To LDR or Not to LDR: Starting Grad School When You're in a Long-Term Relationship
Updated: May 20
Graduations are passing by, and rising grad students who are in relationships will have some tough choices to make! To LDR or not to LDR? Both Ayumi and Phuong were in long term relationships when they applied to grad school, and were faced with big decisions for their relationships. Given that they both had different circumstances and experiences, they will post separately on this topic. Here are Ayumi’s experiences with the decision to start grad school in a long-term relatioship.
I met my partner during freshman year of college. One day after class, I walked into my dorm lobby wearing a Nikola Tesla T-shirt from a museum, and the cutest guy I’d ever seen walked up to me to tell me we had matching shirts. I fancied myself the type to not have a boyfriend in college, but as soon as Kyler shyly told me that Tesla was his favorite scientist, I was smitten. We fell for each other over the next few months, and have been together for the past 4 years. College is a time for personal growth, and we grew together.
Early on in the relationship, I let him know that school and work would come first for me. I was in college to pursue science, and I was not about to let a handsome guy make me lose focus, matching Tesla T shirts be damned! I had seen one too many intelligent and driven women in my life make sacrifices in their careers for their relationships, and while I respect those decisions, I did not want that for myself. If he couldn’t be okay with that, then we weren’t going to last. He just smiled and said “Of course!” like it was silly to even have to tell him that. Every “I can’t, I need to study” or “I’m sorry, I need to go to the lab” was met with “That’s my best friend, go best friend!”. More than anything, Kyler loves my ambition and intellect. He is my biggest supporter, and he was just as excited as I was when I told him I was applying for grad programs. Then I brought up The Talk.
Before we had that conversation, I determined my ideal outcomes. I wanted him to come with me! We already shared an apartment, a cat, and a life that we loved. I didn’t want to separate any of those things. But Kyler had already graduated before me; he had a cool job at the Laboratory of Tree Ring Research, a gig at the state museum, and also worked as a field archeologist from time to time. He had been to Belize twice, and went to Mexico twice a year to do field work. While his work contracts were coming to a close, all of his archeology network was in Tucson. I told him that my career came first for me; I could never begrudge him the same thing. So my second ideal outcome would be a long-distance relationship. When he had been in Belize for a month, I HATED long distance. But we made it work, and we could make it work again because he’s my best friend. All I knew was that I didn’t want to break up. And although we had been together for years, and I know him better than I know myself, it was still a big conversation to have. “What if he wants to stay in Tucson and we have to do LDR?” or worse, “If he can't come with me, will he want to break up?” Would the commitment of moving across the country together be too much? We had already moved in together, and adopted a fur-baby together. Adored each other’s families. Gone on plenty of vacations together. Discussed marriage. These are already big commitments! But still, it was hard to bring up.
When we finally had The Talk and I layed out my ideal outcomes, he told me in no uncertain terms that he would follow me wherever I went. I was immediately relieved of any worries. When I asked him where he would most like to move out of my top 10 locations, he refused to answer because he didn’t want to sway my decision. Kyler--easy-going and chill as ever--was open and ready for a new adventure together (and to get out of the southwestern heat). Nearly a year later, and we have had a blast! I (obviously) chose Seattle and discovered that Seattle was secretly his top choice. I believe him, as he is thriving in the Pacific Northwest. He’s enjoying the gorgeous weather, easy access to ski slopes, and exploring the local cuisine. Kyler is currently getting his certifications for commercial diving and is hoping to work for a maritime archeology firm. In other words, he wants to be an underwater archeologist (BECAUSE OF COURSE).
I am eternally thankful for Kyler and his constant support. One thing that I’ve noticed, however, is that some people tell me I should feel “sooooo lucky” that my guy is willing to move with me, and there is often a bit of surprise. Plenty of women move to support their husband/boyfriend’s career and I never hear about how lucky the guy is, nor how fantastically supportive the wife/girlfriend is. It's almost expected in some circles. While he did indeed move to be with me, I didn’t have to twist his arm to move to this beautiful city! The truth is we are both adventure-loving adults of equal salaries with nothing that would require us to stay in Tucson (e.g. children, a mortgage, school). I feel lucky that Kyler was at a point in his career where he could move, and that he chose to move with me. Had he still been in school, or had a job he couldn’t leave, I have no doubt that we would be doing long-distance.
If your partner can’t move with you, for whatever reason, be understanding. You both have your priorities, so start there. If your partner is not 100% sure they want to move with you, it may be best for them to stay behind. It is a big commitment, and anything less than certainty creates room for resentment to grow. If someone you love decides to move with you to support your dreams, feel grateful, whoever you are!
Check out Phuong's post about her experience starting grad school in a long-term relationship!