Ask the grumpies: Advice for trailing spouses?

Jess asks:

Advice for trailing spouses? I am not an academic, but my boyfriend is about to start a PhD program. Assuming we stay together, which I would like to, reading your blog makes feel like I’m signing up for a lifetime of moving to wherever there is a job for him (in potentially not great places). He promises that he will not take a job in a place I’m not happy with, but it’s still easy to get stressed about my lack of control and options. I am confident that I can get a job in most places, but I am pretty career-focused and it is weird to think that each job I’m in has an externally defined end date for the foreseeable future (current job prior to PhD program, 5-6 years for PhD, then a few years for post-doc before hopefully getting a professor position). Would love any advice from Grumpy Nation :)

So first off, don’t let your career become completely secondary.  A lot can happen in 5-6 years.  Don’t lean back.  Just because someone starts a PhD program doesn’t mean they’ll finish.  Just because someone gets a PhD doesn’t mean they’ll go into academia.  Just because someone starts an academic position doesn’t mean they will stay in academia!  (See:  #2, #1’s DH, lots of people, particularly in fields where post-docs are common.)  You may end up being the leading spouse and he may end up being the trailing spouse!  In either case, having savings and being very good at your job will give you more flexibility in finding new jobs or being able to keep your job as a telecommuter.

While it seems like it for people on the academic track while they’re in graduate school or reaching for tenure, there is more to life than just getting tenure at an academic institution.  Academia is just a job.  It can be a very nice job, but it is still a job.  There will be trade-offs (unless he gets a tenured offer at Stanford or Columbia, depending on your joint geographical preferences).  Working for low pay and a high teaching load in a tiny town at a university without a lot of resources may not be worth it, especially if there aren’t good job options for you.  In places that are better, there are more likely to be options for you because they are more likely to be in cities or more likely to have industry surrounding the university.  (Not entirely– my DH currently doesn’t have options locally unless he wants to change careers or work as an adjunct/research assistant, but he’s also telecommuted since leaving his university position because he is very good at what he does.  Though he is currently unemployed, so we will see what happens.) As one gets older one starts to value quality of life options more.  Industry salaries tend to be higher too.

You will have to make decisions about whether you are willing to live apart from each other for short periods of time.  If he has a one-year position, will you move for that or stay where you are and rack up a lot of frequent-flyer miles?  Sometimes time apart allows couples to focus on work and end up being so good that they can more easily find a place together.

And remember that people outside of academia don’t stay at the same job forever.  Follow your career aspirations and look at potential forced job changes as opportunities.

Basically:  My best advice is that you cannot predict the future.  Take these changes as they come and figure out your choice sets at the time.  Then decide on the trade-offs for those choice sets, remembering that nothing needs to be a permanent decision. You don’t need to make decisions years before you know what your options are going to be.  Academia can create a lot of unnecessary anxiety because it seems so clear what the “right” choices are, but that’s really an illusion that seems ridiculous to people outside of the ivory tower.  Also, the more money you save up, the more options you will have at these choice points and the less stressful some of those choices will be.

Grumpy Nation, what advice do you have for trailing spouses?

I was going to write a different post today

The post I had in drafts was going to be a long story of our 26 years together and our 20 years of married life.

Like all our plans this summer, that’s changed.

The most salient thing this year is how much I love spending time with you.

If I ever wondered what it would be like being locked in a house with you 24/7, now I know.

It’s wonderful (not the being locked in a house part, but the constantly being with you part).  I love being with you.  I could never get tired of you.  Never get irritated with you.  You are amazing.

That’s not to say that I don’t wish we could go out and have culinary adventures.  That’s fun too.  But the part where I get to spend more time with you, that never gets old.

24/7 is not enough.  20 years is not enough.  26 years is not enough.  I want to spend the rest of two long lives together.

I love you so much.

Ask the grumpies: How does a Gay woman in her mid forties date?

Anoninmass asks:

How does a Gay woman in her mid forties date….when only a small part of her wants to date in the first place?

Great question.  We’re both introverted, and near our mid-forties.  But neither one of us is gay and neither one of us has dated for a long, looonnnnnng time.  None of our lesbian friends have dated in a loooong time either (and yay marriage for those who want it!).  Hetero people we know seem to mostly be using dating apps and going on lots of dates of various levels of fun vs. terrible (or have decided that they don’t want to date at all).

You might find some wisdom over at Captain Awkward.

Here’s a blog post that we did not write.  Everything else google is giving me is either about people realizing they’re gay in their 40s or webpages for dating apps.

Do any grumpy readers have better advice for Anoninmass?

What are your love languages?

I’ve been listening to the By the Book Podcast recently, and one of their books was the 5 love languages.  So DH and I took the 5 love languages quiz online (you have to put in an email, but you can totally put in a fake email– they will still give you your results at the end in addition to emailing them to you).

Here’s our results:

Me:

10 Acts of Service
7 Physical Touch
7 Quality Time
6 Words of Affirmation
0 Receiving Gifts

DH:

9 Physical Touch
8 Quality Time
8 Words of Affirmation
5 Acts of Service
0 Receiving Gifts

I think this works out very nicely for me because it means DH can show he cares by doing stuff for me.  I just have to provide the physical touch and quality time that I also value!  Total win for me!  And, of course, words of affirmation which are super easy when he’s doing stuff that I appreciate.  It’s a great exchange.  :)

What are your love languages?

Better than a Romance Hero

We did have a meet cute, though it wasn’t love at first sight, more a longer friends fall in love sequence.  Sometimes I play the montage in my mind.

But there are so many ways in which you are so much better than any romance hero.

You’re not a Brooding Duke with a Tragic Backstory with Breaks that only the Heroine can Heal.  You don’t need to be fixed because you’re not broken!

You don’t provide punishing kisses.  You’re all about Enthusiastic Consent, and you are very good at getting it!

You’re not a Reformed Rake.  But you are also not a misogynist!

I’m glad you’re not the villain in an earlier novel who has been put on the path to redemption by the Failed Abduction of that book’s heroine.   It’s also good that I’ve never felt the need to injure you to protect my honor.

I’m glad our story isn’t the kind that would have ended on the third page if we’d just talked to each other.  I’m glad our story is built on shared goals.  But also glad that it has been almost entirely free of human corpses.  Or espionage.

We’re more the couple from a previous novel who makes cameos in the current novel with kids in tow.  Who speak to each other with shared glances.  And sometimes disappear for a bit, returning a bit disheveled.  Perhaps we’re there to lend support to the stories of others.  Because we seem like we have things figured out.

And if we do have things figured out, it’s because of you.  You will always be my hero.  My strong, handsome (tall and dark, now with distinguished grey at the temples), respectful, responsible hero.  Who cooks and cleans and cares for the children and sees to my needs and puts up (even seems to appreciate) my quirks.  You couldn’t have been written better if you were in a Talia Hibbert book (especially since you’re free of tattoos and motorcycles and tragic backstory).

If any heroes are attractive to me, it is only because they remind me of you.

There’s not a single person real or fictional that I would change you for.

I love you with all my heart.  Every day I thank the powers that be that we’re together.

Here’s to showing up together in decades worth of future series.  (Preferably without murders to solve or spies to uncover.)

Happy anniversary!

Little Kitty

I fell for her beautiful blue eyes on the no-kill shelter page.  We were going to finally move into an apartment that allowed pets and I started cat shopping early.  She was still there the day we got the apartment.  We went to the shelter before we even moved our furniture because I was so anxious to get you.

When we got there, you were in one of the rooms with the big adult cats.  You were so tiny and yellow.  You wouldn’t eat or groom yourself because you were so scared of all the other animals.  While we were there a volunteer got her to eat some soft food by giving her her own dish away from everyone else.  She was really still a kitten– not even a year old.  But she’d had three little boys (adopted out) already.  That meant she’d never get very big.  And she was a great mamacat taking good care of them.  She’d been found in a box near a dumpster.  (She liked boxes.  The smaller the better. We called her box kitty sometimes.)

We took her home with the friendly Big Kitty we also picked out that day.  She hid for a while in a built-in cupboard.  At lunch I gave her some chicken and she became my best friend in the entire world.  By morning she’d cleaned herself up and her previously yellowed fur was bright white and she was so energetic.

She didn’t really know how to cat.  She learned a lot from Big Kitty, even though Big Kitty never particularly wanted to be friends.  (They had a nose touching en passant relationship, but no more.)  In the night we would hear these terrifying screeching sounds– it was usually silent Little Kitty practicing meowing.  She also liked to play ball in the night.  She escaped from the apartment once and led us on a not at all merry chase around the neighborhood.  She was very good at jumping fences.  Enormous height for such a little kitty.  We eventually got her on a halter.

She didn’t really like to be carried (though she allowed me to carry her so long as she’d get a treat right after), and she wasn’t crazy about people coming up to pet her.  One doesn’t pet the Little Kitty, the Little Kitty pets you.  Headbonks were her favorite, and we would have a nighttime routine in which she would visit us before we fell asleep for headbonks and pettings.  When it got really cold she might consent to be a lap kitty or to curl up on the same bed or couch as another cat (not touching).

Back when we had big computer monitors, her favorite spot was on top of mine.  When we moved to flat screen, she had to move in front, which she didn’t like as much.

She was the sweetest and most trusting of kitties.  Once she got into our chimney and was so trusting as we gave her a bath.  She’d look up to us as if to say she didn’t understand what was going on, but she trusted us to make it better (and to provide treats after any indignity).

She moved with us to our new job and loved the patio.  She loved our backyard (we still had to keep her on a halter because she was so good at jumping even the tallest of fences).

When we had a surplus of backyard cats she mostly stayed aloof and out of the fray.  She seemed to miss Big Kitty when Big Kitty passed and never really got into a nose sniffing relationship with Nice Kitty, the remaining backyard cat.

As she got older she got indigestion and then more recently ear infections that would go away and then come right back after treatment ended.  Then one morning she couldn’t walk straight and the vet found a tumor in her ear canal.  We drove to the closest vet school and determined it was inoperable and would not be a candidate for chemotherapy.  Radiation could be done, but there was no evidence that radiation without surgery worked at all in cats, and at most it would slow the tumor’s growth, not stop it or shrink it and she would have to go to the vet regularly which she hated.  So we prepared for hospice.

Cancer is not a pretty way to go.  But little kitty was so resilient as every new disability affected her.  She learned how to walk straight and deliberately with each new hit to her sense of balance.  She submitted calmly to baths and ear cleaning with minimal complaint.  She chomped down her medicine in pill pockets until she couldn’t chew and swallow anymore and then sort-of allowed us to dose her with the fruit-flavored and heavily sugared liquid versions of the pain killers and steroids that she hated.  We’d think it would be time and then she would figure out that she could get water from the faucet, or she’d figure out a new way to get treats to her throat and that would buy another week or so.  She would curl up on the patio or knead DH’s chest and purr, despite it all.  But each time she got better it wouldn’t be as good as it was before and each worse was a new low.  And finally, as the vet predicted, she couldn’t eat anymore, not even baby food, and we couldn’t let her starve to death or force her to submit to a feeding tube and she suddenly stopped getting joy out of her favorite things and we had to let her go.  Which is heartbreaking.

Death is hard, whether it is sudden and unexpected or following a slow deterioration.

Little kitty has brought so much joy.  Fifteen years was just not long enough for our sweet little girl.

Little kitty in better days

 

 

To the man who makes my heart flutter

When I see you, my heart still skips a beat.  You are the most handsome man I know, and I love the distinguished grey at your temples, the ever deepening crinkles around your eyes.

When we touch it still tingles just as much as it did when we were 17.  And it tingled a lot at 17.  One difference that time and proximity has brought is that cuddling close to you can provide more peace and calm than it ever did at age 16 or 17.  Being with you has always felt immeasurably right.  We are supposed to be together.  God is in His heaven and all is right with the world when you’re near.

I still have a hard time believing that I get to spend my life with you.  That I share your bed at night.  That we’re *supposed* to spend time alone together, completely unchaperoned.  Even though it’s been that way for 18 years.

Life with you is exciting and also warm and comfortable.  You provide every positive emotion for me, just by being who you are.  I am so lucky.  So very lucky.  You’re amazing and I never want to have to imagine life without you and your beautiful wonderfulness.

You’re mine.  I’m yours.

We fit well together.

I love you so much.  Today and every day.  I love you.

What are we reading: Romance edition.

#1 skipped large middle chunks of Patricia Bray then deleted on kindle.  Waste of a dollar.

I enjoyed Poetic Justice by Alicia Rasley enough to purchase it.  There’s no onscreen sex, if that’s important.  It’s a fun caper where the protagonists fall in love over books.  The end is a bit rushed, but there’s also no unnecessary angst.  (The best part though is a glimpse the love affair of the long-dead parents!)  The first in the series is free on Amazon but I haven’t read it yet (update: it was ok, but not worth paying for).  I also haven’t read the second in the series, but plan to…

I tried a couple of Patricia Rice regencies, but I don’t like how the heroes take away the heroine’s agency, even when having agency is a big deal for the heroine and it seems like the resolution should include the hero giving in on that.  We’re talking about things like, I dunno, secretly marrying the women against their will in Scotland where the marriage rules are different and not telling them they’ve been married until months later when circumstances have made it far too late for an annulment.  Or, you know, not stopping sex when the woman is in pain because of his “need”.  UGH.  Or forcing the heroine to have sex as a transaction in a situation where she doesn’t want to, but feels that she has to in order to save someone else.  Not cool.  Her Genius series is a modern set of romances… the amazon reviews complain about it having a liberal agenda, but there are too many uncomfortable racial and homosexual “jokes” for it to truly be liberal… or maybe it just shows how far we’ve come in the past 20-30 years in terms of what’s not cool to say about minorities.  I won’t purchase it, but I think I’ll try the second in the genius series, and later books seem to get higher reviews.  So I dunno… it felt like the books could be really good if they were just updated and the bad parts that used to be more common in this literature were removed.  It’s possible that, like Mary Balogh, her more recent books are less icky because the entire genre has moved away from icky.

Genuinely enjoyed The Heiress Companion, which is an old fashioned (and clean) regency novella by Madeline Robins.  It is no The Grand Sophy, but a pleasant read nonetheless.  Lady John and My Dear Jenny were also pretty good.  Spanish Marriage and Althea were both pretty awful, though in different ways.

Danse de la Folie by Sherwood Smith was also worth buying.  An old-fashioned style regency, if that makes sense.  (Not a bodice-ripper, older than that– more Austen-style.)  Not perfect, but soothing.

We both love love LOVED KJ Charles’ latest, Spectred Isle. The adopted son of Simon Feximal is in it!  SOOOOO GOOOOOOD.  Neither of us can wait for the next one.

In the modern world, #2 read and liked Attachments, which was Rainbow Rowell’s first book. Can you fall in love with someone via email? (Of course.) I think I’ve already mentioned Carry On somewhere on this blog.

Finally, we love books. I loved the little book, Dear Fahrenheit 451: A Librarian’s Love Letters and Breakup Notes to the Books in Her Life. Writing letters to books is a neat idea and maybe I’ll try it sometime.

Get to reading, Grumpeteers! Tell us what’s good in romance.

I love you (and links)

One would think that after more than a decade and a half of years in marriage and 20-odd years together that I wouldn’t be learning new things about you.

But this year I did learn something new.

One of the things you said you loved about me back when we were teenagers was how much I cared about things.  You’ve generally been calm and have tended not to pay much attention to current events.  But you liked about me that I wasn’t and I did… you said you admired that.

Generally when something has been important enough to me, I’ve been able to ask you to do something and you’ve done it.  I’ve always thought that you’d gotten out of your comfort zone in those cases because of your love for me and because I thought things were important.

But this time you’re doing more than I’ve ever asked.  I asked that you attend a university anti-hate rally, go to the women’s march, and make calls with the weekly actions from one of the lists.  You’re doing that, but so much more. You’re paying attention to the news and occasionally send me links.  You’ve volunteered for all sorts of things with the local democrats [and now indivisible].  You’re helping the local group that works with immigrants.  You’ve become a certified voter registrar.  You’ve gone so far out of your comfort zone with all this activism.  And you’re not even unemployed yet!

And I asked you why, and you said because it matters.  Because you need to do something about all the horrible things going on.  Because it’s the right thing.  Not because I think it’s the right thing, but because it is the right thing.  You don’t seem to be enjoying all of this– you’re still an introvert who dislikes politics and are much more comfortable with playing games on a virtual landscape or with the sterile world of saving lives through engineering.  But you’re doing it anyway.  Because you’re a responsible person.  A good person.

You told me this morning that you’d slept poorly because you’d had a nightmare about gunslingers and then when you woke up you kept thinking about politics and couldn’t get back to sleep.  Usually that’s me who is doing that (and usually I wake you up and you talk to me until I fall sleep again).

I don’t know what life is going to be like in a few months when this post posts.  I don’t know who our president is going to be or what kind of links will be following this post.  Right now as I type this, the news is about lies about ties to Russia as the President’s men are recusing and resigning.  Remember that?

But I do know, whatever the future holds, where ever we are this June 17th or next or any June 17th after, I am lucky to have been able to spend my life with you.  I admire you.  You are the best person I know (our children, as always, included, as they came from you).  And, as always, I love you so very much.  Thank you for sharing your life with me.

And now for some links!

***********************************************************************************************************************

Juneteenth is this weekend (technically it’s Monday, but the weekend is better for celebrating)!  Celebrate the actual end of slavery!

What can you do if your senators are Democrats?

Republican senators are unable to explain even what they are trying to fix with the AHCA.

Republican health care bill would raise insurance premiums

Russia may have actually hacked some voting.

Counter-protests last weekend

Another thread on sexism and HRC

Celebrate bureaurcracy

Stop pretending you’re not rich

#2 will live seemingly forever

Maybe I need a writing hat!

Saliva DNA and migration

I cleaned out my email inbox a bit… here’s some scholarly articles:

Ugh Uber

Manager bias decreases work output for minorities (get rid of racist managers!)

Gender diversity and performance in venture capital

The lifecycle of scholarly performance across fields

Head Start works even better when followed by better funded K-12

The presidential election was bad for health

/end scholarly articles

Modern love fairy tales

Ow, the title on this.

Get Old Man’s War for free through June 21st

This is a nice mansion

This is a cat house

Interview with Seanan McGuire

Nerd!  Also, Sweet

Why DH is awesome even when he screws up

Also my sister is occasionally brilliant.

So…

DH and I made a list of all the stuff we needed to do before we got home from Paradise.  He put the list on his phone.

Item 3 was to set up the utilities.

DH was all, I’ll take care of it.  After all, he took off vacation days from work and I was rushing about to finish things before leaving.

Taking care of the internet was a huge pain in the rear because the internet provider wouldn’t let us set up until our tenant had closed out, but the tenant couldn’t close out until the people who owned the home they just bought closed out and it was a huge mess.

I kept asking, is there anything I can do on the moving list?  What should I do on the moving list?  “I’ll take care of it,” DH would say.  Or I’d say, “Well, how about I change our address for providers” and then I’d go do that.

Since I knew he’d finally gotten the internet scheduled, and he didn’t ever mention that we still needed to change all the other utilities, I assumed that he’d taken care of those without hassle.  Because of course, electricity and water are more important than internet.  Also they’re easier to set up appointments for.  And our tenant had specifically mentioned that we were good to go with setting up our utilities.

We got home in the afternoon on a Friday.  I cranked the a/c to bring the temp down to the high 70s.  We went to Target to pick up necessities like toilet paper and cat litter.  Thankfully we didn’t go to the grocery store.  Because at 5pm all of a sudden the power went out.

Turns out DH had *meant* to set up the other utilities, but what with one thing and another had kept putting it off and then just forgot to do it.

Turns out that having the power off is not an emergency if it’s your own fault and the emergency power guy can’t do anything until billing processes your credit history and ok’s you.  Even if you had an account at the same place a year ago.  Even if you beg and plead.  Even if there’s a woman hysterically sobbing in the background.  Even if it’s 100+ degrees in the shade and WE COULD DIE.

Billing, of course, can’t process your credit until Tuesday.  TUESDAY.

DH’s first suggestion was to go to a hotel.  But we’d been in hotels for a WEEK and I wanted to be home and to unpack and to wait for the Pod and get stuff ready for the kids’ daycare/camp on and on and on.

His second suggestion was to stay at my sister’s in a city that’s an hour and a half away.  She texted me (via cell, since we didn’t have internet yet) right as he suggested that so I took it as a sign and gave her a call.  She obviously invited us to visit, but had a pretty packed weekend with her best friend leaving for an important job in a bigger more paradise-like city and a first date and a bunch of other stuff.  She jokingly suggested a generator.

How much do generators cost?   I asked.  $1K? she guessed.   I want that!  I said, wiping sweat from my brow.  Where do I get one?  Home Depot?

Turns out Home Depot RENTS generators and so ~$500 later we had a generator rental ($250 for a week), a window unit air conditioner (~200), and gasoline.  Only enough to power the guest bedroom (which is one of two rooms in the house that allow for a window unit).  But we didn’t have to reschedule our internet connection (which DID happen on Saturday, as promised).  The Home Depot lady was very nice.

Thankfully our water and natural gas both stayed on, so we’ve even been able to take hot showers.  Flashlight lit.

So what does this have to do with the title?

Well, DH screwed up.  He could have yelled at me (particularly after the, “I hate you so much right now” comment after he got off the phone with the electricity guy).  He could have gotten upset.  He could have given up and told me to figure out what to do.  He definitely felt bad about things– he always takes it really hard when he makes a mistake like this.   But instead he worked on things until he was able to find a solution.  (Something I gave him full credit for, but not until after the room temperature dropped to bearable.  I am NOT a good person when my basic needs aren’t being met.)  He went to Home Depot and figured out our options, he got gasoline to power the generator and filled it, he bought an air conditioner, he dug our extension cords out of the shed.  He even offered to spend his allowance and leftover birthday money on the fiasco, so the family budget isn’t out that $500.

Basically, he’s a hero.  A hero bringing cool breezes and internet.   I am so lucky.

Next time the to-do list is going to go on paper like we usually do these things and if I’m not in charge of the list, I’m asking more questions.