Ask Team Practical: Am I Losing Myself?

How do I know if the compromises I’m making for my husband are just that—compromises, and not me vanishing into his life?

My husband and I have always been that weird hybrid creature of aimless overachievers. Always near the top of our classes, always the leaders in any activity or sport we’ve pursued, always winning awards, but never actually having any clear direction or passion for our individual (or collective) lives. We both switched majors and added several minors in our undergraduate days, and have since been postponing the “real world” with long-term volunteer work and grad school (for him) and a lucrative bartending gig (for me). We’ve just been content to be content for the last several years.

Husband was approached by his former volunteer organization for a full-time position. He loves that org, the work they do there fills his heart, he loves the area and the people there, it would bring distinct meaning to his life, and perhaps most importantly it would rouse us from our stagnation. Unfortunately, the pay is extremely low, I sort-of-really-completely hate the climate of the region we’d relocate to, and I have no idea what I’d do for work there. I’d figure something out, I’m sure.

While I’m feeling fine about contemplating this potential change, there’s a nagging voice inside my head going, “…this is all for him. Where are YOU in this decision?” And…I don’t know. I don’t have any distinct ambitions, so following him for his seems to make sense. But I have also seen friends and acquaintances seemingly disappear into their relationships—giving up their own hobbies, interests, and career paths to “support” their significant others. How can we navigate this nebulous time, where one of us has the more concrete options, as equals? How can you figure out if deciding it’s one partner’s “turn” is an equitable, marriage-centered choice, and not one person just dominating the relationship while the other just shrugs and tags along? Is there a difference between temporary sacrifice, and a slow eroding of your individuality?

Or is this all totally rational, and I’ve just massively internalized my parents’ disappointment that I’m not a jet-setting record exec leaving puny men in my dust?


Dear Anonymous,

There’s a bunch of stuff going on here that we’ve already touched on before. Like, taking the shitty end of the stick for your partner. And making decisions as a team.

But aside from the usual marriage-team stuff, this sounds like a personal issue, not a relationship problem. How can you know if you’re losing yourself if you don’t know who you are? Can you possibly sacrifice what you want if you don’t even know what that is? Compromises happen. So do sacrifices. But to make sure that you’re not compromising on the wrong stuff and sacrificing the big things, you sort of have to know what they are first.

So, what do you want? What are your big goals?

Here’s the tricky thing about that. Contrary to blogs and motivational speakers and every self-help book ever written, the answer to that is usually a little more fluid, a little more big picture than a specific career path or location. Which is actually pretty lucky if, like me (and almost everyone else right now) life paths keep taking sharp, abrupt turns. Give yourself some time to think about it and figure out what you want to do in the grand scheme.

Meanwhile, try a bunch of stuff.

When you’re an overachiever, adulthood is hard. There is no established path with specific guidelines and parameters that you can excel at to get an A+. It’s a little scary to go from knowing what’s expected of you and how to succeed to not really having anyone to tell you what next. And when you’re used to all A’s and “Excellents!” and paper awards to hang on the fridge, that risk is straight scary. When you’re used to easily coasting through the top of the class, it’s a little frightening to know that success is no longer guaranteed and you might actually have to try a little bit, now. Not only try, but you may need to fail a few times. There’s a pretty big risk of (gulp) not being The Best when that pre-established roadmap starts to veer and branch into adulthood. I’m gonna take a guess and assume that’s what’s got you stalled. When you’re in school, there’s a clear expectation and a standard for how to succeed. Deciding what you want out of life—without anyone there to tell you if it’s right or that you’re doing well—is intimidating. Then, taking the chance of actually trying at something and possibly failing is really scary after a long life of not trying and always succeeding.

Lucky for you, in adulthood, success is defined very differently (unless you’re reading those “Successful Under 30” lists which…just don’t). It’s not altogether about meeting someone else’s standard. It’s about setting your own, busting ass toward it, and then changing it when that doesn’t work. There are no grades, there are rarely any trophies, and at the end of the day, it only matters what you think.

As I write this, I worry that it starts to smack of some Pinterest typography print “FOLLOW YOUR DREAMS!” or something. Of course, not everyone has wild, extreme, life-altering desires buried deep down. Think instead about what you asked me. What would make you look back on your life and feel, “That life was mine,” rather than make you feel like a spectator or a sidekick to someone else’s? That’s the stuff you chase down, whether it means launching your own business or just working a job that leaves you enough time to visit friends.

When you do get a grasp on what you want and where you’re going, then you can look at what your partner is asking of you and figure out if it means you’re letting go of anything major. Like I said, compromises and sacrifices happen. Sometimes you have to take the shitty end of the stick for a little while, and that might even mean delaying plans and dreams and goals. But if things are going right, it will just be a delay. That’s the major decider here. “Losing yourself” isn’t a one-time thing. It’s what happens over a succession of habitual choices.

So figure out what your big plans are, and then go for them. Or, sit this one out while he chases his. Just make sure to take your turn.


Team Practical, how do you make sure you’re not “losing yourself” in your relationship? How do you decide what stuff is not up for compromise?

If you would like to ask Team Practical a question please don’t be shy! You can email Liz at: askteampractical [at] apracticalwedding [dot] com. If you would prefer to not be named, anonymous questions are also accepted. Though it really makes our day when you come up with a clever sign-off!


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  • Liz’s advice is exactly what was running through my head as I was reading the letter. The only thing I would add is:

    *and talk to your husband as you’re figuring it all out. As you discover what it is you want out of life and discuss it with him, you’ll get a sense of whether he supports you and is willing to compromise and sacrifice for you … or not.

    • KC

      Plus, if you talk it out as you go, then he won’t get blindsided. Bonus.

  • As always, Liz’s advice is spot on. But coming from someone who moved countries to follow the husband who already had a job, while I was just freshly graduated and about to start, I know where you are coming from.

    The first thing that came to my mind is “if you lose yourself, you’ll find yourself right back again”.

    Maybe make a list of the things that you want, the things that make you happy (and it does not have to be epic, like swimming with diatoms or watching the northern lights, though, those are on my list!). Try to imagine how you want to live your life. Is it opening a bed and breakfast? It’s doable. Is it photography? Is it working with a big team of international people? Do you want to be home by 5? Do you want to travel ?

    Really think of the things, the moments where you feel the most at ease, where everything seems to flow. Maybe what I am saying is obvious, but when you graduate and the paths that were supposed to be very clear are apparently not there, or when those jobs you imagined are for x or y or z not accessible at this moment, try to redefine yourself. (Or find a way to get there). Know that you will find a way, and like Liz and Meg have written a lot about, it’s about figuring out what is going to work for you, and then running very hard and putting all of your strength to make it happen.

  • Miss O

    Oh man, way to see into my head OP. I am a few years ahead of this situation, and here is how it turned out for me: He had a set path to grad school, I had just a vague notion. So I decided to follow because my vague notion could take place just about anywhere even if it was a location I didn’t like. So we moved to the location I didn’t like (which he isn’t thrilled with either, but you go where the offers are) and I did the following:

    1. Tried new things. Jobs, living situations, hobbies, friends. As long as the bills were paid at the end of the day and I had some clarity into myself or a new perspective on life, I considered that a win.

    2. Learned a whole heck of a lot from the things I tried, which helped define what I want for the future

    3. Became very vocal during and after the move of what I did and didn’t like in our new a situation (active participant!). This led to some awesome conversations of what we wanted our life to look like post-his-opportunity. We both knew going into this move we would only be here 5ish years. A set time limit really helped me because I knew I would get a chance to hit the reset button.

    4. Set myself a goal of having some type of coherent small business up and running once he graduates (making my vague notion a reality).

    Sometimes I think the most frustrating part is that life isn’t divided into semesters so it is harder to see progress in your goals. I have been here a year and a half and met a bunch of my goals in hindsight but dang if I didn’t have to make a concious effort to list them out to recognize that. I am just now starting the see of the wee seed of a coherent small business which feels like it took forever to get to, but I guess I had a lot of other things I needed to take care of/explore first. Good luck!

    • KW

      I was thinking of the set time limit too. Anonymous, can you negotiate that in 2-3 years, you and he reassess and decide if staying with that organization and in that location still makes sense? Most jobs aren’t forever anyway, and I know I could stick most things out for that long as long as there was an end in sight if things were rough. And it could be long enough for you to figure out more what you do want for yourself, especially if your husband is one who will be willing to follow you when the time comes. I don’t think it is at all bad or limiting or compromising or losing yourself if you make this change now and follow your husband (so long as the climate isn’t a deal breaker). What you find there could help you define more closely what it is you do want to do and be as you continue in life.

      On a more general note, I think Liz is on to something about how it can be hard to figure out what to do when there is no defined path and markers of achievement in adulthood. I see this with the college students I advise. Sometimes picking their career direction is incredibly difficult because they are interested and good in a wide range of things. I try to get them to do 2 things:

      1. Remember that picking a starting direction does not commit you to that for life. I was on my 2nd career by the time I was 30 because my 1st career wasn’t a good fit for me in ways I could have foreseen but ignored the signs. BUT, the skills I learned from that masters degree (social work) and the 5 years in that career very much carried over into my 2nd career as a professional academic advisor. I’m better at my job because of that degree and 1st career, I am certain of it. And I love it, I’ve been doing this for 10 years now.

      2. If picking a career field or even “what do I want” is too big a decision, start small. Break the big picture into smaller chunks. For career indecisiveness, I tell students to ask themselves questions that have easier answers such as: What type of work environment do you want? What type of work-life balance do you want? What kind of financial reality do you want? Do you see yourself interacting with people all day, or working independently on projects? Do you want to be at a desk or traveling? Do you need a 6 figure salary (individually or household) to be happy, or do you just need to be out of debt and able to live simply and comfortably? Is it important for your job/career to have deep personal meaning or is a job just a job? (I’m the former, my husband is the latter.) Asking questions like these don’t give the final answer but they certainly help eliminate options that might sound good at first until you look at them more closely, and having fewer options makes final decision making easier.

      • I wish I had you as my academic advisor. I could have used that wisdom. Actually, I still need the wisdom, so thanks :-)

      • Jashshea

        So spot on.

      • This is fantastic advise. Yes, I wish I had you as my counselor too.

      • Sharon

        That is fantastic career advice! So much better than all the “What do you like/ what are you good at?” messaging that high schoolers and college students get!

      • Sara

        These two comments and Liz’s advice are exactly what I needed to read this week. Thank you!

        Sometimes I look too hard at the big questions and over – worry about every single outcome. The idea of breaking them down into smaller goals or smaller parts of questions is something that I think could really help me.

  • Melise

    Last summer, I followed my then boyfriend (now fiance) back to my hometown so he could go to grad school. My hometown is actually a pretty big city, but when I left for college I swore I would never go back. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do with my life (still don’t) and was just ending a year as a long-term volunteer, so I wasn’t really tied to anything where I was. One of my friends asked me at what point I’ll get bitter for moving because of him, but that won’t happen for a few reasons. We made the decision together. I think I actually brought it up the first time. I knew that I wanted to be happy, and being apart from him would make me unhappy. Plus, we both want to move away from this city when he graduates. This is temporary, and one day I know we’ll make a move for me to go to grad school or to follow a dream job. Being here doesn’t make me less me. When I figure out what direction I want to go, I know he’ll follow me there.

    • I also moved back to a hometown that I swore I’d never live in again with my husband. It’s strange because really, nothing has changed about the city itself. I still strongly dislike the place and without our particular pull factors I would never choose to live here. But our families are here and we both made a commitment to be more involved in our family life, he finally broke into his career field here when he’d been hitting dead ends where we were before, and we’d reached a point where we both needed a change. All things considered this was the best choice for us and I was an equal participant in the choice.

      We also make sure that we actually talk about where we live somewhat regularly. Just because right now this is where we need to be doesn’t close the door on the possibility of moving later. We’ve discussed how we want our living situation to progress, and what could make us consider derailing it.

  • Rosie

    Brilliant advice from Liz, I just wanted to confirm what you probably already know – that sacrificing something for your partner doesn’t necessarily mean you personally don’t gain anything. We moved to a rural area for my husband’s work, which seemed like a sacrifice at the time as I thought I’d have more job opportunities in the city. I’m now working for myself, which I doubt I would ever have done in a city, and enjoying it. So if you do take the plunge remember there may be something new waiting for you on the other side!

  • Kristen

    My husband and I are sort of in the same situation. As a teacher in need of a job, he needs to be free to apply anywhere with jobs available. Except I love where we live now and I love my job and I love the place I work like nobody’s business. So there’s a bit of a conflict. Here’s how I’m handling it:

    My husband was born to be a teacher. I honestly believe it is the best job for him and I know it is his life’s passion. My job is a job. I make good money, I never have to worry about getting laid off, I have an extensive career path and I love it, but I can have a job anywhere. I can find happiness at work in lots of different positions and cities. Because of that flexibility, I’ll go wherever he goes. No matter how much I love where I’m at, it would mean nothing without him.

  • SJ

    Oh how I understand, OP. I just had a conversation of this sort reassuring my dad who was worried about this very same thing. I moved to a very small town to support my fiance as he finishes his degree. Everyone was shocked and people kept calling me brave (what?)…but this is the man I love, the one I will grow old with and father my eventual children…how could I not go? The trouble came when we began to realize that we could not achieve our differing career goals and be together. Well, we’ve been in a mostly LDR for 6 years and we are DONE being apart. So we fell back on the old preschool standby: we’ll take turns.

  • “When you’re an overachiever, adulthood is hard.” I have never heard that put into words, but, dang, ain’t it the truth?

    I echo what Liz said, encourage the first poster’s advice about communication and also believe that losing oneself in marriage is a passive choice from a passive person. And unless you are moving to Oglala, Nebraska, then surely there is something, anything, there that you will find a spark or and interest in. I think that some of these things in adulthood are what you make out of them. Not everything, but this thing? I’d think so.

    I turned down and stopped looking for jobs in other states when it became clear that my husband would not be joining me for at least a year. It was easier, actually, to deal with the shit at work and be with him than have a new, better job without him. Within that decision was also lots of talk about how our lifestyle would change, what we would do for hobbies, would he be able to find a job, and if not, how would that affect our finances?

  • B

    I have found myself in a bit of a similar experience. I left an established life and two good jobs to up and move to England with my boyfriend for fun. Since we have moved here he has had two good positions and I have had waitressing work. I still have a lot to achieve before I can even begin applying for jobs (social work license, drivers license) and its frustrating.

    The only thing I want to advise, is that once you make your decision be prepared to back that decision up every single day. Once you decide to do it, things don’t just work out. 16 months later, I still have to defend my decision to leap into the unknown. Don’t let the regret and doubt hold you back and make you second guess yourself. Big decisions like this are like marriage, you are constantly choosing to work towards a goal or commit yourself, its not a one time yes or no.

    Also, go in it together (if you do go) and don’t let your partner feel guilty that things might not work out. For all you know, it might not work out for him and he might want to move after a year. Good luck!

    • Oh, yeah, good advice about not letting him feel guilty. Don’t hold it over his head, either.

      Wait, I’m not the only one that does that, right?

      • Um, definitely not the only one. Sometimes I have to remind myself that my husband did not go to grad school to punish me. (I’m not like that all the time, but you know, on the very hard days sometimes it feels like he just went to grad school to punish me).

        • Me too – SO MUCH. I also feel terrible because the nature of his program is REALLY inhospitable to marriage (and sleep, and eating, and life in general). He takes a lot of flak from professors about how our marriage doesn’t really fit with his career path or that he’s must not be trying hard enough because I take too much of his time. I assume they are just cranky because no one is making their lunches or doing their laundry, but I can’t imagine how hard it must be for him, to put our marriage in the backseat all the time and still take all that crap from them.
          I try to remember that when I start to get yell-y. It’s effective about 20% of the time :-)

          • Luc

            Are you for real? This is crazy- what kind of school gets to make judgments about a students personal life?

      • I held moving to Florida for his work over his head whenever there was a large bug in the house. I moved here for you, you kill the cockroaches.

        • Emily

          Haha. I recently told my husband I didn’t want to move to an area near my hometown because there are poisonous snakes and black widow spiders. And he needed to be willing to deal with them AT ALL TIMES for me. Luckily for me, he realized he didn’t really want that job. So I’m safe…for now.

          • B

            Is it wrong that I blame Britain’s bad weather on him? I mean… we’d be in sunny Austin if it wasn’t for his sense of adventure!

  • Class of 1980

    Liz said what I was thinking. Right now, you have nothing to lose.

    Besides, you might stumble across something for yourself in that new location.

    Girl, I moved to the middle of freaking nowhere and gained my own business. How counterintuitive is that?

  • Lauren

    It’s been said before, but Liz is spot-on. Especially this:

    “When you’re an overachiever, adulthood is hard. There is no established path with specific guidelines and parameters that you can excel at to get an A+. It’s a little scary to go from knowing what’s expected of you and how to succeed to not really having anyone to tell you what next.”

    Uh, yeah! That describes my whole life!

    I have posted here a lot lately about how the fiance decided to go to Atlanta and get his Ph.D there, about 300 miles from our hometown. It’s not too far, but it is a state over, so that’s kind of sad for us homebodies.

    I also say that HE decided because I am the kind of person that needs a lot of time to work things out, but once I have done so I am pretty flexible. So once it became apparent that moving away was on the table for his grad school prospects (about a year ago) I went through the mourning process in my own time. So when the decision came, I was really and truly fine with whatever choice was made. That doesn’t work for everyone, and it certainly helps that my field is unstable and I didn’t have a steady job, but it worked well for us.

    I thoroughly agree with the above comments to talk it out with your hubs and set small goals for yourself. I am also an overachiever but I need goals to be able to achieve. When I was unemployed I gave myself monthly challenges, and those kept me going every day. When we move I will likely start doing that again. And, frankly, sometimes in relationships you do have to let go of “you” for the good of “us.” If it’s a good relationship – which is likely is, you are smart and capable and you married this guy – it will one day be more about “you” and “us” than “him.”

    ETA: You start losing yourself when it’s ALWAYS about “him” and “us” and NEVER about “you” and “us.” It doesn’t have to always be a 50-50 split – in my relationship, the nature of my fiance’s field means moving for his job is certain, while moving for mine is unlikely – but some kind of give-and-take is essential.

    • Jess

      Lauren, I was wondering if you could elaborate on what kind of challenges you set for yourself. I am unemployed too, but I find myself wallowing in depression and self-pity way too often, and I think having challenges to meet might help me. Any advice?

      • Yes please elaborate on those goals!

      • Lauren

        Most of them were very simple things that I knew I could accomplish and feel good about. I really, really struggle with free time (as in, yesterday I walked around my house for half an hour saying “What can I do? What can I do?” before I realized I had nothing productive do to so I made myself relax and read a book.

        I outlined a “semester” schedule for myself because I am super type-A and having things in lists makes me calm. Producing content, whatever that may be, also makes me feel purposeful and kept me from sliding too far into depression. And I was depressed! But not crushingly so.

        So, semester one (roughly July-Dec)
        – Take a 30 minute walk every day
        – Start learning more advanced embroidery techniques.
        – Start tackling more advanced painting projects
        – Reorganize/repaint/refurnish my room
        – Make real efforts at freelancing
        – Work on wedding stuff as much as possible

        Semester two:
        – Continue goals that were helpful (walking, freelancing, weddinging)
        – Write one page of my novel, every day, no excuses
        – Job hunt no matter if I felt like it or not. Note: this didn’t mean apply every day, just make sure to look at job boards each day.
        – Make one creative thing per week
        – Start real effort on an Etsy store
        – Crunch time for wedding

        I was very fortunate in that I found a job in semester two. Semester three was going to be:
        – Continue goals that were helpful (walking, freelancing weddinging, applying every day, writing every day)
        – Keep working on the eventual long-term goal of Etsying
        – Keep being creative as much as possible
        – Start budgeting
        – Analyzing diet for good/bad choices
        – Apply for grad school

        This sort of system really helped me stave off boredom and loneliness while all my friends were at school and work. I also found the semester schedule helpful because it gave me structure I was used to and also forced me to reevaluate my goals every few months.

        Hope that helps! I’ll be doing it again soon, and it’s kind of exciting to return to the system :)

        • This totally helps. I have been unemployed for 2.5 weeks now and I feel as if I’m wandering around in circles, not doing any of the projects I want to get done and not getting any of the job search stuff done that I should. I vacillate between trying to get a job doing something awesome (I don’t at all know what that should be) and trying to just get a job. I’ve known I need to think about it more temporarily but I think I need to think about it very temporarily – semester style. Short term goals. I need to remember there can be an end if I want there to be. Thank you!

          • Lauren

            Good luck to you! What I did in terms of balancing find THE BEST job with find A job was to find temp or part-time work that would be easy to balance with applying/interviewing elsewhere and would be easy to leave when the time came. They were unfulfilling jobs except for the friends I made, but it again kept me being productive.

          • Audrey

            I totally agree with the comment re: temping or finding flexible part time work if you can.

            I was unemployed for a month or two before I started temping, and I felt much better after I started. Temping saved my sanity and also gave me some extra cash. I even got offered a job as an HR person after temping for them (the person I was temping for left ) – I didn’t take it, but it definitely gave me more confidence that I kept while going into interviews (which were easy to schedule since people knew I was looking for other work actively).

          • @audrey and lauren. Everyone I discuss this with leads me back to temping. I admit I’m really concerned about the culture of the place that I work in more than the actual job itself. I’m super productive and can be very focused on even boring tasks if I know I’m doing them for someone who appreciates them and who wants to see me succeed. Thanks for this!

        • I did something similar when I couldn’t work during my immigration process. It was hard to motivate myself to do much, so I actually made a chart of goals (I saw the idea on a blog somewhere a few years back).

          The chart is for a week, and on it I list daily tasks (ex. make bed, dishes, floss, work on a major project), 5x a week tasks (ex. exercise, clean something), 3x a week tasks (ex. read, blog), and “À la carte/pick 10” (ex. bake bread, sewing, administrative task, write letter, mending, laundry). It REALLY helped me to motivate myself, probably because I really like checking things off a list. (I also made a chore chart where I divided my household chores into a weekly schedule with one or two things a day, 6 days a week). The lists somehow made everything more manageable and gave the vast amounts of open time some structure. I put tasks I did not want to do on there and also fun, rewarding things too. It helped me be feel more balanced, productive and happy when I wasn’t working. I never reached all my goals for myself each week, but it gave me something to work towards, and I still use it some. I need to revamp both lists to account for my new schedule and new goals…

          • Nice! I like it. After reading this this morning, I started a big list fully knowing I would need to reorganize the list into more manageable scheduling. The first thing on the list – make lists.

  • Lily B.

    “It’s not altogether about meeting someone else’s standard. It’s about setting your own, busting ass toward it, and then changing it when that doesn’t work. There are no grades, there are rarely any trophies, and at the end of the day, it only matters what you think.”
    Somewhere, off in the distance, I heard a confetti cannon go off. Oh hallelu for wisdom.

  • Katie

    My husband and I have been living in a city that neither of us loves for the past 3 years so I could go to graduate school. We have one year left and then, at least for a couple of years, I’ve committed to move where his work and opportunities take him for a few years. It’s a little scary to make that kind of compromise but that’s what I agreed to when we first moved so now it’s time for me to hold up my end of the deal. :)

  • i feel like, from an outside (by which i mean “me 10 years ago”) perspective, i could check all the boxes for someone who “lost herself in her relationship” – which is to say that my relationship has changed me a great deal, and i am immensely happy for it. i have made a lot of “sacrifices” for my wife – only, they don’t feel like sacrifices to me.

    (i’m trying not to write a whole post on this, so…) i guess what i’m trying to say is that it is really hard not to judge this sort of decision from a perspective of “what will people think?” and feel like you are obviously losing yourself. when it is possible that if you judge it from the perspective of “how do i feel about this” it is clear that you are being perfectly true to yourself (yourself may have changed since you last gut-checked, though).

    • Um, please write a whole post on this? Sounds like a perfect APW discussion to me.

  • My husband and I had a similar choice to make before we got married. In his home country and hometown, he had work in his arts field that was absolutely perfect for him. A really spectacular contract job with potential for more opportunities (he was freelance at the time). I had a day job and a developing freelance arts career in my city in my home country. That city was an ideal city for my arts career and I was finally starting to really find my arts niche and get work that corresponded. However, because my day job was temporary and because I could do my freelance arts work anywhere (in theory), we decided to build our lives where he had the location-specific amazing work opportunities.

    I moved here (to his country) knowing that it would take time to rebuild my arts career. Now, three and a half years later…it is taking longer than I had expected, but I still 100% believe it was the right choice. At times the realities of building a specific career in a competitive/narrow field in a new place (that speaks another language) are discouraging. But I have a day job that I enjoy—it actually is more fulfilling than my previous day job—and I am challenging myself a lot as I work to figure out a way to build my arts career in a second language/culture. At times it feels almost impossible, but I have faith that I will be able to pursue my dreams here. In fact, I have faith that it will turn out better than I could have imagined and better than it would have been in my previous city and home country. Eventually. It just will take time. And I am starting to see progress, so that’s encouraging.

    Anyhow all that to say, choosing where to live is such a complex, couple-specific thing. For us, I decided that I had less to lose and much more flexibility than my husband, and he agreed (but was willing to make the opposite choice to come to my country too). But that was not a logical choice in our situation. And yes, I gave up things, but I am learning and gaining new things as I rebuild my career. We don’t have plans to one day “balance things out” by moving to a better place for me; I have just made the choice to pursue my arts dreams here. It’s a harder career path for me, but more interesting, and I believe it will ultimately be more rewarding and exciting. And if I give it my all, and it still doesn’t work out? Well, that will stink, but I will know I tried my best and I will grieve the loss of that dream. And then I will find some different dreams to pursue.

    Best of luck to Anonymous and everyone else negotiating these tough choices and rebuilding their lives in a new place.

  • I found it to be an important distinction when I moved to be with my then-boyfriend that I wasn’t moving *for him*. I was moving for me, because of him. Being with him made me happy, so it was the best thing for me. He’s in the military, so we’ll move every couple of years and while we will always discuss it and I’ll always have input, a big part of the decision will have to do with what’s best for his career. And, of course, the Navy has the final say. Fortunately for me, I was sort of semi-nomadic before we met, so moving every couple of years affirms who I already was. The tricky part, currently, is that a big part of who I am is being teacher and there are no jobs where we currently are and it’s not clear whether there will be any while we’re here. I’m another formerly aimless overachiever and it took me too long to commit to a path. Being here may force me to change it, at least temporarily, but it shouldn’t have to mean losing who I am. It may just mean that I have to figure out how who I am translates into something else to do with my time and energy.

    Anne Lamott just had an article published in which she explains that you already are who you are. What you have to do is figure out what you’re not and stop trying to be those things. Tricky.

  • april

    There are a lot of “go for it – you have nothing to lose!” comments here, which is fine, but I thought I’d offer a different perspective.

    My fiance and I were in a very similar place a couple of years ago. I had graduated from law school, but didn’t have any job prospects or a clear idea of what I wanted to do next. He was headed to grad school (a 2 year masters program), at a good school in middle-of-nowhere, Illinois. I was under a lot of pressure — not from him really, but from friends and family — to just “go for it” and follow him to Illinois. But like “anonymous”, I wasn’t excited about the idea. I’ve lived in the midwest before, and I hate (*hate*) the climate. Also, I’m very much a city girl, and while I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, I was pretty sure I wouldn’t be able to do it in a small college town. So I stayed put. I eventually found a job that I love, and our relationship has survived (thrived, even) through the separation. It’s given us a chance to develop a clearer sense of ourselves, both as individuals and as a couple. He finishes his masters in a month, we get married a couple months later, and I have committed to following him wherever he goes for his phd — provided, I have a say in where that is.

    I guess my point is this: you can know what you don’t want even if you don’t really know what you want. So if, after giving it some thought and discussing it with your husband, you really don’t want to make this move, that is a totally valid position and as good a point as any for forging a compromise — whether that be putting a time limit on things (i.e., we try this for a year, and if it’s not working for both of us, we move back), or even encouraging your husband to turn down the position (and presumably to pursue similar opportunities in a location you’re less averse to).

    • Jessica

      Hmm, this sounds like me & my partner. We’re both city people but I got a great offer to earn my MBA at a university in my hometown, which happens to be middle-of-nowhere college town Illinois. So the compromise we landed on is that he would remain in our East Coast city. I would move. We would use his telecommute benefit at work to have him visit for 1 to 2 weeks per semester. I would visit during the breaks & find a summer internship on the East Coast.

      And… so far, so good! I echo what April said, that it’s given us a chance to grow personally and has helped our relationship grow too. My partner realized he wanted to earn an MBA too, part-time, so now we’re both going through school. The time apart allows us to focus really intensely on the school goals we each have as overachievers. When things get hard or we miss each other, we just remind ourselves this is temporary. We also agree to a visit schedule in advance so we know when we’ll see each other. Being apart has affirmed that we are exactly the right people for each other, too.

      Anyway, I guess my point is there are probably creative solutions that honor the needs of both you & your partner, like April found.

    • Rose

      Thanks for sharing! I just wonder if it is the same situation, because there is a clear deadline for the long distance part when one of you is in a two year graduate school program. OP’s partner is moving for a job, which is an indefinite move. Of course, I am all for following your gut in a relationship, because op knows her relationship better than any of us, but indefinite long distance is pretty tough.

  • Emily

    I think what’s REALLY important (and I’m currently working on this in my own life) is that you be honest with yourself. Ian and I are about to move to Nashville so he can start grad school, and I kept insisting that I totally wanted to move. And I felt horrible and panicky about it for no reason I could pin down until I really listened to my inner voice, and it turns out I don’t want to move to Nashville. I want to be with Ian and I want to support him, and to do that, I have to go with him.

    But I’m going to Nashville knowing what I’m doing. Does that make sense? I’m not wondering if I’m being dragged along in his wake because I’m making a conscious choice to go. And I’m not going to wake up in three years asking myself why I’m in Tennessee, because I’ll know the answer. And I’m not going to resent Ian later because, again, it’s my choice, not his.

  • This is just so wise. Oh how I miss the college semester system where the end of things and the possibility of new was always in sight, and always acceptable. I guess it’s just so scary to pick something and run full force towards it knowing that I could and probably will change my mind. I always change my mind. But my choices become completely dissatisfying because I find that i have picked something out of convenience rather than making a decision. That’s where the fear of failure and judgement comes in. I guess I just have to ask myself which is worse, failing at a job I dislike because it was beneath me and I don’t like it, or failing because I decide later to do something else.
    Oh god, I have been reading all kinds of motivational stuff lately, trying to get on board and figure my shit out, but this, this, Liz, this gives me some direction and hope. Thank you!

  • This hit home for me because in our case, I’m the one with the burning goal of going back to medical school, and my husband is the one who is “along for the ride”. He vocalizes that he is 100% supportive of this decision, but I worry all the time that I’m making him lose himself or forcing him into a decision. I just have to keep telling myself that I have to trust that Ken would tell me if he wasn’t happy, and that as long as we keep talking, that for now, it’s okay if I “drive”. It’s definitely not a fun place to be when you think you’re losing yourself, or that your forcing your partner to maybe lose him/herself, but I know we’ll get through it. Good luck, OP!

    • Louise

      I hear you on this one! My husband is giving up a great job in his field (after working as a chauffeur for two years to make ends meet while looking for said job) to move to Mumbai, India with me for my career! It helps that he decided before I did that if I got the job, I should take it, and he’s articulated several thoughtful reasons why it’s the right move…but I still worry about his career. I know he won’t lose himself, though, because he’s more than his job. He loves to cook and play video games, and you can do those things in Mumbai.

  • Martha

    I love Liz’s advice too! I think you should also address the final remark about your parents “Or is this all totally rational, and I’ve just massively internalized my parents’ disappointment that I’m not a jet-setting record exec leaving puny men in my dust?”

    Try to remember that your own dreams (even if they aren’t fully formed yet) are more important that whatever your parents dreamed up for you long ago.

  • “In our school we did not have A’s, B’s, C’s and D’s, The only A’s I got (and this will be a little corny) I’ve got their Attention, I’ve got their Approval, their Admiration, Approbation and their Applause”
    -George Carlin

  • Suzy

    This is an AMAZING topic and I don’t have time to read all of this right now but I will definitely do so after work.

    My husband and I do the “taking turns” thing…. he is about to finish grad school next month so we are squarely in the “what’s next” camp. Major decisions are looming….

  • Question Asker

    Dammit, Liz.

    You know how I know you’re right? Because as I read your response I got a tight, knotted up, borderline angry feeling in my chest, commonly known as “defensiveness” (also because that picture? Pretty much exactly what my hair looked like on my wedding day. You obviously know everything).

    But. Um. Yeah. I hate that you’re right–you saw straight through me, without even knowing that I don’t really have any personal hobbies or interests (unless binge-watching bad TV on Netflix and going out to eat count as hobbies. I try to claim that they do). I’ve really just been in a free fall, personal-identity-wise, for the last five years. I was so busy during college (and high school, middle school, elementary school…) that I was always doing Activities, not Hobbies or Passions. My best friend who has a much busier work life than I do is currently taking German language classes and training for a marathon in her free time. What the hell am I doing?

    So, thank you. Thank you for calling bullshit on my life (though you did so really, really kindly, and thank you for that as well). The concept of actually having to “find myself” is pretty terrifying, but the alternative is even more so, I think. I’m going to be devouring each and every word of every comment on this post. Team Practical is so wise.

    I love you all.

    • Don’t beat yourself up! “Transition periods” are hard, even in nature (anyone else experiencing that gross mix between winter and spring right now? Ugh.). Not all of us have some kind of burning passion in our hearts and minds that is what we are “supposed to do”. I certainly haven’t had that moment yet. But that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a job just for the work itself, and not because it’s your occupational soul mate.

      • Question Asker


        That's actually almost been my problem–I really do enjoy bartending. I've been doing it for six years now, it's a pretty good racket. But the money's good enough I only work 35-40 hours a week, and the rest of my time is filled with….?

        • Audrey

          My recommendation is to just try stuff, not be too hard on yourself, and feel free to quit if you aren’t enjoying the hobby or activity. I’m (slowly) coming to terms that I’m a bit of a dilettante and I generally don’t dive deeply into one hobby for years. Maybe that’s you too?

        • ALIASALIAS

          Remember it is also OK to be receptive to life. We are who we are, not what we do. American culture, especially, tells us we need to GO GO GO and be active all the time, which can make us put uncomfortable pressure on ourselves, to do! to perform! to achieve! It is OK to not know what your passions are yet. It is OK to just go with the flow and not try to DO everything all the time–this can actually be a strength, because it helps us to actually experience life.

          Maybe you don’t need to DO anything to avoid “losing yourself”–maybe you just need to be receptive to your experience and what it can teach you about yourself. The more we know about ourselves and our strengths, the easier it is to use them. When you are paying attention to yourself and your needs, it is pretty difficult to lose yourself!

          It sounds like you are taking care of your needs, and the fact that you’re even worrying about losing yourself indicates that you have the ability to reflect on how your marriage is working and who you are in it. You see yourself as a person in the relationship, and that alone can prevent you from losing yourself.

          Don’t let ancient feminist propaganda shame you into believing you are less of a partner or are “losing yourself” for making the choice to do something in support of your husband–only you can decide if you feel like you are losing part of yourself by accommodating your husband’s goals in this way. You get to make the choice, and you get to give meaning to that choice.

          Maybe check in with yourself: What part of yourself do you feel like you are losing? Who introduced the idea that you can be lost in a relationship?

          • LALA

            This this this!!

          • Natalie

            There is an insane amount of wisdom in this comment.

    • meaganep

      I feel like I’ve been stuck in a very similar rut, and I’m starting to crawl out of it too. It’s hard, and I actually wrote an email to an old friend just before reading this post asking her for advice. I need hobbies too! I’m thinking about trying to learn sign language and rock climbing (which requires also conquering fear of heights.)

      We can do this OP!

      • Not Sarah

        I am completely scared of heights, but some friends convinced me to try rock climbing and it took weeks before I went very far up the wall and it is beyond AWESOME. At my gym, there’s a kids’ wall with a castle and that was really helpful when I was getting started :) I mostly boulder (no ropes) and so the walls are a bit shorter than in top roping.

        • meaganep

          That is so reassuring to hear! I did indoor rock climbing a few times in high school and always vacillated between abject terror (“I am about to die”) and pure exhilaration (“This is amazing, I wish I was a bird or a monkey or other tree living creature.”) Now I just need to get up the courage to go do something alone…another big fear when living in a new place with no friends! Any advice for that, APW??

          • Not Sarah

            If you live in Seattle, I’ll take you climbing! If not, just Google maps “rock climbing” in your city :) Some gyms even have women only classes/groups! They often have intro classes too, which can be helpful if you don’t know anyone. When I go by myself I also meet so many random people – everyone wants to help!

    • Allie

      I just want to suggest that (along with all the good advice above) you try to take a structured approach to it. I’ve always found the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People a really useful framework- the questions help you dig a bit deeper in an organized fashion to figure out what you are really about (so that you can then be effective at accomplishing your ‘mission’ – whatever it is that you are about in life). For me, I find that going through the exercises re-anchors me whenever I have that scary cast-adrift feel and am uncertain of what I am doing or how a major life change fits…

      Good luck! It’s not an easy task (to figure out who you are and what you’re about) but it’s so incredibly worth it…!

  • In my situation I feel like I’m finally truly finding myself now that I’m married. I was heading in a great direction on my own and had a real good life. But being married has given me the security to really open myself up to what I truly can be. Yes I lost my single self, but I feel I’ve replaced her with something even better. I have dreams and goals and direction that I couldn’t have had before.

    Perhaps that’s what’ll happen here. You have no idea what’s behind the next door. Maybe it’s something better than you ever dreamed.

  • This was good. And much needed by me this week. Very, very good.

  • Marina

    This may be totally off base, but as someone who’s been in similar situations before, I wonder whether you might also be a little jealous. He’s found His Thing and you don’t have anything as compelling to steer the relationship’s direction towards you.

    I’d also suggest asking your partner or your family or your BFF what your passion is. I remember a conversation I had with my husband a few years ago where I was semi-complaining to him that he knew his passion was in health care and I had no idea what mine was. He looked at me like I was nuts and said, “Your passion is mothering and theater.” And I just went, oh, yeah, of course it is. Sometimes what seems complex inside your head is more apparent to other people in your life. (That said, I’ve chosen not to pursue theater at this point in my life, and instead am basing my career around something I enjoy but isn’t My One True Passion… but it pays a little better. But I think that’s maybe a different conversation.)

  • Find who you are; figure out what you want; take turns — as always, Liz’s advice is right on.

    I think when both partners are working hard to make sure they’re hearing each other’s needs and helping the other toward his or her goals, life also has a way of balancing things out. We moved across the country right after our wedding for me to start a PhD program. My husband at the time was fresh out of seminary, burned out on ministry, and not sure if he could get any other kind of job with his MDiv. All our contacts were in Atlanta and Philly. But he “followed” me. His first job was as an SAT math tutor, just to help make ends meet, and he really enjoyed it. His second job was in consulting, in a fancy downtown building with prestige and a big paycheck. He hated working in a cubicle all day. A few months ago, he was hired on by our church as an assistant pastor. He describes it as his dream job and comes home happy from it every day. I’ve never been prouder of him.

    The thing is… this feels like a victory for *both* of us, and in many ways it is. It’s his career path, but I was the one who prepped him for interviews, taught him about cover letters, cheered him on. And he cheers me on in my program. Whenever I reach a milestone, we celebrate like it’s both of ours. Because it kind of is.

    Honestly, when he was first kicking around the idea of applying for this church job, I felt panicky and unsure. Being tied to one place can be a terrible thing for a career in academia. But this opportunity was too good (for both of us!) to pass up. We’ll cross the dual career bridge when we come to it. I know he’ll fight for my dreams when the time comes, just as I’ve fought for his… so no matter the outcome, we’ll be okay.

    A final thought. I love this line of Liz’s: “‘Losing yourself’ isn’t a one-time thing. It’s what happens over a succession of habitual choices.” It reminds me of a piece of advice a married friend gave me during my engagement, when I was wibbling about “But what if one day we end up being one of those couples who [fill in the blank with fear of choice]?” She looked me in the eye and said, “No one just *ends up* a certain way. You make daily choices. If you don’t want to become that kind of couple, then don’t.” And I’ve found, so far, it’s really just as simple as that.

    • Sharon, your comment made me a little teary. It is great to hear how your move out for your grad school has led to great opportunities for you both. And it’s fun to hear the update because I remember your comments from before and just after your move out there… Glad it is going well.

      • Now it’s your turn to make me tear up! Thanks for the comment — it really is a good reminder of how far we’ve come.

  • Louise

    This is excellent advice, Liz. Seriously, phenomenal life advice.

    It is SO hard to get out of school and find out that no one is going to tell you whether or not you’re doing it “right.” It is one of the scariest parts about growing up. There are so many ways to fail! And what never gets talked about is that there are SO many ways to do it right, too!

  • Brit

    We’ve already made this decision.

    He’s in grad school, just started a PhD and I’m finishing up my bachelor’s then moving to the East Coast from my middle of nowhere Michigan college. (Where it’s still snowing, and we’re supposed to get another winter storm tonight!) I’m not looking forward to the DC area’s heat and humidity, but I am looking forward to the hustle and bustle of city life.

    What really worries/excites me though is not having ANYTHING planned. I’m a planner, a schemer if you will. I’ve had the next 5 years in my head for the past 10 and suddenly not knowing the future is mildly terrifying. However, I need some time to heal from the go go go nature of engineering school. I need time to get my self together and figure out what my passions are.

    So how the hell do I do that!? One day at a time I guess…. and maybe making that semester/goals list that Lauren talked about.

    • I moved to DC from Michigan right out of undergrad and I LOVED it! I’m so excited for you! I’ve since moved to St. Louis, and I miss DC so so so much. The summers are totally miserable, but the eastern shore is an awesome way to escape! go camping on assateague island! Also, make sure you get in on the neighborhood pool scene. There are lots of good ones! Also, stand up paddle boarding/kayaking at Jack’s is a great way to beat the heat. Can you tell I’m jealous of your upcoming adventures? I hope you love it as much as I did.

    • MDBethann

      I moved to the Baltimore/DC area 16 years ago for college. There is so much to do here and thanks to the miracle of air conditioning, the humidity becomes bearable (and honestly, it’s really worse than the heat). Spring is GORGEOUS here and there is so much to do. We get an occasional winter storm, but not enough snow for my Pennsylvania tastes. There are loads of things to do in the area – parks, museums, clubs, etc – and many of the things are free or inexpensive. And while I don’t know what your field is, there are loads of options here and though the gov’t isn’t hiring right now, other places are.

      It’s a vibrant area and, even though I’m not one, I know a bunch of Midwesterners here so hopefully you’ll feel at home soon.

      Best of luck on your transitions and move!

  • never.the.same

    I don’t think not knowing what you want to do means that you don’t know anything about what you WANT in life. You might not have any idea of the career/hobby/passion that is driving you, but you do know some things.

    1. You “sort-of-really-completely hate the climate of the region we’d relocate to, and I have no idea what I’d do for work there.”

    2. That you are “feeling fine about contemplating this potential change, there’s a nagging voice inside my head going, “…this is all for him. Where are YOU in this decision?” And…I don’t know.”

    3. His job is low paying, meaning that despite whatever personal fulfillment there’d be, you’d still struggle financially.

    There are really three big factors in life. 1. Personal life (family, location, environment) 2. Work (day job, hobbies, purpose) and 3. Financial Obligations (debt, lifestyle, money stress). Which of these areas is going to be better if you move? And I know you’re married and part of a team, but these are ultimately personal questions. One of these things has to get better for you, if the move is worth it. The fact that it gets better for your spouse only counts if all these things remain equal for you.

    Liz’s advice was pretty good, but from what I read, it doesn’t seem like these things get better for you, or even staying the same. I don’t mean this unkindly, but my guess from the limited information is that it’s not unlikely that you’ll move, hate where you’re living (and leave your current support system behind), feel stressed about finding a job and making a living to compensate for the low pay your husband has AND you still won’t know what you really want to be doing.

    Marriage creates a lot of “we” thinking and a lot what’s best for “us” but you are half of that team. And no matter how good the offense is, if defensive is taken out of the game, there’s no winning.

    • Jo

      Going to offer a slightly different spin on the same thought…. in my marriage, we have adopted the practice when approaching a joint life decision where we each approach the options with the other person’s best interest in mind. So, basically, when my hubby had the opportunity to move us across the country for a graduate program, I was the biggest cheerleader and articulated all the ways I saw it making his career and personal life goals come true, while he talked me through all the different ways it could be hard and/or good for me, asking questions, doing research, thinking about what would work best for me. Somehow, that way it was less of a negotiation, defensive-mode conversation, and more of a balanced evaluation of how good the move would be for both of us. Because, if you’re really an “us”, only the sum total of the tradeoffs that you’re both making tells you how good it is going to be. It will be a shared experience, like it or not. And if you suffer, he’ll suffer too. So, going into it with each other’s best interest in mind, in a very practical, conversational way, helps avoid all that.

      Also…. One key thing to both know about each other is how well you adapt to new situations. For some people (me), moving is something I did a lot as a kid, and I love making new friends, exploring new places, etc. For other people, moving is terrifying, having to create a new community is awful, and so just the act of making a move is draining. Since you’re not sure what to expect there, the question really is – how well do you deal with uncertainty? Do you rise to the occasion? Do you thrive on adventure? Or do you know you’ll retreat and withdraw? Or… maybe this is the best way to find out!

  • Denzi

    After I stopped being a research biologist, I had no clue what I wanted to do. I stalled around a lot and worked part-time as a delivery driver. Played a lot of video games. That kind of thing.

    At this point in our marriage, we are broke and poor, but at some point, my husband said, “Just try something.” His biggest fear was that we would get five years down the road and I would still be in the “I don’t know what I want to do for a living” hole by sheer entropy.

    So at some point I looked up my old career advising stuff from college, took a hard look at it, and wrote on a post-it note five careers that I genuinely thought I would be interested in trying. And now I’m working my way down the list.

    Compared to my engineer spouse and everyone I knew in science, I still struggle with feeling ashamed of not Knowing What I Want To Do With My Life. But I’ve started to realize that a lot of the people I admire have weird previous careers too. My dad worked his way through college as a mental hospital orderly (and broke his ribs playing full-contact tackle football with the patients *grin*). An acquaintance who is a lawyer and high-ranking state bureaucrat is a fully trained massage therapist.

    So if in five years I’ve crossed off two careers and am half-way through a second masters degree…even if it looks like I’m in the same “I don’t know what I want to do for a living” place, I will know more, have more experiences, have different insights, and be full of interesting factoids at cocktail parties. And the discipline of trying itself will always be a huge asset, no matter what I decide to do.

  • Oh, Liz, this is just good life advice for almost anyone at any time.

    Figuring out what your Big Things are and what things make your life feel intentionally lived is a big part of the compromising process. I didn’t know that for a long time. I’m still learning, actually. I went to grad school, failed, worked an “eh” job to pay bills, and floated aimlessly for a while as I tried to plan a wedding. We ended up calling off the wedding because we were fighting constantly and, looking back, I realize that my lack of direction contributed to a lot of arguments. When I didn’t know what I wanted my life to be about, every decision we made seemed arduous and unfair. We put the wedding on hold, spent a few years doing things that meant a lot to each us and now we are getting married (for reals!) in about a month.

    This time? I can more easily compromise moving closer to his family because family is important to me (but I decided it doesn’t necessarily have to be my family.) I can compromise on moving to Philadelphia because it’s a cool city (but I decided it doesn’t have to be a cool city I know anything about.) I can leave my job to move where he is (because I now know there are different kinds of opportunities for me that I don’t have here now.) All of these things were SO off the table two years ago.

    And maybe time has a lot to do with it. I think Big Deal Things shift and change for each person over time. While two years ago leaving a job I loved sounded like the end of the world, now I feel differently. And that might change again after more time has passed, who knows.

    Compromise can be a bad-tasting word in the mouth for me, but when I can clearly say “I care about THIS, I don’t care about THAT, and I care considerably less about that other thing than you do,” compromise becomes the thing that moves me and my partner forward instead of keeping us stuck.

  • NTB

    This is a great question and applies to so many areas of marriage. For me, it was politics. Politics are very important to my husband, but not to me. I don’t consider myself to be a political person. My husband started to ask himself if he was ‘losing himself’ by marrying me because I’m not interested in many of the same things as he is. I am an indoor lover and he loves the outdoors. My idea of a great meal involves pasta, and his involves red meat. We are different people with different goals and interests. And sometimes they collide in a big way, even though on the surface our differences seem trivial. Sometimes, in reality, they are a big deal for both of us.

    The short of the long is that Tom and I have both made sacrifices to get where we are. When he was in law school and stressing out about the bar exam, we had about three dates in a matter of 6 months. It was a trying time in our relationship, but I adapted. I found time to myself. I found little things that made me happy, even though we weren’t in the best place. I channeled my energy to a place where I could gain satisfaction from time alone, time spent with new friends, time spent trying new food and new books and new places to go.

    Perhaps this new endeavor will serve as a stepping stone to something better—and you never know what you might find in your new beginnings.