Mover's guilt

May 18 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

Way back when I was but a naive TT hopeful (ahh...2009), J and I had a not-that-serious conversation about which cities we'd be willing to grace with the privilege of our permanent/semi-permanent residence. In truth, it was not so much a conversation as it was me naming places, and J either accepting or vetoing, comme รงa:

Me: San Francisco?
J: Probably.
Me: Chicago?
J: I could do Chicago.
Me: Houston?
J: No-HO! No Texas.
Me: Not even Austin?
J: Can we just rule out the South altogether?
Me: Sigh. OK, how about Boston?
J: Eh...maybe. But what would we do about baseball?

Look, seriously NO OFFENSE to any of you who live in any of the poo-pooed locales, mkay? We were mostly just being jokey, and really this has nothing to do with anything except that at that point we were in total idealist/denial mode, i.e., that we'd be able to stay in New York forever. We are comfortable here--the energy suits our demeanor, the late hours our lifestyle. Some of our best friends, including J's brother and his wife, are here. Things feel right here.

And yet, I have always known that one day we'd have to leave. There are only a handful of research institutions in the city, and I've had ID cards at four of them (I'm a good collaborator). I need to go make a name for myself in a place where I'm not overshadowed by my mentors. And so in just over two months, J and I will pack up the kitties and our ridiculously well-stocked home bar and head to a new city. A city in which I have been given an amazing opportunity--a lab, a healthy startup package, my dream job--and J

Oh sure, eventually J will get a job and we'll find some new friends, and we will be totes happy and successful for-EVER. Plus, we won't even be so far from NY that we can't visit once in a while. But I still can't shake this feeling of guilt that right now, I'm putting him in an unhappy situation. I want him to feel like we're doing this together, that he is at least partly in control of our life decisions--not that I'm dragging him along as I run after my dreams. The reality, though, is that I am the mover. He is moving because I have to move, and there is a part of me that feels really bad about that.

I imagine many of you have been in a similar position (on either end of things), and I'm curious if you have any wisdom to impart. Before you ask,ย J is not an academic, so any kind of couples hire was not an option. He's pretty much on his own in a terrible job market. Are there things we can do that will help make this easier, if even just psychologically?

27 responses so far

  • mkasprow says:

    I would not feel too guilty. As a movee -- I have followed my husband to various cities for grad schools - jobs - then better jobs. These moves were not a big surprise. When I got involved with him, I knew that staying in one place would not be an option in the beginning and I am sure J is a smart enough guy (afterall he got you to fall in love with him) to also realize this reality. I will add -- we lived in some really awesome places, had kids born in different cities and after a series of not so good jobs I ended up getting my dream job. We now have put down roots and have wonderful memories of all the different places we have lived. I now feel sorry for people who have only ever lived in one place. So chin up, move forward and only look back with a small tear in your eye ... and don't forget to take lots of pictures of your new home cities. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • DrLizzyMoore says:

    I really feel you. I am the 'mover' in my happy little relationship. In this last move, I took my DH from his dream job (okay so being a flyfishing guide isn't going to be getting any Nobel Prize Nomi's, but it's keeps one fed and HAPPY) to a place that for all intents and purposes is Siberia-although I bet they have good flyfishing in Siberia too. My point is YOU need to remember that this decision was made together--even if the impetus was your job and your career. For us, hubs knew that I wasn't willing to 'settle' in my career. He knew this when he married me and therefore was not shocked when my job moved us to Booneytown, USA. He also appreciates, as I am sure J does, that finding a job these days is harder than hard. J may go through a couple of months where he is just depressed. Moving is tough and weird. Make sure that as you are starting your new lab that you make home life Priority #1. Limit the late nights and weekends as much as possible to help with the transition. The happy news is that once we got over the shock and stress (your well stocked bar will serve you well) of new environs, we have become closer as a couple--a stronger bond than I ever imagined possible. Hubs is now a happy stay at home dad-something that even he is surprised how much he enjoys. he home brews and he is fixing up our century old house. My hope is that J finds something equally satisfying, even if it is a direction that he didn't initially envision. Good luck to you!

  • DrugMonkey says:

    Trying to take, or give, permanent "hand" over a partner because of shared life decisions like this is ultimately going to be corrosive. Gratitude without guilt is what you should be striving towards.

    If you really want to take one for the team, restrict your complaining about work issues for the next couple of years, *especially* where it pertains to the specific Uni.

  • Bashir says:

    Wait, I thought you landed a TT position in the NYC area.

  • Dr 27 says:

    And of course I've bookmarked this entry because the last 2 paragraphs summarize my feelings re:looking for a job outside of you our current school. I don't have any brilliant pieces of advice, except than when hon moved in with me to grad school city for a year before he went his merry way to his grad school city (ie. where we are now) he was going crazy! I lived ~25 mins from school and it would have been a killer on our pockets to have him drive me and back so he could have the car and avoid staying at home al.the.time. But I think that the new may offer some really cool things while J looks for a more permanent solution. One thing that helped honey deal with the boredome and uncertainty was that he found (through friends of friends) job as a freelancer. He worked in the PR part of a law firm which makes PR pages for other law forms, or something convoluted like that. If J can find something to keep him busy, and maybe give him the chance to polish some other skills while looking for work, that can help deal with the whole moving to another place and the whole bit of change you guys will go through. Another thing is that he could use some of the time to scout out new places for you guys to hang out, ehem, like the new watering holes in the city which may become permanent fixtures of your new life ;-).

    I was LOL when I read how you were going through the cities and his answers. Ehem, honey had the same thing to say regarding Texas and the South. This crazked me up:

    "Me: Houston?
    J: No-HO! No Texas."

    Same exact answer.

    Best of luck and have a safe move.

  • scientistmother says:

    Guilt is a useless emotion that evolution should have gotten rid a long long time ago. This was decision you made together. Will it hard, yes. Its been hard on the Mr.SM being the sole provider so that I can do my PhD. BUT, the decision was made because the short term pain is worth the long term gain.

    Channel that guilt into writing the best freaking grants and doing amazing research so you become a KICK ASS PI. J is a smart guy and wouldn't be doing this if (a) he didn't want to (b) didn't love you (c) didn't know it was best for the both of you

  • Namnezia says:

    Plus... the Yankees are kinda crappy right now. And they're not getting any younger.

  • Miss MSE says:

    So when Mr. ME followed me to grad school, he found himself in one of the worst possible job markets for his particular skill set, and really just one of the worst job markets period. It was 15 months between his last job before the move and his first job here. He had one scam interview (pyramid scheme) in that time frame, and one "real" interview before the one for his first job.

    The hardest part was making sure he still felt useful and wasn't bored out of his skull. There was very little I could do to improve his job search, but I could make sure to acknowledge and appreciate the things he did around the apartment. Volunteer work can also be super helpful as a way to get out of the house and feel involved in something productive. Do things where you go out: you may be tired and just want to crash at home, but that's may be all he's been doing.

    It's fine and well to say that you shouldn't feel guilty, but I've managed to feel guilty about not feeling sufficiently guilty, so I know it's much easier said than done. Communication matters: let him know you understand things might suck for him temporarily, but it won't be forever.

    On a more practical side, became my new best friend. Automated emails about new job postings? Yes please! It also allows for super tailorable search terms. Disclosure: my possible future brother-in-law works for them, but I found that out after using it for awhile.

  • Steven says:

    I'm in largely the same situation - moving from Canada to Australia in about two months from now for a post-doc (oh sweet FSM am I unprepared!) - and my wife is following me. Truthfully, the thing that has helped the most so far is simple communication. She's been honest about the feelings she's having, like not loving having to follow me and her worries about not having friends or a job right away, and we've been trying to address them as they come up. Even if we can't do anything about it, at least we're open about it.

    And some of it does suck. I get to slot myself into a new lab, which comes with a sense of purpose and a ready-made social circle; she's going to be on her own with nothing to do in a city clear across the planet from everyone she knows. I know that we're both going to have to work hard to make sure that this doesn't go badly. It's definitely not impossible, but it's not going to happen on its own either.

    The other thing that might help is if J can find something that he's looking forward to. My wife isn't an academic either, but she's done some volunteer work teaching overseas, and so she's planning a volunteering trip to China soon after we get to Australia. It's giving her something to focus on and plan for that has nothing to do with me, and I think it's a source of comfort.

    All in all, though, I think the benefits outweigh the costs. And good relationships that are built on a foundation of two people wanting the best for each other will usually come out of these things just fine. (Now that I've jinxed it, watch me get divorced twenty minutes after arriving in Oz...)

  • Ragamuffin says:

    I've got the Mover's Guilt right now as well. But my thoughts will echo DrLizzyMoore and scientistmother: this move is best for both of us in the long term, we understood what we were getting into when we got married, and I'm hoping that the moving and resituating processes will lend a new strength to our bond.

    H.K.'s career is pretty transplantable, and he wants it that way. Being one's own boss, etc. I'm dealing with that small piece of me that still feels bad by helping him shove one of his businesses into fully functional mode before we hit the dusty trail.

  • I am the mover, so I know how you feel. Are there any personal interest volunteer projects J can work on at home while job hunting? The obvious example is open source software for the computer-inclined, but there are other examples of this kind of thing that can help J keep his skills sharp and give him something other than his job search to focus on.

    Do ask if there are career resources at new school that J can have access to--career center? Networking opportunities? Access to facilities? Even if you aren't dual academics, Universities often have ties to the greater community and resources for career stuff that can be very helpful in a new city.

  • Sarah says:

    No advice to give, but I wanted to let you know I'm in the exact same situation. My J (ha, odd coincidence) has followed me to the south (where neither of us have been completely happy) for grad school/post doc and is now dropping everything again to follow me back north. To a city where neither of us know anyone, and where he will *hopefully* be able to find a job. Thankfully, we're both happy to be back in the north and family isn't too far away if he needs to get out of town for awhile and see a familiar face (other than mine!!).

  • Dr. O says:

    Your city conversation sounds awfully similar to mine and Hubby's. We might be in a similar situation at some point, although Hubby has asked when my "stop date" is.

    While there's not a whole lot YOU can do about his work situation, you can address the psychological effects of change that will impact both of you. I think what DM and Lizzy Moore mention about spending time with J, not working too late, and not griping about work stuff are very good ideas.

    Also, I'd look ahead of time and see if there's some kind of activity/hobby/whatever that y'all can get involved in together - say once a week - to keep yourselves engaged with each other, and possibly even meet new people. A cooking and wine class, for instance.

  • just moved to be with partner says:

    If he ends up being without work for a time, don't make 'sugar mama' jokes or tell him he has 'a sweet deal' and you want him to do more of the housework.

  • chall says:

    I think the previous comments have said pretty much all I wanted to say ๐Ÿ™‚

    Not guilt feelings (both of you probably knew it was a possibility, right?), don't complain too much about your job (at least not in the beginning), try and do some things together in new town but most importantly, J needs to get some type of volunteer job or other type of interaction since otherwise he's going to be depending on your work friends.... sort of anyway.

    I found that the most important one thing as the "mover" since the trailer (or whatver I should call them?) didn't have new people but was quite happy (in the beginning) to sit at home and be alone. Problems might arise after a while though, when it's sort of tension with the uneveness.

    Best of luck though! I'm sure you'll make it work great, as long as you communicate!

    (PS> Is there hockey in new town? That's always a good sport ๐Ÿ™‚ )

  • I think the single most important thing is for J to find activities he likes to do on his own. Things for both of you to do together are nice and all, but nothing makes you feel more like you are part of your new location than to have your own, individual activities and friends. Whatever his interests are, find something for him to do and meet new people on his own (running club, poker group, join a softball team, etc). The sooner he establishes his own activities and thinks of New City as somewhere he actively wants to me, the less chance he'll ever feel like he was "dragged along" by you!

  • leigh says:

    i've filled out my actual email in the "email" field. feel free to email me, i have a lot of experience with being in these shoes, and am happy to share whatever might be helpful. it's just not really fodder for a blog comment.


  • It's ME! says:

    Well, if it's Boston you're moving to, you can stop feeling guilty because at least J will have a chance to root for a real baseball team for once!

  • Mover/Movee says:

    I was the follower (movee?) once and I didn't have a job for a while because of it, but at the time, this was the best choice for my partner and I (and now I have a great job). The single most important thing that made my choice and my unemployment tolerable was knowing that someday, my partner would be willing to make the same sacrifice for me as long as it was the right choice for us collectively (by default, my partner knew that long-term unemployment was a deal-breaker for me). If you can tell your SO something like, "if you're (still) miserable in X years, let's seriously consider moving again where you think you will be happy," that let's him know he's not a permanent follower. It's about your collective future happiness, not just your career. If it's really just about your career, that might explain your guilt? You need to show that you're willing to relocate for his passions as well. I wouldn't feel too guilty. Your partner is capable of making choices, and he chooses to move with you.

  • Nicole says:

    Oh man, my whole relationship is one big movers guilt. I got into the best program in my field in the country for graduate school and STILL feel guilty for not going to Seattle where there were no options for me and DH would have gone to the best program in his field (though the place he did go is not shabby at all, and has more name recognition to his family back home).

    My field has a shorter time to graduate, so I graduated first, got a job first, delayed it a year for DH to graduate, then moved us to our current location. On sabbatical I packed him up to the place I was going for a year.

    We're a family unit and the only thing I can do to assuage my guilt is make sure enough money is saved up that he can explore his interests and take career chances in a safe and supportive environment. I'm the safe income and he's the high risk-high return spouse. I am grateful for his flexibility. I don't know if J is interested in a start-up or becoming a novelist or anything out of the box like that, but this might be a good opportunity for him to try one of those things he's always been wondering, "what if?" and "I've always thought I should..." about.

    I've got bright-blue bleeding heart liberal NYC-loving friends who are very happy in the North Carolina research triangle, btw, so I wouldn't completely cross the South of the list.

  • FunkDoctorX says:

    My wife and I have recently moved to the UK from the US and have gone through some of this. One thing I promised her is that wherever she gets a job, we will move closest to it so she has the easier commute. Only seems fair since I had the job once we arrived here in the UK. She recently found a job and we just moved house last weekend so that she has the easier commute.

    Similar to what others have suggested, she also started to get involved in volunteering and a local rowing club while looking for her new job. Best of luck with it, no doubt it will also present its challenges.

  • Dr Becca says:

    Wow! Thanks so much everyone, for all your empathy and for sharing your stories and advice. It's great to hear that things have a way of working themselves out.

    I'm really trying to involve J in as much as I can. We're going to new city next weekend to look for an apartment, so hopefully then things will seem a little more real, and we'll start to get excited about our new home. If we can find a solid cocktail spot, it will be an auspicious start!

  • Confounding says:

    All I can give you is my sympathy. The lady and I are facing similar stuff soon, and it's the source of much stress.

    Good luck with the move ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Dr. Cynicism says:

    "J: Can we just rule out the South altogether?" AMEN.

    "I need to go make a name for myself in a place where I'm not overshadowed by my mentors. " Bingo... that's the problem with staying in our area.

  • [...] bigger problem, as I've discussed before, is J's job situation. Should we be looking for an apartment that requires two incomes to pay the [...]

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