When I first met Austin he was a graphic designer. He was working the night shift at a big company creating ads for a coupon book. It was not glamorous but it paid the bills and he was satisfied. A year later we both changed jobs and ended up working for the same non profit. I was in the executive suite and he was their sole graphic designer. It was a pretty good gig; full creative control and paid classes to improve web design.
Soon after our job change we got engaged. I was happy, he was happy. We looked at houses and made a half-hearted attempt at planning for the future. Mostly I just wanted to stop hiding the fact that we were basically living together and bunk up already. My head was not in the next 30 years but in the coming May.
Then things changed.
Early that spring something started to grow in Austin’s brain, kind of like a tumor. A little tumor that said, “I can’t do graphic design for the next 30 years.” It was weird. Finally he confessed it one rainy afternoon in April, a month before our nuptials. Basically he said, “Would you mind if I was a doctor?”
My first guttural reaction was an overwhelming YES PLEASE. My mind flashed to a big house, a big yard, and being able to stay at home with our kids. Financial security? I’ll take it.
Ten minutes later, after a conversation about the logistics of actually becoming a doctor, I wasn’t so sure. 20 minutes later I was trying my hardest to find a different route. What about a physician’s assistant? A nurse practitioner? What if you just worked at the hospital, like a receptionist? What if you just stayed a graphic designer and volunteered in a clinic on the side?
I was desperate because I realized if he went to medical school, our life as we knew it was over. It would mean quitting our jobs, moving to Virginia, finishing prerequisites, studying for the MCAT, paying for the MCAT, applications, application fees, moving, moving again, interviews, more interviews, waiting, rejection, not buying a house, not having money, not having freedom, moving again, moving away from our friends, going further into debt, and renting for the next decade. It would mean our cozy little life in the city was coming to an end.
And so it did. Three years later and here I sit with a 1 year old in the middle of a sleepy town while my husband studies all day, every day about intestines and flesh eating bacteria.
It’s not so bad, mostly it’s just different. Instead of 9-5, it’s as soon as he can wake up until he’s too tired to study anymore. Instead of TGIF! it’s “How much can I expect to see you this weekend?” Instead of, “Honey, I wonder if you’re dilated!” it’s “Can you please lie down? I need to practice feeling the inside of a vagina.”
Just last night I was complaining about a weirdo ingrown hair on my leg and it wasn’t a minute later before I was half passed out while he operated on me with a dull knife. LEAVE ME ALONE.
It’s a long road, one that many of us are on being married to a student. With the decrease in jobs and an increase in 20 somethings with nothing to do, graduate students are becoming as common as mason jars at weddings. They’re everywhere.
Being married to a student means sacrifice. It means waiting. It means patience when they’re still not home at 10 and understanding when they need to leave a party early to study. It means not freaking out when the bank account reaches absolute zero or when they forget to plan something for your anniversary because it’s test week. For us, it means 3 more years of school and then 3-6 more years of residency. It means living on loans and government help and not buying that dress at Target. It means a lot of time alone.
It also means sucking it up and realizing a lot of people are married to other people with hard jobs. Farmers work long hours, business owners work long hours, investment dealers work long hours (probably?), lots of people work long hours, odd hours, and hard hours. You know the mantra, we all have our crosses to bear. I don’t need to tell you.
Truthfully, most of the time I keep my mouth shut about Austin being in med school. Otherwise I run the risk of hearing, “Doctor? You guys will be rolling in it someday.” Which always prompts an unnecessary conversation where I overexplain our current debt situation and how we probably won’t have any sort of money until we’re in our mid forties. More importantly, anyone in medical school (or any grad school) knows that if you’re doing it for the money, you’ll never make it. The energy spent to dollars made ratio just isn’t worth it.
What about you? Did you marry a student? Are a student? Does your lover work long hours or weird hours or come home in the middle of the night smelling like another person’s blood? (This hasn’t actually ever happened). How do you make it work?