“When You Come Back Down”

-written by Keeley, a current graduate wife


I’ll be the first to concede that the life of a Graduate Wife can sometimes feel…dramatic. Having found myself in one of those moments, I feel a bit of stress, quite a lot of gratitude, but most of all identification with a song which happened to pop up on my MP3 shuffle yesterday.
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First of all, I’ve never really loved this song. Whenever I heard it in college, I felt it seemed codependent, like the singer had no life of his own and was simply leeching off the apparent success of his partner, perhaps living vicariously through the adventures of her life. Listening to it yesterday, however, I realized just how much it parallels my current place in the Graduate Wife experience. Because my husband left just last night for a conference and research trip across the Atlantic Ocean, I couldn’t help but feel some new kinship with the singer in “When You Come Back Down” by Nickel Creek. Some of the lines that reflect my mood are below, but you can find the complete lyrics here.
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You got to leave me now, you got to go alone
You got to chase a dream, one that’s all your own
Before it slips away

When you’re soarin’ through the air
I’ll be your solid ground
Take every chance you dare
I’ll still be there
When you come back down

And I’ll be on the other end, To hear you when you call
Angel, you were born to fly, If you get too high
I’ll catch you when you fall

[Bridge:]
Your memory’s the sunshine every new day brings
I know the sky is calling
Angel, let me help you with your wings

As I said previously, I understand that the life of a Graduate Wife (at least this one) can be dramatic, and perhaps sometimes, melodramatic. But I can’t ignore the way this song resonates in our life together, through so many applications to PhD programs, grants, scholarships, fellowships, and teaching jobs. Through four (so far) trips overseas for conferences, archival research, and data gathering, totaling over four months, ten weeks of that time apart. Listening to this song again, I realize that this is part of what I committed to when we married six years ago—to support him as he ventures to places neither of us would have imagined (and to join him, when time and finances allow!). The lyrics of the song don’t connote codependence for me, because he supports me through adventures of my own; it just so happens that as I write, he is the one “soaring through the air.”


In the last piece I wrote, entitled “Plan F,” I joked about some of the expectations (or lack thereof) which graduate students and wives have for life after the PhD. The fact is, however, that there are and will continue to be disappointments in this journey. Our spouses pursue these studies because for many of them, it is a dream. Although it may not always be evident to us, or even to them, they do it because on some level, they love it. One of my jobs as a Graduate Wife is to remind him of this when he doesn’t get in, when he gets cut after the second round of interviews, when his advisor submits the online reference for a grant eighteen minutes too late. When he forgets his passport, when he gets a skin rash from a cheap London hotel, when he e-mails about the impossibility of navigating a taxi park in Uganda. I am there to celebrate with him when he passes each and every comprehensive exam, when he gets a paper accepted for a journal or gets asked to write a book chapter, and when he gets into a conference, so I find that sometimes my job is to store up these successes and remind him that his dreams are achievable, in one way or another. For me, this is simply part of loving him, something I made a commitment to do for better or worse. I love that he pursues his goals so passionately, and I believe that it has inspired me to live more boldly than I would have if we had not been on this journey together. Truly, life is so much richer having someone to “help us with our wings.”

Here’s the song if you haven’t heard it!

What do you do to remind your graduate that their dreams are achievable?

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One thought on ““When You Come Back Down”

  1. A great post! I think all of us have been scared and discouraged, and I know it’s always helpful for me knowing that even though I don’t always believe in myself, someone does.

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