I’ve been married 31 years so buckle up for a long post and lots of musings on marriage. Or, for the part about how marriage affected my career, scroll down to the heading called “I didn’t plan to work after we had kids.”
Three months after my 19th birthday and two weeks after my freshman year of college ended, I met Larry Evans. It was May of ’79 and we were both summer employees of the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation in Washington, D.C. Think summer internships — except, and I’m not kidding, they paid us really well. When the summer job ended, I went back to JMU and he returned to Kenyon for his senior year. We had no email, no mobile phones, and no money for plane tickets. We did have U.S. mail and reduced long distance charges on Sundays. Larry’s phone charges for long distance were automatically billed to his student account at Kenyon and he got a talking to from his parents when he came home for winter break that first year. They liked me, but the crazy expensive phone calls had to stop.
Three years after we met, we got married. It was June of 1982; me 22, him 24. Two months later, we moved to Rochester, New York and Larry began a PhD program in political science at University of Rochester. I married a smart man. He had a full ride to U of R, including a healthy stipend for living expenses (those days are gone). This was the start of a period of time when all my Valentine’s Day, anniversary and birthday gifts came from college bookstores; something I love to tease Larry about. (Note: the inventory in college bookstores is a lot more diverse than it used to be.) Anyway, I’ve often thought that beginning our marriage isolated from everyone we knew was a good way to go. No in-law issues, no one to go stay with when you got pissed off and left, and no one else to hang out with while exploring a new place.
Although I don’t think I’ve ever been asked why it’s lasted so long, that is a perennial question for people who’ve been with the same person for longer than not. If asked, here are the reasons I’d give:
A combination of luck and chemistry.
As our son has said to me a couple of times, “Not everyone meets their soulmate at age 19, Mom.” He’s right. There was luck involved. I am thankful that I was at the right place, at the right time. Larry Evans was unlike anyone I’d ever met. He was the guy I would have hated and avoided in high school and he would have disliked me even more. He talked about things I had no background for and organized after-work picnics. (At the time, I didn’t know he hated them.) That summer, he introduced me to black and white movies, eating out in restaurants at lunchtime, and hours of fascinating conversation. There was chemistry. When the luck and the chemistry are combined, you’ve got the beginnings of something good.
The ability to survive stubbornness.
I was high maintenance back then. I do believe I’ve mellowed considerably over the years but you’d have to ask Larry to confirm my choice of adverbs. Sometimes, I wonder why he put up with me. It must have been that chemistry thing I mentioned above. When two eldest children marry, there is a lot of stubbornness and a lot of bossiness too. We survived the fireworks and it’s made for some great stories. Jack and Rebecca love to hear us tell about the time I locked Larry out on the balcony of our apartment; it never gets old. During the dark moments that all marriages have, Larry would talk about a tennis match and remind me of the sweet spot, the tennis player’s favorite area of the racket. He always focused on the best of us; the part of us that knows we are meant to be together. (Neither of us plays tennis.)
The realization that you need good advice.
Besides wanting everyone to be married, married people love to give advice. Advice I got from three individuals made an impression on me and I’ve remembered them regularly as we went along:
- Never put your marriage on the back burner.
- I was perfect until I got married.
- When you get irritated, go look in the mirror. You’re no prize yourself.
Pay attention to those three and I add my own: If you don’t understand your spouse and are frustrated by things he/she does, spend the weekend with your in-laws. You’ll find out it’s ingrained, they really can’t help it, and you’ll soften to it.
The sense to know what you want out of life.
From the beginning, Larry and I had similar goals. In the three years prior to getting married, we talked about everything. We knew we wanted the same things. We didn’t always agree about how to get there (and still don’t) but we always make joint decisions. Even in the few instances where one of us threatened to make a decision independent of the other, we couldn’t do it. Trust that the other has your best interests at heart and having the same end goal in mind is the only way to get to the agreement. Speaking of goals…
I didn’t plan to work after we had kids.
I’ve been thinking a lot about how my marriage has affected my career. In the first five years, I was the only one working full time. Although he was a TA and did adjunct teaching, Larry was a full-time grad student. He was always a patient listener as I figured out the work politics during my first few jobs. When I could stomach it, I let him edit my writing. That paid off; I am a better writer because of him. I have a bent towards strategic thinking; it’s something I do naturally but also something that Larry has helped further develop in me. So many times, he said to me, “I know you’d get a lot of psychological satisfaction out of that approach, but it is not in your best interest.” Larry has the strongest strategic thinking and strategic assessment skills of anyone I’ve ever met. I am in awe of that.
In the beginning, our plan was that I’d stop working once we had children. After Jack was born, I did just that for about a year until, frankly, the money ran out. By then, Larry was a tenure-track professor at William & Mary and we needed a second income. Once we decided I’d return to work, I started looking at part-time jobs that were during the evening or on weekends. I wanted to create a situation where work didn’t interfere with raising young children. My plan was that Larry and I would have to be ships passing in the night, each doing childcare while the other was working.
Because of Larry (and my parents), we ended up not going the part-time route. I took a full-time compensation management job in Richmond and commuted two hours a day. Larry worked in Williamsburg but he commuted too — 1.5 hours a day to drive our son to stay with his grandparents while we worked. I’ll always appreciate that time commitment he made to accomplish a shared goal for our family.
Larry helped create my love for higher education. I valued education from the get go and by the time he started grad school, I was fine with the idea of being married to a college professor. I liked the flexibility it would offer to us after we became parents. What I didn’t expect was to fall in love with higher ed.
When I applied for a job in the HR department at William & Mary, I did it because I was tired of driving to Richmond. My choice to take the job had nothing to do with the fact that I’d be working on a college campus. In fact, when I was offered the job, I even told my future supervisor that I only planned to work six months. We wanted to have a second child and, again, I planned to quit working.
Eight and a half months later, I thought I was wrapping up my time at William & Mary because our second child was due any day. Just before Rebecca was born, my boss asked if I’d be willing to come back and work part-time. I agreed and that set off a nine-year period where Larry and I scheduled our work time around each other and the kids’ school schedules. For eight years, Larry didn’t teach before 10:00AM. For years, he handled the morning shift and I met the school bus at the end of the day. During the summer, I was able to work from home but Larry spent many summer days with Jack and Rebecca and an Excel spreadsheet of activities. Once our kids were older, Larry was the one who drove home to be there when high school ended each day (an important time to have a parent around). Perhaps you are thinking, lots of men do all this. Maybe so; but I haven’t met many. The fact is that Larry’s sacrifice of time was possible because a professor has a flexible work schedule. But that wouldn’t have been enough; it also meant that he was working evenings and weekends to make up for it. He had the luxury of spending time during the work day on family stuff, but the expectations of his career were demanding and unchanged. You’ve heard about publish or perish, right? He did (publish).
Together on a campus, Larry and I had a 22-year love affair with William & Mary. Even so, when I was considering leaving William & Mary to work for mStoner, Larry had three words of advice: “Go for it.” We jointly decided the time was right for me even though, for him, there is another sacrifice since I do some traveling. Still 100% in my camp, he knows I’m loving the work and that’s what matters to him.
If you’ve ever worked with me, you’ve heard me say multiple times, “Larry is my biggest cheerleader.” He always views my skills as just what’s needed for any situation at work. I try to tell him there’s another side, but he won’t hear it. He thinks I’m capable of anything and, in part, his attitude about me and my abilities has helped make it so. If I had given him a chance to review this post prior to publishing, he would have removed any language that didn’t put me in the most optimal light. But the purpose of this post is to let the world know that my marriage has affected my career. Thank you, Larry.