Sunday, February 21, 2010

Marriage, Career, and Self-hood

A neighbor is now facing a quandary that nearly destroyed my marriage about 30 years ago. I’m not proud of the choices I made at the time, and I my experience has not enabled me to give advice that might make things easier for my neighbor.

My neighbor has a Ph.D. in English, but has never gotten past the adjunct level in her teaching. Adjunct pay is not a living wage. She’s held as many as 3 adjunct positions at 3 different schools at the same time. She’s living with her true love, the only man she’s ever loved in her entire life. He is unemployed, but he does own his home, and he is active in his church and community groups.

My neighbor decided to ask her true love what he’d think of moving to another state if she could get a job as a tenure track assistant professor. He said NO.

This may look like he doesn’t love her. I don’t think so. I think there are many things that frighten him. And losing her isn’t even on his list of fears. He thinks she is a keeper. I think he expects her to stay just because he said NO. For him this choice is no more difficult than "What's for dinner?" If she offers salad, and he prefers cooked veggies, all he has to do is say NO to the salad.

I wanted to go to medical school, in order to change the medical profession. Yes, I used to be an idealist. Or at least more of one than I am now. I had a job. I had children. An intense marriage like mine requires a lot of time. But I made the time to take the classes to finish my BA and take the MCATs to qualify for medical school.

The local medical school was run by male chauvinist pigs who were hostile to women with children. They were sued for writing “Stay home and have babies” to a woman candidate whose husband they accepted. The husband had lower grades and lower MCATs. They were currently in a fight with a woman who wanted extra years to finish her degree so she could be there for her daughter. Truth be told, I would have wanted the extra years, too. But we never got to the point of having that discussion.

My husband’s assistant professor job was not going well, and I could see that he was going to be denied tenure. I was invited to interviews at out-of-state medical schools. I asked my husband if we could move if I got accepted at a medical school un another state. He said NO. I asked if he’d wait for me if I went to school and came home when I could. He said NO.

We had and have a good marriage. We were raising children together. I had just taken a grueling academic course and done well. I had to choose – our marriage and family or a chance at changing the world. My husband did not have to make that choice. His career, even a career in limbo, came before our marriage. In one sentence, one word, he made clear that he would not take risks with his career for mine. He knew that I was stuck on him. And he came from a world where men’s careers come first.

Still, I thought about leaving. What did it mean to throw away a marriage for a career? My father did that. I did not respect him for that choice. He actually said, “Anyone can have a marriage and family. Only I can have my career.” But if I didn’t go to those out-of-state interviews, was I was saying that my dreams don’t matter? Was I making the traditional woman’s choice out of weakness?

My neighbor has no children. She has not married her true love. He has no career. Do her dreams matter? On what criteria can she make her choice? Is she willing to change career directions in order to stay with her man? Is her man worth it? What are her priorities?

I’ve tried many careers. I’ve analyzed sewage at the sewage lab. I’ve taught high school and science camp. I’ve fixed computers. If it’s legal, I’ve probably done it for pay at some point. I’m looking at another career change right now.

I did not give up on trying to change the world and change the medical profession. I became an alternative healer. And I chose never to accept money for this kind of service. I have not changed the medical profession. I have not changed the world. But I have improved the health of my friends and family.

What I value most is having a nice family and a pleasant home. Those things depend on being with my family – not on my career. It took a great deal of emotional and mental struggle to figure this out. I think I traumatized my children.

My children waited until they had their careers before having children of their own. My younger daughter married a man who will travel the world with her career, or stay home and take care of their children while he waits for her return.

I have no advice for my neighbor.

1 comment:

  1. I think this is a male thing. Men, since caveman days, have been the breadwinners, and the ones to provide for their families, and it threatens their manhood when a woman can do this better than they can. I think most men, generally, aren't reacting like this because they think they are smarter or more capable than women (although there are the male chauvanist pigs out there who truly do believe women are inferior to men as human beings) but I think that they want to protect and provide for the women in their lives and that is why they get very offended and say NO when the women in their lives want them to make a change that will involve the man not being the main breadwinner. It takes a very highly evolved male with a secure ego to be comfortable with his wife making more money or making changes that further her career over his, especially if he isn't employed. That's my take on it, anyway. Men are strange. That pretty much sums it up. Ha!