Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Commitment device

There are many good reasons to have a child. A commitment device to force you and your partner to make decisions to keep the family together is not one of them. After all, if my partner and I can't decide to take jobs in the same city after a decade of being together for our own sakes, is that really going to change, without someone feeling some sort of resentment, once there is a third person involved? Yet, this was one of the reasons we listed to ourselves when we started trying to have a child.

The existence of this blog is proof that Epsilon did little to keep us to the promise of keeping the family in one physical city. Little, but not zero. When I find myself despairing at our inability to put family before career, it may be worth while to think of what has changed in a concrete manner.

The last two job searches have focused much more on universities where the other person would have a hope of a happy career than the previous two searches. There are fewer applications to universities without other universities near by, and more in large cities with lots of universities in the metro area. Would we have done this anyway? Unfortunately I'd have to say no. I still have a very hard time asking my partner to not take positions he is excited by, even if I fear the effect on the relationship. In the past, we adopted the attitude "Ehn, we'll suffer through this as well." We still do this to an extent, though the difficulties of single parenting for large chunks of time is significant enough to keep us from taking it on lightly.

To our credit, I do not think we have let Epsilon feel the folly of our thinking regarding his potential role as familial glue. We quickly realized that it wasn't going to happen, and moved on with our lives.

I think we have been more willing to talk about the fact that we have a family situation now that we have a child. Since we are not married, it makes us (me at least) more hesitant to ask about possible solutions to our 2 body problem. However, with a child, our lack of marriage no longer feels like a barrier.

I think we (I?) need to look at this lack of ability to put family before career in a different light. It is frustrating that we cannot seem to sacrifice enough to live in one place. We do not enjoy the fiscal, emotional and physical toll of weekly flights and two households. However, if I look at this from the correct angle, this is not a symptom of my partner and I being insufficiently committed to each other. Rather, it is a symptom of two ambitious people being very committed to each other. My partner keeps reminding me that I (and thus the family) would be miserable if I were a housewife. Part of what keeps my partner and I together is a mutual respect for our ambition and curiosity about each other's science. If I put that behind me "for the sake of the family," do I really have the best interest of the family in mind?

This analysis does not erase my doubts of whether or not what we are putting ourselves and Epsilon through currently and for the next few years is at all the right thing to do. I can hope that upon rereading these arguments, they settle down in the background for a while.


  1. I did not realize you two weren't formally married. I have to confess, part of the reason I married my spouse, since I didn't really need a marriage license to confirm our commitment, was for negotiating two-body problems down the road (which as you mention, might be trickier if not technically married). May I ask why you two haven't married?

  2. There are many reasons I haven't married. Currently, too many of my friends/family members can't marry, even if they wanted to (and many do). Like you, we don't need the marriage license to confirm our commitment. Unfortunately for me, a marriage ceremony cannot ever be just a sweet ceremony indicating our mutual love for each other, and our community's support for us. There are too many strings attached to marriage that I don't want to get entangled with. There's too much inequality between "Husband" and "Wife" that I do not want to enter into.

  3. Interesting... I also got married in order to negotiate the two-body problem. It did have the additional benefit that the celebration was a lot of fun and a good excuse to reconnect with some lost friends.

    But back to the post, you do what you feel is the best for you and your family at the given time. Epsilon needs happy parents and you are doing what is best to be happy!

  4. I think eventually you'll be able to find jobs near each other. It's frustrating now to be constantly searching, but I think you'll manage to get there. (And maybe it will even be at the university near me, which would be super exciting!)

    You make a very good point about sacrifice- if you sacrifice too much, you have nothing to bring to your family, because you've given up too much of yourself. Partner, Epsilon, and especially you, deserve much better than that.