Note: As explained in this post, in honor of me and my wife’s first year of marriage, I’m going to spend the second year posting monthly reflections of the same month a year earlier. This is the fourth installment.
As we settled into the routines of the academic year in October, in many ways, our relationship settled back into its familiar, comfortable pace. We had only been married for three months, yes, but our relationship already stretched back over half-a-decade, and that had given us plenty of time to become familiar with each other’s moods, to grow accustomed to the small things that couples often take so much time to adjust to, to incorporate into their own daily rhythms.
I sometimes hear or read couples talking of the moment when the newness wore off and the marriage itself faded somewhat into the background, beneath the rattle and hum of every day life — work, bills, family, and so on. I could say, perhaps, that October felt like the start of that period. There were times during the month when daily life — grading papers, teaching classes, walking the dog, paying the bills, getting groceries — took so much of my attention, the wedding itself seemed to be a distant and dimly-remembered thing (the arrival of the wedding photos, finally, helped dispel that impression). But looking back, I can see much more clearly how our marriage was changing the way I thought about a wide variety of decisions, all for the better.
At the time, it seemed that all of my attention was focused on one thing — the academic job market. That October marked the start of another year of anger and frustration (just thinking about it now is upsetting, so I tabbed over to Pan Kisses Kafka for a pick-me-up, and it worked!) over my career choices, career opportunities, and a renewed bout of fears for the future.
One afternoon, early in the month, stands out in my memory. The academic job lists had just started to publish the first rounds of openings, and there were far fewer jobs in my field than in previous years; none of them were very promising. The only position advertised that looked like it might be a fit for me was located in a remote area of a midwestern state, hundreds of miles from even a mid-sized city, and certainly was not likely to be inclined to offer a job to spouses. From experience, I knew that the job openings advertised would all likely be very similar from there on out.
So that afternoon, as your friends and associates filled our house for a rehearsal, I took the dog in the wagon and headed out to hike a nearby nature area. It was warm enough, but overcast, with the promise of rain building to the west, and in central Oregon, the first rains of early October signal the start of the long, gloomy winter ahead. Over the past months, many of our last closest friends had shuttled away, off to other jobs or at least to different cities, and there was every indication that we would be among the last to make the exodus. I didn’t have the energy in me for another year on the academic market, certainly not for the promise of mediocre positions in unpleasant places (note to possible new readers — I’m from the midwest myself, and have a lot of love for the midwest. Yes, there are many wonderful places there, and I would move to many of those in a heartbeat. This was not one of them).
What’s more, as I followed the dog up the steep hillside, waiting for the rain to start falling on my back every minute, I was thinking about “us,” about our future together, and contemplating what that would look like if I were to land a job like that. Without other employment prospects, it would be foolish to say no; but with your positions in the area already, it would also be hard for you to justify uprooting to follow me there, and hopefully find a position yourself. We would likely be living thousands of miles apart for a year or more, visiting perhaps once every couple of months, talking on the phone those nights we were not too tired or timezones disrupted our schedule.
We would also be leaving the place where “we” came together, the ground and the air that gave birth to our marriage, the last of the wonderful friends whose love and companionship are such an important part of the foundation of our relationship, and so to leave the area — let alone to have to spend so much time apart from one another — seemed to be to invite catastrophe. I tried, sitting on a bench and looking toward the east, where I would be going if I landed the position, to imagine what life would be like. An old apartment in a small town, long days spent on a new campus among eager students and possibly indifferent colleagues, returning home to cooke a meal for one and maybe squeeze in a few minutes on the phone over a cup of tea and a stack of papers…. it seemed to invalidate the very reasons we married each other in the first place.
I say this not to criticize those who have made such a choice, for whom a partnership based on mutual respect for professional goals that may lead to extended time apart is a healthy and rational choice. But I say this because on that October afternoon, looking off over the brown hills, as the dog circled around my bench, whining anxiously, I felt incredibly and terribly alone, as if the ten miles currently between us were ten thousand. I contemplated not being able to return home to see you on any given evening, or to be home when you returned, and of eating that solo meal in a city that could never be home, because you were not there, because it was not home to “us.” And I knew, in that moment, that although I would apply for the job — because the next step of our lives was uncertain, and because every opportunity needed to be at least considered — I could not and would not take any position that would put us in such a situation.
I knew that even if we did leave for a new and strange place, putting even more miles between us and many of our friends (while perhaps moving closer to others), that our friendships would be able to withstand this test. And I knew that either of us would eventually adapt to life in a new place, to career limitations, as long as the evenings found us sharing dinner, sharing the up-down / zig-zag rhythms of everyday life together, building a single home together, that we would be fine.
That October afternoon, as I wound my way back down the hillside and put the dog in the wagon, the first fat raindrops of winter fell on the windshield, and I hurried home, feeling a renewed sense of optimism. The year brought many ups-and-downs in the job market, with — altogether too predictably — a surprise twist near the end, that brought us to an unexpected place. Instead of shifting east, as I had imagined we would, we shifted north. And although there is no real guarantee that the next year or two won’t find us having to make some of these decisions again (as life so often requires of us all), it makes me infinitely happy to know that we are making these decisions together, to keep building our foundation, to make each other stronger. And that’s why I married you (well, one reason among many!) — because I’m so much stronger with you than I ever would be without you.
Love you, HP — Happy 1.36 Anniversary!