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Reclaiming Wife: Day Zero


We talk a lot about the ways that our culture seeks to divide and separate women based on the choices we make throughout our lives (getting married or not, having children or not, pursuing a career or not, doing all of the above or not). But something that doesn’t get touched on as often is the fact that many times those states of being are not permanent. (Like, say, staying home for a few years while your kids are young. Or living apart for a while as a married couple while you pursue separate interests.) And the problem is that so much weight is given to each individual choice, each check box we tick off, that it can become very difficult to feel okay with wanting to change our minds or occupy more than one space at a time. Which is why I love that Sharon’s post today celebrates that ambivalence. It’s about the natural pendulum swing that happens over the course of a lifetime, and it’s about freeing ourselves from feeling like we have to choose sides in order to enjoy the ride. Her story doesn’t necessarily end with a decision, but I think that’s exactly the point.

—Maddie

Reclaiming Wife: Day Zero | A Practical Wedding

I keep trying out different beginnings for this post.

I could tell you the story of how I came across the Day Zero Project a few years ago and immediately loved the concept of their “101 [goals] in 1001 [days]” list. I could tell you that I made such a list, filled with both lofty and mundane goals, and kept it in the back of my journal where the paper it was printed on grew increasingly worn as I unfolded and refolded it to check off different items over the span of two and a half years. I could give you a lovely, triumphant, brief coda in which I realized at the end of my 1001 days that nearly every enormous-at-the-time goal I’d originally put on the list as more of a long shot than an act of faith had been checked off. Pay off undergraduate loans. Check. Travel to Europe. Get accepted into and start a doctoral degree program. Check, check. I could tell you that I know without a shadow of a doubt that my marriage made achieving these goals possible.

I could tell you all these things, and they would all be true.

But there’s another way I could begin that would be equally true. It would go something like this: Just under three years ago, I was visiting a campus several thousand miles from home for the admitted students’ weekend at one of my top-choice schools. I wore a brand-new engagement ring on my finger. And I was horrifically confused because all of a sudden that second fact felt vastly more important to me than the first. I distinctly remember sitting alone on my host’s couch on the final night of the visit journaling about how relieved I was to go home the next day and how seemingly suddenly I found myself filled with ambivalence over pursuing this career path that I’d been dreaming about since I was eight years old and discovered you could make a living out of loving books. I flew home and told my fiancé something along the lines of “I realized there that this whole grad school thing is no longer my dream. You are. You and the marriage we’re going to build together.”

Later that year we married, moved, and I started graduate school anyway. I promptly spent my first two years of coursework feeling unsettled and wondering what I was doing in the classroom when everything about my life outside of it felt far more real and more important. In an environment where everyone jokes (with underlying dead seriousness) about being married to their work, where sustained intellectual passion is required for success, I wondered if I’d disqualified myself from the start simply by being married and by wanting, vehemently, for my marriage to succeed. I wondered if that made me a terrible feminist. I wondered (angrily) why my husband kept insisting on believing in me and pushing me out the door when I just wanted to hide at home all day.

These questions eventually faded, mostly as I made likeminded friends, found sane advisors, and moved out of the coursework phase of my program and into the kind of teaching and research that I find enjoyable and meaningful. When I wrote a new 101 in 1001 list for myself at the beginning of this year, the category I could most easily fill was the academic/career goals one. At first I felt a pang of doubt—did this mean I was moving away from my marriage somehow? But I knew I wasn’t. I have never felt closer to my husband, nor more proud of the life that we’re building together.

This is where it could be easy for me to disavow my newlywed self. This is where I could say that even though marriage helped me achieve those huge goals of savings, travel, education, it had also threatened to completely disrupt a career trajectory I’d set for myself since childhood. Except that I know to the core of my very being that I was not impoverished by that time in my life, that my dreams then were neither smaller nor less important than they are now, even though they took on different trappings. I think having a span of time wherein I was paying careful attention to the foundation of my marriage has sent our roots deep and our branches high, and I know that paying more attention to my career does not mean a net loss of attention for my marriage. But I still don’t really know how to describe that time without it sounding like I’m casting a value judgment on one versus the other.

Here’s the thing—I don’t think our culture gives us very good ways to talk about the natural ebb and flow of goals and dreams over the course of a lifetime. Certainly the two beginnings I tried out for this post seem incompatible, right? How could you be reaching so many goals and feel so lost? No, the way our culture tells it either you’re rocketing through the glass ceiling or you’ve opted out completely. Either your marriage is disrupting your career or your career is disrupting your marriage. And any shift in goals, which we should probably be applauding and accepting as part of a natural growth process, requires a complete rejection of your past self and your past self’s desires. I wonder if that’s why we so often set marriage/family and career against each other, why we get movies that portray ice-queen corporate women who must be disciplined into having an acceptable emotional life via shenanigans involving either a man or a baby who teaches them How To Feel. Maybe that’s why women have so much panic over the idea of stepping off the fast track of our jobs for even a second in case it means that years from now we’ll find ourselves saddled with five babies, a mortgage, and no marketable skills.

Honestly, I find this dichotomy exhausting. It pits women against each other in horrifying ways and it ends up devaluing all our goals. If I could travel back in time and tell my visit-weekend self something, it would be this: You can have a family life that checks and feeds and balances your professional growth. You can have a professional life that informs and enriches your personal life. One or the other of those things might take precedence temporarily through the natural shifts and changes of life. That’s okay. Your horizons are broadening rather than shutting down. (I would also tell her that 10pm after a weekend of schmoozing with strangers when you are introverted and excessively jet-lagged is NOT the time to be making major how-you-view-your-life decisions.)

I hope this post doesn’t come across as prescriptive. I’m emphatically not saying that every woman needs to work, or that it’s not okay to be either completely oriented either toward the home or toward the workplace if that’s where your natural tendencies lead you. I’m not really interested in the whole “can women have it all” conversation. I don’t know. I suspect it depends on what you mean by “all.” But I do hope, sincerely, that women feel that they can have what they want. And that they know it’s all right if those wants change, maybe over and over, through the course of a lifetime, that they recognize marriage and career as not necessarily contradictory things.

It’s fitting, perhaps, that I learned this lesson in part by observing my husband. I’ve spent the last three years watching him chase down huge dreams and reach major career milestones, spurred on by our home life rather than distracted by it. I’ve seen how much it enriches our marriage when he can be passionate about things outside of it, when he introduces me to new experiences, people, ideas, and when I can do the same for him. There’s a short poem by Rainer Maria Rilke that we used on our wedding day that says:

Understand, I’ll slip quietly

away from the noisy crowd

when I see the pale

stars rising, blooming, over the oaks.

I’ll pursue solitary pathways

through the pale twilit meadows,

with only this one dream:

You come too.

These words have taken on new significance for me after the experiences of the last several years and now sum up so perfectly how I view a good marriage. It’s not a world unto itself, nor a goal in and of itself. It’s not the enemy of living a full life outside of the circle of each other’s arms. It’s not a disruption or a distraction. Instead, it’s simply taking each other by the hand, no matter what changes or adventures might come, and saying, “You come too.”

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  • BB

    Wow. What good food for thought. I also struggle with the choice that society presents: successful career OR successful home life. I want both, and I will find a way to have them…with a give and take between the two. Beautiful post. I will be coming back to this.

  • http://hodoeporicon.blogspot.com Stacey

    This is one of the wisest posts I’ve read on this issue, which I’ve struggled with. Thank you.

    • Edelweiss

      Hitting exactly isn’t enough. This probably isn’t every woman’s struggle, but it is my high-achieving nature meets a baby marriage struggle- only I didn’t know how to verbalize it, if it was ok to verbalize it, and if there would ever be a way to find balance. This gives me courage and hope. Thank you.

    • Rachel

      My feelings exactly. The enlightened and balanced place Sharon speaks from at the end, to her visit-weekend self, is something I really need to hear. I so badly want to believe this, and hearing other women say it makes me more hopeful for my future

      “You can have a family life that checks and feeds and balances your professional growth. You can have a professional life that informs and enriches your personal life.”

  • http://poppiesandicecream.blogspot.nl/ Amanda

    Wow dear Sharon, when are you going to write a book, or 6? I know you love to read… I get the idea that that is your field of study (literature?), but you should write. Every single one of your posts is beautiful, so clean, so full of wisdom and I am always so happy when I get to read you.

    This:

    ” it’s simply taking each other by the hand, no matter what changes or adventures might come, and saying, “You come too.” ”

    is so exactly it, and I am learning that through very different experiences (dealing with infertility and unemployment at the same time, getting to explore other sides of myself that I had not really paid much attention to before, thinking about opening a creative kind of business after 3 years of doing every single thing to establish myself in my field (veterinary medicine) in a country that is not my own). So life is not looking at all like I thought it would when I was a girl, when I was a teenager, when we got married (and not because of lack of trying or doing). But I am not walking this path alone, and discovering all of these things, realizing that our marriage is a powerful force, like you describe is too precious, too overwhelming not to notice.

  • C R

    Fantastic post! Having just finished my PhD, and on the job market now, the world of academia can be especially daunting when thinking of balancing home and work. Though the culture of academics is evolving, there’s still a lot of negative attitude in many places regarding those who don’t always put their career at the top of their priority list. This post gives a great voice to how I feel about wanting both a solid home life as well as a career that I’m passionate about, and how one can feed into the other to create a fulfilling life. I’m very fortunate that I have a few strong female role models who do this extremely well — one in particular that reminds me that success in your career and at home is self-defined, and not to get too caught up in what other people call “successful” in our field. Thank you for your post!

    • http://www.missgiggles.com/blog Giggles

      A friend and I are getting ready to finish our PhDs this May and she recently recounted to me the two things she learned upon meeting me:

      1) Nobody looks at your PhD transcript so all you have to do is pass the class, you don’t need to get an A (we were struggling through stats at the time).
      2) I want to be a really smart mommy.

      I’d forgotten I told her the second one because I’ve tried to keep that REALLY quite in our department because the culture of academia is not favorable towards that passion. Be devaluing certain choices we make we are devaluing ourselves. But finding a balance that works for you is what makes it all work.

      • http://www.bridesanstulle.com Sharon

        I think it’s so beautiful that you and your friend were able to encourage each other like that. I feel really lucky to have a cohort that’s supportive of each other’s personal lives and enthusiastic about each other’s partners. A rising tide lifts us all, y’know?

  • Keri

    Thank you so much for this…..reading this was exactly what I needed at a time when I’m struggling with where to go with my career while putting tons of energy into nurturing my (upcoming) marriage. This is a common problem – I see it all the time in the sciences – and it’s comforting to think that perhaps I can give myself permission to value my engagement and beginning family most right now, and shift those priorities more towards career once we’ve gotten off the ground. Good to know that it might not have to be all or nothing!

  • tracy

    As I move more fully out of youth into adulthood (by my own standards, that’s another whole conversation in itself), I’ve been thinking more and more about whether all the talk of “dreams” in our young lives is really helpful in the long run. Sometimes I just think it makes me feel unsuccessful and disappointed with myself, no matter how good my life may be. Anybody else hear this piece on marketplace last week? I really liked it. http://www.marketplace.org/topics/life/inauguration-day/literary-voices-what-does-hope-mean-now.
    “We dream on our backs, eyes shut to the world…For all but the most exceptional of people, dreams keep us from stirring, from making a peep. I’m tired of dreams…As far as I’m concerned, it’s time to wake up. Enter, hope, another story altogether. Hope is not about receiving, about being the beneficiary of some nebulous good fortune, it’s about putting desire into action.” Tracy K. Smith

  • Denzi

    Yes. I’ve been putting off grad school for two years (“we’re engaged and don’t know where we’ll be moving after T. finishes his PhD!” and “we’re married and T. has one year left on his PhD, might as well wait!”), and as I sent My M*THERF*CKING AGENT PHIL COULSON-LEVEL SPREADSHEETS to my recommenders last week, I freaked out, because T. still doesn’t know where he’ll be next fall, and…it’s quite possible that wherever it is, I won’t be going with him. I said, “I could wait another year…” and we both instantly knew that that isn’t going to happen, that my verb for this year is “GO” (because man, have I spent a lot of time doing “ready” and “set” by accident, although I think being unemployed for our first year of marriage and working part-time dead-end jobs and battling the mental illnesses before that were God saying “ready…set…”).

    But it’s the presence of T. that makes it possible for me to GO, even if I’m going to have to GO somewhere where he is absent. Because he’s the one who kept bugging me to apply for jobs and celebrated for me when I got an offer that we both knew I couldn’t take; who graciously steps aside from us-time when I’m laser-focused on applications; who keeps cuddling me to help soothe the bewilderment that is moving from our cozy studio (with lovely teal bedroom walls) two miles from campus in Atlanta to a two-bedroom dormitory suite .38 mi from campus…in eastern France; who points out that the shaking terror of rejection is overblown, because if I don’t get a job, they can’t make me EXTRA-UNEMPLOYED.

    I keep coming back to another poem you used on your wedding day: To Have Without Holding by Marge Piercy. Will quote the last two stanzas.

    It hurts to thwart the reflexes
    of grab, of clutch; to love and let
    go again and again. It pesters to remember
    the lover who is not in the bed,
    to hold back what is owed to the work
    that gutters like a candle in a cave
    without air, to love consciously,
    conscientiously, concretely, constructively.

    I can’t do it, you say it’s killing
    me, but you thrive, you glow
    on the street like a neon raspberry,
    You float and sail, a helium balloon
    bright bachelor’s button blue and bobbing
    on the cold and hot winds of our breath,
    as we make and unmake in passionate
    diastole and systole the rhythm
    of our unbound bonding, to have
    and not to hold, to love
    with minimized malice, hunger
    and anger moment by moment balanced.

    That’s us. I can’t do it; it’s killing me, and yet here I am. Thriving.

    • Manya

      This is one of my favorite poems. So surprised and happy to see it here!

    • A Single Sarah for certain values of single

      Can this post get a words to read when you wed tag? (Or is my commenting enough to make it searchable later?) Both of these poems are lovely.

      • Emily

        Great idea! Done and done.

        • A Single Sarah for certain values of single

          Yay! Thanks :)

    • http://www.bridesanstulle.com Sharon

      Yay! I’m really happy to hear all of this.

  • http://smittenimmigrant.wordpress.com pluis

    A great, great post. Applicable in so many ways, so many scenarios.

    It’s a disconcerting feeling indeed when the thing that has always been a major part of one’s identity suddenly takes a backseat and starts feeling like it’s an irrelevant pastime, something one just does to have something to do.

    Thank you for your wisdom in any case.

  • Ann

    This post is very well timed for me. My partner still has another year left in his PhD program, I just heard from my first graduate school yesterday, and our wedding is coming up in June.
    It’s overwhelming and exhausting sometimes to think about all of the changes that will be happening in the next year and a half. We’ll get married. I’ll leave my job that I love. I’ll move away from the home we’ve built. We’ll be apart for an academic year, then we’ll start to build a new home, in some place we don’t yet know.
    In my visits to graduate programs, the ring on my finger often prompted questions from the professors. How was my relationship going to impact my career? They all seemed surprised when my response was “He’ll follow me.” My partner hasn’t had a great run of grad school, and so his plan is to plan around me. I narrowed my schools to only those in metro areas where there would be work in his field (likely work outside of academia), but I still feel so much pressure with my choice. I go back and forth between being very excited and very terrified.

    • Manya

      I find it really troubling that they are even asking you this question.

      • http://www.missgiggles.com/blog Giggles

        Exactly. Isn’t there some kind of law against that or something?

        • http://arduousblog.com ruchi

          I’m 95% certain that it is in fact against the law. On the other hand, what are you going to do? Probably don’t want to sue the people who you want to hire you….

          • Ann

            I don’t actually think it’s against the law, since it isn’t technically a job interview. Only at one school (which has a bad reputation with attracting and retaining women in general) did I get a sense that the question wasn’t well meaning. At most of the institutions, both male and female professors offered advice on balancing two careers and encouraged me that it is very doable. It still is unnerving, and it is true–my partner doesn’t get those types of questions.

        • ElisabethJoanne

          Technically, it’s my understanding that even in a job interview, they’re allowed to ASK about marital status, but not allowed to take it into their consideration of the applicant, so it’s best practice not to ask because once they have the information, it’s hard to prove it was no part of their consideration.

          In law school, the standard advice was not to wear engagement rings to interviews.

          • Granola

            Do you think this changes if it’s a wedding ring? Or is there still a gendered assumption that a married woman is also less committed?

          • ElisabethJoanne

            I’ve read studies that a wedding ring is a professional boost to women. I guess the employer doesn’t have to worry you’ll be more interested in romance than work at the office, or that you’ll quit when you get married. The studies are old (1970s), though.

            I think people respect married women more than engaged women. “Engaged” implies “young” and “obsessed” about weddings and romance, and generally things other than work. Even if she’s not a “Bridezilla,” she’s some sort of silly. Whereas a married woman is presumed to have discussed with her husband what changes in her career will mean for their relationship.

      • http://www.snippetsof.blogspot.com Sarah E

        I agree with Manya. I understand that they must be invested in the success of their graduate students, however- I feel your personality and the way you comport yourself in interviews and meetings would tell them implicitly how you will behave as a member of the department.

        Also, this is one instance where I think engagement rings can result in gendered conversations. Your fiance, who is equally as engaged as you are, does not wear an outward symbol of your relationship, so would he by subject to the same question?

        • http://www.missgiggles.com/blog Giggles

          I’ve actually seen data showing that married people are more likely to finish graduate school than single people. You’d think they’d be more favorable toward engaged/married people.

      • Samantha

        You know men don’t get that question. So ridiculous.

    • Rebecca

      “It’s overwhelming and exhausting sometimes to think about all of the changes that will be happening in the next year and a half.”

      Looking back on all the changes that have happened in my life in the past year (graduating and getting married just for starts), it seems insane that I could have survived it all. But the truth is, the changes don’t happen (entirely) all at once. It’s more like one, then the next, then the next- and a year and a half is plenty of time to make them all happen!

  • Martha

    Oh man, this is my favoritest of favorite posts. Everything about this post speaks to me. The best part, by far, is this line ” I’m not really interested in the whole “can women have it all” conversation. I don’t know. I suspect it depends on what you mean by “all.” But I do hope, sincerely, that women feel that they can have what they want.”

    It’s just the best attitude to have. I have always believed you can have everything you want, just with the realization that each part of your life is not going to be at 100% every waking moment. Some weeks you’re going to be completely absorbed by work and your parenting skills may lack that week, and the next week it could be the complete opposite. That’s what a partner is for!

    These are the kinds of posts that make me love APW. They also re-affirm my New Year’s resolution – I gave up all wedding blogs except for this one.

  • Ashley

    This is so incredibly on point and so what I needed to hear and read I don’t even know how to make a comment that is useful in conveying it. So basically, thank you SO SO much for this. This site is like my daily bread sometimes.

    • http://www.snippetsof.blogspot.com Sarah E

      I feel the same way- about this post and about others, where I have a really intense reaction to it, and try to comment to convey that to the author- and then I hit publish and it all sounds lame to me. Sometimes we just have to hope “thank you” says enough, I guess :-)

  • Amanda

    Sharon – so lovely to see a post by you pop up. I remember your early posts from when I was engaged, and now here I am, too: married, nearing the end of my PhD.

    I was thinking about whether it’s so horrible to be married to one’s work. Certainly scholarship has its wonderful rewards – it keeps us company, challenges us, sustains us. But I get the feeling that for most (not all) people who would describe themselves as being married to their work, the relationship is terribly abusive. These are the people who must be instantly available to answer emails lest the Work demands “Where were you when I called?!?” They polish their CVs, manically gathering evidence that they are serving the Work, rather than considering what is growing within their minds. And they seem reluctant to admit that they enjoy other pleasures, too, as though the Work would be insanely jealous.

    I wouldn’t tolerate that sort of relationship with a husband, and I’m certainly not going to tolerate it from a calling that’s supposed to be fulfilling. Academia and I can have a healthy relationship.

    • Hillori

      “These are the people who must be instantly available to answer emails lest the Work demands ‘Where were you when I called?!?'”

      OMG, I am going to steal this! This rings home for a non-academic living in the DC-Metro area where people all-too-often mistake “job title/power” for “personality/character.”

      Love it.

    • ItsyBitsy

      GIRL. I love this whole comment.

  • http://unexpected-moments.blogspot.ca/ Sheryl

    We need a round of applause here.

  • Catherine

    well that last poem got me tearing up….
    I love this post so much. I feel like this is something that women are CONSTANTLY having to defend and justify. And you’re right, it is exhausting. This is so well written – all I really have to say is a big EXACTLY and I love knowing others out there feel all of this too.

  • Caroline

    I love that APW has so many academic types. Reading the comments (and posts of course) always helps remind me that other people struggle with the same issues. I just finished my phd and am looking for high school teaching jobs, because I just am not that into academia. I often feel like I am making some crazy choice, but really, I feel like it is what I need at this point in my life. Loved this post!

    • One More Sara

      My high school chem teacher was a former Chemical Engineer. I feel like a ton of science teachers are “overqualified” to be “just” teachers. In my opinion, I wish teaching was more respected, bc the best math/science minds are being pushed away from teaching (“why do you want to be a teacher? you are too smart for that. you could do something better.”). Personally, I want the best of the best teaching the next generation. Maybe then someday America could move up in the ranks of academic performance.

      • http://www.bridesanstulle.com Sharon

        Recruiting the best of the best to teach high schoolers is SO important! With my undergrads, I can always tell which ones had great English teachers who prepared them well for college writing and who didn’t. The difference is almost unbelievably stark. I hate the idea that teaching at the middle or high school level somehow indicates that you “failed” at your chosen career. It hurts both teachers and students.

  • http://www.snippetsof.blogspot.com Sarah E

    This post is so thoughtful and wise. As I’m still struggling to view myself as an adult and find a career path with so many tantalizing options before me, I took to heart your words about goals ebbing and flowing with the seasons in our lives. I’ve definitely started to realize this myself, especially as I get to know my own mind and body better, and become familiar with how the seasons affect my personal wellness.

    Thank you so much for sharing your insights. I hope I can grow to internalize some of these truths as I grow into my goals, and as my relationship deepens.

    P.S. That poem gave me goosebumps.

  • Jenni

    Thank you, thank you for this post. As I weigh decisions, trying to balance my career and relationship, to decide what’s right for me, the APW posts this month about goals and choices and doing hard things have all been extraordinary.

  • Class of 1980

    “No, the way our culture tells it either you’re rocketing through the glass ceiling or you’ve opted out completely.”

    The reality is that the majority of women are neither rocketing through the glass ceiling nor opting out completely. The vast majority of women work outside the home over a great deal of their lifespan and have a home life too.

    Movies and media don’t show the ebb and flow of life, nor do they celebrate the fact that only a tiny fraction of men or women rise to the highest levels in the workplace. Movies about icy female CEOs are all about high-stakes drama, because they haven’t found a way to portray people in middle occupations with families getting through life in a compelling or interesting way.

    • http://www.missgiggles.com/blog Giggles

      “Movies about icy female CEOs are all about high-stakes drama, because they haven’t found a way to portray people in middle occupations with families getting through life in a compelling or interesting way.”

      Which is sad really, because normal people with families getting through life are often so much more interesting when you get down to the little tiny details.

      • Class of 1980

        “The Story of Us” was an exception. There needs to be more.

  • Granola

    Wonderful post. It’s especially hard to be in a transition phase, trying to divine the 10-steps-later consequences of any decision. Do I take a new job? How will that affect our plans to have kids? Can I change them? Is staying in this job “settling?” The spiral is endless.

    Like you, I’m not sure there’s actually an answer, but perhaps just acknowledging that there are 24 letters between A and Z. No need to freak out at the beginning.

  • Christine

    I have checked this site every day for the last 7 months (since I got engaged) and have enjoyed hundreds of posts here. But never, ever have I felt so personally affected by something I’ve read here. I find myself right now planning to marry the love of my life in July and then move 3 hours away from him in August to pursue a graduate degree I’m not sure I want anymore. I could go on, but you’ve already put it all much more eloquently than I could. I only hope that in three years I find myself feeling the same way you do now… that it will work itself out, because I am empowered and freed by the stability and love of my future husband. Thank you.

  • http://writemeg.com Megan

    What a gorgeous poem, and a lovely post. I can definitely appreciate the sentiment here and well relate — as we draw closer to my wedding day, I’m contemplating what it means to be a “wife” and have a “husband” . . . something I’d imagine we all go through, either now or in the future. But that “You come too” is what clinches it . . . for all of us.

  • Lesley

    This is an extremely insightful post. Thank you for writing it! It articulates something many women have to face. It’s so nice to see something talking about work/home balance and prioritizing being a range rather than two diametrically opposed paths. It is hard to know how decisions will affect all the facets of life.

    I try to remind myself that I can have it all, but I probably can’t have it all at the same time.

  • http://sweetandwildchild.blogspot.com Jackie Q

    tears. It’s all so true. And I’m so thankful for supportive husbands like yours and mine.

  • http://www.theloudandclear.com Kate

    Wow. This post really nailed it for me. There was such a sense of urgency for me to have my life all figured out once I got married. It seemed like I had to have everything settled so I could devote as much attention as possible to my marriage. The idea of shifting focuses throughout life, and that being ok, really resonated with me.

    I especially love this part: “But I do hope, sincerely, that women feel that they can have what they want. And that they know it’s all right if those wants change, maybe over and over, through the course of a lifetime, that they recognize marriage and career as not necessarily contradictory things.”

    That’s such a better way to frame the conversation instead of asking “Can women really have it all?”

    Thanks for a thoughtful and inspiring post!

  • http://www.missgiggles.com/blog Giggles

    Right now I’m finding myself wearing a few different hats and getting ready to exchange a few of them for new ones. And it’s always such a weird place to find myself. Do I want to wear this new hat? Will it work with the other ones I’m already wearing? Can I really wear more than one hat at a time?

    It’s nice to be reminded that it is an ebb and flow, that hats will come and go throughout my life. Perhaps one or two will fit perfectly and I’ll wear them for the rest of my life, but that doesn’t mean I won’t snazzy them up with a large feather or a flower from time to time either.

  • Remy

    I love the 101 in 1001 list; I’ve been working on completing mine for just over a year now. My wife has been an incredible support as I’ve made it through the last two years of full-time work and full-time grad school (I start my final semester today). She keeps on “insisting on believing in me”, and at the times when that’s hard for me to do, I am so grateful. I’ll get the chance to do the same for her soon, I hope, when she heads back to finish her degree in the fall.

    • Alexandra

      I love that list too. In the end, I had an awful lot of things goals that didn’t get done, but there was one in particular which was a bit of a challenge. I put down “get engaged” as a goal, which rather required two to tango. Probably wasn’t my brightest idea, but I’m still happy it happened in the end.

      • http://www.bridesanstulle.com Sharon

        No lie, “get married” and “take a honeymoon” were both on my original 101 in 1001 list. And I always add a handful of goals that are downright FUN (visit a museum, go for a walk, buy myself flowers just because) to remind myself that goal-setting is supposed to enrich your life, not make you more anxious.

        • Alexandra

          I realized that 2 years later, I just didn’t feel some of my goals were really worthwhile. But I did have a bunch of goals related to games too, like getting 2 level 80 characters in World of Warcraft. Those just became less important when I stopped playing the game.

  • JP

    Long time listener, first time caller. I LOVED this post, as it really speaks to where I am in my life professionally right now, in the midst of planning my wedding. I like my job, but I don’t love it, and I’ll probably look for something new after the wedding. I really feel like what’s most important for this part of my life right now is the focus on the committment that my fiance and a I are making to eachother, and get my feet set as a wedded person, then focus on my career. Part of the reason I’m so excited to get married is the fact that I do have a great career that was allowed to blossom during the five years that we dated. So it feels good to know that it’s totally OK to shift focus right now, and return to my career, without judging myself for not being driven enough, or focusing too much on my marriage.

    Isn’t APW the best?

  • Hintzy

    Thank you for sharing this thoughtful post! I love that you said your husband insisted on pushing you out the door when you’d rather stay and hide in the house. I’ve had a few moments like that and in hindsight I’m ever grateful that my now fiance was there and able to provide that support.

  • http://www.dmarried.com Blair

    Whoa.
    Sharon this is a wonderful reflection and boy does it r.e.s.o.n.a.t.e. (emphasis on resonate).
    A friend asked me to complete a goal sheet just before Ryan proposed. I was in utter gridlock. Panic. But I think you really just responded to it. So much so that I had to catch the lump in my throat at your last few lines.
    What we are and what we become are mutually exclusive. Our decisions in our lives are nothing more than a decision on what to physically or intellectually do/produce/etc. And if our culture conflates anything it’s the institution of marriage: It is work, yes, but these things are just decisions to be made with another meaningful person.
    What anyone else thinks about it is just blarney.

  • http://brokensaucer.blogspot.com sera

    At first I thought Maddie’s preface was profound, and then I read Sharon’s post and all I could think was to swear (F*** that’s brilliant!). I have now read this post three times and I’m pretty sure I’m going to print it out and read it again and again. As someone who is just starting to learn how to make goals in order to achieve something beyond college, I am completely perplexed (in a good way), like a zen koan, I can’t quite wrap my head around it.
    I keep coming back to there being another factor buried in here: when we give up our dreams or goals (or avoid making them), we are left wanting and bring that with us to our relationships as well. Our society doesn’t want to allow us to have work/life balance regardless of our marriage or kids or lack thereof.
    I was walking to the bus stop today 100 feet behind an older woman who lives in my neighborhood and immediately I thought, “dear god, I’m going to make this same walk and take the same bus and do the same thing for the next 25 years.” First I felt sick. And then I stopped myself because that doesn’t have to be true. Like Maddie said “so much weight is given to each individual choice, each check box we tick off, that it can become very difficult to feel okay with wanting to change our minds or occupy more than one space at a time.” Just because I am floundering, trying to decide what I want, trying to make a change, doesn’t mean I have failed ultimately and forever. Just like the old adage says, “it’s a woman’s prerogative to change her mind.” I just have to own it, and best yet, I know my husband is right there supporting me regardless of where my goals take me, just like I am there to support him.
    Thank you sooo much for this post!

  • Grace

    Oh my god. Really. I feel like you wrote this post just for me. (Even down the Rilke; I’m currently combing through “Letters on Life” for readings for the wedding.)

    I actually cried while reading this because I am just so petrified of losing out on either my marriage or my career. Even just going to class feels like a sort of treachery against my relationship, and as someone who at one time vowed not to get married until I had a PhD under my belt, this is such a shocking and, frankly, terrifying feeling to have.

    My fiance tells me that he hopes we can help each other to do things that are important to us. Things beyond the relationship, though really, everything we do comes back to the relationship, and the relationship feeds back into everything we do. Because that’s what happens with partners in life. It makes me feel better, but sometimes it’s so hard to remember it.

    I’m printing this off and putting it in the front of my “wedding binder.” That way I can’t forget.

  • http://cultivatejoy365.wordpress.com Andee

    “Here’s the thing—I don’t think our culture gives us very good ways to talk about the natural ebb and flow of goals and dreams over the course of a lifetime…No, the way our culture tells it either you’re rocketing through the glass ceiling or you’ve opted out completely. Either your marriage is disrupting your career or your career is disrupting your marriage. And any shift in goals, which we should probably be applauding and accepting as part of a natural growth process, requires a complete rejection of your past self and your past self’s desires.”

    This was a fabulous post, but I loved the above bit the most. It’s only been over the past year or so that I’ve embraced this sentiment of “applauding and accepting” as opposed to “rejecting [my] past self” and oh my goodness, is it ever liberating (…if only my parents would see it this way…). My very dear friend has a “timeline” in mind for herself, her relationship, her family life, and I keep trying to convince her that, while timelines are all good if that’s what you’re into, well, “from a non-linear, non-subjective viewpoint – [time’s] more like a big ball of wibbly wobbly… timey wimey… stuff.”

    LIFE is a big ball of wibbly wobbly – how absurd to think we should adapt to our environment but not our situations?? – and I think this post goes a long, long way towards expressing that it’s ok to roll with the punches, such as it is :)

    • http://www.thehousealwayswinsblog.com Rachel Wilkerson

      Yes, that line jumped out at me too and just sums up what has been so difficult about the transition to co-habiting life for me. I feel like I’m rejecting my past self and while I know my reasons for the shift in priorities, other people are SO quick to judge and I feel guilty and just…confused. That line just put everything in perspective for me.

  • E

    Thanks for this post. I can definitely relate. I’ve been thinking of submitting a post on something you touched on — about how in some ways my relationship with my husband, and then my wedding, made me less ambitious in my career. It seems like people usually say the opposite here — that their weddings pushed them to lean forward in their careers.
    When I was in my early 20s, my career was my main priority – I moved from city to city for the best opportunities, I worked long hours, I reached great places, and I wanted to prove to everyone how far I could go. But when I met my husband, I looked forward to our time together after work so much more and found a peacefulness with him that I had never known in the daily roller coaster of a high-pressure workplace.
    My dreams changed in a lot of ways too.
    Last year, my biggest priorities were planning my wedding, preparing for our marriage and just enjoying this unique time in our lives. I did my job well, but I wasn’t striving to get to the next level, and I definitely felt guilty that I wasn’t focused on my career enough.
    I hope we can all be kinder to each other about the “natural ebb and flow of goals and dreams over the course of a lifetime.”

  • http://www.repondezsilvousplait.tumblr.com Natalie

    This REALLY hits home for me today. After 18 months of ‘neglecting’ my marriage to pursue a career in a field hit hard by the economy (read between the lines: I have had zero luck finding full-time work in my field,) I’ve come to the conclusion that I would be able to endure rejection after rejection without my husband’s support and love, but it would be a lot harder for me. My husband, as cliche as it sounds, is my best friend and biggest fan, and he realizes that the success of our marriage depends as much on how much time we spend ‘together’ as much as the time we spend apart, pursuing our personal and professional goals. Tom proposed to me one day before I finished my Master’s degree, which was both wonderful and kind of confusing. Am I a wife or am I a career woman? Thank you for pointing out that our culture continues to sabotage women by painting us into either the ‘stay-at-home-mommy who is bored and boring’ OR ‘psycho bitch career woman who is a raging feminist and neglects her relationship.’ No wonder woman suffer from as much anxiety and depression as they do.

    …these are definitely ideas worth visiting all throughout life, especially when the proverbial s*** hits the fan and we have to make sacrifices in the name of our spouse/job/child.

  • Florence

    AMAZING POST. Thank you so much! Every bride who’s still struggling with college or getting her career started should read it before getting married (or possibly before getting engaged?). I want to say “exactly” to just about every sentence of this post.

  • http://www.thehousealwayswinsblog.com Rachel Wilkerson

    I know it’s only January, but I’m going to go ahead and say that this post makes my year.

  • Amanda

    Yes. Yes, yes, yes, yes YES!! Oh my goodness. Articulating the desire and execution of balance in a relationship is a very difficult thing, indeed! Thank you.

  • Tess

    Firstly: I have to stop crying everytime I read something here! Today’s tearjerker was the poem:
    I’ll pursue solitary pathways
    through the pale twilit meadows,
    with only this one dream:
    You come too.

    Since I’m on the wrong side of the planet to get to actually see my fiancé, friends or family I’m doing a lot of dreaming about this. I would love to be on my way home, but with a 50 hour round trip it’s not so easy to manage, so I’m stuck here for a couple more months. In the mean time, every time I say goodnight to my fiancé – at 2 in the afternoon for me – he says ‘I’ll be here’ (which usually makes me cry but I don’t tell him that), and he repeats it when I go to bed – at 8am for him. At least I know that he’s dreaming of coming too.

    Secondly, I’d never heard of 101 in 1001, but now I’m up to 70 items on my to-do-list!
    What really stood out for me though is that on their website ‘get married’ is number 16 in the most popular goals. I think it says something that so many people who are making these lists are looking at getting married – something about impending marriage seems to make us think we need a plan and a whole new set of goals. Maybe it’s not such a bad thing though to have enough goals that completing one – even if it is a major thing like getting married – never leaves you without a new thing to aim for.

  • http://www.asafemooring.blogspot.com Kirsty {a safe mooring}

    What a beautiful choice of poem.

  • LifeSheWrote

    Gah, this is beautiful. I’m quite often thinking about work/family (haha, I originally wrote “work/life” but I’m not going to read into that too much) balance and, while these ideas are certainly quite familiar, this post is so poignantly written that it is definitely worth reading as a reminder (and/or storing away for when you need a reminder).

    The last 3 or 4 paragraphs are so sane I practically want to print them out and tape them to my forehead. In mirror print, so I can read them whenever I look in the mirror.

    This is a particularly big line for me: “You can have a family life that checks and feeds and balances your professional growth. You can have a professional life that informs and enriches your personal life. One or the other of those things might take precedence temporarily through the natural shifts and changes of life. That’s okay. Your horizons are broadening rather than shutting down.”

    And this, “I’ve spent the last three years watching him chase down huge dreams and reach major career milestones, spurred on by our home life rather than distracted by it. I’ve seen how much it enriches our marriage when he can be passionate about things outside of it, when he introduces me to new experiences, people, ideas, and when I can do the same for him.”

    And, as I told the strong women in my life to whom I just emailed this post, now back to your regularly scheduled dream-chasing!

  • http://www.palindromeathome.com Melinda

    I really enjoyed this post and identified with many aspects of it. I feel like neither my conservative family nor my liberal friends can understand the balance I want to strike and on the timeline I wish to pursue my career and family. It can be a lonely place in between a full fledged stay at home wife/mother and a full fledged career woman. To be a shade of grey should be a social norm that is widely acceptable, especially by other women. I don’t know why that understanding is hard to achieve, except for as you suggest, we don’t have a way to talk about it quite yet. I think that’s why pieces like this post are so important – because now we have a place to point to and say, “This, this is what I think and this is how I feel.” I think this post is going down as one of my all time favorite APW posts.

  • Jessica

    This post is amazing. Sharon so eloquently captured her feelings, feelings that I can relate to as I pursue my career goals and my relationship with my partner. This post makes me want to get a cup of coffee with Sharon & talk more!

  • Kate

    I just wanted to add in my thanks. I spent the first year of my marriage un/under-employed, but I knew I was headed to law school during the second year, so that was an interesting place to be. Now I am in the throes of law school, and I am learning the ways in which my marriage stabilizes and strengthens my school life.

    Thank you so much – I identified with line after line of this post.

  • Madeline

    Wow. This resonated. Thank you for sharing, Sharon!

  • Liz

    Such a great post. I find that I AM entirely pointed in one direction or the other (home or work), but often it changes from day to day. Which, makes sense, doesn’t it? To have different, interwoven interests that appeal to us more or less, depending. Good stuff, Sharon.

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  • Katie M

    Have to make the future Mr. read this. Its so much harder for us since he has a kid. And of course baby mama isn’t a rational person so any change in custody/ child support is a huge battle. Thus he isn’t ready to move yet but I feel like I have to to get my career moving. I am applying for internships across the country for right after we get married. It isn’t ideal but we will have time to do the other stuff soon enough.

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  • http://happierheather.com Happier Heather

    Such a great post and I LOVE the poem.

  • http://www.erinjquinn.com Erin

    I knew I couldn’t be alone in this and you have really worked through a lot of the feelings that I am experiencing; finishing grad school, taking an administrative job nowhere near my field of work while my fiance applies for PhDs, getting married this summer before he starts, and now waiting to find out where exactly he will be starting. These changes remind me of tide charts- the natural ebb and flow of life that is sometimes pulled stronger depending on the weight of the moon. Hard to stomach at first (feminism, etc) but I am coming around to the idea that there will be many more of these changes. I have even started to look forward to them.

    Thank you for a great post!

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  • http://www.jalondraadavis.com Jalondra

    “I was visiting a campus several thousand miles from home for the admitted students’ weekend at one of my top-choice schools. I wore a brand-new engagement ring on my finger. And I was horrifically confused because all of a sudden that second fact felt vastly more important to me than the first.”

    I went through this exact experience throughout my first two quarters of my PhD program, thrilled by the intellectual stimulation of my studies but terrified at how my PhD program and an academic career seemed to clash with the marriage I was trying to prepare for and the lifestyle that my future husband and I wanted. I knew that emotionally, the marriage was more important to me but I also wondered if I would resent the marriage if I allowed it to dissuade me from a goal I had set for myself, and I am very goal-oriented. I knew It wouldn’t even cross my mind to not complete my program if I was still single, and that felt wrong, because wasn’t I supposed to be the same whole, independent, driven person with or without my husband? The idea that I am different, and that my choices may be different in the context of “us” was disturbing. I was raised in a community where most women weren’t married, and with the idea that you don’t let a man affect your major life and career choices, because he may not be there tomorrow.

    At this point I have committed to both the program and the marriage and getting a competitive fellowship (which I worked so hard to get precisely because of anxieties over being able to bring in income and be geographically mobile for my household) has helped a bit to alleviate some of my financial anxiety and affirm that I can be successful in this career path. But I still get frustrated and scared. And from the ring on my finger to my desire to have a baby sooner rather than later to my certainty that I could be quite content staying at home and home schooling our children for a few years, talk about feeling like a bad feminist! The inner knowledge that my fiance is the most important person in the world to me and I would give up the program if he asked me to (though the knowledge that he never would is a big part of why I love him) doesn’t seem like something that can be spoken aloud when I am in these deep intellectual conversations about gender and the constructed nature of heterosexism and the patriarchy of the institution of marriage. These anxieties are never fully resolved for me, but its amazing to be able to talk with others to share them, as sometimes I do feel very alone.