When I was growing up, my mother always told my sister and me to wait until we could stand on our own two feet before we got married.
“Get your education, start your career, and then worry about finding a husband," she'd say. "It’s important to always be able to support yourself. Marriages don’t come with lifetime warranties.”
Some may think my mom’s advice was a bit pessimistic, but I think she was just being a good mom. Either way, both her daughters followed her guidance. At first.
For a little while, I was the woman my mom always wished I would become: I was successful, I could pay my own bills every month, and I waited until I had finished graduate school before finding the guy I wanted to marry. I graduated in 2003 with a B.A. in English literature, and I landed my first job teaching high school English shortly after. While teaching full-time, I enrolled in a graduate program and managed to pay for my degree without having to take out any student loans. In the six years that I taught at my first teaching position, I emerged as a leader in my local union, and -- at the time I resigned -- I was chairperson of the English department.
I met my husband in September of 2008, and in July 2010, in front of our families and closest friends, we became husband and wife.
His job was in Colorado, so getting married meant leaving my teaching position in New York. It was hard to say goodbye to a school where I had felt I had made a true difference in my students’ lives, but having accepted another teaching position at a high school in Colorado Springs made it easier. I was happy and in love, and my mother was relieved that I had managed to heed her advice.
Things were going exactly as planned until a year later, when we received word that my husband would have to move to Europe for his job. The good news was that I would be able to move with him and the assignment would only be for several years. The bad news was that I’d have to leave my family and career behind.
Job options are limited for spouses overseas, and landing a teaching gig is nearly impossible. I was able to find a contracting job in a public affairs department, but I discovered after I accepted the position that the job would only be for a few months. I began applying for other positions almost immediately.
The majority of my days now are spent in my flannel pjs, looking for jobs online. At this point, I could probably wallpaper an entire wall of my apartment with the rejection e-mails I’ve received.
This is the first time since I was 13 that I haven’t had some sort of income, and it bruises my ego to think that I have not contributed any money to our joint checking account.
Not once has my fantastic husband made me feel like I am not a contributing member of our family, yet I am so careful to tell him exactly how many jobs I apply for every day because I don’t want him to think I’m not trying. On a good day, I submit my resume to 10 jobs I’ve found online, and when I’m feeling extra ambitious, I even clean the bathroom sink.
But what I feel even more acutely than my wounded pride and boredom is a tremendous sense of guilt, several layers deep. I feel like I’ve failed my mom. She and my dad worked hard to send me to a good school so I could become something, and it’s hard not to think that I’ve let them both down, though they would never say that they are anything less than proud of me.
Still, I can’t help but think back to my college graduation. I attended a small all-women’s college, so it was easy to spot my parents standing off to the side of the stage. I caught a glimpse of them as I was handed my diploma. My father’s smile was lighting up his whole face, and my mom was not even trying to hide her tears. What was once such a happy memory now makes me queasy and uncomfortable.
I feel guilty for other reasons, too. Am I making that glass ceiling just a little bit thicker for other women by staying at home all day? It’s hard not to drop the laundry basket and ask, “What the hell am I doing here?” Who am I without my career? My husband’s wife? My parents’ daughter? If I wake up tomorrow and those relationships are gone, who am I then?
Another part of me thinks I’m being incredibly selfish to want it all. We are able to live comfortably on my husband’s salary, which is more than what many families can say during these economically challenging days. Living in Europe also affords us the ability to travel to places we normally would never be able to see -- we have been to 16 different countries since we’ve moved here. It is an incredible opportunity, yet I can’t help but want more.
I like working. I like having a routine schedule where I know from the morning until late afternoon that I’m going to be a productive member of society.
Moreover, I have quickly found that I’m the worst housewife on the planet. By the time five o’clock rolls around, I’m usually running around the apartment, looking for something easy to clean or rearrange so that when my husband gets home, I can say, “Look at what I’ve accomplished today!”
Unfortunately, I usually choose really bizarre chores for myself. Instead of picking up the books and handbags I have scattered about our place, I’ll organize the items in our kitchen cabinets and create an alphabetized inventory in order to make more accurate grocery lists. When I show my husband, he asks, mystified, “You did what?”
I don’t know if I will ever get my career back on track, but I do know that at the end of the day, I wouldn’t trade my marriage for anything, not even a job.
So for now, I’ll continue to send resumes to countless potential employers. I’ll empty the dishwasher, prepare a hot meal for my hardworking husband. I’ll keep that alphabetized kitchen inventory up-to-date, and I’ll take time to remember to be thankful for all that I have. And on the upside, at least I can do it all in my flannel pajamas.
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