“Be prepared for a breakup about three weeks from now.” That was the relationship advice I got from a girl in her second year of my boyfriend’s graduate program, just before he started the first semester of his MFA in creative writing.
She had reason to be cynical: grad school means a convoluted class schedule, loads of coursework, very little money, and a whole new social circle of other grad students–and none of those things are awesome for an existing relationship. During her first semester, there had been a rash of breakups as everyone adjusted to the demands of the program.
But going for an MFA is about more than poverty and being swamped with work (although at their busiest times, grad students might not agree!). At its best, graduate school means having the support to delve into your passions—and when my boyfriend was able to delve into his academic passions, that brought a new sparkle to our relationship as well. Keep reading »
My parents separated during my senior year of high school. That was bad enough, not because I was upset at the time about them separating, but because that first holiday season was weird — my dad was there, but only begrudgingly on my mom’s part — and once the divorce proceedings started and things got ugly, we started having to split up the holidays. My dad had moved to Madison, Wisconsin, while my mom had the house in a Chicago suburb that we’d grown up in, so it was easier for my sisters and I to do Christmas stuff with my mom. But it was a balancing act.
It got worse when I got into a relationship with my now-ex, the year I graduated from high school, because his family was intensely territorial about holidays and easily offended. So I had to see my dad, I had to see my mom and sisters, I had to see my ex’s mom and siblings, and, if possible, we’d spend time with his dad, too, but not always. Two sets of divorced parents is a pain in the ass. It’s bad when it’s two sets of parents, period, but four gets extreme. My dad has learned to work around this problem by doing family get-togethers before or after the actual holiday. Keep reading »
I live for good advice, and sometimes I spend a little too much energy attempting to absorb others’ hard-learned lessons into my own life. When I graduated from college, my attempts to gather as much advice as I could from everyone who’d already done it left me so overwhelmed with information that I went on an advice detox for a few months. I think I figured that by asking others about their youth I’d be able to magically skip the rough parts of postgrad life (hah), but it ultimately made me crazy. I’d started to overthink my every move and was so afraid of making a mistake that would ruin my shot at a happy life that I was, in fact, ruining my happy life by dwelling on it every second. My little break forced me to notice how often my friends were taking the same route by asking anyone and everyone to weigh in on their choices. It was like an epidemic, and more than any other topic in the world, the uncertain questions frequently led back to our love lives — even when we were happy as could be with them. Keep reading »
Over the weekend, my boyfriend Michael visited his mom and his sister, who was home from school for the weekend, out in the burbs. He told them he was going to propose to me soon, and his sister said she already knew that because she reads my work. Whoops! I’m so glad I don’t talk much about our sex life here.
The reality of working as a writer, and specifically as a woman writer, while in a relationship comes with a few problems. I can’t say anything too specific about Michael, and I’m glad he has such a common first name, because it makes him hard to identify. Part of that gladness stems from the fact that there are nutso predators on the Internet who might take issue with what I have to say and decide to make my life worse by making life worse for the people I love. The other part of it is that I am an unconventional woman with strong, non-mainstream opinions, and I don’t want them to be attached to my boyfriend’s public persona. Dating someone doesn’t mean you agree with everything they say or believe, after all. My job in terms of his career is to show up at the annual holiday party and be charming. His bosses don’t need to know anything else about me lest they start believing that because I’m unconventional, Michael is also less conventional than they’ve been led to believe (he is less conventional than he comes off, but not in the leftist/feminist/sex positive/gender nonconformist/takes clothes off on the Internet sort of way). Keep reading »
Growing up, I saw singledom as the “default” way to live. My first impression of my (divorced) parents were as singles, and they were carrying on just fine, so I figured that was just the way things were. I managed to remain pretty oblivious to the society-wide pressure to marry longer than most kids, and while a partner sounded nice, I never thought I needed one growing up or planned my future with a someday husband in mind. I reasoned that I could never plan for something so volatile as love, and always thought of myself as something of a free agent in the world, unlike many of my peers, who went through high school and college counting the days until they found a nice young guy with top-dollar earning potential so that their “real life” could start. Other people, potential partners included, seemed like such wildcards — who knew whether they’d show up for me or when? I expected to only be able to count on myself. On paper, this sounds pretty bitter, but it wasn’t that way at all — it was just how I saw life, and rarely gave it a second thought. If I had thought about it more at the time, I’d have seen it as empowering, if anything. As I got older, though, my mind felt lagged and overtaxed as it constantly ran over and prepared for every task and potential problem each day would hold. I had to check and double check my own logic, because I made nobody else privy to my day-to-day stresses, and as a result, nobody else was going to make sure I stayed on top of things. I started to feel the mental and physical toll of counting on nobody but myself.
Keep reading »
Yesterday, while I was getting ready to go to CostCo with my boyfriend, Michael, I told him a story a friend had told me about how much her dad hated her grandfather. I said, “I wonder what it’s like to have parents who you really deep-down hate.” Then I paused and thought about it, and said, “Well, I hated my in-laws.”
And for the first time in the last two years, I felt a sudden and very real sense of dissonance in saying that. I felt too young to say something like “I hated my in-laws,” in the past tense; as in, I had in-laws. As in, in my life, I have had in-laws, but now, I do not have in-laws. Keep reading »