Let’s talk about the career concerns I have raised in my long-term romantic relationship, and what conversations you should be having in yours.
I met my partner when I was 18; ostensibly the age where I truly began my career journey, having shifted across the state for my undergraduate studies.
Ours is the quintessential college sweethearts story: we met, we became friends, romantic feelings developed, and we started dating. Back then, in the less mature version of our relationship, we were not too concerned about What Next?.
We were studying, and we were having fun. Even after we got our degrees and our first jobs in different cities, we didn’t really feel the need to talk about intertwined lifestyles where we were together in the same city, and working there as well.
Then, I went abroad for my postgraduate studies, and as the end of my education loomed, I knew that a whole lot of adulting was imminent in the near future. A masters degree in hand meant that I now had to have a career. There was no other detour before ‘real life’ began.
That meant adult conversations would have to be had. Adult decisions would have to be made. And worst of all, adult compromises would have to be reached upon. The horror!
Okay maybe not the horror. It wasn’t so dramatic, but it did have the tiniest bit of anxiety buzzing through my mind. Leave aside the question of whether I was ready to be an adult properly yet… were my partner and I ready for the Career Talk?
Part One: The Love Story Actually Begins When Real Life Happens
By the time the dreaded Career Talk came to knock, my partner and I had been together for six years. While a lot of people might think that this was enough to prepare us for future-planning, rest assured that it was not.
Although we had been together for nearly our entire adult lives, we were still maturing. When I think of our relationship in college, I wonder at how we lasted so long without the kind of depth and maturity that exists in our relationship now.
Back then, we both knew that careers were the next step after education, and that we both had to work towards our individual goals. It was very obvious that we were operating within a privileged bubble — we had a relationship both our parents were aware of, there would be no pressure on me (as a woman) to give up my career for a relationship, we were both in it for the long haul (unlike many of our peers).
But when real life came knocking six years in, tough conversations were had. And coming up are the various issues we raised and discussed in detail.
Part Two: What A Girl Wants (Career-Wise)
Let me make clear some of my relationship values: I see myself as monogamous, and largely inclined towards long-term relationships. I personally find the thought of non-romantic (ahem) excursions anxiety-inducing. As the youths would put it, my love language is largely emotional. In as much, I have only ever looked for relationships that fulfil these criteria.
And with my partner, I found this relationship: the kind that is lasting, and grows with time. But underneath the (probably socially-conditioned) fantasies of forever and ever, lay the heart of a girl with ambition.
A girl, who in fact, had not only the ambitions, but a plan in pursuit of that ambition. And the ambitious girl in me was also in the career lane for a long-term, emotionally-fulfilling relationship with my work.
So what did my partner and I discuss?
Plans And Opportunities
As I have mentioned above, I was always ambition-setting. I was sure about where I was going in my career — what I wanted to study at the under- and postgraduate levels, what kind of work I wanted to start out with, and what my final career destination was.
My partner, however, was not so decided. He kind of knew which industry he wanted to work in, but he wasn’t sure how to get there, and there were more than a few obstacles in the way.
I reached stage 2 (the kind of work I wanted to start out with) before he even reached part 2 of stage 1 (that is, the postgraduate level). The imbalance in our journeys was obvious.
So we spoke about plans.
When I came back after a year abroad, he was living and working in Mumbai. I had already failed to get a job in the country I had studied in, so plans in that direction had already been shelved. We wanted to stay together after having lived apart for two years, and so I started applying for jobs in Mumbai.
About 80 applications later, I finally got a job. (You’re looking at it.) And I moved to Mumbai, and into his place.
But this was about as short-term as things could get. He wanted to study ahead, and he finally had the semblance of a plan, which meant that he would likely move away in a year or so.
Then the pandemic came into the picture, and we (an unmarried couple still figuring out how to balance work and life) moved back to our home-cities to be with our families.
But the conversation exists nonetheless: when it comes to opportunities, we have agreed that we may have to be apart while he finishes his studies, whenever that will be. It also means that we have to engage in the subtle art of keeping a relationship afloat over long distance.
Having done it before, unsuccessfully at first and then successfully, we have found that the key to it is steadiness.
Communication, relationship-building despite lack of physical proximity, discussing career moves even when it means they will keep us apart (for now)… it’s tough, when you’re still entering your maturity.
We still feel so young some days. But it must be done, for maturity, as I have discovered, doesn’t find you. You work to develop it.
Another mature decision (hopefully, nothing is set in stone like that in life) is that neither of us will give up a good opportunity in lieu of physical proximity. Of course, we will find a way to be in the same place eventually; but prioritising an opportunity over being in the same place is not the same as de-prioritising our relationship.
That’s a big adult lesson we’ve learnt.
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We’re lucky that we are able to avoid the cultural pitfalls of relationships and careers.
Women, especially in India, are taught – through conditioning, media, and example – that they can either have a partner and no real career, or a career, no partner, and apparently a really sad life.
Go figure the sexism; this article is not about that.
But it is about compromises, and compromises can be big and small. I have made a small compromise already, by moving to Mumbai (a city I do not like living in, by the by) so that we could be together.
Compromises involve various moves: giving up, pivoting, pausing, skipping… and so on. And we have discussed this extensively, over a period of a year. And we continue to do so, because time is not frozen in service of our relationship.
We must keep talking about how to get where each of us wants to be together. And as difficult as it gets, the conversations lead to relief. Why? Because they give you an idea of how solid the foundation of your relationship is, as well as a decent picture of how committed you are to your ambitions outside of it.
I can envision where I see my career going, and my partner is just about working on his own map. So we periodically have to place one on top of the other and see how we can get them to align to achieve physical proximity for our relationship.
After he is done with his studies, my partner will have to figure out his first industry-specific job. Once he does, I will have to evaluate where I am career-wise. Am I ready to take the next step?
If it involves moving (abroad, from the looks of it) will I be able to find work where he is? If yes, then I will move.
If he is conflicted between two opportunities, and our maps align in only one out of the two, then he will choose the one where he can be with me.
My partner likes to say that I will be more successful than him (a lovely compliment to my capabilities in a largely patriarchal world), and has said more than once: “When you get the job of your dreams, I will move there with you, whether or not I have a career opportunity there. I will find a way to make that happen, but I just know that you will do better than me.”
It does boost my confidence and my ambition to hear him say that, but it gives me a better idea of the kind of compromise he is willing to make for the sake of our relationship. I am not saying that every couple has to reach this conclusion, or go the same route as we do, but it is necessary to have a realistic vision of yourself as individuals and as a couple.
Relationships come in all shapes and sizes, and every relationship finds its own way in the world. But for yours to work, and work well, you have to do the down-and-dirty work of being honest, open-minded, and compromising.
Keep in mind, a compromise is not a sacrifice. A sacrifice leads to resentment, while a compromise leads to reevaluation. Be aware of your own needs and wants, and take calculated decisions when it comes to compromising.
The success of a compromise lies in reaching a middle ground, not one party giving up their ground entirely.
When my partner and I both finally reach the same stage in our career journeys, we will once again place our maps one on top of the other and ideate as to where we are heading.
And now, for the biggest and most difficult conversation: money.
Uff, it’s hard to talk about money. We’ve never really been taught how, right? We study, we start working, and we’re thrown in the deep end! It’s kind of maddening, actually, the expectation that we must reach a financially solvent state without being given any tools to get there.
I am ashamed to admit that I have only recently started asking questions about money, not just in my relationship, but individually. My own money has just started to find itself being scrutinised and considered.
One of the biggest adulting moves I have had to make, especially on the chessboard of my relationship, is to shed the awkwardness that comes unannounced with the Money Talk.
It’s not shameful to talk about who is earning how much, and how that plays out in the relationship.
Here’s our deal in the relationship: as of now, both of us (by a random stroke of luck) earn almost exactly the same amount of money; give or take a few hundred rupees. So while living together, everything was split equally.
My salary was not docked with the onset of the pandemic, while my partner’s was. So we continued to split everything equally, but I paid for the groceries. It would have been the same had the wage cut been the other way around.
When it comes to our incomes, savings, and expenditures, we continue to maintain individual bank accounts. This is because we are both earning entry-level salaries which make it almost impossible to save a lot (especially in Mumbai).
But as soon as we start earning more, we plan to create three savings pools: one for each of us individually, and one shared.
And thankfully, neither of us is the type to be fussy about spending a little more than the other here and there. If your relationship is solid, the communication strong, and you as an individual fair, then the extra bucks even out.
Money, in our patriarchal society, is considered the domain of men. I have long seen the men in my family control the finances. Often, this is not out of a desire to reign in their partners, but because their partners have not been raised to take money seriously.
These are the small sacrifices women are trained to continue making in our communities, despite the fact that they are independent in many other ways. My mother was the first among her friends to have a credit card and a mobile phone back in the 90s. But she still depends heavily on my father to organise and maintain the financial state of their relationship.
I, through sheer privileged upbringing, have been raised to be completely independent. I may not have been directly educated about money, but the fact is that I have been raised not to marry, but have a career. This has influenced the way I view money within the realm of my relationship.
My partner, being feminist himself, is also of accord. And just based on how we have handled the imbalance of finances during the pandemic has created a process for future imbalances in earnings.
As an additional point, my partner and I have also discussed the possibility of moving locations if one of us is offered a significantly larger salary than the other. The conclusion is that it will have to be done on a case-basis.
We will see whether the other person can work remotely, travel for work, or find a better opportunity themselves in the proposed location. These are all long-term projections, but the relationship is also a long-term one. It’s important to just consider the chances.
Here’s the truth: what works in my relationship will likely not work for another’s. I am aware of that. But on the whole, I believe these are basic points which every couple should discuss when they reach a certain stage in their relationship.
The longer a relationship lasts, the more depth and value it acquires; both, on an individual and a combined level. This depth cannot be left unexplored, because we exist in a time or a space of interdependence rather than dependence.
What I mean by this is that previously, relationships were grown or pushed into a mould. Today, that is not the case. Or we can actively choose for it to not be the case. We can choose to grow our relationships in the direction that we want them to.
Our careers don’t exist in a vacuum, and when we say work-life balance, we should also include our romantic relationships. Especially the ones we want to last a long time.
How do you approach conversations about your careers in your relationship?
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