Sometimes, you just need to talk to someone who understands what you’re going through. When your significant other/partner isn’t in graduate school, there can be some, well, some tension in and strain on the relationship. But having a significant other outside of academia can be a truly wonderful thing.
To start out, let me preface by saying that dating someone in academia can also be a wonderful thing, with its own unique set of challenges. People shared some of their experiences with the challenges of the two-body problem in an earlier post, so let me briefly run down some of the wonderful parts: they get your life; they’re in about the same place as you are (in their lives, not necessarily geographically); if you’re in the same field, they can sometimes give really great advice on work, research ideas, and manuscripts. It can be a beautiful thing. But this post isn’t about those relationships.
I will be upfront about my personal experiences: I have never seriously dated anyone who was in academia. Everything I know about the beauty of having two grad students lovin’ each other is what I’ve heard from my peers. But I know firsthand what it’s like to be with someone who is not in academia and doesn’t have much experience with it.
Relationships with people outside of academia can be frustrating because one’s partner might not really get all of the stresses that come along with, let’s say, grant applications, or being asked to teach a class last minute and working overtime to get the syllabus right. The thing is, though, that this is an issue with every relationship. I don’t know the ins and outs of my partner’s job, but I make an effort to understand what he’s dealing with and he does the same for me. That’s what matters in the end ““ those reciprocal attempts to understand where the other person is coming from.
This doesn’t mean that people don’t need those around them who are living the same bullshit they are ““ my friends in academia are treasures and I am so glad I have some lovely people I can drink coffee and commiserate with. But someone doesn’t have to know every aspect of your life to make a good friend, companion, or partner. It’s not always about knowing from experience where you’re coming from, but about a willingness to listen and an attempt to put themselves in your shoes (and vice versa). It’s about making you a priority and working to be supportive (and vice versa). It’s about having genuine love and respect for each other.
Personally, I love the differences in perspective that come from being with someone with completely different career and academic interests. I like being pushed outside of my science-bubble. I like learning about aspects of various jobs that I will probably never hold. I like the differences between us because it is a motivator to keep us both open to talking and learning about each other.
None of these things I’ve mentioned are specific to academic/non-academic relationships, but they are generally hallmarks of good relationships. All relationships require work, and relationships with people outside of your area, field, or hell, entire career area, requires work on the part of both people to bridge the gap.