Or: Job Searching and Long Distance Relationships
It’s career fair season, and for many college seniors, that means preliminary talks with potential employers and the beginning of the interview process towards what many hope will be their future career path and the next thing they’ll be able to add to their LinkedIn profile.
But I’m not here to talk with you all about that today (and if you do want to read about that, check out my blog post on rockin’ your campus career fair). No, I’m here to talk to you about the elephant in the room that tends to surround any conversation about the future when it involves anyone who isn’t single: that’s right, we’re talking about job hunting and relationships. Primarily mine.
When I first started my job hunt, I had just gotten into a long distance relationship with my boyfriend, Fred, and as of today (!!!) we’ve been together for a year! Which, first of all, is insane, and second of all is partially what prompted this post.
You see, throughout my entire job seeking process, I felt a lot of pressure to “go far” with the companies I was looking at, distance wise. This meant I was aiming for positions anywhere from New York City to the Pacific Northwest, or, in other words, anywhere that would be the most impressive during casual conversation with peers about our job searches. And before I was in a relationship this was completely fine, but after Fred and I had been dating for a while? It was like a guilty knot eating away at me from the inside as I gradually realized what being so far away would mean for us.
For college students in general, especially for those who haven’t been in relationships long, there’s this expectation that you do not let another person get in the way of your future plans, career plans first and foremost. I even had a guy turn me down because he knew exactly where he was going to be in a year and he didn’t want the baggage of a long distance relationship.
And now, to be put in that exact position, where living up to the societal expectation of career above all else could possibly end a relationship I truly enjoyed? Needless to say, it didn’t make my job search any more enjoyable.
So here’s that story. “The Long and Short of Ending the Distance,” or, in other words, how I nearly let societal expectations get in the way of what I really wanted, and why it’s okay to have your cake and eat it, too.
A year and some change ago, I was sitting on a chipped, white bench with one of my good friends in a park we had found tucked away between a few modern buildings. He was studying abroad in Prague at the same time that I was studying abroad in Austria so I went to visit him, and on my final day in the city we finally sat down to really catch up.
We talked about our summers, about the conference I was in charge of for the upcoming year, classes and organizations and finally, relationships and our future careers. He had been dating his girlfriend for a few months at that time (a relationship shipped by the majority of our friend group, myself included) and they were already pretty serious. As the conversation went on, I asked him if he knew where he wanted to be at this time next year.
And he answered that it had been on his mind for a while, since he was pretty sure that his girlfriend was going to be working in Miami where she was interning. “I’ve always wanted to end up settling down back in Miami, but not before living somewhere else, like D.C.” He had told me. “But Miami is where she wants to be, so I guess starting out in Miami instead wouldn’t be so bad, so long as I’m with her.”
I left that conversation with, somehow, more respect for my friend and his relationship than I had already had. Clearly he cared deeply about her and was making their relationship a priority not only while they were at school, but also in any future he had envisioned for himself. I can say with some certainty that, at that point in time, I didn’t think anything like that would be in the cards for me.
I was single at the beginning of my senior year and, in fact, had been single for the majority of my college career and didn’t exactly see that changing. After both actively and not-so-actively seeking a relationship as my proverbial “clock” counted down towards graduation, I had accepted that by the time the start of senior year rolled around, it pretty much wouldn’t happen for me. The general consensus among rising seniors was that graduation represented a definitive expiration date for any relationship that hadn’t at least made it to the two semester mark. At that point, changing your plans to account for another person might actually be worth it (again, general consensus). And so the summer before my senior year came and went, and with it, in my mind, any chance of finding the proverbial “one” before graduation.
I wasn’t even sure that I wanted to find anyone by that point, truth be told, because I was set up for the perfect “girlboss” transition from college to career life: focusing totally on my extracurriculars and job search, no strings attached and nothing tying me down to a specific location, and ready to get the heck out of dodge (read: Florida) to lead the independent, metropolitan lifestyle I had always dreamed of.
I had it all planned out, insofar as any daydreaming college senior could. My job search would focus on the metropolitan areas in which I could really see myself living, namely New York City and Washington, D.C., and I would diversify my options away from those traditionally presented to International Studies and languages majors (aka government positions that were in constantly-high demand) by focusing on companies in the private sector who conducted business with international clients. The two cities served a dual purpose: they were where I had always dreamed of living and were also in close proximity to top-rated grad programs in which I dreamed of enrolling and, if I played my cards right, would hopefully be attending on my employer’s dime. After all, many employers now offer to pay for their employees’ grad school if it benefits their company in the long term.
Yes, I had had it all planned out since my freshman year of college, the only thing missing was who I would work for.
But then, of course, life happened, when I least expected it.
Fred had been one of my good friends throughout my time at school. He graduated two years before me and while we kept in touch, it wasn’t as though we were talking every day, and in fact I hadn’t actually had a true conversation with him for about five months when he reached out to me — through text — to query, if he were to ask me out on a date, what was the likelihood that I would say yes (I’m not joking, the phrasing is almost exact). Spoiler alert: I said yes, but not before calling one of my best friends and spending 45 minutes on the phone with her vacillating between yes and no.
A lot of different things were running through my mind, notwithstanding the question of whether or not I even wanted to get into a possible relationship at this point in time. After all, remember my grand, girlboss plan? That pretty much required no strings attached? Was I just going to throw that out the window because a boy asked me out? Also, what if it was awkward and didn’t work out? Would I lose our friendship over it?
Like I said, a lot of questions. Luckily my best friend had a bit leveler head than I did (love you Susan) and convinced me that I should say yes. After all, he lived and worked an hour and a half away, in Jacksonville, so the good news was that if it didn’t work out, he was an hour and a half away! And if it did work out, he was only an hour and a half away. Win-win.
And if you can’t tell by the title of this blog post, it (luckily) worked out.
By the time Spring semester had rolled around our relationship was going strong as ever, through all the ups and downs that life had thrown at us (namely me, between putting on the biggest event of my undergraduate career, my grandmother passing away, and rushing to finish my thesis I had procrastinated for a semester and a half). We were doing our best to work around the distance, namely by texting each other paragraphs, FaceTiming every other day, and seeing each other every or every other weekend. I knew going into the relationship that the distance would make things difficult and I was trying my hardest to ease that burden. I really wanted to make our relationship work.
By this point we had been dating for just over 5 months. And then came time for the next big decision: my career choice.
Fred and I had spoken pretty early on about what positions and companies I was planning on pursuing once career fair rolled around, and I had made it clear to him that I wasn’t going to be narrowing my job search only to Jacksonville, where he was, or even only to Florida. And he, like the amazing boyfriend he is, encouraged me to go after whatever company I wanted regardless of its location because he wanted me to pursue what I was passionate about — without feeling like he was holding me back. When I confided in him that I wanted to make our relationship a priority in my life moving forward, he said the same, but that he wouldn’t be able to forgive himself if I gave up on my dream job for him.
I ended up actively pursuing three different companies with three pretty different locations: one in Southwest Florida, one in Jacksonville, and one all the way on the West Coast. The one in Southwest Florida was what I had considered at the time to be my top choice, not only because of the work I would have been doing, but also because it was only about a 6 hour drive from Jacksonville, meaning my relationship would still work out. After all, we had already been doing the long distance thing for 5 months now, so it wouldn’t have been much of a change. Right?
It was something that I hadn’t really been admitting to many people, that – no matter how independent I acted or said I wanted to be – one of the major factors in my job search was how near or far I would be to my boyfriend. I had told him that I was going to make our relationship a priority, and I was, but I was really concerned about how other people would judge me if they knew that. After all, no matter how long it felt like we had been together we had only been dating for 5 months at that time. Definitely not the “generally acceptable” amount of time to work your plans around someone else.
For whatever reason the idea of people knowing this made me uncomfortable. I didn’t want to be that girl that people liked to whisper about behind her back. You know, that girl who gave up her dream job on the West Coast so she could go live in a sub-par city with her long distance boyfriend she had only been dating for 5 months? The one we all know about and silently snigger about in our minds? Yeah, that girl.
I felt all of this pressure – completely imaginary, in hindsight – to keep up this facade of an independent career girl who was going to follow her dreams no matter what the cost and make things work, even if it meant more distance between Fred and me. But all I was really doing was allowing myself to be persuaded by what I perceived others wanted for me, instead of what I knew I wanted for myself. And deep down I knew I wanted to make my relationship work. If I’m being honest with myself now the way I wasn’t then, I wasn’t willing to admit that I wanted a successful relationship more than I wanted the supposed social capital of working at a far away company after graduation. After all, that’s not what strong, modern women do. Right…?
In my mind, the company in Southwest Florida was the perfect fit for my already-long-distance relationship because I could continue to date Fred but not be seen as that girl by any of my friends or acquaintances. In hindsight, I’m pretty sure that this was the only reason I thought that company was the perfect fit, and it made me pretty blind to some aspects of that position that wouldn’t have meshed well with my vision for the type of work I wanted to do.
It wasn’t until the company in Southwest Florida got back to me and told me they’d chosen to go with other candidates that I realized I was left with two very different options: the West Coast investment firm or Ernst & Young in Jacksonville. In the end, as we all know, I chose to go to Jacksonville — not only because I knew the company itself was going to be the best fit for me, but also because it was going to be the best fit for my relationship. But for whatever reason, I felt like I had betrayed societal expectations by not choosing the far away job that would put more strain on my relationship. After all, that one came with the most social capital, and fit the mold of the independent, modern career girl best. I knew it was what most people expected me to do, but in the end it wasn’t what I wanted. I just didn’t feel comfortable admitting that to people.
I remember calling my dad to tell him that I had made the decision to work for EY in Jacksonville. Before he could even say a word I launched into the same spiel I had been giving all my friends and acquaintances, anyone who asked me, really, about how I came to my decision: “And yeah Fred lives in Jacksonville but really it’s just a really great company and I feel like they’re offering everything that I was looking for in an employer and I know that it isn’t the big city I was originally looking for but–”
And that’s when my dad cut me off. “You know, it’s okay if your relationship with Fred factored into your decision. It’s okay if your relationship with Fred was your whole decision. There’s nothing wrong with that and there’s nothing to be ashamed of.”
This short conversation – like the conversation I had with my friend in Prague – has stuck with me, even months later. Throughout my entire job seeking process, and even throughout my entire college career, not once had anyone actually put into words that it was okay to consider more than just myself when choosing my career path. Everything I had heard or had been told was “make sure you’re making the right decision for you” and “make sure your decision will make you happy.”
In hindsight, I realize I had taken a very narrow view of what “the right decision” and what “makes me happy” would be. I was trying so hard to live up to this narrative of a girl who follows her dreams no matter what and who doesn’t let a guy “hold her back” from pursuing what she really wants and having the career she’s always dreamed of, but I didn’t think other people would accept that following my dreams and being with a guy didn’t have to be mutually exclusive. After all, if I had a career option that perfectly fit my aspirations and would allow me to be closer to my boyfriend, why wouldn’t I choose that option, and why would I have to feel ashamed?
At the end of the day, it took me much too long to realize and accept that there is absolutely nothing wrong with taking your relationship into account when you’re making a big life decision, and that there was absolutely nothing to be ashamed of. After all, I wasn’t coming to Jacksonville because Fred had told me to (in fact, if you remember, he basically told me the opposite), I was going to Jacksonville because I wanted to. It had everything I really wanted: a job with a fantastic company that would give me room to grow and innovate, a chance to no longer be long-distance with my boyfriend who I loved (and still do, obviously), and a life in a city where I could still see my parents and friends any time I really wanted to.
This part is very important, though: this post isn’t to say that if you’re in a relationship, you have to take the option that works out best for your relationship. The point is that you get to do what you want and what you believe will be best for you (which is, yes, what everyone had been saying all along).
If what’s best for you means it’s best for your relationship, then that’s amazing, and I wish you the best of luck! And if what’s best for you means what’s best for your career, than that’s amazing, too, and I wish you the best of luck. And if what’s best for you means both of those things? I wish you the most luck in the world.
What is/was one of the hardest aspects of the job search for you? I’d love to hear it!