My life is going to be different soon. Wendy's PhD is finally closing out and we will be free of the shackles that have held us in place for so long. We will be free to move away, pursue other opportunities, consider jobs in distant lands, begin life anew! But anyone that knows me knows that we aren't going to do that. We are going to stay right here because Toronto is home and it has lots of great people I have no interest in moving away from. Life will be very similar in that she will go to work in some lab but with more freedom that we have little interest in exercising.
The real changes will occur largely inside my own head. When Wendy and I got together part of her focus in life was getting a PhD. It was made abundantly clear that she was going to do this and that should it come down to a choice between pursuing the dream and being with me that the dream would win hands down. Of course our commitment now is bigger than that but at the time I needed to be completely on board with this as the one greatest goal. I never have understood that drive and I suspect I never will but I accepted it as part of the package. Unconditional support of the PhD, no matter what that entailed, was a price I was more than willing to pay to be with the love of my life.
I never thought the price would be so high.
Not just in money, though $350,000 is a pretty big chunk of change to spend on what is, for me, a wall decoration of little aesthetic value. It is easy to commit to supporting a thing when basically living the single life as I didn't mind working and living on one regular salary and one student stipend was completely comfortable for me. Hell, at that pace I wouldn't much have cared how long it took. Having a child changed everything though since we simply couldn't be happy with Wendy doing the PhD and me working while Elli was around. We tried it for a few months and ended up miserable and stressed out with no time to enjoy each other or much of anything else. For the last five years we have been living just on a student stipend, slowing watching our savings dribble away to nothing. For me in particular knowing that we are losing money all the time no matter how little I tried to live on made me crazy. Year after year of skipping out on things I wanted to do just to save $5 really got to me.
It is especially challenging to support something that has a definite end when you have no idea when that end will occur and can't help it come faster. For years people would ask me about doing things and I would bow out based on time, money, or energy and they would want to know when the PhD would be done so I could get back to normal. I would give the timeframe I had been supplied with and then that timeframe would pass and no end was in sight. After hearing that refrain a dozen times people got confused and started asking if something was terribly wrong and I had nothing to say in reply. How do you respond to people worrying that there is a terrible tragedy in your life when you feel so frustrated about it yourself but desperately want to support your partner? I was never able to find the right answer.
The thing that is running through my mind today as I consider that things are close to done, that Wendy will have a real salary soon, that she will be able to finally shed some of the stress that has been clinging to her for a decade now, is that our dynamic is due to change. Our lives won't be run with a single goal trumping all others. I said I would support her dream of getting a PhD and I have but never did I say that her dreams would rule over mine for all of our days together. Of course she hasn't asked for that and doesn't expect that but there is no question that there is going to be a dramatic shift and we don't know where it will lead. Our relationship has been dominated by one thing and our big choices have always been based on that and suddenly we are adrift, without a course to steer by.
Instead of making decisions by first checking to see what the PhD requires we will make them by asking "What do we want? What will make us happy?" If a job is being awful and stressful Wendy can quit. I can work, or she can work, either is fine, but being tied to any particular arrangement or workplace is no longer required. It is certainly a relief to think that our major life decisions will be primarily guided by our desire for happiness rather than getting a bunch of old scientists to sign a particular piece of paper but there is no question that it will take some getting used to.
I am reminded of a time about 11 years ago when I first told Wendy that I was making a decision and it was final. I informed her that we were not keeping a crappy futon and that I was going to buy a good couch. If she disagreed I would have simply thrown out the futon myself and bought a couch anyway. I knew I cared a great deal about this and she did not and I made the decision. This was exactly the opposite of our usual process where she would make the final call and it stunned her. She quickly accepted that since I felt so strongly about this one thing we should just do that but it was a turning point for us - usually the things I care about are so esoteric that they don't influence most domestic decisions in a relationship. (The fact that the University should really cost 7 and the Factory should cost 8 in a particular board game is of great interest to me but really not something we would fight about. If we did fight about it, I would bloody well win.)
Going forward we are definitely going to have a lot more decisions like that, where we do what I want because it is more important to me than to her. She is still probably going to make 80% of the final decisions because I still mostly care about ridiculous things but everything will have to be negotiated from a very different standpoint than ever before. Our lives are going to be good, really good, in a myriad of ways. Less stress, more freedom, more money, and we get to do some fun small things we have been waiting on until the PhD is finally done. It will be different though and transitioning to a new style is going to have its own challenges. No matter the challenges I am ready to begin the next stage of my life alongside the person that I have wanted to spend all my days with ever since that fateful moment at the corner of Belsize and Forman those 12 years ago when I fell heads over heels in love and thought "Uh oh."