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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work-Life Balance

My Story: I Left My Dream Job for My Boyfriend

Born and raised just outside our nation’s capitol, I knew I wanted to “make a difference” when I grew up. Multiple trips to Africa and an internship on the Hill clarified exactly what that career path would be—nonprofit work with an international focus—and after college, I landed my dream job in Washington, DC.

Meaningful work, a great boss, an apartment in Scott Circle, my best friend one floor away: Check, check, check, and check.

But two unforeseen things happened during my senior year of college. In the fall, a family cancer diagnosis refocused my vision for life, and I saw through the eyes of my mother that having a family could be having it all. My career, of course, would be a piece of it, but the cornerstone would be the spouse with whom I would build a life.

Then, a few months later, at a Valentine’s Day party, I met a football coach named Mac. We started dating shortly thereafter, and the more we were together, I just knew this was the man I was going to marry.

We had outlined our relationship deal-breakers from the start. His was that his wife would have to be willing to move (repeatedly) for his career. Once I moved to Washington, DC, he was a four-hour car ride away. I tried to see him every other weekend, but we soon decided that if we really wanted to be together, I was going to have to move.

Like any good academic, I went on Amazon and bought four of the most highly rated moving-in-together books (I know, I know). Along with discussing how moving in together to save on rent was a bad idea, one of them advised having a frank discussion about the intentions of your relationship before the move. Not, “marry me, or I won’t move”—more like, “before I quit my job, break my lease, and move away from friends and family because I think you’re the one, do you see this going anywhere?”

We had the talk, and we did see a future together. (He just wanted to make sure, for both our sakes, that I could survive a football season before getting married—like some sort of loving, hazing challenge to test if I could really do this.) So I loaded up the U-Haul, and headed to a rural town in Pennsylvania—a town that had been hit hard by the recession.

At first, I was happy—at least whenever I was with Mac. He’d come home on his lunch breaks and we’d make tuna fish sandwiches and watch Las Vegas reruns. He’d ask how the job hunt was going and be encouraging.

But I soon found myself in crisis. I was sending out resumes every day, but had no job prospects. I hadn’t made any close friends. I didn’t want to go out and do anything because that would cost money and I didn’t have any income, so I sat at home.

Some days, the decision brought me to tears. Had I gotten the best job offer I would ever have right out of school and not known enough to appreciate it? Sure, I saw Mac every day, but who was I and what was I bringing to the relationship?

Mac, always the voice of reason, said, “You’re lonely and sad because you don’t have your family and your friends and your job—but when you were in DC, you were lonely and sad because you didn’t have me. Which is it?”

“But you have it all,” I would cry. “You have friends here, you have a job you love, you don’t have to feel guilty about spending money, and you have me.”

But while I wanted to get my point across, I didn’t want to leave. I knew this was the man I wanted to spend my life with, and I knew I would get through this.

And slowly, I did. In September, I began two part-time jobs at retail stores. While it wasn’t fundraising for refugees, I worked with other women, and they became some of my closest friends. Then, in December, on the eighth night of Hanukah, Mac got down on his knee and asked me to be his wife.

I said yes and jumped into his arms. I cried “happy tears” and we both had smiles that consumed our faces and joy that consumed our being. That moment meant that no matter what jobs we held or where we lived, we would declare to God, and our family, and our friends, and ourselves, and anyone we would meet for the rest of our lives, that we were a family. It was beautiful and exciting and perfect.

Shortly thereafter, the head coach of Mac’s team resigned. When this happens, it’s a matter of time until the rest of the staff gets let go (one of the perks of being hired as the new head coach is that you get to bring all of “your guys” on board). Mac was out of a job, and I now needed full-time work.

And I was able to find it, which I’m grateful for. But I must admit, I had never imagined being required to pass a lift test, donning a blue mechanic shirt, or photographing auto parts. Yes—though I had absolutely no background in photography or automotives—it was the job I got. The first morning, as I meandered back to a room filled with boxes that they turned into the photography studio, I called my mother and said, “I’m the beginning of a Lifetime movie.”

After a few weeks of job-searching, Mac got a new job. In New Jersey. So now, I was in rural Pennsylvania, in my mechanic shirt, with my greasy hands—and living alone. I had moved to be with him in the first place, so what was Pennsylvania holding for me now? So I gave a respectable amount of notice, spent practically every night with my friends, and found my old U-Haul information.

I knew I wanted to get back into the nonprofit sector and with New Jersey’s proximity to Philadelphia and New York, I was determined. When, I made it to the in-person interview for a job at a nonprofit in Princeton, I literally jumped up and down and screamed. I discussed my transferrable skills and I got the job. I was elated.

We then moved into an apartment just outside Princeton. We had the apartment, the great jobs, the nearby friends and family (Mac is from New Jersey), and the wedding planned: Check, check, check, and check. In June 2011, we got married and were now completely settled. We were happy, blissfully in love, and finally working in our desired fields.

Four and half years after we first met, and just weeks from our first wedding anniversary—I’ve learned four key things that I would share with anyone leaving a job to move for a significant other:

1. Have the “State of the Move” Talk

This is worth reiterating. Don’t quit your job, break your lease, and call anyone who doesn’t support your decision a hater until you know that you and your significant other both see a future together. Best-case scenario, you’re both on the same page, and you move. Other best-case scenario, you’re not on the same page—but you haven’t quit your job and lost your security deposit.

2. Make Sure Your Significant Other Has Your Back

While Mac’s job may dictate where we live, his happiness doesn’t trump mine. It’s truly important to both of us that the other is happy and fulfilled. Decisions in our home are made together, and there isn’t one member of our relationship who matters more than the other.

3. Reach Out to Your Friends (Old and New)

Even though I had Mac, I felt loneliest when I wasn’t reaching out to anyone else (this is not as obvious as it sounds). It can feel hard to call your friends when you feel like you have nothing to share—but they aren’t your friends because you have interesting news, they’re your friends because they love you. Along similar lines, it can be hard to meet new people if you don’t have an answer to “What do you do?” But there’s more to life than your job title: In a professional setting, talk about your skills (they’re still there!) and in a personal setting, learn how to talk about more than just your occupation.

4. Keep Working Toward Your Career Goals (Even When it Feels Impossible)

Was automotive photography the ticket to my career goals? Absolutely not—but it was a job. And without fail, when I interview for a position, I come across someone who wants to know more about that job—it shows them there’s character beneath my suit and pearls. Certainly, I frame the experience in a way that’s relevant to my career (e.g., being the key staff member responsible for an important part of the business and implementing protocol). But the point is, when you have career gaps or professional aberrations, you don’t have to paint them as sacrifices for your significant other. Rather, see how you can position them into a stronger resume and candidacy.

Fittingly, in April, Mac applied for and got a job coaching in Maine. He moved in early April and I'll be joining him in June. I’ll admit there is a part of me that’s sad and a part of me that’s scared. But thankfully, it feels different this time (and not just because I’ll be calling U-Haul with a new last name).

We have met lifelong friends and had life-changing experiences each place we’ve been. So while moving forces me to ask transitional questions of myself—What sort of work will I do? How settled do we want to be before we think about growing our family?—I know I can do this, because I’ve done it before.

And while it may not get easier (packing is always a mission, and so is finding new girlfriends and a new dry cleaner), you get better at it. And for the first time, I’m moving to join my husband, and that’s a great feeling.

Photos courtesy of Rob and Jax Photography.