The Dating Game

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-written by Elissa, a current graduate wife

It’s fall and academic life is in full swing. For the scholars, the season means new writing, tutorials, seminars, book reviews and job applications. For the partners, this season means a wide variety of things but specifically for now, new relationships. You may have thought casual dating was something you would never do again after committing to your scholarly sweetheart. You were wrong.

Life as a graduate spouse, especially around this time of year, can feel like a never-ending speed dating escapade, first impression after first impression. People are exchanging numbers, fretting over coming on too strong and awkwardly engaging in conversation as they try to meet friends in their new environments. Few are particularly comfortable at this stage in the semester.

If you recently left home or your last version of it, I feel for you. The ratio of strangers to familiar faces is daunting. By the time you settle into life’s new patterns, you may not even have the energy for the friend dating game. That was my experience when my husband and I left Vancouver, and landed in St Andrews, Scotland back in September of 2011.

The first few weeks stretched our little family and we became insular to cope. We spent nearly all our time together. We listened to Bon Iver on repeat for days, consuming an impressive amount of wine and comfort food, and binge-watching Arrested Development for the third time. Eventually Steve and I realized that as much as we adored each other’s company, we had to start seeing other people.

Now, you need to know this. I’m an extrovert and a social connector to the core but the move shook me up. In those early days, it was a great accomplishment if I managed to have a conversation – any conversation – with another breathing human, let alone a peer. Eventually, I was invited to an event designed to link women who were connected to St. Andrews’ Divinity school. My husband was studying Medieval History, so I was technically outside the fold. I felt a bit uneasy about it, but I knew it would be good for me and I chose to attend.

It was the ultimate speed dating experience. We sat in a circle and introduced ourselves. I wore a name tag and perched nervously on a cold plastic chair, nodding and trying to smile. It sounds uncomfortable because it was.

Finally, it was my turn.

“Hi. My name is Elissa. I’m from Vancouver, Canada.”

Each woman shared what pulled her to the Scottish seaside town. I remember listening to another person introduce herself and all at once her words cut through the static in my head and rang like church bells.

“Hi. I’m Andrea and I’m from Seattle.”

At last my thoughts were discernible- “Seattle? The other Vancouver?! Thank God!” We had common ground. I got butterflies in my stomach and hoped she was the One.

When the event’s formalities were over, I pounced with a pick-up line. Andrea and I discovered we shared a mutual fondness for yoga pants and happy hour nachos from a tequila bar in Ballard. We exchanged numbers and set up a date to do what west coast people do best: walk in dismal weather conditions while drinking a hot beverage. Thankfully, Andrea and I hit it off.

I steadily made more friends in the weeks that followed but, as expected, the honeymoon period ended. I realized how deeply I missed my close relationships at home. I longed to share history, to be known. Sometimes I felt like I was counting the days until I could visit Canada. Recovering from a displaced social life is painful and exhausting. It’s so hard to leave your comfort zone and go on dates with new people when all you want is to process the pain of isolation and loneliness with long-distance friends at home.

The beautiful thing is that feelings of isolation abound in graduate circles. Many of us were experiencing the same pain. It took time and vulnerability but eventually acquaintances became meaningful friends and we found solace in each other.

Time passed. My new friends and I endured the cold Scottish winter and the stresses of academic life side by side. When our spouses were knee-deep in work, we were graduate widows together. We enjoyed the long days of summer, the quirks of life in a tourist town. We shared knowing glances and inside jokes.

When I finally visited home in July, I treasured every minute with my long-time friends. Absence did indeed make my heart fonder for my girls at home. I also realized, though, that part of me was completely unknown to them and that part of me became lonely. I experienced the same longing to be understood, for someone to say, “I’ve been there. I get it.” I found myself missing my St Andrews community.

When we returned to Scotland, I got out my little black book and got in the game again. It felt surreal to be perceived as a veteran. Had it already been a year? What’s more surreal is that as I write this, I am playing the field for the fourth time in St Andrews.

Currently, I am discovering the tension in making friends as someone with an established community. I certainly want to make people feel welcome and help them get connected and yet a part of me almost doesn’t even want to meet them because if I enjoy their company, it means I’ve got one more friend to say goodbye to when I leave. Saying goodbye is rough. The other sad reality is that every minute I spend investing in a new friend is one minute away from girlfriends who will soon depart and before long, I’ll be the new person all over again. This damn dating cycle never ends.

I’ve found that being a veteran graduate wife puts me in a unique position to help new arrivals and to be honest, I feel a sense of responsibility to help them connect. I cannot and will not befriend them all but I do earnestly long for them to find their own community. I empathize and want to see them happy and understood.

I’m no relationship expert, but after doing this for so long, I think I have some tips worth sharing.

Get uncomfortable. You won’t meet people if you’re sitting at home with your partner. Go on, girl. Get out there.

Do what you love. Find a book club. Join a gym. Sign up for a class of some sort. Go for drinks with your new co-workers. Take your kids around town. Hang out at a community center or local church. You’ll have some common ground to build on.

Be the friend you seek. Get clear on what you value in a friend and be that person. Like-minded people flock together.

Make the first move. If you meet someone that you click with, don’t be afraid to ask for their number and plan a date. A phone number doesn’t obligate you to be best friends, so why not take the risk?

Harbour your expectations. Each person defines friendship differently and social norms vary. Trying to build bridges in unfamiliar territory is difficult and it could take some getting used to.

Be vulnerable. You may be surprised at the impact this will have on your relationships.

Explore Facebook. Hopefully there are some local public groups worth joining. You may meet others who are share your status as a graduate wife and are also looking for friends.

Try to make friends with locals and expats and everything in between. You’ll be happy you did. Variety keeps things spicy.

Go to The Graduate Wife Facebook page and share where you’re from. You may be spending time alone when you could be getting to know another reader in the same town. Go find yourself some new friends.

What has helped you make friends on your graduate journey? Would you add any tips?

REPOST: Seeking BFF

Written by Keeley, a current graduate wife        

 I recently read an interesting book about making friends which I thought I’d introduce to our readers at The Graduate Wife. The premise of the book, entitled “MWF Seeking BFF”, is that the author has moved to a new town with her husband and is attempting to find people who might blossom into life-long friends. Instead of waiting for this to happen organically (because that hasn’t worked so well over the first few years in their town), she goes all out. Over the span of a year, she goes on 52 “friend-dates” with people she meets through various venues, including an improvisation class, cooking clubs, book clubs, and of course, other friends. The book chronicles her experiences as well as how she processes the new relationships in her life, and she fills out her narrative with a healthy chunk of statistics and research on the art/science of making and keeping friends. While I certainly admire her motivation, willpower, and discipline in accomplishing this mammoth goal, I fully concede that as an introvert, my head would simply explode from all that social interaction.

See, the thing is that I’m not all that great at making friends. Meeting people, sure, I enjoy learning new faces and names and even have somewhat of a knack for remembering them. And once I’m friends with someone, she can definitely count on me to be there for a conversation, for a listening ear, for a walk in the neighborhood, for a cup of tea or an ice-cream cone. Especially an ice cream cone. As I read this book, however, I realized how much of an ordeal it normally is for me to make a new friend. Thinking back through my life, my best middle school buddy and my best friend through high school basically had to “hunt me down” (in their words) to become friends. I think the reason, partly, is because I have always been close to my family, and, having one larger than normal, there were always plenty of us around to hang out with. However, it wasn’t until college that I realized another reason I am hesitant to begin new friendships: vulnerability. It’s much easier for me to be friendly to everyone and to offer my friendship to those who express interest in it–getting to where I have a mutual trust and need for that relationship is what trips me up and must, in some way, scare me. I know this because one of my best friends in college and I, when we became friends, explicitly stated to one another that we weren’t interested in being half-way friends. If we were going to get-to-know one another, we were going to be the type of friends who never worried about intruding or being a drain on the other; we were going to be honest with one another and give one another our best attempts at friendship.

Since then, I’ve learned that this isn’t always possible when making new friends. While a heart-to-heart conversation like that is immediately within reach in the social greenhouse which is college, people in the real world like for things to just happen. When Jason and I first married and moved to his master’s program, I didn’t spend much time at all thinking about friendships. Between our new marriage and my work schedule, it honestly didn’t cross my mind. But when we moved to pursue his PhD program, I was pleased to find that the community here facilitates making friends like hardly any other place I’ve been.

That’s not to say that it has all been a dream–the first year we lived here I had about five friends that I regularly spent time with, and the next year they had all moved away. In the graduate life, I have found this to be one of the most challenging aspects of making friends. But from those five friends, I learned a great many things, not the least of which were how to knit, and the fact that I have a massive writer’s crush on Barbara Kingsolver. Since then, I’ve had many a walking buddy and reading cohort, and each of these friends I have learned to appreciate for what we bring to one another’s lives, however long our overlap may last.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention, however, that I have also found a “BFF” in the process–a friend with whom I spent so much time and we shared so much of our lives, that I know wherever we live, we will remain friends and remember how much more fulfilling and rewarding this stage of life has been because of one another. She has already moved away, which we knew would happen eventually with our both being graduate wives, but we stay in touch regularly, and I think of her frequently as I drive or walk past our old meeting places in my town. Like another one of my college friends, I think of her as more of a sister than a friend. It’s through friendships like this that I understand the bittersweetness of making, losing, and keeping companions through our lives. My childhood friends, my college friends, and my adult friends–they have all helped me to become more of who I am and challenged me to grow in ways I never thought possible. I may never go on 52 dates to discover another BFF, but I can certainly understand why someone would go to the trouble.

Have you found it easy or difficult to make new friends during this unique stage of life? How do you balance making new friendships with maintaining your marriage and/or work?

Seeking BFF

Written by Keeley, a current graduate wife        

 I recently read an interesting book about making friends which I thought I’d introduce to our readers at The Graduate Wife. The premise of the book, entitled “MWF Seeking BFF”, is that the author has moved to a new town with her husband and is attempting to find people who might blossom into life-long friends. Instead of waiting for this to happen organically (because that hasn’t worked so well over the first few years in their town), she goes all out. Over the span of a year, she goes on 52 “friend-dates” with people she meets through various venues, including an improvisation class, cooking clubs, book clubs, and of course, other friends. The book chronicles her experiences as well as how she processes the new relationships in her life, and she fills out her narrative with a healthy chunk of statistics and research on the art/science of making and keeping friends. While I certainly admire her motivation, willpower, and discipline in accomplishing this mammoth goal, I fully concede that as an introvert, my head would simply explode from all that social interaction.

See, the thing is that I’m not all that great at making friends. Meeting people, sure, I enjoy learning new faces and names and even have somewhat of a knack for remembering them. And once I’m friends with someone, she can definitely count on me to be there for a conversation, for a listening ear, for a walk in the neighborhood, for a cup of tea or an ice-cream cone. Especially an ice cream cone. As I read this book, however, I realized how much of an ordeal it normally is for me to make a new friend. Thinking back through my life, my best middle school buddy and my best friend through high school basically had to “hunt me down” (in their words) to become friends. I think the reason, partly, is because I have always been close to my family, and, having one larger than normal, there were always plenty of us around to hang out with. However, it wasn’t until college that I realized another reason I am hesitant to begin new friendships: vulnerability. It’s much easier for me to be friendly to everyone and to offer my friendship to those who express interest in it–getting to where I have a mutual trust and need for that relationship is what trips me up and must, in some way, scare me. I know this because one of my best friends in college and I, when we became friends, explicitly stated to one another that we weren’t interested in being half-way friends. If we were going to get-to-know one another, we were going to be the type of friends who never worried about intruding or being a drain on the other; we were going to be honest with one another and give one another our best attempts at friendship.

Since then, I’ve learned that this isn’t always possible when making new friends. While a heart-to-heart conversation like that is immediately within reach in the social greenhouse which is college, people in the real world like for things to just happen. When Jason and I first married and moved to his master’s program, I didn’t spend much time at all thinking about friendships. Between our new marriage and my work schedule, it honestly didn’t cross my mind. But when we moved to pursue his PhD program, I was pleased to find that the community here facilitates making friends like hardly any other place I’ve been.

That’s not to say that it has all been a dream–the first year we lived here I had about five friends that I regularly spent time with, and the next year they had all moved away. In the graduate life, I have found this to be one of the most challenging aspects of making friends. But from those five friends, I learned a great many things, not the least of which were how to knit, and the fact that I have a massive writer’s crush on Barbara Kingsolver. Since then, I’ve had many a walking buddy and reading cohort, and each of these friends I have learned to appreciate for what we bring to one another’s lives, however long our overlap may last.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention, however, that I have also found a “BFF” in the process–a friend with whom I spent so much time and we shared so much of our lives, that I know wherever we live, we will remain friends and remember how much more fulfilling and rewarding this stage of life has been because of one another. She has already moved away, which we knew would happen eventually with our both being graduate wives, but we stay in touch regularly, and I think of her frequently as I drive or walk past our old meeting places in my town. Like another one of my college friends, I think of her as more of a sister than a friend. It’s through friendships like this that I understand the bittersweetness of making, losing, and keeping companions through our lives. My childhood friends, my college friends, and my adult friends–they have all helped me to become more of who I am and challenged me to grow in ways I never thought possible. I may never go on 52 dates to discover another BFF, but I can certainly understand why someone would go to the trouble.

Have you found it easy or difficult to make new friends during this unique stage of life? How do you balance making new friendships with maintaining your marriage and/or work?

The Mark of Friendship-Response

Written by Alicia,  friend of several graduate wives

I am not a graduate wife, never have been and who knows if I ever will be. (I am a single twenty something living and working on the East Coast.) But I sure know a lot of graduate wives. Friends from college and life post-college who followed their husbands to law school, divinity school, business school or to start work on a PhD. Women in my small group, church, and acquaintances from where I grew up who left town to help support their husbands’ dreams of further education.

In many ways, I can’t relate.

I am not married. I really only have to think about myself. I do have days that I long for a spouse to share life with and it seems easy to drop everything and imagine following someone else’s dreams, at other times I am reminded just how high the cost and how great the sacrifice involved in the life of a graduate wife.  However on quite a few levels I have found that I can relate.  I too  know that the stresses of life can be great and can share in the struggles; the rhythm of the same routine day in and day out can be monotonous, and I can relate to the  pressure that  finding a job with health insurance in this economy can be almost too much to ask for.

Even though my life might not look exactly like some of my friends, I have found it incredibly valuable to reach out and to share in life with the friends I have both near and far that are in different seasons, especially the ones who find themselves as a graduate wife. Below are some ideas in response to Ashley’s question from Tuesday on how to reach out and support grad wife friends.  I hope some speak to you!

  • If your friend’s husband is in school and is always studying she may have more time than usual. Suggest reading the same book and discuss over e-mail, phone or Skype.
  • Is your friend on a super tight budget? If you have money to spare, send a small bit of cash every month or so and insist that she and the husband take a study break and do something fun.
  • Send notes and cards on a regular basis. Highlight fun memories from days past. Be an encouragement to her.
  • Is your graduate wife friend moving somewhere new and starting over again? Research along with her and send maps of the nearby towns and cities. Highlight fun places to visit and yummy, cheap places to eat! Do you have friends where your graduate wife friend is moving? Introduce them! Connections in a new place make all the difference!
  • Go visit your graduate wife friend and her husband.  Take an interest in grad school life. Visit the campus. Meet her new friends.
  • Celebrate milestones! Did her husband finish the big paper? Did he do well on the big exam? Be excited and celebrate the little and big steps forward!
  • Listen to her share. Be willing to carry the burden alongside her. Ensure that she knows she is not alone on her journey as a graduate wife.

Even if you are in a different season of life that seems so far from where your graduate life friends are at, reach out and be a blessing to them. Laugh, cry, love and care well for your graduate wife friends and don’t let your ‘stage of life’ stop you from doing so.

Do you have any other ideas on how you have learned to relate to and support graduate wife friends or family during this season?

The Mark of Friendship


-written by Ashley, a friend to several graduate wives

I remember the day my friends packed up everything they owned into a U-Haul, for what would be their first of several grad school journeys. I remember helping them pack and clean, and I remember saying my goodbyes. I remember the tears flowing down my face and all the emotions of my dear, close friends leaving hit me. My friends were speechless. They had never seen me in such a condition, and quite honestly, I had never seen myself in such a condition.

It’s something that we can joke about today, but at the time, it was not a laughing matter. I felt possessed. I felt broken. I felt empty. I was scared. And quite honestly, I was mad.  Don’t get me wrong; I was excited for them. But at the root of it, I was being selfish. I didn’t want them to go. I couldn’t help but doubt whether or not this was really the best thing for them.  I questioned whether or not they were making a mistake. Didn’t they know that they were wanted and needed right here, with me?

That was 8 years ago. Needless to say, they are still not here with me. Quite the opposite is actually true. Now, they are across the world, in a different time zone, in a different country. Their grad school experience has taken them on a journey that I don’t think any of us would have predicted. And quite frankly, had they known about the journey that awaited them, I’m not sure they would have taken it. But, I am so glad they did. I know I’m not the one taking the classes (hallelujah!) and I know I’m not the one financially supporting (hallelujah!) my significant other as they pursue what I consider academic insanity, but here’s what my friends’ grad school journey has taught me…

It has taught me what it means to put someone’s dreams ahead of your own.

It has taught me what it means to take a risk.

It has taught me what it means to follow someone you love, even if it’s not what you want to do.

It has taught me what it means to be stretched.

It has taught me what it means to be challenged.

It has taught me what it means to want something for someone else.

It has taught me what it means to be a friend.

(And it has taught me that I never want to go to grad school!)  :)

If you’re not a graduate wife, but you read this blog, how do you support and encourage a friend of yours who IS a graduate wife or significant other to a graduate?