Each fall new families move into our university ward, and inevitably the husband stands up, introduces his wife, and then says that “we are here for law school” (or for some other medical, business, or graduate program).
In the past, this mode of introduction has bothered me. Since typically only the husband is actually attending school, the statement would strike me as a distortion of the truth that prioritized the husband’s purpose for being in the area while minimizing the wife’s pursuits and goals. That women’s stories become subservient to their husbands’ still makes me uneasy, but recently I have come to value the sentiments that can underlie this statement.
Most of my life, I accepted the ideology that through hard-work I could shape my own life course and attain personal success in my chosen pursuits. However, a year ago I was placed in the position of the “trailing” spouse who had to move for her husband’s career. This experience was initially terrifying to me: I was placed in a new environment without friends, without a job, and without, it seemed, in clear sense of purpose or direction. My life narrative was shattered. I didn’t feel that “we” were here for anything; I felt that my husband was moving for a job and that everything I had aspired to was suddenly gone.
However, as I began to adjust to our marriage and to our move, I began to realize that marriage and adult life requires us not to think in terms of merit and self-achievement, but instead to ask what we can contribute to a larger organizational whole, sometimes at the expense of our interests. As my attitude shifted, I was surprised to discover a host of new occupations and ideas that personally fulfilled me, and I was delighted to realize that every day I was making contributions to our family and even to my husband’s pursuits that, if not widely acknowledged, were substantial. A successful marriage and career, I learned, cannot be based on the ideas that spouses had discrete realms of responsibility that the other does not assist in; instead, success depended on helping each other and seeing all aspects of our marriage as a team effort.
A year later, as I look at the other displaced wives who are following their husbands to school, I am certain that although they might not be in class, that in a very real way they will be “here for law school.” I’m not saying it is ideal that we live in a world where we have to make choices to give up some aspirations for family life, but I have come to like the phrase “we are here for law school,” because it gives credit to spouses for work that often remains hidden and unacknowledged. It reaffirms the spirit of teamwork in a marriage that some (including me occasionally) would have us overlook by seeing the situation only through the lens of a wife who sacrificed herself for her husband.