The Questions That Come up When You Leave a Job to Get Married

bride and groom walking away together

Today, I am at a point where I am so stressed, so overwhelmed, and so scared, that I burst into tears in my office. An office that I am leaving in less than a month. I’m leaving for lots of good reasons, the main one being that this job has kept me away from my fiancé for nearly our entire relationship, and we don’t want to start our marriage thousands of miles apart.

After exhausting our contacts and trying everything we could think of to get us stationed together, we came to the conclusion that the only way for us to be together was for one of us to give up his or her military career. And after weighing the options, we decided that I would be the one to separate. Or really, I decided. It was really my decision the whole time, but I like to say it was our decision. And at first, at least once the initial wishy-washy-ness wore off, I was deliriously happy about it. And then I was just okay with it, which was actually better.

I spent the last several months deployed, and I guess you could sort of call that my “last hurrah” in the military. I was busy and felt mission-essential, even though sometimes if felt like every day was Groundhog Day for a large stretch of time. I also managed to get a large chunk of wedding planning done in my spare time. Of course, I was also counting down the days until I would be done with the deployment, and the days after that until I would out of the military and reunited with my fiancé.

But in my last few weeks out there, an older female Reservist arrived. As we stood in line for chow one evening, we started what could have been a friendly conversation. Instead, it turned into an interrogation. When do you leave? In a few weeks. Where are you going? Back to Germany, but then to North Carolina. Are you PCSing*? No, I’m separating. WHY?

Because I’m getting married.

I was caught off guard by her questioning. I was even more caught off guard by her sudden rant about how women shouldn’t leave their careers just to have babies and how she wished she hadn’t left active duty as early as she did and oh by the way I damn well better be joining the Reserves because then you’ll have a job and a retirement and be better off than all of the other military spouses because how could you possibly want to ever stay at home and just raise kids?

I was already planning on joining the Reserve, and had been emailing back and forth with my home station recruiter. I’d also been browsing for civilian jobs. It was a tough search because honestly we don’t know where we will be in six months or a year. He’s scheduled to move somewhere during that timeframe. But what if I didn’t find a job right away? Shouldn’t it be okay for me to stay home and take care of the household? And so what if I just want to make babies?

It’s funny how much an individual that you don’t even care about can affect your thinking. She planted seeds of doubt in my mind that grew while I was still out there, then on my flight back to Germany, and over the past week while I’ve been working my butt off to get everything taken care of before I leave for good. One of those tasks was to finally speak with the Reserve recruiter that I’ve been emailing over the past several months. The recruiter who finally reviewed my records, only to tell me that I’m ineligible for a Reserve commission. That is why I broke down at work today.

This is probably the scariest transition I’ve ever had to make in my life. When I come home to my empty apartment here, it almost feels like I’m doing it alone. That is, until my Skype lights up. He’s calling on his lunch break, and even though we can only talk for a little while, it’s enough to remind me that the reason I’m doing it is because I’m not alone.

I know I’m doing the right thing, even though sometimes it feels like I am giving up my whole life. I have to remind myself that I may be giving that life up, but it is in order to gain an entirely new life. One that I can actually share with my future husband.

Anyway, what better way to introduce myself to the occupation of Military Spouse, a career that involves giving up so many little things, over and over, than to give up one big thing at the start?

*PCS = Permanent Change of Station, the military’s way of saying “moving”

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  • Laura

    Argh! I am annoyed on your behalf. Why do people feel entitled to make these intrusive comments about the lives of others, people they don’t even know? (Not that making intrusive comments about your nearest and dearest is any better, but still.)

    It’s a scary thing, giving up your previous life. I’m not in the military but I had a job that took me all over the world before I went to grad school, and I planned to find another such job after graduation. Now that I’ve met my FH, though, looks like I’m staying here. I’m not used to being landlocked and it has been panic-inducing at times. For me, financial security means being able to take a job anywhere in the world, since I work in a field where jobs are limited domestically. For him, financial security means paying off his mortgage as soon as possible. Sort of opposite priorities. But we’ve talked through it and I feel a lot better now.

    Right now is a period of upheaval in your life, but it won’t always be upheaval. Your FH will find out where he’s going, you can look for work, and things will eventually settle down. You know the right path for yourself and your life better than anyone. Change is always scary, but it is also necessary to keep moving forward. Good luck! :)

    • Kamille

      I wrote this back in May, and we have since found out where and when we are going next. (Hello, Monterey, in less than a year!) It’s so true, things do eventually settle…I still mourn that old life here and there, but that is more and more infrequent as my new life becomes normal to me. Normal and better, because I have my partner.

      • Rebecca

        I get you. I’m in a similar situation, but kind of backwards—I DO know where we’ll be living for the foreseeable future (that is, after our year in Monterey! We just got here a couple weeks ago and it’s great—you’ll love it!) and I know that there are very few, if any, jobs available for my career where we’ll be moving and living in the future. I’ll probably find a job, but it won’t be the power-house position I would have been able to land if I could move anywhere in the world.

        But although I sometimes mourn what might have been (and what, with luck, I might still be able to find, albeit in a more difficult environment), it’s an easy choice when it comes down to it. My happiness and satisfaction in life is much more affected by my family and the relationships I have with people around me than by my career success. I don’t think I’m going to lie on my deathbed thinking, “If only I had published one more paper….” So I’ll take the lesser job, and gain the greater life satisfaction. Done.

      • Laura

        FWIW Monterey is amazing! I spent 2 years stationed there about ten years ago. It is very beautiful and there is a lot of stuff to do, beaches to walk, etc.

  • I feel you.

    The only reason for which I ever resigned at any job in the fifteen years of my working life, was because I was able to get a better one. Handing in my notice to fly to the other side of the world so that my husband can go to grad school.. is.. daunting.

    I feel like what is, in expat terms, called the “trailing spouse” – the one who gets to follow around their partner to pick up the crumbs that fell off the career table while the person I married gets to do All The Interesting Things.

    It’s so easy to see what I give up, and so hard to see the new chances that have yet to materialize that it already feels like I’m giving up on my future, betraying feminism and (also) giving in to laziness for even considering that it may simply not be possible for me to be as ‘career-growingly’ employed as I am here. Needless to say that I know this is a ridiculous way to feel, but my awareness doesn’t change those feelings.

    Also, I am very sorry that you’ve faced criticism for your choice. This lady, while well-intentioned, was completely out of line. I wish you much happiness and sense of fulfillment.

    • Laura

      “Trailing spouse…” Wow, what an appropriate term. I’ve often thought about that but didn’t know it had a name.

      • z

        It’s not just an expat thing, it’s a common term in academia as well. It’s hard– sometimes I think harder for guys because trailing spouses tend to be women so they have a community of sorts among themselves in some areas.

        • Laura

          I wonder often if times are changing slightly on this trailing spouse gender divide (maybe at least in academia). All of the grad student and postdoc women in my lab have male trailing spouses. And these guys have all kind of formed a club – or maybe just simply have become friends. But, in one academic generation above us (the current junior faculty), I can’t think of a single female professor in my department with the same scenario (but I can think of many male professors with female trailing spouses). So, maybe it’s a necessarily slow shift in the norm due to the sluggishness of the academic trajectory, but maybe in a couple more generations the trailing male/female spouse ratio will be much more balanced?

        • Cassandra

          Yep, I’m about to become a trailing academic spouse – finishing up *my* PhD far away from my advisor so my partner can finish his in residence at his school. It was impossibly hard to make that decision, knowing all the ‘omg what a bad feminist’ criticism that was going on behind my back in my department and knowing the very real sacrifices I was making for my own future in order to live out our shared future. I’m at peace with the choices we made as a family, but it can still be an uncomfortable place to be, socially.

    • Kamille

      That doesn’t seem like a ridiculous way to feel at all, considering I can’t count the number of times I’ve felt that way before.

    • Kelly

      My mother was a trailing spouse when I was growing up (and still sort of is), and for a long time my young and opinionated feminist self just could not understand her choices. But now that I’m getting married, I am starting to understand the sacrifice part of things. My fiance said to me the other night, “I think marriage is knowing that you just want to be with this person and create a family, more than anything else in the world. That’s all I want… but then, you’re the ambitious one, so I don’t know maybe it’s different for you.” Sometimes priorties don’t align, or they shift, and it’s not for anyone else to comment on what your priorities are.

      • As the trailing spouse (first for the military, then for grad school and then the first job out of grad school), I love what your fiance said: “I think marriage is knowing that you just want to be with this person and create a family, more than anything else in the world.” At times I have been frustrated or sad about some sacrifices, but if I had to do it all over again, I would make the same choices, because I value being with him so highly and making the best decisions for our joint happiness.

  • Ugh… I don’t know why the guilting and shaming of others has become such a part of who we are as a culture! Isn’t the USA supposed to be the land of individualism? OF COURSE you’re feeling conflicted, because you’re in transition, and transition is profoundly unsettling–you’re letting go of something with tons of structure and taking a leap of faith, and you haven’t landed yet. OF COURSE you’re freaking out!

    But when did choosing to get married and being together with your family in an age when we bounce around like pinballs become a betrayal of Womanhood?

    Good luck with this exciting and huge change… One of two things will happen once you jump: 1. You will land on your feet or 2. You will fly! Either way, this isn’t the last DECISION of your life, it’s just the best decision that you know how to make right now–best of luck!

    • I love this comment. I wrote the post in September about marriage and moving and I am now down to 13 days in my current, structured, safe, but very wrong-for-me job. Despite being thrilled about quitting, starting something new, and moving to a new place, I have also cried the last couple of nights out of sheer anxiety. Making transitions like this – especially when it involves leaving your career while your partner works – ARE terrifying. And that’s okay.

      Also: shame on the woman who tried to shame you, Kamille. I get the sense that she is not entirely happy or secure with her own choices, otherwise she wouldn’t feel the need to protest so much at yours.

      • Kamille

        Yes, I believe this was EXACTLY the case. If I ever find myself regretting later any of my decisions, I am going to have to remember not to subject others to my own unhappiness.

    • Heather

      Manya, you always manage to say beautiful and thoughtful things, but this really spoke to me:

      “One of two things will happen once you jump: 1. You will land on your feet or 2. You will fly! Either way, this isn’t the last DECISION of your life, it’s just the best decision that you know how to make right now”

      How appropriate to absolutely all aspects of life. Thank you!

      • Aw, thanks, Heather. APW really makes me think hard about stuff.

    • meg

      Good stuff here.

    • “Isn’t the USA supposed to be the land of individualism?” Ohhhh Manya…I feel this way ALLLLLL the time.

    • p.

      “Either way, this isn’t the last DECISION of your life, it’s just the best decision that you know how to make right now”

      THIS. This is exactly what I need to tell myself when I’m mired in decision-making mode.

  • PA

    I wish you luck with this transition! I’d like to echo what Manya said, that the emotional turmoil right now is really an indicator of your brain functioning properly.

    I can only say that some of the most terrifying, and–on the face of it–self-subsuming pieces of my adult life have led to me discovering myself more fully. This is an incredible amount of luck, of course, but through “wrong” jobs and a few choices that felt like stepping off a cliff, I have become powerfully aware of where there is joy, growth, and love in my life. I hope that this experience, however crazy it may seem, provides with you blessings both expected and unexpected.

    • Taylor B

      I am going to write “The emotional turmoil right now is really an indicator of your brain functioning properly” on an index card and post it somewhere I will see it regularly. Our situation is nothing like Kamille’s but we are moving through a series of transitions, and I’m about transition-ed out. Something about your phrasing of Manya’s excellent point is so reassuring to me. Thanks!

      • RJ

        Yes! “The emotional turmoil right now is really an indicator of your brain functioning properly” should go to the APW quote book.

        Meg – can I request a new product – complementing the book – an APW desk calendary kind of thing (not necessarily a calendar), just one of those things on the desk that you can change each day/week/when you need inspiration.

        Then we could have a daily dose smart and pithy advice and quotes from APW.

        With cartoons. Like one of wily ducks.

  • I think this hearkens back to our discussion last Friday of “Possibles.” Except here, instead of the loss of possible relationships, it’s the loss of a possible career/lifestyle. Of course you need time to mourn that loss, even briefly. But the sadness of leaving your known path doesn’t take away from the joy you’ll find in your new one.

    As the previous commenters said, you’re in transition, so just feel what you’re feeling- you’re still making the best decision for your life, and no one else can do that for you!

  • E

    The post speaks to me so, so much. I never had anyone go off on me about my decision to follow my spouse, but I still remember the disappointed look in my graduate school adviser’s eyes when I said I was moving back to my hometown (a.k.a. the land of no opportunity) after graduation because I was getting married, because my husband was in medical school there. In the year and a half I’ve been here I’ve been unable to find full time work and it kinda sucks knowing that I would probably have a much, much stronger career if I wasn’t constrained geographically. Even though being with my spouse every day is completely worth it, that doesn’t mean it isn’t hard.

    • Kamille

      In many ways, I think that seeing that disappointment is much worse than having someone you don’t care about rant at you. At least I’m able to write that off to rudeness. I have to say that it was very tough telling many of my coworkers that I was leaving, because I saw that disappointed look.

      • RJ

        Kind of like Julia Roberts in Mona Lisa Smile?

  • Kara

    Thank you for your service – and for your husband to be’s service-however long they last. And yes, your soon-to-be service as a military spouse DEFINITELY counts. I think my 2 military-spouse cousins have tougher jobs than their husbands.

    That said, it’s funny how passing conversations (like the woman’s probably inappropriate rant) sometimes uncover hidden feelings of our own–both good and bad. While I do think that it’s ok to feel a bit torn about such major decisions (and LOSS – I certainly would), I don’t think is ok is to carry that hurt and loss for years because it can eat you alive.

    P.S. I’m sorry it doesn’t seem like you’re eligible for the Reserves. Hopefully there’s an option to apply for reconsideration if that’s what you’d like!

    • meg

      Both my grandmothers were career military spouses. That is one SERIOUS and HARD job. The fact that someone in the military couldn’t see that is borderline shameful. So please, give yourself all the credit you deserve. That PLUS your own service? That’s a huge deal.

      • Amy March

        See, I’ll grant it being hard. But I feel like being a wife just isn’t a job. And pretending like it is gets in the way of changing things. I can’t speak from military experience, but we followed my dad around and it was mom’s “job” to organize the movers, find schools, handle the paperwork etc. Except that’s an actual job, and companies should be forced to pay for those services instead of pushing them off on trailing spouses. Apologies if this isn’t what you were getting at/ personal peeve of mine.

        • Wife isn’t a job, but ‘military spouse’ should be treated like one- you move around too much to establish your own career plus all the duties that involves- there should be some kind of monetary compensation, to be honest (I don’t know if there is or not, but there ought to be). It’s almost like “First Lady” being a job- your spouse got hired, but you’re expected to provide all this organisation and behind-the-scenes work for free.

  • First a thank you (and your husband) for your service to your country. You both deserve the utmost respect from everyone.

    It must have been hard to walk away from your military career, but it sounds like you have some really solid reasons for it. Being able to spend your lives together, actually physically together, is a pretty big deal and sometimes there are big sacrifices to get there. I hope that other career avenues open themselves up to you, if you want them, and the most happiness as possible either way.

  • Alice

    I completely had to give up my life to be able to marry my husband… I mean ground to a stop sort of give up. And it sucked and it still does because I’m still picking up the pieces 4 years later. I haven’t had a lot of direct negativity about it but I can feel it’s there. And I have a lot of guilt about it. It’s like I let everyone down. But it’s funny how life works because it’s his turn now to do the same. I think more than anything it’s just part of being in a relationship. Though I doubt my husband will have the same guilt complex about it.

  • Kira

    I hear you! I’ve been working for the last several years on building a location-independent career for myself, so that I can work flexibly and earn money from just about anywhere in the world. I love traveling and organizing my life according to my own plans, not an employer’s–but a major reason for building this career is to be able to live with my fiance, who’s currently in graduate school. We spent all last year living abroad but are back in southern Indiana now, in a town that’s very nice and has plenty of opportunities for me but is so freaking affiliated with his university that nobody I meet can grasp why I live here without being either a student or an employee of the school. I feel like I can’t talk about basic aspects of my own life (where I live, what I do) without talking about my fiance first, and I feel so subordinated and dependent. I’m thrilled to be building our family together and mostly satisfied with the direction my career is taking, but I don’t have any close friends in the area, and it’s not a place I’d ever choose to live. Sometimes it’s hard to feel like I’m creating the life I want rather than tagging along with someone else’s choices. Good luck, Kamille, and thanks for sharing.

    • Laura

      I completely know what you mean about living somewhere that you would never choose to live. (Okay, I chose to live here to go to school, but since I don’t like it that much, I would choose to leave if I could.) It can be so difficult.

  • KB

    I think the reason that people are so judge-y when it comes to this stuff is that they are bullies – they tear you down in order to build themselves up, to validate their choices, and to make themselves feel better. The alternative is just too scary, because if YOU aren’t doing something wrong by giving up a career to follow your spouse and be happy, then what does that mean for the other person who has worked his/her butt off to achieve something career-wise while delaying their personal happiness (or vice versa)? They need to believe that they made the “right” choice because otherwise it would be too depressing.

    Of course, we all know that the answer to this is that there is no “right” answer, we do the best that we can to make ourselves and, if we’re lucky, our partners happy.

  • Granola

    One thing I wish we could all do better, me especially, is be confident in our choices without needing to denigrate other options in order to get there. Maybe that grace and acceptance comes from doing the emotional work to vet your choice, as you’re doing. For that I think you deserve a massive high five.

    It seems like this woman you encountered was only able to feel secure in her decision by cutting down the other options, to convince herself that they were “bad” and she “did the right thing.” Ultimately that approach is shortsighted, and I believe, leads to bitterness, when you can’t deal with encountering people who have made choices you wouldn’t have made who also seem happy and well-adjusted.

    Best of luck in this transition. As I read once, anything worth doing is bound to be accompanied by a healthy does of ambivalence. Sounds like you’re on the right track.

    • Kamille

      “Anything worth doing is bound to be accompanied by a healthy dose of ambivalence.”

      Love. I’m going to have to save that for future reference.

      • Granola

        Thank you for correcting my typo in the reference *headdesk*

  • Granola

    Also, if you don’t mind sharing, what was it that led you to the conclusion that you would be the one to give up your career? I’m always interested in that calculus – especially because if it makes more sense that the woman sacrifices, that always seems to come with a heaping side dish of gendered guilt.

    • Kamille

      I would be happy to share! This was a very long process and a bit of a struggle for both of us in our relationship. We talked about him getting out of the Army and moving to Germany with me, and I found that he was actually more than willing to do that! But it wasn’t the best decision for us. One reason is that he is about 7 years closer to retirement than I am – and if you aren’t aware, military retirement is an amazing benefit that I compare most closely to winning the lottery. The other reason is that his career is currently in a really awesome upward spiral, and it would be a shame to put a stop to that at this point in time.

      Also, babies. I want them. (I know that babies and a career are not mutually exclusive, but I think the distance between you and the other party involved in making said baby has to be slightly less than 6,000 miles.)

      • Granola

        Yep, baby-making seems much more fun when done in close proximity. Thanks for sharing!

  • Thank you for defining PCS! I’ve been meaning to look it up ever since we PCSed here to Pensacola and I didn’t know what it stood for. I’m clearly a civilian, so I didn’t give up a military career, which I know is so entangled with a person’s identity, but I did give up my job and life in DC to embark on this career as a military spouse. I did it willingly and still, there are days when I resent feeling stuck here (four hundred miles from the nearest Chipotle – they call this civilization?) and not being able to get a “real” job since we’re only here for a few months. And wondering whether I’ll be able to get a job the next place we go and when we might ever find out where that will be. But of course there are trade offs to anything. I wouldn’t have wanted to spend these months apart. And I like knowing that there’s always the next adventure coming up. I just have to find a way to add military spouse into my identity that doesn’t feel like it’s to the exclusion of everything else.

    Best of luck to you, Kamille! Maybe we’ll run into each other somewhere along the way.

    • I’ve yet to find a Starbucks within a reasonable distance of where we PCSed to! So wrong!*

      • No Starbucks?!? There’s not a standalone Starbucks near us, but there’s one inside the Target that is fortunately only twenty minutes away. I have yet to come to terms with the notion, however likely, that we might end up somewhere without a Target.

        • Brytani

          I live somewhere without a Target. It’s hard but then you just suck it up and sign up for a Target card so you can have free shipping.

          The real test for me is PCSing to Vegas where there are no effing trees. I’ll have to drive into the mountains every time I want a breath of fresh air.

    • Annon

      Your Chipotle comment made me laugh!

  • I just moved from Texas to Germany for my husband’s military career. My job back home wasn’t the greatest, but I was well-respected, which is worth a lot. I love this post! If nothing else, it reminds me that I’m not alone. I’m still working through my issues (moving to a new country, a small town, making friends, being a housewife). It’s a lot to adjust to, so I’m giving myself lots of space and time to get used to it.*

  • Wow Kamille, thanks for such an amazing post. Like a lot of other commenters here, I’m not in the military, or in a relationship with someone who is, but I still strongly identify with your struggles. From my personal experience, being in a relationship can often mean making some hard choices. In the past 11 years with my partner, we’ve both made a lot of sacrifices. And the thing we’ve learned is that when you make a big sacrifice to be with someone, one of the greatest dangers your relationship faces is resentment. And the best way to prevent (or cure) the resentment that can creep in is to always work to maintain emotional intimacy with your partner. Because as long as you are a team, you are never alone. And it really looks like you guys have that figured out.

  • I think this in the intro says it all: “there is an idea that being strong feminist women means never sacrificing for our families.” When I was growing up my mom always stressed to NEVER under any circumstances give anything up for a man, whether that is moving to a different place, changing jobs, etc. It was also expected that I be a career woman, scientist, and feminist (as described above). Now I’m a scientist in pharmaceuticals and I hate it. I’m going to get my teaching credentials in a year or two. I never wanted to be a career woman, and I never wanted to follow this meticulously laid out path that had been set for me. Last week I had a day off work and I took care of the apartment and ran errands and it was AWESOME.

    I like what I’ve read here before, that being feminist is fighting for the CHOICE to do whatever we want, not subscribing to the idea that in order to be a true feminist you must reject the role of mother and wife.

  • Laurel

    You should do what is best for you, which in this case includes doing what’s best for your family. At the same time, I think there’s a lot to talk about here. Our choices are our own best responses to our lives, but our set of options is shaped by social conditions. Why is it so much more common for women to stay home with their kids than for men? Why is it more common for women to back-burner their careers than men? I’m in academia, which has really intense location constraints. Male faculty are much more likely to have spouses with flexible careers, or spouses who are willing to give up their careers permanently or temporarily for the sake of family unity. Women faculty more often have spouses who also have inflexible/high-powered careers and are unwilling to move unless they get a really good offer in the same location. I think it’s important to recognize that women are socialized to expect that we might have to sacrifice our careers, and more generally that it’s our responsibility to support other people rather than demanding support for ourselves. Women systematically earn less than men, so it’s more common for women (in hetero relationships) to feel like their careers are easier to give up.

    This isn’t about any individual person’s decision: it’s about social expectations, gender socialization, and inequality. At the same time, I find it really valuable to think about where those expectations come from specifically so I can try to make them less powerful in my own life.

    • Granola

      My struggle with this is that because I’m aware of these social constraints, when I think it through and realize that actually it does make more sense for me to do X than for my fiance to do it, I *still* feel like I shouldn’t do it because women are always getting the short end of the stick. I haven’t figured out how to make the best decision for us without letting the wider implications make me want him to suffer in retribution for decades of patriarchy. But that’s also not fair and quite counterproductive.

      • Laurel

        This is where stuff like the pay gap is super insidious. It’s so common for a (professional-class) couple to decide to have kids, and then decide that the woman’s salary won’t cover much more than the childcare costs and it just makes sense for her to be the one to stay home. It does make sense! She makes less money! But….. why does she make less money? Also, why isn’t it worth keeping her in the work force so that she has future earning power and security? I think the upshot is sometimes you have to do things that don’t look like they make sense right now because it’s better for equality in your relationship and the long-term well-being of the partnership.

        Also, I’ve found this piece really helpful: Tedra Osell on dealing with money in a marriage from back in the days of Bitch, Ph.D. It also quotes the best part of a problematic Linda Hirshman article, which will spare you the trouble of reading it yourself.

        • I actually make about twice as much as my partner but we decided that I will quit my job to go back to school. Financially it’s not the best decision but I’m totally miserable at work. Funny story though, apparently within a week after my boyfriend’s uncle/boss learned that my boyfriend intended to marry me, he got a raise.

          Also kind of off topic but kind of not, something that pissed me off about that movie How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days. She spends the whole movie in a dead end job that doesn’t allow her to do what she loves, and then she gets an opportunity to do what she wants and Matthew McConaughey stops her from taking it because she was running away from him. Does anyone else get that?

        • Granola

          Hopped over and read the Bitch, Ph.D. post and while I disagreed with a lot of it, the marginal income calculation after paying the nanny was quite interesting.

          Thanks for posting it!

        • z

          Insidious is exactly what it is. Success leads to success, so when one partner’s career comes first for a year or two that gives them a running start, and it can be hard for the other person to then claim their turn to prioritize their career. What “makes sense,” what’s “best for the family,” what opportunities are available, and what we as women want is unavoidably colored by the decisions already made. Each little compromise can gradually erode a person’s earning capacity and level of engagement with her career, and then when someone has to accept a disadvantageous location, go part-time, or make some other major career sacrifice, surprise surprise!– it’s the person who has already made a bunch of compromises, because as a result of those compromises, she can’t earn enough or doesn’t have an exciting enough career to justify asking her husband and family to accommodate it in any important ways.

          I’m not trying to convince anyone that their sweet young husband is secretly plotting to screw them over, but rather that we’re all rowing against a tide of culture and convention in the workplace as well as in our personal lives, and that the playing field can tilt so slowly and subtly against our careers that by the time we realize what’s happened, it’s too late. Each decision can make sense at the time it’s made, but a string of them can take you someplace you don’t want to go.

        • KH_Tas

          ‘Also, why isn’t it worth keeping her in the work force so that she has future earning power and security?’


          It does drive me mad that circumstances have to be ‘perfect’ for it to be ‘acceptable’ for a woman to make a non-traditional choice, and how little valued it is that a woman might *want* to stay in her job. Also, why is ‘the family goes without a few luxuries until the kid hits school and childcare costs go down’ never an option? That way, both parents sacrifice a bit, instead of one partner (usually the woman) doing it all.

    • Lily

      I totally agree with this. Another thing to consider is when the opposite occurs – if anyone wrote about their male fiance/husband giving up their job/grad school/whatever in order to let the woman have the career because “it made more sense” people would be like “wow, what an egalitarian/feminist/lucky partnership you have!”

      I think part of the reason it constantly “makes sense” for women to be the ones to sacrifice their careers for the good of the family is that underneath it all, no matter how feminist we consider ourselves, we’ve been socialized to value family higher than we value career. And men, although I do see it changing, the opposite.

      My story: I feel I can not have my career as a consultant – which comes with basically constant weekly travel – and also have the family life I want, so I’m leaving my career. It’s been years of work, graduate school, time, energy, and I’m close to making partner in my firm, yet I’m leaving so I can be the partner and step-parent I want to be. My other half supports my career and me making partner, but I, despite being a self-professed “hard core feminist”, am planning to abandon my career when I’m so close to reaching my goal, so I can create a family with my partner and his children. My male peers, however, all have stay-at-home wives and plenty of kids that they see only on the weekends, and they are fine with it.

      These choices aren’t just individual choices, they are choices made in a patriarchal, sexist system, and our choices, while being the best for us personally, may just be extending that system that makes it generally “make sense” for the woman to give it all up. I’m not saying we shouldn’t make the choices, just we should think critically about the nature of “choice” and maybe, if we have the energy and the time and the inclination, start working on eliminating the need for women to choose between career and family. Because then men wouldn’t have to choose either, and at the end of the day, the end of our lives, family (used loosely here to mean close social relationships) matter a lot more to our happiness than our careers do.

      • Rebecca

        “…if we have the energy and the time and the inclination, start working on eliminating the need for women to choose between career and family. Because then men wouldn’t have to choose either.”

        THIS. Feminism- it’s good for everyone!

    • Rowany

      I think there’s this gap in the conversation between point A: the social constraints for women in the workplace and B: deciding how to manage two careers in a couple. I think what’s really tough for the women on APW is that they are extremely aware of point A, but when navigating to point B, they still feel like they’re faced with the same options: he gives up his career(often, but not always higher paying and with greater upward potential) or she gives up hers (often lower paying or less rewarding/baby-making-accommodating). I also feel like APW [understandably] has a lot of stories of men and women giving up their high-powered jobs and finding happiness and success in the wedding business. I wonder why there aren’t more stories of point C (or B1/2?), wherein instead of either person leaving their job they re-examine if their options are as binary as they thought. Could you ask your boss for a raise, better hours, a better title (since one of the biggest reasons women aren’t in as high positions is because they don’t ask)? Could your spouse negotiate better paternity leave, a different position etc? In the end, like the author, the decision might still be that one leaves the job (and I totally understand that the military is a whole different kind of bureaucratic beast; I just read about the JOIN SPOUSE program and wow. It’s like the stars have to align for a couple to be eligible). I just wish there were more discussion about these other options.

      • z

        Great point– it doesn’t have to be so binary. Perhaps a couple could agree on specific things to ensure the continued professional development of the person making the sacrifice (like, I dunno, setting aside money to take a class or time to explore career options), so that nobody ends up feeling like they’re falling too far behind or an unhealthy imbalance of support is developing.

      • Other Katelyn

        YES. I have to believe there’s almost always a third or fourth way to make things work and meet everyone’s needs.

  • Tamara

    Oh my. This hit home BIG Time today! I’m in a pre-engaged, long distance relationship and hopefully in fingers crossed in 2014 I’ll be making my way to him but it is taking a lot of soul searching to recognize that I’m giving my career up for a man I love and I’m OKAY with that but it still feels uneasy. Please, more posts on such topics to help my heart progress.

  • I know people in the exact same situation, only the husband is leaving the military. It’s not an easy decision or process. I thank you & your husband for your service & wish you the best!

  • there is an idea that being strong feminist women means never sacrificing for our families. And I would argue that is not true. It’s about knowing when and how to sacrifice, and about making sure our sacrifices and burdens are shared, over many long years.”

    Oh my goodness, this is so true, and I’ve never heard it put so eloquently and succinctly before! Do you know how many years it took me in my marriage to get there and stop fighting myself and my idea that being a feminist means never giving up on your goals/dreams? That works when it’s just you, but you know what that makes you when you’re blending two lives together? Selfish. My husband sacrifices to give us a good life. He’s grown, changed, sometimes painfully to be my partner in our relationship instead of looking out for number one. I love him for it, and I would be the biggest hypocrite if I expected him to do all the sacrificing and compromise while I did whatever I wanted. But that’s where the feminist idea of no sacrifice gets us. So for years my feminist self was at war with the part of me that knew compromise was part of the package I got with being married. It called my compromise weakness and failure; I was a traitor to feminism and should have my copy of The Feminine Mystyke striped from my bookshelf. When in reality learning to put the needs of the marriage above the needs of myself was the best thing I ever did. It grew me up. So Im a feminist, and I’m also a wife – a whole part of a pair. Like breasts we’re fine on our own, but better together. Great intro, article, and commentary.

  • AC

    I haven’t even read this post yet, just Meg’s intro. (Guilty!) But I had to say immediately that this is such an important topic. Bravo for addressing it!

    This is a topic I find myself stressing about as not just newly engaged, but ever since I realized life was about more than just a career. It’s a sliding scale. Only you yourself can achieve the right balance for your own career and relationships. Finding it and being comfortable is the tricky part.

  • Jordan

    Thank you so much for posting this! I became an active duty Navy wife at nineteen years old. I have lived across the continent from my family, friends, and “life” for the past year while my husband serves this country. There are moments when I still break down about leaving my college, and what feels like my future at times for a man who has been away for longer than we have been married. For me it was a huge shift in priorities to go from full-time college student and EMT to “military spouse” and all the stigma that can imply within our own military community. My husband has a successful career and it is easy to feel like second fiddle especially when we are making sacrifices every other day for them. When I am feeling insecure I am reminded that we really are the definition of feminism. I can take care of my family, no matter what time zone my husband is in whether it be doing laundry or changing that flat tire on the side of the road in Guam. Stay strong, and thank you for your service.

  • Nicole

    This post speaks to me as well. I’m getting married right out of college this coming summer and one of my professors asked my class who of us is planning on grad school. I’ve thought about it before, but in this time of transition I literally I have NO CLUE what I want to do or will be able to do career wise. A huge part of me wants to get my MFA and my PhD but another part of me thinks that maybe I just want that because it’s becoming less and less of an option with my Fiance’s schooling (he’s trying to get into Nursing school but is having a hard time because it’s so selective–he keeps having to wait and reapply which puts us as a career standstill). I’ve been struggling with all the things I won’t be able to do and all the things I may miss out on if I don’t do them now, like further education and traveling. I feel like my life is a ticking time bomb and I have do everything by a certain time. I feel upset that it seems like we have to pick my Fiance’s schooling and career over mine (it sounds stupid, but I always thought we could do both). I still feel like this and can’t see it going away any time soon. But I did find a quote that made me feel a little better: “Never give up on a dream just because of the time it will take to accomplish it. The time will pass anyway.” – Earl Nightingale. The best thing about forums like this is the realization that I’m not alone.


    I am in a similar situation, and have been agonizing over this decision for years now. It makes me feel so much better to read all of your comments and know that others are faced with similar life choices! I am in academia and I recently finished my PhD in Biology. However, it has become increasingly clear to me that pursuing this career that I have worked so hard for often entails giving up everything else, which I did not realize I was signing up for! I have a true passion for biology, but it is not everything. I have a boyfriend of 3.5 years and we plan to marry eventually. He has a young son, and a good, stable career that he enjoys and so is pretty much geographically immobile. In academia and other PhD-level positions, job searches are nationwide, if not worldwide, so this inflexibility really limit my job prospects. At the same time, I can’t ask him to leave his established career and child to pursue my fledgling career. I remember in college, planning out my life but I only had to worry about myself. I realize now that if I go off and do everything I want and think only of myself, I will be unhappy and lonely and ultimately feel unfulfilled. My partner and our relationship is very important to me and I do not want to sacrifice it. That said, I go between being ok with this decision, and ready to be open to the opportunities that will come my way, and sheer panic at the thought that I would let something I have worked so hard for slip away. I also echo the feminist concerns of “why does it always have to be the woman to sacrifice her career?” I realize there will never be an easy solution, and neither choice will be without great sacrifice. Thank you all for your eloquent writings on this topic which bring me great reassurance and strength!

    • Kamille

      It’s crazy how not being able to move can limit your job prospects so much. Several months later, I’m still struggling with this. We’re getting ready to move this summer, but that just means any jobs will be limited to a new geographic location.

      I kind of miss planning for only myself, but only kind of. I find that I like our “together” plans so much better, even if there is a lot of sacrifice behind them.

  • jp1976

    Interesting discussion. I found it via google.

    It seems that almost all the posters are female, so I thought I’d write my perspective as a loving husband.

    I have a PhD , and had a career. I gave it up for my wife. Actually we moved back to her home country of Germany. We have a son , who is 2 years old.

    Now I barely speak the language, have no family and friends, have lost my career, and to top it all off my wife just told me that she wishes she never met me. She told me that we would be happy if we moved back to Germany. However, her attitude towards me changed when we hit the border. She was very cold, and still is to this day. I don’t know what to do. I pay 90% of the bills, and take care of my boy on weekends and at nights. I read a story to him every night.

    I can’t give anything more to this relationship.

    My wife never had a career, and has had the same job since I met her. However, she always tells me that she gave up her career to move to the USA. Back then we didn’t have a child, and we don’t live there anymore. We only lived there for 2 years.

    I tell myself that I will hold on as long as a I can. I want to make things better, but feel resigned to just live as friends for now, as the romance is gone.

    As for careers for men versus women….
    It is tough. I think women get stuck with the baby for the first year or so , just because they are better at it.
    sorry, I think it is just biology. When somebody is out of work for a year it is hard to keep a career going.

    Also my impression is that women put more pressure on men to have a good job, and men don’t put that pressure on women. So the careers tend to go towards men. It is ironic that women want men with careers, but then later on want their own career.