I married my husband two months after graduating from college. A month after that, we got in our cars and caravanned over 1,800 miles away from our families and friends to my husband Harrison’s graduate school.
It was our first big step into adulthood, and we were doing it together.
In the excitement of getting married and starting our life together, we underestimated the toll moving away would take on us. Time felt in short supply with saying goodbyes, packing, and spending time with both families. We had days leading up to the move where one of us would spiral, questioning if we were doing the right thing, while the other was feeling excited and confident in this move. Then emotional whiplash hit, and the roles would reverse. Sharing one another’s burdens while moving was a new kind of challenge.
Throughout ten years of marriage (and six moves), we’ve learned to expect some of these difficulties of life. But as I’ve reflected, I’ve realized how navigating big decisions and responsibilities in married life has been simpler and more challenging than I thought it would be. Simpler, because we have support in one another, because big decisions are something we share. More challenging, because reconciling two individuals’ needs and wants is easier said than done.
Facing the feeling of just being along for the ride
The fact that I was marrying my now-husband, Harrison, freed me from initially figuring out the loaded question, “What are you going to do after graduating?” Leading up to graduation, some of my single peers had set plans for graduate school or jobs, while others were feeling the stress to figure out the “what,” “where,” and “when” of their lives.
While I was thankful to know “where” and “when,” it wasn’t long before I discovered I was searching for my answer of “what.” Harrison would be in class—what would I be doing? What about me? What would fill my days and give me a sense of purpose?
I applied for a few jobs before the wedding, but nothing panned out. I didn’t even get to visit the place before we moved, and we headed cross-country to a city unseen. (To give you an idea of what a leap of faith this was for a planner like me: I visited 17 colleges before applying to ten of them.)
As we centered our newly married life around his career trajectory, and as I struggled to find a career focus of my own, I felt more like I was tagging along on his monumental first adult step.
That first month on campus felt so long. I applied frantically to jobs as Harrison was settling into his grad school life. He was excited about school. I was sad about work prospects. He felt guilty for feeling happy while I was sad. I felt guilty for feeling sad while he was happy.
On top of that, I felt the pressure of wanting to land my first big-girl job, so I could provide for our family. It forced us to communicate about our feelings surrounding finances. He felt bad about his school debt. I felt bad I didn’t make more.
Trading self-doubt for peace
In those first years after college, it was hard not to compare myself to my friends who went right into grad school. I was envious that they were making this big step to further their own careers, even as I was super proud of them and genuinely rooting them on (grad school is hard work!). But I let my self-doubt confirm my perception that I was just along for the ride on my husband’s grad school journey.
When I dug deeper, I realized that the longing for graduate school was rooted in uncertainty about my talents and my professional path. I didn’t even know what I would want to study if I did go to graduate school. I didn’t know what sort of job or career I wanted long-term. Moreover, my feelings of comparison and uncertainty nearly led me to take for granted how fortunate I was to be married to my high school sweetheart and figuring out this life with him by my side.
I wrestled with finding myself and my professional passions. At the time, it was easy to blame it on the fact that I’d moved for my husband’s career. Looking back, however, I’m certain it would have happened whether I was married or not. Marriage, I’ve learned, does not shield you from the insecurities most of us face in navigating our adult lives.
The truth is, there is no set timeline or checklist for career milestones or major life events. Because so much of my focus leading up to graduation was on getting married, I didn’t have time or need to worry too much about my career or graduate school options. But that was actually just fine. Everyone has something they are longing for—professional success, stability, homeownership, friends, marriage, children—and everyone has pieces of their lives they’re still sorting out. We only frustrate ourselves by trying to follow a predetermined plan or by comparing our lives to others’.
Widening our support systems
When I eventually landed a work-from-home job, I formed my schedule around Harrison’s schedule, working while he was in class or doing homework. This was a blessing, but it was also an opportunity to learn that it was okay to have my own plans, and to make my own friends. Gradually Harrison and I learned to communicate about our social needs—if we needed alone time, time with just the two of us, time with friends, or time together with friends.
It wasn’t just concerning my social needs that I learned to widen my scope. Harrison and I quickly found that some tasks are simply too big for two to complete, and we learned to ask for help. I remember my dad helping pack our first moving pod, and years later flying to help us pack again. We had friends help us pack and unpack dishes. There were lovely church ladies who assisted in the deep-cleaning necessary when moving out of rental units.
Even simply talking about life’s little challenges with someone other than my husband was important: when a long-time friend visited, she and I commiserated about buying groceries and cooking, plus learning what food really was seasonal in the Midwest. It didn’t matter that I was married and she was single at the time; we both were learning this responsibility that adulthood brought. And that in and of itself was a comfort.
Finding my own identity
The transition into adulthood was exciting, but it was also a struggle. I wanted to look like I had it all together; I wanted to have all the answers.
But, married or not, none of us has all the answers. I smile as I think back to some of the simple meals Harrison and I ate as we were first learning to cook for ourselves. (Shoot, we still have nights of frozen pizza, fruit, and dessert—most of the food groups are covered.) We gave each other lots of grace then, and we still do today. We learned together, we communicated, and we’re continuing to grow.
Back then, we were two “youngins” sorting out adult life together. Today, there’s a lot we’re still sorting out. But along the way, I’ve found the contours of my own identity. I’ve learned more about my interests, my goals; I’ve learned more about my needs and wants; I’ve learned to lean on a wider community for support. I’ve grown comfortable as my own, unique self—even as I love and appreciate the husband beside me.