A Couple’s Choice
Posted on September 9, 2013
Since working in Higher Education, I have encountered the strangest phenomenon among married couples. I call them “commuter couples,” that is spouses who are both highly educated, and have chosen to live in separate cities or states in order to puruse their careers.
I use the word “chosen” here loosely because I’m not sure if they had much of a choice.
For example, Dwayne’s supervisor from an old job lived in one state while her husband lived half a country away. The story goes like this: she was offered a high level position in the Residence Life department, and her husband who was a tenure-track professor at their original institute was promised another full-time gig at his wife’s new school.
However, when it came time to move, the economy bottomed out and his offer of work fell through.
The result? She took the kids and moved to Washington while he stayed in Missouri to keep his tenure-track job. He commuted to Washington during the summers and holidays to be with his family.
As strange as this sounds, I have encountered commuter couples over and over again since working in Higher Ed. For example, here in Gettysburg, I met a visiting professor whose wife worked at a university down in North Carolina. They were living down there when he had the opportunity to take this one-year contract with Gettysburg College. So he took it, and the two of them lived in two different states last year.
Then there is the other acquaintance of mine whose husband went back to school to get a degree from a university in Utah. So for two years, he commuted back and forth from Pennsylvania to Utah, leaving his family for months at a time while she worked as an Associate Dean here.
But if couples aren’t choosing to live apart from each other for a time while they build their resume, then they have to find creative ways to fit their careers together.
Dwayne and I have just made friends with a lovely young couple. Both the husband and wife have PhDs in Psychology. They met in their graduate programs. He was able to get a full-time job in the Psych department here while she has been adjuncting with a PhD.
Dwayne and I have been running into this same dilemma as we’re both highly educated in our fields, and both require a University to do our work.
So far, Dwayne’s jobs have been the ones to lead us across the country while I have either adjuncted or worked on my books, but I’m technically capable of getting a full-time job as my degree in writing is a terminal one. The problem is, who gets to decide where we live? And what does the other spouse do, while their partner does their dream job?
This is an unintended side effect of a growing trend in our society of working women, wives, and mothers. This week, I wrote about a “Woman’s Choice” and the dilemma we feel as women to balance our work and our families, but I believe there is also a couple’s choice to be made.
In an egalitarian marriage, how do you balance both of your careers at the same time?
You know, I grew up watching my mom and dad work this balance. My mother was an incredible homemaker, but she was also a nurse, and worked outside the home. She worked full-time to put my Dad through his PhD program, and everywhere we lived, she always had a career.
In many ways, my parents had the ideal setup. My mom had a job that was incredibly marketable and could travel with her where ever we moved, (literally across the world, I might add). And so no matter where my Dad found work, my mom was able to find work too.
But how does this work for couple’s who both have a career in Higher Education? We both require a University to do our work, but just because one of us can find a job at a University, doesn’t mean there’s room at that same University for the other person.
Case in point, hard as I tried, I was unsuccessful at finding teaching in Bellingham, WA. I applied to teach adjunct at every college and university in commutable distance, and no doors opened for me. Instead, I made myself content to be a stay-at-home mom and finish writing my first book.
The fact that I have been able to find work here at Gettysburg College feels like a miracle, a gift from God. I do not take it for granted for one moment that a pocket opened up in the English Department into which I was able to slip. This is a game of chance, of timing, and good will on the part of those hiring.
What are the options for this growing number of couples with partners who are both equally able to work and equally passionate about their fields? Gone are the days when women followed husbands around and either stayed at home or took minimum-wage jobs to supplement the income.
Honestly, with the state of the economy these days, is there anyone who can live on just one income? Usually, both partners have to work, and both partners have degrees in their field.
One last example for you of a couple who has found a creative way to balance both their careers and their family. In our department, a married couple shares one full-time professorship. They both have terminal degrees in writing, they are both well published, and highly accomplished writers.
When it came time for them to choose where to settle and raise their family, they made a deliberate choice to both work in the same city. As a result, they asked Gettysburg College if it would be willing to consider hiring them both for the Creative Writing Position in our department. He teaches fiction; she teaches Creative Nonfiction.
The English Department agreed, and now they split a tenure-track job. On the side, he also runs a low-residence MFA program out of North Carolina to supplement their income.
Really, they’ve found an outside of the box way to balance both their careers and provide for their family while keeping their family intact. May we all be so lucky!
In the end, I think something’s gotta give. Is there any way Higher Education can make room for highly qualified individuals — who are married to one another??