A reader once asked me why there were so many couples in academic departments and why so many of them met in graduate school. MOTL and I met as PhD students in Political Science and while we are not in the same academic department - he has (smartly) moved on to have a ‘real-world’ job and I am now a postdoc - I can perhaps speak to why this is the case. In my program alone, I count no less than seven married couples who met during the PhD program. Lots of these couples now have children, who I dub “poli sci babies.”
It could be because most people who start graduate school are in their twenties and thirties, which is the time most people start thinking about settling down. It could also be because graduate school, unlike, say, your undergraduate studies or even your work place, fosters intense closeness and camaraderie. As a cohort, you are brought together because of the demands of your program. You spend time studying for your core classes together, writing together, bouncing ideas off of each other. You bond over the difficulties of all of the milestones you’d have to meet - from passing your classes, to getting ABD status, to getting ethics approval, to the interminable writing process. In a sense, then, those in graduate school bond together because everyone becomes survivors. It is hard for outsiders to know what graduate school is like, to know what academia is like, to know the soul-crushing defeat that you feel when your supervisor rejects your draft and when you realize that you are ensnared in a fucked- up power structure where you find that your agency is repeatedly compromised.
Of course, it could also be that those who gravitate towards your graduate school program share the same interests, passions, and dreams. Let’s face it. You’d have to be a pretty big dork to contemplate devoting years of your life in a PhD program. While the rest of your peers who opted out of graduate school are becoming adults, you are still ensnared in an endless cycle of writing and rewriting, researching and editing, with nary a paycheque in sight. (Teaching assistantship stipends barely count). And we do all of this for a love of knowledge. We keep at it because there are questions that inspire us and that get us up in the morning. So it makes sense that your chosen partner is someone who understands this world.
As our lives have evolved beyond graduate school, though, I am struck with just how much the attributes MOTL had back then still define him today. Years after we first started dating, MOTL and I still keep talking about our ideas, namely our commitment to community-engaged research, our belief that there are ways to transcend institutional constraints (and harmful conservative ideologies!) to shape policy, our love for politics. Likewise, friends who met in graduate school in other fields like English literature and History tell me that, aside from similarities in values and beliefs, the core of their relationship is still based on their mutual love for their fields. All of this isn’t to say that you can’t find people who share the same interests outside your field but that the chances are likely that those who you meet in your program in graduate school share the same interests.
And really, isn’t that what lasting relationships are about? MOTL and I still have so many things to talk to each other about, even five years later. Then and now, I love MOTL for his compassion and kindness and how he will do absolutely anything - even at the cost of inconveniencing himself - for his friends. Most of all, though, I love that he is as geekily excited about esoteric political matters as I am. I have yet to meet anyone who considers political communication strategies and electoral riding breakdowns as pillow talk! And though I like to think that, had we not gone into graduate school, we’d end up meeting eventually, I honestly think grad school heightened the odds that we would.
On a final note, I love you MOTL! Five years down, decades and decades more to go.