The struggles of romantic relationships in grad school

Hi all! So, tomorrow its the infamous Valentine’s Day, at least in Portugal and in the US! For instance, in Brazil, the day that celebrates couples is in June. However, I may only talk about my realities and it makes the V-Day February 14th. Why is it so?

According to Christian  tradition, Saint Valentine was a martyr in Rome who performed weddings under Christian faith despite being forbidden by the Roman Empire. With this, in later centuries, the day of this saint was associated with romantic relationships. Actually, I never celebrated Valentine’s Day much since I think it’s a commercial date. Tomorrow, I will have a Paretine’s Day. Yes, February 14th will be when I see my parents, the most important couple of my life, for the first time in 3 months. And I’ll totally devote the day to be with them.

And why does it have to do with grad school, or research?

Well, when I came to grad school, I saw essentially two types of people: people, like me back then, who had long term relationships, or single people still trying to figure out which dating situation would be the most convenient for them, or did not find a significant other for a committed relationship or were simply not invested in that. However, the stress of grad school can be detrimental for relationships of any kind. Lots of people move to a different university or different country even, stop spending as much time with family and friends, altogether having time and energy for a committed relationship. I heard some friends telling me ‘I don’t have time or patience for a relationship right now.’ Which is fine. However, the fact that you spend so much time in the lab, is also something that leads me to believe that relationships between people in the same lab occur naturally, causing drama of some sort if they don’t work.

In order to know if my suspicions about dating in grad school were true or not, I resorted to polls on my Instagram stories. I did 5 yes or no questions, and I will share, along with the results, my own personal answer and experience.

1 – Do you have enough time to devote to your personal relationships?

64% said YES. My Answer: YES.

I’m not going to lie. You have to make time for relationships. And you have to try to be guilt free. However, you might not spend together as much time as you like with your partner. It also depends on how you work in the same building, or how far apart you are. For me, this question changed throughout the years. I need to have a very understanding person about my space and needs. I am comfortable about not seeing my partner for some time, if priority in the time is work. However, one thing I struggle with is taking time off guilt free. Its really important to have a partner who supports the journey, but also as important to not make all the conversations about the struggles you feel. I suspect next year will be more challenging for me in all relationships, since I will be on the final year.

2 – Do you feel that the work and stress of grad school is taking a toll on your dating situation?

61%  said YES. My answer: YES.

It always did for me. My first long term relationship was in the first three years of undergrad and he said I’d study too much. I used to get angry, because being good at my job was always so important and still is. Even now that I have the blog, working on my blog also requires taking some time off that I could use for being with people. Conversely, sometimes I dreaded how much the stress in my dating situations was impacting my work. I am really sensitive to interpersonal stress and I am trying to put work in a separate box. However, now I see that, above doing well at work, you have to be in tune with the other person’s needs. Just like you need time to work and self care and support, the other person too. Keep that in mind, because work will always be there, while some nice experiences with your loved one might not. Despite this, find someone who truly supports you and understands that sometimes a great date and wonderful attitude is bringing you takeout dinner when you have long hours at work.

3 – Did you start or end any romantic relationship during grad school?

60% said YES. My answer: YES.

I didn’t ask who started, or ended, or did both. I did both. I started grad school with a different partner than my current one. For me, I felt that the classes, people I met, and time I was spending working led me to having new interests and being more in tune about my ambitions in life. Also moving to a new country is challenging to any relationship, and I found out I was drifting apart from my previous boyfriend, which led to the end of the relationship. Regarding the start of new relationships. You might have moved to a new town and your group of friends is mostly people from the lab, or other group you catch up on, and you find people with similar interests. That’s what happened to me and something I’ve seen in previous and current research groups.

4 – Is, or was, any of your romantic relationships with a fellow academic or a STEM professional?

50% said YES.My answer: YES.

Pretty mixed reactions here! So, even though common, having a person who goes exactly through the same as you do is not a prerequisite for a happy relationship in grad school. I believe both are good. Having someone who understands exactly are you are going through is great, however someone who can bring a fresh, diverse opinion and with whom you are forced to talk less about work, could do wonders. Both my partners during PhD were, or are, PhD students. My former one was in the humanities, the current one is an engineer like me. So, I’ve been leaning towards mutual support in the same experiences. However, I’m sure that having us both struggle about the shaky employment situation after PhD is not the funniest topic.

5 – Is your current work situation (or your partner’s) causing you to be in a long distance relationship?

55% answered YES. My answer: YES.

I am quite ok with LDRs, as long as there is trust and support. You can even be in a lab and be so busy that you don’t get to see your significant other that much, even when living in the same area. Of course LDRs can add additional stress that you don’t desire while in such a challenging time of your life. So, here the key is to talk with your partner when starting a new relationship on your joint views about a long distance relationship and how you’re going to work that out. Is it more important for you to be so satisfied with your job, regardless of where you’re working? Or is it more important to be always in the same location and one person might need to find some compromise? For me, it was always very important that both of us would be happy with our jobs and living arrangements. However, if in a committed relationship, it is a good idea to have a plan for a possible life together at some point.

I hope you liked the post! I might do this an annual thing and I have so many ideas. Next year I might dwelve into online dating in academia as a topic. I loved your collaboration and I hope some of the tips were helpful. If you want to share how you cope with the struggles of grad school and how to not let them affect your dating life, I’m glad to discuss it. I am currently reading a book about research on the effect of positive psychology practices on romantic relationships and I might share what I learned very soon!

See you next week with my digital nomad and the PhD post with two LIVE CHATS on February 21st! Stay tuned for a live chat in Portuguese on Facebook (21h GMT) and in English on Instagram (22h GMT, or 5pm EST).  That  will be so awesome! I loved the live chatsin January and I’m so eager to see them grow and share experiences 1 on 1 with you 🙂


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