Dear Rosie & Sherry,
I have been dating a very nice guy for a few months. From the beginning, he knew of my aspiration to become a lawyer, even though I still have four-to-five years to go. Yet, I am determined and plan to carry out my goal. Now, after three months, my goals seem to make him nervous. He fears that it will be difficult for him to commit to someone who will constantly need to study. He says, "It's one thing if we just got married, but what happens when and if kids come along?"
I am personally acquainted with women who pursued medical or law careers while married, and did not necessarily shirk off their "wifely obligations." And I never gave him the impression that I would shirk off those duties once I am married. Yet I am reluctant to discuss this with him because I don't want to convince him to commit to something he may not want. On the other hand, if he knew all along, why did it only begin to bother him now?
Should this be the basis for ending the courtship? Until our most recent date we were on the verge of discussing possible marriage, so I would greatly appreciate your shedding light on the situation.
The man you are dating may be trying to resolve what he views as a practical concern in a marriage. Or he may be using something he has always known about as a crutch to get him out of this courtship, perhaps to avoid confronting something he's really worried about -- commitment. You'll have to try to figure out which is the case.
The conflict between an intensive professional school curriculum and married life is a legitimate concern for anyone who plans to study while he/she is married. Will the time and energy you have to expend on studies take away from the time and energy you need to nurture your relationship with your spouse? What financial concerns will you both have to face during this time? If children come along, how will each of you be able to handle the responsibilities of parenthood, studies and financial requirements?
Anyone that is thinking about marriage should address these concerns before becoming engaged.
As women who were each married before beginning graduate school, we can tell you that marriage and higher education can mix successfully, as long as your spouse supports what you are doing. The greatest challenge you will face is maintaining emotional intimacy at the same time you're devoting a great deal of intellectual energy to a challenging academic curriculum. One way to meet this challenge is to set aside a block of time every day (at breakfast or dinner, for example) to spend together and share each of your experiences and feelings with the other, and to reserve one or two blocks of time each week for "dates." You can also avoid two potential sources of conflict by agreeing in advance how to handle finances and sharing household responsibilities.
Children do make the situation more complicated, but many women (Sherry included) have children during this time. The first year of law school is the most difficult time to have a child, since students need to spend so much time preparing for classes; second and third-year students have more free time. Try talking to other people who successfully completed graduate school when they were young mothers, and then discuss their experiences with this man to anticipate how you might organize your lives if you had a child before completing your education.
Of course, if the man you are dating has focused on this issue as a way of expressing his fear of commitment, he will probably find another reason to doubt that this match will work. If that's the case, no amount of convincing on your part will help him resolve that issue.
Rosie & Sherry