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December 20, 2003

The Love-Work Dilemma!
Hazhir Rahmandad  [info|posts]

dilemma.jpgFor me, one of the surprising observations in the U.S. has been the extent to which personal life is pushed back by the work life. There are several dimensions to this observation, but the one I want to discuss here is the effect of job mobility on marriages and intimate relationships, specially as perceived by Iranian students coming to the west.

The core of the issue is that for an intimate relationship to work, the two people need to live at the same geographical location, at least in long-term. However, the modern job market, specially in the U.S., requires a lot of flexibility on the part of job seeking individual on the question of where to live. Therefore, when both sides of the relationship/marriage are working individuals, they will have a hard time finding a feasible solution to the work-love balance and these two spheres of life frequently come to a head to head collision!

This dilemma is not known to most of students coming from Iran, but can become a major concern as they proceed in their educational path. For example, the normal path for an individual pursuing a Ph.D. in science includes two or three post docs following the Ph.D., each taking about two years, before one can apply for a tenure track position or decides to drop out of the academia! However, in getting each of these post docs the individual has little choice in where she will finally get the job. This is because she should apply to a dozen different places, usually in different states (if not different countries) and be lucky to get one or two job offers.

Now if this individual is married, or is engaged in an intimate relationship, there is no guarantee that her spouse/partner can follow her in this uncertain job hunting. In fact, if the other side of the relationship is also a highly educated working individual, as is usually the case, he will also face the same set of constraints. As a result, the couple will be left with a few disturbing choices: Break up the relationship, follow their own career path but try to keep the relationship alive from long distance, or significantly compromise their career aspirations by one individual following the other.

In fact, an important result of this dilemma is that many individuals, foreseeing the future challenges, shy away from getting involved in an intimate relationship for a long time. Others choose to avoid the problem differently. For example some guys prefer to bring their bride from Iran, a girl who hopefully does not have the same demanding job aspirations and therefore can follow the guy in his winding career path. Finally, some others adopt a policy of engaging in short-term relationships, until they settle down with a more permanent job and can think about more serious relationships. It is important to notice that the last two options are culturally much harder for girls to follow, leaving them with even more limited options.

To my experience few people completely forget about their career aspirations and follow their spouse, after over twenty years of attending schools. Therefore, the final compromise usually pushes back the boundaries of personal life in favor of work life. Nevertheless several important questions remain open, that people with different backgrounds and experiences can shed light into with their comments: how satisfactory different ways of dealing with this challenge are? Are there better alternatives to avoid some of the tradeoffs? What are the cultural implications of these pressures? How Americans deal with these challenges? How is the experience of girls different from that of guys? I think discussing these issues not only are beneficial for young Iranian immigrants in the west, but also can benefit our younger colleagues who are planning to leave Iran and come to the land of opportunities.

Señor Græd at December 20, 2003 03:59 PM [permalink]:

Thanks for formulating the so-called "two-body problem" so nicely, although when I saw your title, I thought of a broader context, that is, the dilemma of career vs family, which has especially been a problem for American women since the time of their "liberation". Google found this for me:

I'd write more comments, if I were in the mood. Which may not be any time soon. Although unfortunately, the two-body problem is far from being my biggest dilemma in life, or even the biggest in the context of relationships. ;-)

mohammad at December 20, 2003 04:22 PM [permalink]:

And the proble is even harder when the couple has a child who wants to apply for kindergarten in a different state :)

Señor Græd at December 20, 2003 04:30 PM [permalink]:

Life is hard! :-)

Señor Græd at December 20, 2003 04:38 PM [permalink]:

My own dilemma is more a Work-Play dilemma. (Remember what the character played by Jack Nicholson was typing all day long, in Stanley Kubrick's "Shining"?) I love to play all day long (leaving comments here is counted as "play" for me, not work), but I have to work, first in order to survive, and then in order to make enough money to attract girls, which would ideally provide some "play" at the beginning, but require too much "work" in later stages...

hahaha! at December 20, 2003 05:08 PM [permalink]:

Then stay a bachelor and be a happy hermit! ;)

Señor Græd at December 20, 2003 05:19 PM [permalink]:

Some years ago when a friend was whining to me about his "two-body problem" with his girlfriend who lived thousands of miles away, I innocently remarked: Well, if you can't change your job, then change your girlfriend. The guy was offended (his face turned red of anger and to this day I sometimes find myself trying to figure out why) and that was the end of it.

Human beings can be quite strange creatures.

Happy (?!) Hermit at December 20, 2003 05:27 PM [permalink]:

hahaha!: Why do you think men get married? huh?

NN at December 21, 2003 03:18 AM [permalink]:

I wonder how despite all these calamities you still go on to call it the "land of opportunities." What kind of "opportunities" are you guys looking for? What for?

Señor Græd at December 21, 2003 10:19 AM [permalink]:

NN asked: "What for?"

A very good question, indeed. Well, a large part of life, believe it or not, consists of make-believe. From some point on in your life, you spend a lot of time struggling to make yourself believe (through TALGHIN, which I know no good English equivalent for. "Self-indoctrination", maybe?) in your aspirations, in spite of all "calamities" that befall you. And the calamities seem to be there, no matter what goal you have chosen to pursue. Be it getting a Ph.D., coming to and living in America, getting married and making a family, you name it. All you need to do is to *believe* that the way you have chosen is less bumpy that the ones you didn't choose.

To achieve this, usage of certain words is recommended. For example, you should keep calling things that are ordinary and insipid by adjectives such as "amazing" and you should collaborate with your friends on this project of making life sound more exciting that it actually is in your conversations. (This is called "mutual reinforcement".) And it works.

Example: after investing the best years of our youth in a small town in the middle of "the land of opportunities" to get a Ph.D., you don't want to believe that you had been better off had you stayed in Iran and started a family. So you exaggerate the positive points of your journey. If you choose to stay back in Iran, however, you seek to find out, not always consciously, about calamities that could befall you by going to America.

And I guess that's called life.

Somayeh Sadat at December 21, 2003 03:57 PM [permalink]:

I think that with more developments in electronic workplaces, this dilemma fades away. I know however that for certain jobs, you need to be there anyways.

Hamed at December 23, 2003 06:42 AM [permalink]:

Don't be worry. it's just a short term problem. Evolution will solve it!

Señor Græd at December 23, 2003 04:01 PM [permalink]:

I am very worry, Hamed. Because our life is much shorter than a "short-term" problem solvable only by an evolutionary process. Aren't you agree with me?

AmericanWoman at December 26, 2003 12:14 AM [permalink]:

Dude! You are only scratching the surface here. This situation is the bed of thorns, the price to be paid for membership in the Pepsi Generation. On the one hand, we have it all, the first in all human history to be freed from masculine tyranny,from economic oppression, freed even from the shackles of biology, equal in every meaningful way, bright, smart, full of ideals and goals, knowing exactly what we want, and equipped to get it, and yet, the insurmountable secret is that Mommy=family. "Being in a relationship", as you put it, really means, "It's all about him/them/everybody else." It's why Sylvia Plath put her head in the oven. I saw this in my 20's, when I was on the fast track, speeding up the corporate and academic ladders with a bullet, laughing at the slow, bumbly-fumbly boys. Where were the women, I wondered? All my mentors were on the margins, running their own or family businesses with a baby in a playpen at the office. My conclusion, then and now, is that you have to plan for twists and turns in the career road. If you want a family, then there will have to be a period when you are in and out of the job market, taking extended leaves for pregnancy, for example. Plan for mobility, multi-tracking, and taking the long view. Most of all, relinquish the concepts of status and prestige as being important to your self-respect. If you want a family, the family has to come first, so you work to support the family. The difference between men and women, is that women can't have a family as a hobby. I was offered a management position with the major firm in my town last month, but I refused it because my youngest son is only 3. My time after 5:00pm belongs to him right now. In 10 years, though, the situation may be different, and I'll still be here. Meanwhile, I'm studying, watching, preparing for when I can take my life back at my own pace.

Señor Græd at December 26, 2003 01:47 PM [permalink]:

Thanks for sharing your perspective, AW. I think yours can be taken as a very typical American woman's perspective. Anyway, you said something about when you were in your 20's. Would you mind shedding a light on when exactly you were in your 20's? Because I have no way of knowing it. I trust that the modern American woman isn't insecure anymore about revealing her real age. Or are you?

AmericanWoman at December 26, 2003 11:21 PM [permalink]:

I am talking about the 80's.

Señor Græd at December 27, 2003 04:18 PM [permalink]:

I kinda thought so! Just do the math: If your (biological) son is 3 years old, then you can be at most in your 40s, which then makes your 20's coincide with last century's 80's. But in any case, although I'm no expert on the history of the feminist movements or various brands of feminism (there is just too much literature. Do you know of a good compact survey? A "Feminism for dummies" type of book, maybe?), but I guess by 80's the ideas and "attitudes" championed by feminism were already in full swing, so it felt strange to read about 80's "Where were the women, I wondered?". I think in 80's women must have been all over the (work)place. Am I right?

AmericanWoman at December 27, 2003 05:05 PM [permalink]:

Gracias Senor, for helping with the math. It wasn't really until the 80's, as I now dimly recall, that we started to see "women all over the place". In my first job after college, I sewed my own clothes because all I could find in the stores were either pink dresses with bows, dumpy-frumpy WWII wear, or men's suits, shortened and widened in the seat. By the end of the decade, though things had changed. Personally, I was always the youngest, always the shortest, always the only woman until the mid 90's, when I began to make decisions with consideration to "the relationship". Before I get sent to perma-link, here is a synopsis of my career path since then: breastfeeding, family business, tech degree,breastfeeding, Tech. The question is about you though, isn't it? --Marry a girl from the sticks, and always come home to someone who's been preparing for that moment all day.

Señor Græd at December 27, 2003 05:39 PM [permalink]:

AmericanWoman: Sounds like your verbal skills in English far exceed mine, so pardon my inadequate understanding of your feisty phraseology. Anyway now I am astonished by how rapidly feminism has changed the American society. Of course it must have its roots in works of women way before the sexual revolution of the 60's, but the effects, the way you recall, must have not been widespread until very recently. Hmmm. In any case, I find it interestingly ironic that in order not to succumb to the feminine, but un-feminist-ly clothing of the day, you had to assume the traditional role of a sewer.

By the way, I googled Sylvia Plath and found this: I think she's hot in that picture! ;-)

P.S. At the end you said: "The question is about you though, isn't it?" What do you mean? The question is about me or us, Iranians, or just Iranian men? (Somebody should someday fix the English language!) You added: "--Marry a girl from the sticks, and always come home to someone who's been preparing for that moment all day." I was unable to decipher this part of your comment!


AmericanWoman at December 28, 2003 03:57 PM [permalink]:

The question is about you, Senor, you personally. Actually, I'm referrering to the original post by Mr. Rahmandad. In the last paragraph, he actually lists 5 questions. I believe I have responded to the first, fourth, fifth, and answers to the second can be inferred from my response. As for the third, Americans deal with this challenge one day at a time, and we haven't figured it all out yet. The implications so far are a weakening family, increased stratafication of society, with women as single heads of households settling at the bottom of the economic scale. The flip side of freedom seems to be lonliness. Maybe you could look around the Ivory Tower and find another Kubler-Ross to come up with a plan. Anyway, so far my answer stands and can be summarized by one word, sacrifice. You can't have everything.

Señor Græd at December 28, 2003 06:37 PM [permalink]:

How sweet of you, AW, to be thinking about me *personally*. Though I now suppose your advice ("Marry a girl from the sticks...") was meant to be sarcastic. Like you meant to say I wouldn't deserve "better". (I put the "better" in quotes, because I have my doubts about which way is/was better.) Well, I (personally) see no problem in having a housewife as a wife, as long as I can support the family single-handedly *and* she's happy with the arrangement. I've been told by my married friends that communication is also very important, so if she's not a girl from the sticks whose skills are limited to sewing and cooking and cleaning the house and later tending to the kids, then I should like us to have some time after our work hours to communicate--verbally, physically or else. Would I have something to talk about with the housewife though? Well, I think it's not impossible.

I think the link I brought to your attention in my first comment above addresses Hazhir's question about how Americans deal with the problem. But I admire your "one day at a time" approach to life. I really do. It's quite practical to live one day at a time.

P.S. I have no clue who Kubler-Ross is and what plan she has proposed. But I'll try to read about her later in in my spare time. (This lady's definitely *not* hot in that picture!)

Dan Schmelzer at January 2, 2004 07:07 PM [permalink]:

The way my friends and family have handled it is by marrying later in life, having long distance relationships, making career decisions with the family foremost in mind, and by career timing shifts (one working, while the other is going to school or staying home with the kids, etc.). Career timing shifts seem pretty effective. Marrying somebody from the sticks (or Iran, for that matter) really isn't an option that I hear a lot about, maybe because you would have to go to take the time off work to go to the sticks to find somebody and then there would be a long-distance relationship. ;-)

I wonder how this would inform an Iranian student's views of maintaining a family in the US, other than a trite "it's not easy". Half of American marriages end in divorce, after all, so the success rate of our little social experiment in transience isn't very high.

AmericanWoman at January 3, 2004 12:24 AM [permalink]:

The words seem to be distracting you guys from what I'm saying. If you want to find someone to do a certain thing, look for the person who a) wants to do it, b) is good at it, and c) has practiced. It is possible to find such a person to take the position of wife in academia, but most likely those girls have been focused on other things. Look at this excerpt from the original post:
Are there better alternatives to avoid some of the tradeoffs?
My point is that, there is NO way to avoid ALL the tradeoffs. You can't have all your dreams, and be in a family. This becomes even clearer once you have children. You must give something up to accomodate someone else's dream. However, if you find someone who's dream can be accomodated without conflict with yours, you will have to give up less. If a girl from Iran,(and I personally don't know any who DON'T have ambitions far greater than my own)or Utah, or Lancaster, or Mexico, who wants nothing more than a husband and a few kids, her own house and an income a little higher than her parent's, then you eliminate some angst about career choices. Just because someone isn't formally educated, doesn't necessarily mean you will have nothing to talk about. Time and suffering build their own bonds. Also, the phrase "whose skills are limited to sewing and cooking and cleaning the house and later tending to the kids" rankles a bit. Why are those skills inferior to any others? Martha Stewart has taken thoses skills, and the pleasure of doing them well quite a ways. And finally, if you think coming home to a pleasant place where someone has put thought and care into making you happy is not as good as a rousing intellectual exchange, than perhaps you haven't lived on your own long enough. This year I hired a housekeeper, who picks my kids up from school and tends them until I get home from work. I can't tell you how much better my life is compared to the strain and stress of trying to do it all. Now I know why my husband gives me diamonds for my birthday every couple of years, even though I wear no jewelry.

AmericanWoman at January 3, 2004 12:49 AM [permalink]:

FURTHERMORE, Kubler-Ross is famous for studying the way people deal with death. She developed a model called "The Seven Stages of Dying." These are anger, denial, bargaining, acceptance, etc. Later, this model was found to apply to the process of grieving for any major loss, of a limb, for example. Also, regarding the comment "I find it interestingly ironic that in order not to succumb to the feminine, but un-feminist-ly clothing of the day, you had to assume the traditional role of a sewer." I don't know how traditional the role of sewer is to women, most of the big fashion designers seem to be men, but my strategy has always been to focus on my strengths, or whatever advantages I have to offset the disadvantages. Until I developed the skills to compete, I didn't want to be dismissed as a "little girl." I found that often I was stared at, so I emphasized my appearance, but in a way that demanded respect. I found that my male co-workers tended to watch their language, were more willing to help me, and behave with more courtesy to me than with each other, I really think mostly because I was "pretty." So, use what you got, baby. --Although in the end, if you can't deliver that stuff won't save you. I also had other skills they didn't have, I speak 5 languages after all. Also, exactly because I am a woman, I think customers tended to think that I was more honest, helpful, trustworthy. Sorry, but that's what it seemed like. For a while there in the 80's, it seemed like we were taking over the world, from Benazir Bhutto to Maggie Smith, women heads of state were everywhere. People just wanted someone they could trust at the helm. Lastly, I find the difference between Iranian men and American men (also European men) to come down to one thing, Iranians value the connection between people much more highly. It's funny because the stereotyp of Moslem men is that they oppress women, but this has not been my personal experience. Of course, maybe if I were a Moslem women, I would encounter a different set of expectations. I had an Iranian boyfriend in college, and he said to me once, "every time we have an argument, your solution is to break up." There it is in a nutshell. Iranian men don't really divorce, they just keep adding more people to the family.

Señor Græd at January 3, 2004 05:11 PM [permalink]:

Incidentally, I was watching "Blue Collar Comedy Tour: The Movie" some days ago and Ron White (the funniest member of the team, in my humble opinion) had an interesting interpretation of why diamonds render women speechless. Check it out! ;-)

Pointers at January 4, 2004 04:53 PM [permalink]:

I was just exploring around one of the earthquake links and came across the following. I think it may be relevant to Dan Schmelzer's comment. "[The author] is a professor of history. ... Her latest book is "The Way We Never Were: American Families and the Nostalgia Trap" (Basic Books)."

Wessie at January 7, 2004 02:05 AM [permalink]:

"Personally, I was always the youngest, always the shortest, always the only woman until the mid 90's, when I began to make decisions with consideration to "the relationship"."

Gees, AW, I am an AW as well and I don't recall being the "only woman." There were plenty of others climbing up the corporate ladder. Where did you live in the boonies? As for your comment about clothing. I used to wear super elegant suits (Austin Reed and the like) during that era:
many of which I still wear today they are so classic and so well made. (BTW-gentlemen, Austin Reed is a men's suiting company.)

Where did you shop AW? I used to sew years before that, but only because I could not afford the more pricey stuff above.

"You can't have everything."

Of course you can! But, you cannot have it all at the same time. Biology is still destiny regardless of the culture.

"Half of American marriages end in divorce, after all, so the success rate of our little social experiment in transience isn't very high."

There is plenty of divorce in the Islamic world. They play "musical wives" just as much as the West. Only, they don't like to admit it. ;-)

I don't know about you, but wild horses couldn't make me become a housewife! Let the men sit home and see what a drag that is. I prefer being a useful human being.

I know people who have solved the two career issue by doing things in say 5 year increments. Both are physicians or scientists, attorneys or whatever mix and one does 5 years to further her career, then he gets the next 5 years. Often it can be negotiated if one gets a lucrative job, that part of the package is for the company to find suitable employment for the "trailing" spouse with the same or another company in the same city. Others have bi-coastal relationships or even bi-country. I've known numerous people where the male had a job in the middle east or Russia and the wife (knowing what her lot would be) refused to go there. So, they would have R & R in a middle point, such a Paris every six weeks or so. That worked too.

I have never found this issue to be a big problem in my professional life. Neither did colleagues and friends, ALL of whom had careers. The only time I ever took off from the career path was the year a child was born. Not that it's easy. But, considering the alternative—housewiffery—I'll take the challenge. :-)

As to the "social experiment" part. I don't look at it as a social experiment. It is the way it should be, both genders making significant contributions to society—equally. Making children is for "unskilled" labor—anyone can do that. And if child-rearing is so important, how come men don't want the job? LOL


AmericanWoman at January 18, 2004 11:32 PM [permalink]:

Wessie, If you aren't experiencing the conflicts described above in holding together a family and trying to pursue two careers then good for you. I mean that sincerely. Certain fields are progressing faster than others,which is exactly why I changed careers after the birth of my first child. I am not currently a graduate student, I do not have, nor have I ever had aspirations to career in Academics or even research. I have no interest at this time in pursuing a PhD. I have always made career path decisions with an eye to mobility and flexibility, as I said in a previous post. Finding meaningful and lucrative work has never been a problem, the difficulty has been balancing the commitment to career and family. Housewiffery IS a drag. I guess you have to be raised to it, but I don't know that it isn't as worthwhile as anything else, I can't disdain it. I thought it was funny that these guys were trying to come up with ideas to "minimize this problem" and I gave my thoughts on how to do so. For me personally, the answer has been to cultivate an interior life, and to form bonds with other women and children. -- Another thing I am not very good at, I'm afraid, not finding much common ground with those groups. I have often thought of myself as a kind of refugee, or as living in exile. For me it is such a pleasure to go to work! I guard against excess in that pleasure, though, as I would against alcohol or anything else which might derail me from the standards I have set for my role in my family. My husband and I are often separated for long periods of time, so I think of myself as a single parent, yet, I put effort into maintaining his presence in the family, so that the children don't feel those absences as a deprivation. The result is that against all odds, I am not divorced, my family is solid, I fight bitterness, and bide my time.

Wessie at February 15, 2004 09:13 PM [permalink]:

What is with the spam artist, phentermine?

American Woman "For me personally, the answer has been to cultivate an interior life, and to form bonds with other women and children. -- Another thing I am not very good at, I'm afraid, not finding much common ground with those groups."

Well, that is the myth is it not, AW—that women are supposed to "love" being with other women and children. I, for one, find most children less than "charming" unless, they are precocious and REALLY charming—and I find most women tedious at best and petty at worst.

I, like you, LOVE going to work, being productive—having a life! It is no wonder that men don't want to be "house-husbands." It is a thankless, boring and often demeaning job—most of the time. Being a traditional wife is being an unpaid servant with conjugal duties. Fortunately, I have a very supportive, non-chauvinistic husband who judges people on their abilities and not their gender or ethnicity.

I don't "fight bitterness" because I have been fortunate enough to have chosen my life—a life that I love.

It is a CRIME for men (in certain societies) to deny half of humanity—women—their rightful place to contribute to this world!