career that I don't also want to be forced to do something poorly-paid that I would hate for 40 hours a week,

A job is a job is a job. It's really pretty luxurious to refuse to work menial jobs because you'd hate them. I hate to say that, but it's true. More than 99% of humanity hate their jobs; that's why they're paid to do it, because otherwise it just wouldn't get done.

To other stuff: definitely, 100% do not have a baby. I'm getting a sense that you've made a bunch of impactful life decisions based on some arbitrary set of markers because you think that is what you ought to do. Having a baby under the conditions you described wouldn't only be unfair to you, it would be wildly unfair to the child. You don't have to do it. Why do it? Because you're miserable, bored, have nothing better to do? That screams nope.

Otherwise, I can completely empathize with your feelings about this town. I moved from Central Asia to rural Virginia a few years ago and it was a horrible, horrible shock. Like you, I cried all the time, felt isolated, was talked down to by the local men, felt alienated by the driving and the strip malls and even the friendly people who were friendly but because I was a New Person and not a Local Person had no time for me. 6 months was my threshold too. I had family in the area and they begged me to stay, and as I sobbed and sobbed just replied, "don't you see how selfish it is for you to want me to stay like this?" I had to beg to be respected. Sound familiar?

You are brilliant, as someone above said. You're fully capable of taking care of yourself and making it on your own- for goodness sakes, you want to walk everywhere! How many Americans can say that? You're capable! So capable!

There's nobody worth enduring a lifetime of misery for, and you looking down the barrel of a lifetime of misery is pushing you to the brink. Jobs come and go. Your husband prioritized work over you; you, someone he vowed to honor for eternity; work, something which can fluctuate with the weather. So since he's made his choice, you must prioritize yourself over your husband. It's only fair.
posted by erattacorrige at 8:46 PM on February 13 [14 favorites]

I work at a university in a city that is not at all an US East Coast/European style place. You have to drive here. It's not very cosmopolitan, and it takes a long time to get anywhere else, even by plane. The weather, if you don't like heat and humidity, is unbearable for most of the year.

We have had more than one faculty member come to our department, spend a year living here, and then leave for another university because their spouse hated it here, or they hated it here. It's not weird and it's not unfair for you to say "hey, spouse... this isn't working and we have to leave." Before you have kids and before he gets tenure is the perfect time to bounce around until you find a city you both love.

Another option, again one that more than one of our faculty exercise: they live here, their partner lives somewhere else. Often because they have their own academic careers, and they can't always both land jobs at the same institution. The long term goal is usually living in the same place, but again: you don't have kids. It's an option, it's not unusual, and it's a fair thing to try if you're miserable.
posted by lefty lucky cat at 9:07 PM on February 13 [14 favorites]

A job is a job is a job. It's really pretty luxurious to refuse to work menial jobs because you'd hate them.

I think the point here is that moving more or less forced OP to squander her investment in her career. OP has multiple graduate degrees and what sounds like some amount of prior work experience. I actually cannot believe I'm typing this, but it is probably not all that entitled to not want to be underemployed unless it is absolutely necessary and the result of choices you're otherwise comfortable with.
posted by blerghamot at 9:19 PM on February 13 [50 favorites]

I agree with the folks suggesting that you breathe and rest and spoil yourself a little. You've been through A LOT this year, and the town is the least of it. It might help us to know what town. Ann Arbor? Madison?

I'd encourage you to quit pinching pennies about the food or other treats for yourself. In fact, I'd be lavish with treats for the next year or so. Order the ingredients you can't get from Amazon. Get a self-care subscription box or all the toys for a new hobby. Get lyft and uber to drive you places if the driving is too much for now. Scrimping on treats for your mental health now is pennywise and pound foolish. A divorce and separate houses or a trip to the psych ward for you would put you in more debt than some seriously good, consistent pre-emptive treats now. (And if money is really making you anxious, check out the offerings both at the local and the U library. Not just books, but see if they have classes, makerspaces, music, movies, anything to make you feel like the answer is yes for a minute.

Maybe link the treats to independent driving. Take a drive of any length alone (even around the block!) and you get a prize. Once the driving feels a little less scary: Be a tourist in this new place. Look up the onlyinyourstate website and Camera Obscura and find some intriguing places to visit. Drive to all the state parks and walk in them.

Give it a year before deciding anything. This is so hard. You deserve some space to breathe and think.
posted by shadygrove at 9:27 PM on February 13 [8 favorites]

A job is a job, but there’s a lot of really, really bad power dynamics going on in a situation where one partner chooses a prestige position that means their multiple-degree-having spouse has no choice but minimum wage work like retail or Starbucks. Like, really, sit on that for a while. Making unilateral choices that will bump your partner out of the middle/professional class is a big fucking deal.
posted by moonlight on vermont at 9:33 PM on February 13 [82 favorites]

I agree with all the comments about your husband needing to be a better partner to you, and you may just hate this place. But! In my experience it took me a year to really settle in when I moved somewhere new, without all of the roadblocks you've had. And like a bunch of people are saying, you just really have to learn to drive better. I live in Raleigh and I love it, but it would be absolutely miserable without a car because public transport is sparse and I live in the suburbs.

So you might just really not like it there, and that's totally understandable, but I think things will also get so so much better if you're able to drive to a coffee shop and have a few hours alone, or go to a cool concert in town by yourself. I really encourage you to try it-driving is absolutely something you can get good at even if you never like it much, and I think the freedom will be worth it.

This is a short term fix-this sounds really hard. Hang in there.
posted by clarinet at 9:36 PM on February 13 [3 favorites]

You’re both prioritising your husband and bowing down to worship at the feet of his prestigious career. His ego is so big he’ll sacrifice his wife and marriage to it. Even after he knows you’re not happy, he won’t accept responsibility for forcing this on you, he’ll just blame you for not pretending to be happy because the guilt is bothersome for him. And now both of you want to bring a child into it? What, you being miserable isn’t enough, you have to force your kid into this situation as well? Because you know, it won’t fix anything, it’ll do the opposite.

At what point do you start to matter? When do your needs become a priority? How much will you sacrifice for him, when he’s not prepared to even listen to you, much less do anything about it? Yes, things might get better but it won’t be from anything he’s doing to help and it doesn’t bode well for the rest of your life together. I’d go to couples therapy and take it from there and if he’s not prepared to join you, I’d start planning that move to the apartment on the East coast, with or without him.
posted by Jubey at 9:40 PM on February 13 [38 favorites]

If you decide to stay, whether for the long or short term, one thing you can do is try to identify and do interesting things that would be harder to do in other places you'd like to live that you may as well take advantage of. Maybe you like gardening, or have some hobby you'd like to try that is better done in a house than in an apartment where noise or lack of space would be a problem. Maybe there's flora or fauna in the area that you'd like to check out while you're there (birdwatching, for example). Maybe there's low enough light pollution that you can enjoy the sky at night if not during the day. Or maybe there's just been something you've wanted to do for a while but not had time for.

Not saying you should stay, just that if or while you do stay there are some things you can do to try to shape the experience.
posted by trig at 11:30 PM on February 13 [2 favorites]

I don't want to minimize everything everyone else has said about the relationship dynamics etc, because I agree but everyone else has said it more eloquently, but just as a counterpoint as far as your geographical/social fears: I live in a college town in the Midwest now after growing up in a big urban coastal area. We moved here for my husband's grad school and the first time we visited, I cried. I couldn't imagine myself ever feeling at home. It was gray and snowy and slushy and seemed cold, faceless, awful. It took me probably 2-3 years to really get settled in and make friends, but now I love it and have spent some of the best years of my life here. It took a long-ass time and a lot of proactive exploration of hobby groups, classes, etc to get to this point. I just want to let you know that just because things seem isolated and horrible now doesn't mean they will always feel that way. It takes time and effort, and it's possible it could never work for you, but it's also possible you'll eventually love it there and never want to leave. You might need more time on that front, and more separation from the entanglement with your feelings towards your husband and his career decisions.
posted by music for skeletons at 12:13 AM on February 14 [7 favorites]

There's heaps of good advice here and I can only echo the two core points.

1. Do not have a baby in these circumstances.

2. The first 6 months in a new place can be unrepresentatively awful, and the fact that you've had such a run of bad luck financially and physically means that the way you're feeling now is not a guarantee of how you'll feel after another 6 months.

However, it's really important to know that academia is a career that constantly promises future happiness that it very rarely delivers. It's so easy to be caught up in 'we'll fix this when I get that tt job' 'everything will be different when I get tenure' 'we'll have more time when I get done with designing this new programme/through this financial crisis/election cycle/whatever'. I know so many people who spent their 30s, and sometimes their 40s, putting up with misery-inducing situations on the endlessly delayed promise of something better.

As others have pointed out, traditionally it is much easier to move jobs *before* you get tenure and the fact that your husband has put that option entirely to one side is a red flag to me. Different disciplines do differ, and I'm not saying he's lying, but to me this would indicate that he is not at all serious about ever moving. You don't have to decide now, or in a year, or even in two, but make sure that the timeline for deciding your future is one that you have chosen, not one that is being imposed by academia.
posted by AFII at 12:18 AM on February 14 [14 favorites]

When I was very young my father got a promotion and was relocated to a large, paid-for cottage in a rural part of the country. It was idyllic, like the dictionary definition of idyllic. The back "garden" had a small wood with a lake in it.

Heavenly right?

My mother lasted 3 months. Hated it. So bored.
Being my mother she told my father that she was moving back to their previous house and he could join her if he wished.
Being my father he immediately resigned.

Luckily for him his chief refused his resignation and simply demoted him and everything went back to the way it was 3 months prior (they hadn't even had time to sell their previous house)

Either your happiness is more important than your husband's job or it's not.

Good luck.
posted by fullerine at 12:22 AM on February 14 [13 favorites]

This is something the both of you really need to talk over and include any consequences of the decisions you may come to. I am originally from a large city, and have lived in various large cities all my life. It is what I know, love and am used to. Right now I live in Copenhagen, which could comparably be called a "medium sized" city, but I love it because it is an actual city. I have had "the talk" at early stages of my current (and earlier) relationships that I *can not* and *will not* move anywhere smaller. It is a DEALBREAKER. Moving geographically is no problem, but not in scale. This was talked about, agreed to, and then our relationship could move forward with this clearly established boundary. I feel that you need to have a serious talk together to revisit what makes you happy and what you need in order to move forward positively. Best of luck!
posted by alchemist at 12:32 AM on February 14 [2 favorites]

I don’t want to keep coming back to this thread, but I kept thinking about your question and about how much your husband’s actions don’t match up to the story he’s telling you about moving back to the city. He pursued and got took his top choice job offer at a prestigious school he loves, where he’s on track to a tenure position. He’s moving back to what seems like his family hometown, near the family he missed dearly when he was living on the coast. He’s buying and retrofitting a house, he wants you to have a baby immediately and be a SAHM. He’s been building a solid, settled, permanent life— a tenured job at his dream school, near his family, setting up a new life with a family and new baby of his own. This isn’t a stepping stone, this is the life he’s been working for, this is the permanent life that he wants. You haven’t been really respected or consulted about this life, and right now he’s treating you like “deadweight,” like a part of a machine that isn’t doing its job. But I’m guessing you didn’t enter this marriage to be a working part in the machine of your husband’s perfect life with a Midwestern college town professorship where his children can be close to his parents, right? There are so many big common issues I see here with being an academic wife, with sexist attitudes about whose career matters, whose education matters, even “I bought a property” turning into “we own a property.” For some people, living in cities is their culture. For others, urban coastal life is a phase, a place you go to get an education, experience culture, build your career, meet people, and then return to normal suburban/small town life to have a family when it’s time for that stage of adulthood. It sounds to me like your husband is in that second group of people. This job isn’t a step for him, it’s coming home. Please don’t just let yourself be treated like an appliance in that home, or an interchangeable woman to raise his kids for him in his dream life, or someone whose home culture is unreasonable or doesn’t matter, and not like an equal person and partner.
posted by moonlight on vermont at 1:38 AM on February 14 [96 favorites]

My mother had something like this experience forty-five years ago, moving with my father from the city she loved to a small middle-of-nowhere gray-skies town because he got the ideal academic tenure-track job for him. They stayed there for twenty-five years, until my father died. I know she was not happy a lot of that time, and that it wasn't her ideal life.
The reasons she was able to get through it without being utterly miserable the whole time included: 1) when I was born (only child) a couple of years after they moved there, my father's work schedule enabled him to take on a fair share of the child-raising; 2) when I was three, she started law school at the university there and, after getting her degree, was able to find a law-related job in town that worked for her; 3) their marriage was essentially solid and caring on all levels. If any of those things had gone worse, I can imagine that she might have left my father at some point to go back to the city. Based on this experience at least, it seems to me as if the first question is, do you feel that your relationship with your husband, both now and for many years in the future, is worth it?
Either way, I hope you are able to get to a better place (metaphorical or otherwise) soon, and send you all good will.
posted by huimangm at 1:39 AM on February 14

I lasted four years in the place I did not want to be, where we had moved for my partner's job. It was a lovely place, the kind of idyllic situation many people dream of, and I hated it. I work hard to reconcile with reality, and I recognize that much of the time conditions are not ideal, but I ended up in a therapist's office weeping, having made a mighty effort to reconcile to a place I did not like and having found I simply could not. I hated the house. Hated the landscape. Was dispirited and depressed. I couldn't imagine raising a child there, couldn't endure working there, and wanted to go back to the place where I felt most comfortable.

I said to my partner, "Can we go?" We sold all our possessions and moved. It had been my partner's turn. Now it was my turn.

Later on (long marriage), we lived in a similar area again (for schools and job), and I was able to stand it for much longer because the city was closer (and it was the area where I had grown up, so I knew where I could go to nourish myself). We raised our kid and I stayed in place in a career I loved where the benefits outweighed the trapped feeling.

But once again, some years back, I finally said to my partner that we needed to move. It was my turn again. I'm back in my city again, where I can stand the idea of living.

Place is key to many people, myself included, and for me it's not a question of relationship or location; it's a question of relationship AND location.
posted by Peach at 3:08 AM on February 14 [1 favorite]

I’ve witnessed this dynamic from the other side: I’m in a nomadic profession so it’s standard to move families and partners around the globe to chase opportunities and promotions. Every problem you listed was identical to what I heard from the new folks. I’ve chatted with partners who loath it here; could not adapt. The care packages from home because comfort food and ingredients are not readily available. Learning how to drive. Bored. Can’t get a job in their profession. Shopping is dreadful. No Trader Joe’s? (I’m not taking the piss. Several are still legit depressed about that.) The majority of partners cannot get a work visa or become the stay at home parent; the remainder have their own companies or work remotely.

As others above have advised: please postpone having children till you and your husband sort your relationship. Give yourself time to heal — in every way — and wait till winter passes. Spring is coming. You don’t need your husband to learn driving; hire an instructor and get your license so you can regain autonomy. 3 months isn’t a realistic adjustment time frame. Do you have a wishlist of things you’ve wanted to do but didn’t because you had a full time job? The partners created a social group that meet weekly for breakfast, a networking group that meets monthly, a book club, and several ethnic clubs. I joined a Pinoy group (first time ever) and it’s been great. But that’s beside the point. Get a therapist. Take a holiday to your old city.

I’m not keen on the “you should consider leaving your husband”. It’d be better to discover if you can work together, before prepping an exit strategy.

I’m sorry you’re in this dreadful situation and that you feel so alone. Broken bones suck. House renovations are hard. Being lost in the metaphorical woods suck. Hugs from this virtual stranger.
posted by lemon_icing at 4:01 AM on February 14 [7 favorites]

I did this move in reverse, university town that I loved to large East Coast city that I was sure I was going to hate. Twice. (Academia....)

The first time, I knew within 3 weeks that I was miserable. Stuck it out for five years because of my program at a prestigious university. By the end of it (and probably long before that) I was at the city equivalent of Bitch Eating Crackers. I fled back to University Town as soon as I could.

The second time, moving from University Town to a different large city, I was kind of terrified that I would have the same reaction. To my surprise, I came to like the city a lot. But it took nearly a year to start to feel comfortable. Developing a group of friends outside of work with regular meetings (book group, science lecture series, etc) was important.

I now live in another town entirely, drawn here by an unbeatable job offer. I've been here 18 months and am only just starting to feel ok with it. Like you, I dislike the driving culture and inadequate public transit; I managed to luck into a good house with what passes for walkability around here, but there are still plenty of days that I miss City #2.

You've only been in your place 6 months, most of which has been taken up by moving, house problems, your broken bone, and winter which straight-up sucks. (I have SAD too; do you have a light box? I was suspicious at first but I put one in my windowless office and it's been a game changer.) In my experience in university towns, there are lots of people who are not affiliated with the university, you just have to look a little harder to find them, Meetup etc.

Please don't bring a baby into the mix right now. I'm not a parent, but a good friend once told me, "Babies don't solve problems, they just make more."
posted by basalganglia at 4:40 AM on February 14 [3 favorites]

The potential solution you outlined with an apartment in a major city a few hours away is a classic academic couple compromise. Lots of people do even crazier shit to make their relationships function (airplane commutes!?), and if indeed it’s temporary (a couple of years) it may be the best option for both of you. Speaking as an academic, your husband is serious about both your marriage and his current position, he should be incredibly grateful you’ve found a potential solution that doesn’t involve you being miserable.

Also, I gotta say that I’ve known tons of academics who did not expect their partners to suck it up just so that they could be at a tier of school they felt they deserved. It’s not a given that everyone in academia acts like this.
posted by en forme de poire at 5:09 AM on February 14 [5 favorites]

I think it's interesting that you describe yourself as not ambitious when you have multiple degrees. Women are often discouraged from thinking of themselves as ambitious. If you did see yourself that way, what choices would you make?
posted by emjaybee at 5:52 AM on February 14 [20 favorites]

You sound really unhappy for both internal and external reasons. I know it is a cliche (and sometimes hard in a small town), but are you able to access therapy or other care for how you are feeling? It's not a given to feel this terrible, and you need more support than your husband is willing or able to give.

Here's a dirty little secret of academia: it is MUCH MUCH MUCH MUCH much much (much) easier to move to a different university before tenure. If your husband says he is open to moving, he should be looking now.

This is correct. Moving jobs also gives another opportunity to negotiate the tenure clock (once in a while people want to come up for tenure early; more often, people want to lengthen that time to give more time to publish, in the same way that men will use paternity leave to push out the tenure clock). So if he is serious about moving (which it sounds like he is not), the next few years are where he should be looking seriously.

But that said, even if he is serious about moving, it can take years (even in a hot field) to get a good offer, and most academic jobs are not in the Big Attractive Cities; they are mostly in college towns or at directional state U's in tertiary cities. It's much, much harder to find an academic job if you are limited to only the most exciting places. (Also, academic salaries in big metro areas aren't always a lot higher than in small towns, so make realistic assumptions for his field about what the financial picture might look like.)

There's a possibility we could move to a city a few hours away and he could commute here for a few days a week (we'd rent a room in this town for him, and an apartment in City). We could definitely do this post-tenure, although the idea of living in this town for 4.5 more years feels almost more than I can bear. We could maybe do that before tenure, although we can't afford to do it for a while since we've lost so much money over the past six months, and we've heard reports from others who do it that their productivity drops because of the long commute and the stress of living in two places.

Like was said above, this is so normal in academia as to be entirely unremarkable. It does come with costs, though -- you have to maintain two households, plus the traveling, and it is harder to make and keep friends in either place. But it is the classic solution to the "two body problem" in places like where you are living. As long as he isn't communicating to the college that he has one foot out the door, there shouldn't be any cost to his career pre-tenture aside from the (important) issue of losing productive time driving back and forth. He'll still need to be there enough days/week to cover all his classes, office hours/thesis meetings, and departmental and faculty meetings, plus the expected social and informal time -- he is more likely to face pushback if he is seen as being unavailable or offloading responsibilities onto other people.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:04 AM on February 14 [3 favorites]

A job is a job is a job. It's really pretty luxurious to refuse to work menial jobs because you'd hate them.

This ought to come as a blinding flash of revelation to the husband and to all other professor-halves of couples who take it for granted that the family must follow their star, because an academic can't just move to a city their spouse loves and "get" a "job" there -- why, it might not be an academic job! But it won't strike him that way, it never does. the god-given sense of entitlement to a very particular Career over a series of jobs among the ph.d'd is a sacred mystery. The advice to stop being precious and just take whatever work is available is offered very selectively and only to certain classes of people (usually, only to the second-class junior member of whatever marriage is under discussion.)
posted by queenofbithynia at 6:35 AM on February 14 [48 favorites]

From an anonymous Mefite:
I am a faculty wife. Your husband and his career priorities are not ever going to change. If it is a prestigious, ranked program, then he will be going flat out to make tenure and if he wishes to be fame-ish in his field then after tenure, too. You are the accessory to his focus. As it has been pointed out, he is where he wants to be: in the midwest to spawn and die with tenure.

Others upthread have pointed out all the reasons NOT to have children under this physical, emotional, and financial stress you are both experiencing. You will lose on every angle.

I have been in your position. I am in your position but with children. Get out before you get trapped, or you find him with a grad student.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 6:45 AM on February 14 [48 favorites]

I have so much sympathy for you. I've been thinking about your question since I read it yesterday, because my DH and I were/are in a similar position, and I've known a lot of academic families struggle with this exact problem. I also respect your self-knowledge about what you do and don't want for your life. My two cents.

1) You are old enough and self-aware enough to know what kind of life will make you happy, and what won't. If you know that you are a city person and an East Coast person, no amount of willpower is going to make you happy living in a small Midwestern town. I disagree strongly with the people above who are suggesting you just learn to drive, or join a club or something. You know yourself. Living here is never going to get much better for you. Don't let anyone make you feel bad for not wanting to become a Midwestern SAHM if what you really are is a European, professional, East Coast urbanite.

2) That said, the real crux of the problem seems to be the resentment and anger you have towards him, for what you perceive to be his past betrayal: the time when he didn't seriously consider the other jobs and instead took this one. For what it's worth, I agree with you that it was a shitty thing to do. But at this point, the problem is your resentment of him. Every time you feel lonely, or sad, or broke, you'll be thinking not only that "it sucks that I'm lonely" but "it sucks that I'm lonely and its his fault because he did X." And probably, every time you tell your husband "I feel lonely", what he hears is "I'm lonely and its all your fault because you did X." So rather than offering you comfort when you say you're lonely, he's still defending himself in that old argument about X. Whatever else happens about where you live, you're going to be fighting this fight under the surface of all other conversations, until you properly deal with it.

Dealing with it is going to have to involve you forgiving him and putting it behind you. The question is, can you do that? What would he have to do, for you to forgive him? Perhaps it take him admitting he didn't take you into account, that he was selfish and dishonest, and properly apologizing. If so, you need to tell him that. And then if he can do it, really, and mean it, you have to agree to lay your resentment aside and start afresh. If you realize, however, that nothing is ever going to allow you to get over his betrayal, then you have to decide what that means for your relationship. The thing is done: he did what he did, and you are now stuck in this town. You can't undo that. But you have to figure out how to move past it together, before you can address anything else.

3) In terms of all this talk about how he needs to stay till he gets tenure, and then he'll try to apply elsewhere... Yeah. There are so many variables here. I'm actually in awe of someone who managed to get so many offers, given the current job market. The fact he actually had more than one choice is remarkable, and suggests that he is likely to have more options in the future. So you need to have a really really concrete deadline here. And he needs to understand that if he breaks from it, you will leave him because this is not a sustainable life for you. So he agrees that, no matter what, you are leaving in 2025 (or whenever). And he either leaves with you (which requires him to be job searching and planning now) or you'll be leaving on your own. I suspect that once you have this set down in stone and agreed upon, it will be a bit easier for you to cope with living somewhere you hate for five years. Knowing there is a definitive end to the experience will help you bear it. Or, alternatively, you decide: nope--even five years is too long. Life is too short and you are leaving right now.

I respect your self-knowledge. I know a lot of academics who have lived in small towns they hate (yes, even Ann Arbor!) for decades, because they've decided they love their job enough to sacrifice everything else they want out of life (decent weather, cultural life, diversity, walkability, whatever it might be). Your choice is a little different: does your marriage give you enough happiness, to make up for sacrificing everything else you want for your life?

Good luck.
posted by EllaEm at 7:02 AM on February 14 [5 favorites]

What are you getting out of this relationship?

I'm asking because this sounds untenable unless you bonsai yourself into a life that requires you to give up your aspirations. So this relationship had better be fulfilling you in other ways - does he make you feel like the best version of yourself? Does the life he has laid out have room for your to grow a talent or acheive a deeply-felt desire or long-held goal?

If not, you might need to make some hard choices about whether you can stay, work out what you need from a partner, and maybe even be that partner to yourself for a little while.

I don't mean to sound harsh, I really feel for you. I am in the position of feeling torn between a career I love and a husband I adore but he is not the cause of the problem and is actively working to help us resolve it. Currently we compromise by me living part of the week in another part of the country and it's far from ideal but it's helping us work out next steps. Had he demanded I upsticks and live his dream we would no longer be together.

Do think hard about what you want because currently it's not clear how this will get you to the lifestyle, the family, or the career you want at the moment and you need at least one of those things to be possible, if not all three . Yes some compromise is necessary in couples, but it shouldn't mean you losing out in every major area of your life.
posted by freya_lamb at 7:27 AM on February 14 [5 favorites]

What your experiencing is very much the reason why my last two serious relationships have failed, and both times they were my mostly fault. Both times my SOs would have been miserable, underemployed, isolated, etc. had they moved with me for the "prestigious" academic jobs that I was questing after. Both times, however, I chose their happiness over my own, and found myself equally miserable and isolated and my dreams, at the time, were "ruined" because of them, my ego deflated. I left them to keep going and ultimately, guess what, I left academia too when I realized how much it was warping my brain and making me a miserable, egotistical asshole for zero gain and yeah it was HARD and I had no prospects. Then I did it again 3 years later, because I had given up so much of my identity to the pursuit of a PhD and my idea of myself as being above all else and deserving a prestigious job as a professor, and I couldn't let it go.

I had a brain and goals like your husband and let me tell you, they are ridiculously hard to break. He's way further along than I ever was but I 100% prioritized my sense of self and identity as an academic and my desire to be known in my field and have my worth as an intellectual validated over everyone and everything else. And yes, I was treating my SO and my engagement as an accessory to my ego and simply a name in the story I had written in my head as the perfectly successful academic with the lovely husband and house and all that. I resented my partner's needs, or any little thing that went wrong with them or the house or pets or whatever else that distracted me from my focus on my true love: myself and my work. Had I obtained a tenure track job, I would have been much, much worse, and it sounds like he's on that path TBH. The fact that he wasn't willing to even COMPROMISE on location with you to do much the same thing in a less prestigious university says it all.

This person has chosen their work as their primary focus. He's allowed to do that, and that doesn't make him a bad person, but he's not allowed to dehumanize you just to make his choices work for HIM. This is unfortunately just incompatibility that two people should have acknowledged before this move. No doubt he loves you on some level, but one has to wonder, if your happiness means that little to him now, how he loves you. Because I recently actually fell in love with someone and I would work in the dirt everyday while people spat on me to make sure they were happy until they died. You spouse is currently treating you as an extension of his ego, not a person.

The solution? I dunno. Tough it out for a year, if you can, focusing primarily on yourself as others have mentioned. Have an escape plan for when he inevitably places himself over you when you ask him to find another job in a place where you can thrive and be happy. And don't have a kid.
posted by Young Kullervo at 7:42 AM on February 14 [10 favorites]

From the OP:
Thanks for the replies. Very helpful to hear your thoughts. A few clarifications on points that have come up:

While my husband loves his work environment here, he expected to like the town and has been surprised by how much he hates it. It impacts him far less than me, of course, since his life centers around the university. It also helps, I think, that he is male. I have had a large number of really negative/scary catcalling incidents when walking around the town that have led to me not enjoying walking along anymore. (Maybe surprisingly based on city stereotypes, I haven't experienced all that much catcalling on the East Coast, and when I have been the recipient of it previously, it has been in cities where the streets are full of other people; it feels different and more threatening to me when it's only you and your harasser alone on the street.) I have told my husband about these instances, and he sympathizes, but it's hard for him to understand how scary they are for me because he's physically imposing and so has said that he finds it hard to imagine feeling afraid of anyone on the street. But it makes me feel claustrophobic not feeling that I can step outside and walk on my own two feet to do what I need to do. Before we moved here, I used to walk 3-7 miles a day and loved it.

The initial idea was that we would have a five-year plan to stay here (until tenure), give it a fair shot, and then at that point have an open conversation about whether we should stay or go. I was afraid from the time he got the offer that he would love it here so much that we would effectively be trapped for life, so the compromise was that he would be open to leaving in five years. I have tried to give it a fair try. Because I have been so unhappy, we have had a few conversations where I have said that from my current perspective, I cannot imagine wanting to stay beyond five years. He says that he has been increasingly thinking of leaving after five years too. He dislikes the entire West Coast but is open to moving after tenure to any East Coast city except one that he specifically dislikes (which is unfortunately the one where he almost got the Ivy offer last year, and the one I'd most like to move to - but I'm open to any East Coast city). The catch is that he doesn't want to move down in terms of school rank from where he is now, and he's so high up in the rankings now that he has said that there are only a handful of schools (as in, I can count them on one hand) on the urban East Coast that he would be willing to move to (basically Ivies). The hiring at these schools is so competitive, rare, political (in terms of who backs you, etc.), and erratic that I worry that even though he's good, that may not happen. It's interesting that there are a few comments that it's easier to move pre-tenure: my husband specifically thinks that's not the case, but I will have to look into it and have another conversation about it. His family is also very resistant to us moving away, especially after we have children (last year, when I expressed a strong preference for Urban University in which he was in the running, over the offer from current school, one of his relatives said very emotionally that I was trying to steal him away from his family, which I felt was inappropriate and intrusive about a decision that should mostly involve the two of us). The academic field my husband is in also has a practice/clinical/professional side, and if he left academia, he could likely get a job that would start around $200k. But he has had such a job in the past, hated it, and strongly prefers academia. I support him doing what he enjoys but don't know how to get him to compromise on some of the decisions about location.

The wives of my husbands' colleagues can't find jobs, except in a few rare cases of both spouses being academics here. (There are quirks with this university that mean that other non-academic university jobs are much less available than one would expect.) I know one other spouse who works part-time remotely, and the rest are stay-at-home moms. This largely works fine because my husband is at a professional school where the starting pay is in the six figures (I'm very grateful that it's so high, and feel awful that I'm so unhappy). I've always wanted to be a stay-at-home mom so I'm happy with this set-up, it's overwhelmingly likely that I couldn't find a middle-class one here even if I wanted one. My previous field/job was very location-specific and I definitely couldn't work remotely (in my more depressed moments I have fantasized about returning to our old city alone and taking back up my previous job, but I have already long since been replaced). I have considered going to professional school, but I would want to wait until our kids are in elementary school. I am not one of those very talented people who can do a stressful degree and have young children at the same time, especially because my husband is not at all domestic (which I'm very fine with, but means I have to do literally everything at home, from making his doctor appointments to cooking to childcare ultimately). We also have time pressure about having a baby, so that needs to be the priority over a career for me, especially because I am not very career-driven. (I would be satisfied with no career, but if I were to have a job, in choosing a field/job, I would prioritize geographic location and general work conditions - schedule, hours, climate, flexibility - over prestige. The professional school option I might do in the future provides extreme flexibility in terms of career outcomes. However I would be equally happy not doing it.)

The unfortunate thing for me is that this is one of the few places that I think would really be a bad fit for me. I feel like I'm in a foreign country that I hate. My husband did interviews at some other schools abroad (think: urban Australia, Asia), and I was excited about the prospect of moving there and think I would have adjusted far better. It's just that this place is such a specifically bad fit for my personality, talents, and shortcomings. I love my husband very much and love our relationship when he is not feeling stressed. I think that helping him find ways to manage his stress levels will also be important.
posted by Eyebrows McGee (staff) at 8:01 AM on February 14

For the sake of empathizing with the OP, I’d like to suggest that the town may be closer to West Lafayette, IN or Norman, OK, than Madison or Ann Arbor. There are R1 universities in midwestern towns that don’t even have farm-to-table food scenes or REIs.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 8:03 AM on February 14 [8 favorites]

Maybe those aren’t good examples, so apologies in advance to the people of those towns, which I selected randomly from the Wikipedia list of R1s.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 8:05 AM on February 14 [4 favorites]

I keep coming back to this question because I am so angry on your behalf.

Please talk with your medical provider about how you're feeling, and ask about getting screened for depression. Please be proactive about your mental health, because it sure sounds like the current situation has depleted your ability to cope. Maybe you and your medical provider can work on ways to get you a little more mental and emotional equanimity.

Please consider therapy or couples therapy. Your marriage sounds terribly lonely and unbalanced right now.

Do not get pregnant.
posted by MonkeyToes at 8:09 AM on February 14 [11 favorites]

It sounds like law school and there aren’t that many in small cities.

Regardless, what he’s saying is that he’s not moving. His family will back him once you make the kid they want. You’ll be treated as a sort of annoyance forever. “The kid machine popped out a kid and keeps having preferences ugh” will be the general tenor of conversation about your happiness.

If you really want to be a SAHM and do everything forever, you guys should be looking to move to a better neighborhood, near parks. It would probably be more suburban. That’s a two year plan though.

I mean idk if you really understand what it means to have zero power, zero money of your own, be expected to do all the boring shitty labor, and be expected to be responsible for the kids. It will be second class life. SAH doesn’t have to be, but your husband gives every indication that he will treat you like his subordinate. Without money or a job, tied to him with a kid, you will be.

Whatever you do, DON’T sell your East Coast property. I’d even consider transferring it to your parents or a trust. That’s your security if things go wrong. Hang onto it like your life depends on it.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 8:12 AM on February 14 [40 favorites]

Also, I swear to Christ, if he is a lawyer and he has you in Ithaca because he’s unwilling to work at BU or something like that, he’s being a complete jackass. Lawyers love the prestige game but law research isn’t like being at an R1. You can do it anywhere. And he can socialize in his field easily, he doesn’t need them to be at his school. And if he’s any good he’ll shine from anywhere. So he’s being a jackass if that’s the case. I know a ton about legal academia and it’s not a field where this matters that much except that lawyers are elitist for zero reason. Ugh. I’m sorry you’re being sacrificed for USNWR rankings.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 8:18 AM on February 14 [12 favorites]

Not that we should be playing guessing games here, but this sounds less like a canonical college town anchored by an R1 and more like somewhere where the big draw is an academic health sciences center, which narrows things down a hell of a lot and also helps to explain the extent of OP's problems and why she and her husband were willing to see this as a reasonable sacrifice at one point.
posted by blerghamot at 8:29 AM on February 14 [5 favorites]

I hope your husband's institution has an Employee Assistance Program - please see what sort of resources would be available to your family through it. A little short-term counseling could help kick things off. I would also suggest a light box to help with the SAD - I bought this very affordable HappyLight and it's really been a great help.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 8:35 AM on February 14

Dip Flash: most academic jobs are not in the Big Attractive Cities; they are mostly in college towns or at directional state U's in tertiary cities. It's much, much harder to find an academic job if you are limited to only the most exciting places

This is an extremely important thing to understand.
posted by slkinsey at 8:35 AM on February 14 [3 favorites]

I left academia because I knew I would not get a job ever, but know enough about the intricacies to understand what a tough position you are both in. I'm not sure if it's more or less stressful that you seem to have a one-body problem rather than a two-body problem. Before I say anything, I will echo many people above:


Now that that is out of the way...yes, it's incredibly shitty that he didn't consider the other options that you would have preferred. However, the one good option (for you) that he says he didn't really consider is a red herring -- he didn't get the offer so it's unhelpful to fixate on it. Is it possible that he was trying to save face by claiming a lack of interest to disguise the fact that he felt he failed there? If he had received that offer, do you think he would have been more receptive/you would have had more leverage? If the answer is no, then you do really have a much deeper problem.

I would venture to say that you are an unusual couple (at least in my experience of academic couples) in that you seem to genuinely want to be a stay at home mom. I can see how in your husband's eyes, he feels like he no longer has to worry about you not having a career since you can mom anywhere, right? But your husband is failing to consider that staying at home with kids is a career, and like any other job the location can dictate how much you enjoy it (this is a point with which he is now intimately familiar, it seems). And based on your comments, I would venture to guess that not only is your theoretical career as a SAHM in a bad work location, it has all the makings of a hostile work environment. Because if he does no housework, is incapable of taking on his own administrative tasks and works until midnight, then heaven help you once you have children!

I want to be sympathetic to your husband because at one point in my life I was also an ambitious academic and would have been thrilled to have such a career path. If it seemed like he was going out of his way to try to mitigate your concerns, then I would say try to stick it out and give the new place time. Even though your husband also seems unhappy with the location, I think you need to assume you will be there forever (in other words, plan for the worst case scenario now rather than hoping for something better down the road). The crux of it is what is likely to make you more unhappy:

-- staying where you are indefinitely and having a family with your husband
-- leaving for a place you want to live but not having a family with your husband

There is no right answer and I feel for you. I really do.
posted by Mrs. Rattery at 8:38 AM on February 14 [8 favorites]

The initial idea was that we would have a five-year plan to stay here (until tenure), give it a fair shot, and then at that point have an open conversation about whether we should stay or go

He's never gonna leave

The catch is that he doesn't want to move down in terms of school rank from where he is now, and he's so high up in the rankings now that he has said that there are only a handful of schools (as in, I can count them on one hand) on the urban East Coast that he would be willing to move to (basically Ivies).

He's never gonna leave

His family is also very resistant to us moving away, especially after we have children (last year, when I expressed a strong preference for Urban University in which he was in the running, over the offer from current school, one of his relatives said very emotionally that I was trying to steal him away from his family,

He's never gonna leave
posted by Think_Long at 8:46 AM on February 14 [39 favorites]

You and your husband have competing desires. His focus is on academic prestige; yours is on quality of life. If you're not able to find a mutually acceptable compromise (like a less prestigious job for him in a city that you're okay with but not excited about), there is nothing wrong with splitting up, and neither of you need to be considered "at fault" for that.

You can also move to the property you own on the east coast; you don't have anything keeping you here other than a partner who's barely ever home. You can view it as either a trial separation or a long-distance relationship depending on how you prefer to see it.
posted by metasarah at 8:59 AM on February 14 [8 favorites]

My sympathies. Being a "trailing spouse" in academia sucks, doubly so in an area where your own possibilities are so limited.

It seems like you are fortunate in one sense, to have an idea of what would be involved if you went straight to the SAHM route and to know already that it's not a pretty picture. And the idea that your husband thinks you need to be working "any job" to top up your income from his already six-figure salary suggests a really hard slog ahead of you. You could wind up on a stupid treadmill working for a really small amount of money because there will always be some reason you can't just budget for whatever he makes. (Having kids will pretty much mean your finances will always be not what you expected.) People do get into this situation and it works out to whatever degree, but I don't think you want to do that right now.

Maybe you should sort out what potential careers (other than SAHM) would suit you and see what you need to make one of those happen. If it's going back to school or moving, do that. Assuming you stay married, you'll just be living in two places like many academic couples.
posted by BibiRose at 9:14 AM on February 14

OP: NOOOO. No no no.

> My husband is frustrated that he is the one holding us up: he's holding down the stressful job, he has to take me to run errands after work because I can't drive yet by myself, because of my broken bone I was unable to cook for several months so we had to eat mostly fast food, he's had to be the one to talk to our contractors because we've had a number of circumstances where they've ignored my clear instruction but responded well to him saying the same thing, and some days I've been too depressed to be very productive. I know that my husband thinks he's overworked and that I'm a deadweight here.

This is a ridiculously uncharitable, mean, insensitive, and entitled way for your husband to frame the situation. You gave up your whole life to move with him. YOU BROKE A BONE. Instead of falling over himself you make you feel comfortable and cared for, he's taking out his frustrations on you?!

I don't know how to say this convincingly enough or loudly enough: do not have a baby with this man. DO NOT BECOME A STAY AT HOME MOTHER WHILE YOU ARE MARRIED TO HIM. He has shown you how thoroughly he will abandon you and how little he cares for your emotional and relational needs.... This is a man who will leave all the baby work to you, take you for granted, and shame you for "mooching" off of his income while you do all the unpaid work of domesticity and babycare. It will be a nightmare.

What you both need is couples' counseling, stat. He needs to start doing more to show his gratitude for your sacrifice in moving here, and fully commit to pouring his time and energy into reciprocating your relationship work. You need to start to define your own needs and wants and boundaries with him rather than being his doormat, and work on your independent functioning. This is fixable. Your life isn't doomed. But please don't have a baby until your marriage is fixed.
posted by MiraK at 9:22 AM on February 14 [17 favorites]

I should have said in my earlier response: in both cases I talked about, the decision to move was one I made for myself -- I was not the "trailing spouse" (hate that term, but I don't know how else to describe it) which does change the calculus on how long to put up with being miserable.

Reading your update, if your husband is in academic medicine, please knock him over the head and tell him that tenure in academic medicine is meaningless and does not transfer between institutions; if he wants to leave at any point, he should leave now, not after tenure. Feel free to MeMail me for more.
posted by basalganglia at 9:47 AM on February 14 [2 favorites]

If you have a child with this man and your marriage ends, there is a good chance he will legally be able to force you to live in his town until that child is 18. Oh, and he’ll be tenured and making the big bucks, and you’ll be a single mom working at Starbucks and getting the least amount of child support possible.

Do NOT have a baby in this town.
posted by 2soxy4mypuppet at 9:59 AM on February 14 [24 favorites]

There's so much here that I don't need to add to - don't have a kid with him! - but one thing that hasn't come up is that the role of an academic spouse is very much the expected progression for R1 tenure-track and tenured academics. They can't do the work they need/want to do without a spouse at home managing the entire home life. He knows that if you separate or you leave him, he will have a much harder time managing his career because he won't have a wife at home to manage the entire rest of his life. If you choose to leave him, he'll likely remarry very quickly to someone who wants to be the wife of a professor in the way society requests. This gives you some leverage because you have something he wants - but only if you actually have it ("it" being "the desire to manage the domestic realm").

No one else has mentioned (that I could see) the possibility of being semi-long-distance during his employment at this institution. You could opt to live somewhere else and pursue your career, and you could visit one another, maybe once a month one of you could fly out to where the other person is located. It works for plenty of people, there's no reason it couldn't work for you. He would certainly come to understand that your role in the partnership is vastly important to his success in ways he may not be able to enumerate right now, and you could both make choices with clear heads about what steps to take next.
posted by juniperesque at 10:19 AM on February 14 [14 favorites]

In your update, you talk about compromises. Somehow your husband has arranged these compromises so that he is choosing between options he loves (take the exact job he wants most and live wherever he wants, for as long as he wants) and “merely” likes (take the job and promise the wife you’d think about moving eventually), while you are choosing between options you absolutely hate or “merely” strongly dislike. That’s not compromise. That’s just him doing what he wants and dressing it up as a choice. And then he has the temerity to complain that you’re unhappy and a deadweight.

Remember that this is your life too, and you only get one. And if your husband is bright enough to score the kind of job that brought you two to this town, he’s bright enough to help with domestic labor. What shines through in both your posts is that he just doesn’t care enough to sacrifice anything (not a job, not even pitching in with housework) for you the way you have for him.

I think you are a lot angrier than you are letting yourself admit at the moment, and you deserve to be!
posted by sallybrown at 11:06 AM on February 14 [33 favorites]

Even if you convince your husband to start looking for other jobs, the academic job search takes time so you should still look into ways to make your next year or two in the present town more enjoyable. I feel like you've given up on the idea of a local job prematurely. I know many many many professsional couples where one takes a menial job during a transition period - it is not a life sentence in a salt mine, it is a temporary gig which can immediately improve your life. You say finances are tight? A part-time entry level job can pay for the therapy, driving lessons, etc that others are suggesting. You say you are lonely and don't feel part of the community? A local job will introduce you to many people and you will learn more cool parts of your community through them. You are already unemployed, so if you're worried it's bad for career advancement to take an entry-level job, just leave it off your resume and you're no worse off than you are now.

In my experience, entry level jobs can be more supportive than professional jobs. Professional jobs can have a toxic atmosphere precisely because of the difficulty for folks to change professional jobs. In entry-level jobs, it's easier for badly treated employees to just walk away, and bosses know that. Also, in a college town, many of your coworkers could be college students who are building their lives and are frankly energizing to be around. And if you try it for a month and hate it, you can easily quit and still be one month richer than you are now.
posted by sdrawkcaSSAb at 11:14 AM on February 14 [3 favorites]

Please consider getting a form of birth control that is effective and hard to sabotage (like an IUD). If you have a baby in this town and the marriage disintegrates further, you will be forced to stay there for custody reasons. With a lapse in your employment history as well as few professional opportunities, you will likely have to live a very economically depressed life.

Additionally, your current situation puts you at high risk for post-partum depression. Please be very careful. Your husband has already made it clear that he doesn't consider your happiness and well-being of equal importance to his. He's already angry that you're not putting on a happier face for him. Plus, you're not near your own family and friends and his family has already behaved in ways that are hostile to you. This is very worrying.
posted by quince at 11:16 AM on February 14 [29 favorites]

We also have time pressure about having a baby,

Freeze your eggs. Seriously. I'm not as crazy negative about your husband as many above, mostly because I feel like I'm lacking some of the necessary data, but now is not the time to have a kid and giving yourself some breathing space will improve your position in whatever decision it is you end up making--from divorce to SAHMing in the same town.
posted by praemunire at 11:32 AM on February 14

It seems like you are fixating on the horrible town you live in as "the" one and only problem. But so many of the issues you describe - in your relationship, your career and graduate achievement, decision to have kids or not - well, they are more complicated that where you live.

BUT on the issue of the dumb town you live in (and I grew up in dumb small towns in the Midwest, they are horrible) I think one thing you could do is move to a different one. Pretty much anywhere in the US, at about 1-2 hour radius from where you are, you are going to find a more suitable town/city to live in. Your husband can commute; maybe even find a room to stay in 1-2 nights a week, if you end up farther away. But why *not* get the f out of whatever terrible town you are in now, and find somewhere that has the kinds of amenities that would you make you nominally happier?
posted by RajahKing at 11:49 AM on February 14 [1 favorite]

The detail that's stuck in my mind overnight is that you bought a house there knowing all of your significant worry about this move beforehand. I am curious if you suggested renting first. If he pushed to buy a house, that pushes me even more to "he's never gonna leave.'

I started your post very 50/50 between "yeah your husband could be handling this better but you also need to give this a fair chance and really work to build yourself some hobbies etc." but every further paragraph I read pushed me more, sadly, towards you being the wife appliance. Also, any sort of "stealing him from his familyyy" regarding a grown ass adult also makes me quite concerned that in those long hours he's doing his fancy job, you are supposed to be presenting the grandchildren to "his family" (not you) with your ample free time, since you don't work, right?
posted by nakedmolerats at 12:04 PM on February 14 [6 favorites]

A cautionary tale: I was in a very similar situation to you. I did all of the domestic work (and was happy to do so), my husband had the brilliant career, and then he started to pursue opportunities for a very prestigious position in a place I adamantly didn’t want to live and my opinion didn’t matter because I wasn’t the one with the fancy career.. At first we negotiated a compromise where I would split my time between our home of almost 30 years and shitty new strip mall town. Then within a matter of months he was having an affair and now we’re divorced. There wasn’t ever going to be a happy ending to our story whether I followed him around or not, because he wasn’t the kind of man who wanted to treat his wife like an equal partner regardless of her earning capacity. Is yours?

I also had a lot of semi-irrational fears and anxieties, like yours about driving. That’s what tends to happen when you don’t have agency over your life. Once I was thrown into a position of having to become empowered about every aspect of my life because there was no choice, those fears and anxieties mostly evaporated. I bet the same would be true for you. I’m not saying you have to get divorced. I am saying that something needs to change so that you are the boss of your own life.

P.S. Driving is a life skill, like swimming and cooking. Doesn’t matter if you prefer to walk or where you live. Boss up and learn to drive just so you can.
posted by HotToddy at 12:05 PM on February 14 [26 favorites]

Valuing prestige over quality of life is very much a reason why academics I know are entirely miserable. This is particularly true for law schools, and it's absolute bullshit. I was going to chime in about the kid thing on the other side -- I actually don't think that having kids in a place you dislike is always a bad thing; I did it and it actually made me feel far more connected to the community and it was how I made friends. BUT it makes it harder to move, harder to work, harder to tend to your marriage, harder to do ANYTHING, especially when your partner really is being completely and totally unreasonable. He's not going to leave unless it's an Ivy League School? Honestly, he is not valuing you or your willingness to be your support at all. EVERYONE knows that the rankings are complete bullshit, so it's just for his ego.

I do know people who just divide their time. Universities are really only in term for less than half the year. You move back to the East Coast, like now, and he comes out a few times, and you go there a few times, and then you have a glorious summer together in one of the places, perhaps East Coast City where you now live, or Newfoundland, or Berlin or wherever. People do it all the time, and unless you can't bear to live a day without him, it's the only sensible option right now.
posted by caoimhe at 12:34 PM on February 14 [11 favorites]

Also, does the university run a temp pool? I know in towns like these the university controls the job market, AND as you know, people tend to be way over-educated. So yeah, you might start temping as an admin assistant when you've had better paying jobs than that, but it'll give you SOME direction, and you certainly won't be the only admin with a master's degree.

If that sounds like you just don't want to do it (and that's fine!) then yeah, I think you should more seriously consider living apart. This is not at all uncommon in academia even for long term couples, even raising children. One of the supposed perks of that big shot salary is to support something like this. I personally know two couples doing this long term, one in the mid-Atlantic and NYC and one in the Midwest and Southwest. It's not probably what either of them most ideally wants, but neither is living in a city where one person is miserable.
posted by nakedmolerats at 2:16 PM on February 14 [2 favorites]

I think that helping him find ways to manage his stress levels will also be important.

This is absolutely not on you to do. He is a big boy, and he is capable of booking his own damn therapy appointments if he can’t handle the stress that he has inflicted on himself and you. Signed, an academic who books his own damn therapy appointments.
posted by en forme de poire at 5:53 PM on February 14 [21 favorites]

my husband is not at all domestic (which I'm very fine with, but means I have to do literally everything at home, from making his doctor appointments to cooking to childcare ultimately)

he's "not domestic" like you're not employed: as the result of particular choices. having a job isn't a personality trait, whether it's a job pushing a vacuum and calling doctors or a job hiding in your office until midnight. it's just a thing we all do if we don't have someone else to do it for us. He isn't "undomestic;" the man has a house and home. he just doesn't care to do the shit he consigns to domestic workers, such as you.

You seem to be saying you want this kind of life: where you do everything for him, maintaining the fiction that you 'have to,' and because he pays the bills, it comes out even. You're very fine with it. OK. But you have to really understand that this is a whole package: this is a lifestyle where he's in charge and where he doesn't respect your work. moreover, it's a lifestyle where he simultaneously looks down on your role and gets angry when you don't do it right or do it enough. It is a no-win situation and it would still be a no-win situation even if your husband were a smarter and a more considerate man than you describe.

I mean, in one way you clearly do realize all this, you've described it all in great detail and it's the basis of your question. But you look for a solution as though your unhappiness isn't inherent in and necessary to this subordinate, unequal marriage construction you've got. and I am afraid that it is. You have taken a permanent job as low-level support staff to your husband and you can't even put it on your CV.
posted by queenofbithynia at 6:00 PM on February 14 [37 favorites]

I have absolutely zero experience or knowledge about anything you've presented (except I hate driving, hated it when I was a teen, never got good at it, and thanks to my location haven't owned a car or driven one in 40 years), but reading the thoughtful and generous responses I have to say, listen to the "nopes".
posted by Chitownfats at 6:24 PM on February 14 [1 favorite]

None of the folks guessing your location have mentioned South Bend yet. But it is a non-fancy town with a very fancy law school.

If you are in South Bend, you could tell your husband that you and he can maybe stay married if you live together in Chicago. Lots of ND faculty live in Chicago. I think there's even a train.
posted by sy at 7:18 PM on February 14 [7 favorites]

If it were me, I would get rid of the house and do this as soon as you can, which I think would have some difficulties, but could take some of the pressure off you both with the miserable current situation: There's a possibility we could move to a city a few hours away and he could commute here for a few days a week (we'd rent a room in this town for him, and an apartment in City.

As a matter of fact, I know someone in an academic-type job (not university but has a similar set-up), who has a place elsewhere where his wife lives full time. He spends Monday - Thursday nights in his job location, and then goes home for the rest of the time. In his case, he actually does not have a room in work location. He actually sleeps in his office. He takes advantage of the on site facilities for bathrooms/showering, and eats in the work food places, and has a bed set-up in his office. I'm not suggesting your husband do this, though he probably could for a bit, if money is as tight as you say. (I'm sure the university has facilities like a gym he could use for showering.) My uncle actually did this same thing for a number of years, though he did have a small apartment in the university town where he worked.

With that said, in the meantime I still think you should prioritize working on your driving (are there any university students looking for extra money who could teach you, or driving schools?), just to give yourself more options if for no other reason.

Good luck, this is a tough situation. I do also know several academic couples who have made really long distance marriages work for many years - in one case Kansas City and Washington, DC, in another Washington, DC and London, but this would not seem feasible for you two if you want children.
posted by gudrun at 7:38 PM on February 14 [1 favorite]

Hey there! I'm the author of the "question from the other side" that seesom linked up there in the first comment. I don't know that I have any good advice to give you but I will share some of my experience.

1. I had this same experience of people really taking my side in their answers, and being really hard on my partner. It felt pretty unfair (I can barely even read the answers to that question again because it's pretty painful stuff) but when you think about it, it makes sense because you're basically describing how your spouse is making you miserable, so what else are they going to think? But I just wanted to say that I trust that there are many good reasons that you're married to this person, and if you want to remain married to them that's fine, but you need to figure out how to stay married to them AND how not to be miserable. That looks different for different people; what does it look like to you? Spend some time going over what things would need to change in order for you to not be miserable all the time (being able to drive yourself around? having some friends you could trust? living near a cafe and being able to walk to places? or is it really, truly, not living there anymore?) Talk to a therapist to help you define this stuff!!

2. It really is true that the time to find another job is BEFORE tenure. Search committees actually seem to be very understanding of "the location we are in now is making my spouse so miserable that it's either find a new job or divorce" -- when I started my new job search I addressed it near the end of my cover letter, something along the lines of "yes, I am doing a new search when I just started this job, it is a family matter and not related to my work at all, love my work, happy to talk about my particular situation in the interview" and it was fine. You can show him this thread if you want (it would have made my spouse so mad if I'd shown him mine so I understand if thats not an option) to back up this claim, but really, talk to him about timing -- it looks bad to search three to five years in because then it looks like you know you won't get tenure and want to move before you lose your job, and why on earth would you work hard to get tenure only to start over again somewhere else? The time to look around is now -- IF he is actually open to moving and not just stringing you along. That's what you really need to determine and you need to have a talk explicitly about this.

3. Agree with others: DO NOT have a kid until both of you are in a relatively happy place (emotionally, geographically, or both). Because right now, you do not yet know if things will get to that place and tying yourself forever to a person when your future happiness is uncertain is a recipe for disaster.

If you read to the end of my question, you'll see that we did end up moving and it was 100% the right thing to do in our situation. It still took three whole years for my spouse to find a decent job in his field in our new location (literally just got the new job offer yesterday!), and we still have only, like, two friends here; settling in a new place is hard and takes a long time. You may be somewhat happy in your current location in a few years with certain changes, or it may be like my situation where that was NEVER going to happen (and it really, truly, never was; location is important and some people are just not cut out for certain locations -- like I EAT TAPAS's mom who remained unhappy). I think your main priority right now is finding a therapist to work through your thoughts and feelings on this, and become clear on what is negotiable and what is not. And then, really, you need to have an honest conversation (or ongoing dialogue) with your spouse about this stuff. I found it helpful to come home from therapy sessions and tell my spouse what we talked about -- I think it helped him to see that I wasn't just coming from an emotional place inside my head but that I was making a concerted effort to really understand and compromise. It made it easier for him to loosen his positions and be willing to consider options.

Anyway.... I don't know if any of that is helpful but I hope that you can find a way through it to some happiness, whatever that ends up looking like for you.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 7:25 AM on February 15 [19 favorites]

Hi! This sure does sound like South Bend. If that is the case, I'd be happy to help you learn to drive! Feel free to MeMail me.
posted by almostmanda at 7:43 AM on February 15 [6 favorites]

Search committees actually seem to be very understanding of "the location we are in now is making my spouse so miserable that it's either find a new job or divorce"

This is true. Unhappy spouses, especially in less attractive locations, are really common; everyone is used to the dynamic. In addition to how it can be presented in a job search, something he may want to consider is using your unhappiness as leverage to try to improve things at the current university. Faculty searches are expensive and he is obviously an attractive candidate because they gave him the signing bonus, so they have an incentive to keep him.

In other words, if it is a choice between losing him, or say, creating a job for you, or giving him a Tu/W/Th teaching schedule so he can be with you in the new city four days a week, or whatever it is that would make the situation acceptable, they might be willing to do that. But, it will only possibly happen if he is willing to advocate for it, and that effort is only worth it if the result would actually make you happy. If your happiness is contingent on moving, everyone's effort would be better spent focusing on that.
posted by Dip Flash at 8:35 AM on February 15 [8 favorites]

Hi OP! Your question really resonated with me. A lot of people have covered various angles about what you should do, but I wanted to encourage you to take some time and reflect on what you want from your life. I know money is tight, but I think it's absolutely critical that you have space and time to think about what you want, so take a weekend or a week and stay in a cabin somewhere, or go back to your East Coast apartment, anywhere.

I found the book Get Out of Your Mind and Into Your Life (about ACT therapy) to be absolutely life-changing if you like reading/writing to clarify your understanding of yourself and the world, but there are plenty of other books or podcasts or movies that work too. But essentially, what do you want your life to be about? You want to have kids and to be a SAHM, but what does that look like? What sort of world do you want to make for your kids or show them? Do you want to take them on long hikes, do you want to cook with them, or garden, or go to museums, or...? If you were living in an East Coast city, what would you want to be doing? Do you want to have a job to go to everyday? Do you want to be involved with local business or politics?

Let's say you knew you were going to get pregnant next year, or in the next two years. What would you want to do with that time, if there were no other demands on you? Read a lot of books? Learn a craft? Get really in shape? Go out dancing a lot? Throw parties at your house? Travel the country in an RV? Take up extreme sports? Because, even though it probably doesn't seem like it at all to you, the one thing this move has given you is a lot of time. You had to leave your job and your husband makes enough money to support both of you. He is acting like you don't have this freedom (this is part of why your question rankles me so much! and I would end up really depressed as well), because even though you don't have a job, there are a lot of unstated expectations and demands on your time - that you deal with the home issues, that you handle all aspects of his home/personal life b/c he works such long hours, that you not spend money on yourself b/c money is tight, etc.

But you really don't have to confine your life within those demands. Maybe the compromise is that you live in this town that you hate because he wants this job, but he has to take care of all of the house stuff because you're living in your East Coast apartment half the year or spending whole weeks camping at national parks or training for an Ironman or going on writing retreats to finish a memoir. Maybe you have kids and are a SAHM but the compromise is that you live in an apartment in the nearby city so you can walk to coffee shops and museums with them and he lives in the depressing town on his own that you're not around to clean/cook for and he takes on the burden of driving more to see his kids. Like yes, you compromised by moving to this town. But you don't need to accept the whole package. It sounds like you need to take up some space for your wants and desires right now. You need to be able to have money, time, and space to create the life you want, and he needs to respect that this is a real need and not an inconvenience to him and the budget. It's a lot cheaper to pay for two apartments or for classes or therapy or whatever than it is to divorce.
posted by autolykos at 9:03 AM on February 15 [6 favorites]

My husband has said that he can't be responsible for dealing with my unhappiness for me.

I love my husband very much and love our relationship when he is not feeling stressed. I think that helping him find ways to manage his stress levels will also be important.

You aren’t a team. It sounds like you can function as a team as long as you do all the emotional labour, domestic labour, and never have any needs; that doesn’t make you a team though. Probably the imbalanced teamwork was masked in your early relationahip by you being so high-functioning but now your ability to be high functioning has been stripped (mostly by his unilateral choices) and that you never had this level of stress before. Stress truly brings out people’s innate characters. And there is NOTHING more stressful than a new baby.

So you have come here, ready to use our advice to high-function the two of you out of this mess - but that is the opposite of what you need to do. You need to take a big step back and have him choose to either be on a team with you, or not.

Meanwhile, get therapy, visit a lawyer, and a financial advisor for location-specific guidance, take a trip to visit people who empower you. Take some time to process where you want to be in six months, five years, twenty years in terms of what your life will look like and what steps do you take now to get there.

The whole “money is super tight” from your (relatively young and healthy) spouse when he earns over $100,00 (in the Midwest!) and could walk into a private $200,000 job anytime makes me worry you don’t have a complete picture of your joint finances and that is being used to control and manipulate you (even unconsciously). Perhaps a post-nuptial agreement that splits his income directly so that 50% goes to your private account that you pay a portion of joint expenses from? You are clearly smart, thoughtful, and kind; I am so sorry your husband seems to have temporarily forgotten this.
posted by saucysault at 2:25 PM on February 15 [17 favorites]

Oh god OP no one seems to have mentioned this because they're understandably focused on other things but please please please do not get pregnant because this entire post is littered with red flags of an abusive relationship and sounds way too eerily like multiple cases I know of (unilaterally move to small town for man's career, isolate wife, make wife miserable, pressure to have baby) where the next step after the baby was the start of physical abuse.

I don't know if that will be you. But please please please read Lundy Bancroft's Why Does He Do That and check if what he describes sounds familiar to you. (note: Bancroft has said he's fine with copies of his book being distributed online hence why I'm sharing the link in case you can't otherwise get a copy of the book)
posted by Cozybee at 11:12 PM on February 15 [2 favorites]

For what it's worth, I'm not married but each time I've gone through an academic job search and been partnered, part of the conversation about every job I apply to is whether my partner will be happy living there, if the benefits to my career are worth being long distance or living somewhere my partner doesn't want to, if we would break up of I got the job (I've done this once) or if it's not worth applying to that place. And, I think, if we got somewhere and after a few years my partner was really unhappy, I'd think about how to solve that problem. Academia doesn't love anyone enough to make it worth denying your family a life they also love.
posted by ChuraChura at 6:06 AM on February 16 [8 favorites]

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