By Alexa SLP to Be – Radnor, VA
While my boyfriend has already started rocking a self-sufficient lifestyle and 9-to-5 workday, I currently reside in the fiery quicksand of anguish, frustration and anxiety that I refer to as “graduate school.”
As a Speech-Language Pathology (SLP) student, my days consist of anything that falls under overall communication, speech, language, hearing, fluency, swallowing, voice, using alternative/augmentative communication (i.e., what Stephen Hawking uses to communicate) and brain anatomy.
My boyfriend Andrew, on the other hand, is a mathematical godsend. While he describes the intricacies of artificial intelligence, I’m busy analyzing everyone’s speech and language patterns, speaking Spanish after one too many rum and cokes or frequently pointing out how strong of a swallow he has.
After Andrew and I met, we decided a week before I returned to Southern Virginia for my last year of grad school to try things out. Honestly, I left thinking we wouldn’t be able to sustain a normal relationship 4.5 hours away.
And you know what? We actually have so far. Pretty much all the odds are not in our favor (damn you, “Hunger Games”), but we surpassed these difficult circumstances because:
We actually communicate. There were moments of complete miscommunication early on in our relationship. What we wanted, how we felt, all of that sappy jazz. We realized pretty quickly that honesty – no matter how hard or potentially hurtful- is the absolute best policy. I had to tell him some things that weren’t easy to admit early on, but realized if he couldn’t accept them, we were not meant to be. Now, I try to be honest if I don’t want the food he suggests for dinner, or when I physically cannot watch anymore Netflix without literally losing my goddamn mind. Everything has been pretty smooth sailing since that point.
There’s understanding and sacrifice. Andrew gets where I am in life – both physically, in the desolate armpit of Virginia, and on a professional level. He knows when I’m out of school and employed, I’ll have time and money to put forth what he does. He doesn’t expect anything from me, though I sometimes beat myself up for not being able to give more. He realizes he may have to make that extra 10-hour round-trip drive one or two weekends a month so I have time to prep for my four (haha, more like 8 to 10) patients, study for my three quizzes, do two projects and have at least one enormous breakdown. He not only prioritizes me as a person, but he prioritizes my priorities and wants to see me succeed.
We don’t agree on everything. Last month, my car flipped over on the highway after being rear ended. It was an accident that should have killed me (spoiler alert – I am not dead!). My anxiety is still intense at times, and I found myself recently borderline yelling, “Why the f— aren’t you putting your wipers on?!” while he drove in the rain. Though I meant every word, there are much better ways to relay my anxiety. We also don’t always agree on how to make plans. While I am a meticulous planner, he takes a very lackadaisical approach. Sometimes, it drives me a little crazy. We don’t agree on everything, but you’re not supposed to. The key is bringing up the things you disagree about in a calm, non-blaming and appropriate way. *Tip- use “I feel….” Instead of “YOU YOU YOU ALSKDJFHDSJAKL” for the highest communicative success rate.
But we agree on the important things. We agree on education (Although, I think my mom may have scared the pants off of him: “Andrew, you are responsible for making sure she graduates”. No pressure, boo.) We agree on being self-sufficient. We agree on weird things like adoption, [usually] pizza toppings, music and horrible puns for dog names (like “Johann Sebastian Bark).
He challenges me. On our first date, we went rock climbing – sans the safety of ropes as you may have done as a leisure activity in your youth. I clung to the wall in fear of breaking all 206 bones in my body. Now, I love it. Yes, I suck, but he cheers me on and tells me how proud he is of me just for trying.
He challenges me to push faster and farther in everything from climbing, studying a bit more, being the best intern I can and being a better person as a whole. When I broke down about my 46-hour weeks of classes, work and practicum (which doesn’t include time spent studying), he made sure I knew how confident he was in me. Not in a cliché way, but because he’s seen me kick ass before and knew I could do so again.
What I’ve Learned:
If you love someone in graduate school, be patient with them. Love them fiercely but let them breathe; let them cry if need be, but be empathetic rather than sympathetic. Push them enough to succeed, but not so hard they crack.
Send them SnapChats of mundane things, just to make them feel at home. If they are studying until their eyeballs implode, set schedules up in advance for visits and Skype dates. Study with them. Or withhold takeout sushi or Netflix until they’ve mastered that stack of notecards.
On behalf of the grad students: We feel so lucky to have you on our crazy ride, and for your support despite our oddities and stress levels of 150 percent.
For my fellow grad students out there: Be good to your significant others. They put up with so much and ask for so little. When your stress level is astronomical and you feel that you have so little to offer, just loving them to the moon and back can be enough.