Since graduating from college, the world has become incredibly large for me. In the last three years, I've learned more about myself and my profession than I ever imagined I would. I've worked extremely hard (and often) and while my career path to success still isn't final, I see the world at my fingertips.
Working in sports has been such an incredible experience so far, and like most professionals my age, I'm beyond excited to see how far I can go in this industry. The difference between myself and most other female colleagues my age, however, is that I'm married.
My husband Matthew and I got married last year; I was 24 years old and he had just turned 25. I've always been mature for my age, so while some people questioned our desire to marry because of our youth, we had no doubts. Our original plan was to marry at our college's church on New Year's Eve, and we got engaged in May. In September, however, I was approached about a position at Michigan and decided, with Matt's blessing, to pursue it -- despite the fact that we lived in and were to get married in Florida. After my interview at U-M, I was offered the job and nervously accepted. We decided that I would make the move to Ann Arbor with our dog and cat in October, and Matt would stay in Tampa, Florida until the following March. After two years of living together, we agreed to live apart.
In my heart I knew that by wanting to move to Michigan, I was asking Matt to put his career on hold; I was asking him to put my career before his. Now don't get me wrong, I work with MANY people in college athletics who have similar experiences -- who have made career moves and had their spouse "follow" them from destination to destination. The only difference? They're all men.
Unfortunately, my situation is not the norm. I'm hopeful that one day we'll live in a society where women who work in college athletics are encouraged to put their careers first - but we're not there yet.
I understand that every family situation is unique and the decision to move for either spouse's career is a joint decision, so I'm not writing this to offer advice. Instead, I hope to explain some of the challenges and how we overcame them during a difficult life transition.
I had spent 95% of my life living in the Tampa area and Matt is a Florida native, so moving to another state (with snow!) was an experience that I wish we could have navigated together. Instead, I experienced fall and winter for the first time -- by myself! Of course some days were easier than others, but one of my low moments came when I ended up on a median one day during rush hour traffic because I hadn't yet gotten the hang of driving in the snow. While my experience was one of loneliness, Matt made the financial decision to move back in with his parents, which meant that he was trading in his 10-minute commute to work for a one-hour drive to and from home each day. I missed Matt's first-ever stand-up comedy performance (a passion project of his), and he missed having me there in the stands cheering him on. As an engaged couple we lived without each other for three months, and after we tied the knot on New Year's Eve, we began our marriage with three more months apart. It wasn't ideal, but that's what happened.
Navigating New Responsibilities
Matt and I have never really followed traditional gender roles when it comes to money, but when he quit his job and made the move to Michigan in March, I officially became the "breadwinner" of the family. I haven't had a gap in full-time employment since graduating from college, so there have been brief moments in our life where I've played this role before -- but never for so long. When Matt got to Michigan, he worked HARD to find a job, but finding a job these days is tough, so it took a while. He was lucky enough to gain part-time employment soon after arriving to town, but he wasn't given many hours. With one major source of income, it became my responsibility to feed, clothe, and shelter our family. While I worried often about our bills, we were never close to poverty and there was never a time where we had NO money, so I don't want to sound too dramatic, but there was an added pressure of ensuring that we could make ends meet. Until this responsibility became mine, I had never really considered how much pressure it would be -- on men or on women. I don't envy anyone who lives like this.
I know that compromise is always something that happens when two lives join together, but I never knew the extent at which we'd be forced to compromise when living on one (not so high) income. With less money in a more expensive city and no real way of knowing when Matt would find full-time employment, we had to compromise. I wasn't able to spend as much money on clothes (though I often broke this rule), and we limited our date nights. We didn't buy things we wanted because there were other things we needed, and we were forced to have real conversations about what expenses we could limit or cut out of our lives altogether. The biggest compromise came when our 10-month apartment lease ended in June and we were forced to re-sign or find a new place to live. I desperately wanted to move to a nicer, bigger apartment so that our families could come and stay with us, but Matt felt strongly that we should stay, so we stayed. Compromise, in theory, is very simple. In practice, however, it is difficult. Not only did we both have to make changes in our lives -- we had to do so without ill will or hurt feelings toward each other. I couldn't BLAME my husband for not having a job; he didn't have one because of ME! And Matt never got upset with me when I spent more money on clothes than I had planned on; instead, he accepted my faults because he understood that I was struggling.
It sounds cheesy and I blush even talking about my love life in a professional setting, but our dedication to each other and our marriage allowed our love to continue to grow during our time apart. We worked hard to stay in constant communication in spite of our busy work schedules, and we always made time for each other. After we got married, we skipped out on a honeymoon because of time, money, and work, but we have made and continue to make plans for a future trip. When Matt moved to Michigan, he made the 20-hour trip by himself in one day so that he could see me before my team left for the weekend. I mentioned before that during this transition, we never got mad or upset with each other, and that's something I'm darn proud of. Since arriving to Ann Arbor, Matt has never blamed me for his lack of employment when times got tough, though I wouldn't fault him at all if he did. Instead, he has supported me in my new career endeavor and continues to discuss future career options and advancement opportunities with me. In those moments and in moments of reflection like this, my heart swells with pride knowing that I married my best friend.