Monday, March 12, 2012

Relationship and career: Not that incompatible

[Me and K. That french manicure now makes me cringe. Photo credit: Sargeant Photography]

A recent article in The Grindstone caught my eye this weekend, titled "I'm Afraid A Relationship Could Hurt My Career." This isn't the first article on the Internets that espouses the professional benefits of being single. And it's not the first article of its kind to ruffle my feathers (exhibits A, B, C).

Some of the arguments are certainly true: it's harder to pick up on a last-minute trip (although not impossible...I love doing that) and relocation is definitely more difficult (but also not impossible). Does this flexibility help in career advancement? Sure, especially if you're in a small market and want to get closer to HQ. But they also may not hurt you as much as you may never know whether the same or better promotion was available if you stayed, and telecommuting is becoming more and more common these days.

Here are two excerpts from this particular article that caught my eye. To be clear, I'm only speaking from my personal opinion here.
"Calls during the working day, arriving later or late, leaving earlier and missing work altogether are all ways a relationship can distract a person from work." - Shannon Mouton to the Grindstone
This woman's partner sounds sort of needy and inconsiderate. Boundaries are so important in every type of relationship. Even when K and I lived across the country from each other, we talked once a day, in the evening. Since being married, I've definitely pulled my share of late nights (even all-nighters) alongside fellow married coworkers. A relationship can only cause you to miss work if you let it.
"But these women interviewed above are not saying they were rejected by men because they wanted to focus on their careers but rather they were worried that a man could slowdown their career trajectories. They are in the driver’s seat and contrary to the data and way of thinking above, that can be appealing too."
This statement has its merits—you're definitely sharing the drivers seat in a marriage. There's a flip-side to that, though, that a supportive partner can help in your career. K has been my biggest career champion; sometimes he thinks I'm more capable than I really am, and that support pushes me to do better than I thought I could. On days I feel like giving up, he won't let me. I'm also a big believer in letting your career and life goals evolve; what I want for my life now is pretty different than what I wanted three years ago. I think there's a lot of pressure to aim for something and dedicate your life to it, but there are some of us that just don't work that way. My "career trajectory" changes on a weekly basis (or more like bounces among a few options), and that's OK.

One thing that these articles rarely touch on is the fact that there are quite a few successful women who are, in fact, married, and some of them have been for quite a while. Anne Mulcahy, who lead Xerox for eight years, climbed from sales to the top job while married with two children. Anne Sweeney, president of Disney-ABC Television Group, has been married to her graduate school sweetheart for nearly 30 years. Their relationships haven't held them back, and yours doesn't have to either (or maybe it's just the fortune of being named "Anne").

I get slightly defensive when I read these articles because of my own experience. I was engaged soon after college and married before I got my first full-time permanent job, so I've never known my career as a truly single girl. Has it hurt me? I don't think so. In fact, I think it's worked to my advantage in several ways. As a young professional with only internships under my belt, being married was a subtle sign that I wasn't afraid of commitment. Socially, being married put me on a level playing field with my coworkers, all of whom were 5+ years older than me; despite the age difference and the fact that I look younger than I am, I was able to connect with them straight out of the gate. I may not have the flexibility of someone without a significant other, but I have the drive and a lot of other great traits that helped me advance anyway.

Of course, there is a lot that I don't know. I don't know where my career would be had I not fallen in love at 20 and married at 23. I don't know where I would be relationship or career-wise if we hadn't decided to weather a cross-country relationship for two years so we could both pursue further education at the institutions we felt were the best fits. I only know my own experience as it played out, and it just hasn't been that bad. Don't get me wrong...I don't think that my path is the best path for everyone or even a recommended path, but it's what I chose and I'm happy with it.

We're living in a different era than our mothers; marriage is no longer a given or even a goal for many women, and that is really freakin' awesome. I don't think it's preferable or not preferable to be in a relationship. All I'm saying is...being in a relationship does not have to be a career disadvantage.

What has your experience been? And I'm curious...have you avoided relationships because you think they'll hurt your career? 


  1. I absolutely love this sentiment. I feel the same way! And was also married very young (22). But having a supportive partner makes navigating the waters of a very complicated career world in an unsteady economy so much easier. Glad to see this blog back up and running! :)

  2. Ha - the fortune of being named Anne has always worked for me! Very interesting thoughts though. I haven't spent much time ever pondering this as I got married at 21 and hardly knew what I wanted for a career at that point... which means figuring out marriage and career happened simultaneously for me, and I didn't see any incompatibility between the two!

  3. I think it depends...
    In a previous relationship, I did dump someone else because he did not seem to know where he was going and had no path. It was weird, he was 9 years older and he was like my son :(
    Being married to someone who does have a career, for me the hardest part is : traveling and arriving late EVERYDAY from work.
    There has got to be a lot of trust. TRUST is the key.

  4. @ sachappinessproject - Thanks for stopping by! It's nice to

    @ Lorena - It definitely depends on the people involved and the nature of the relationship...I just think a lot of articles generalize all relationships as "distracting." You bring up a great point — trust is so important, as is sharing values and priorities that allow you to support each other in your individual pursuits.

  5. Its more than employees who worry about their relationship hurting their career. Bosses can worry about it too. I never experienced it till recently where a boss told me that he wants to fill a position and they don't want anyone who has children and who is liberal. Of course this conversation happened behind closed doors and he can fully deny it if I complained.

    Also, he believes it is OK to do this because at one time in his wife's career she was interviewed for a high up position. He said that she was asked if she will be having children any time soon and if she was planning on it she wouldn't get the job. He said the conversation happened behind close doors and she was told that if she complained they would deny it.

    Its really sad.

  6. @ Richard - Wow, that is really discouraging to hear, but I guess not too surprising. Do you have any recommendations for how interviewees can handle questions that are so blatantly illegal in interviews?

    1. Its tough to answer. You could report the manager but it would be his word against yours which might not go far especially if its only one on one and you don't have proof.

      I think if it was me, I would just lie and tell them what they want to know. If I had children, its not like they could take adverse actions.

      However, would you really want to work for a company that broke the laws.

    2. I agree...I don't know that I would want to work for a company that does that, but it might also be hard to tell whether that's the company bias or just that of the interviewer.

      The rebel in me would want to throw it back at them with something like "I don't think that question is appropriate for an interview. Let's move on." but I think I'd probably play it down and be timid in real life.

  7. Great to see that you're back on the blog, Angeline! I completely agree that relationships are only as "detrimental" as you let them be, but I will say that for my husband and I, marriage has had an effect. I made a cross-country move a month after graduation to a state where I knew no one. Husband had a great opportunity, so we went. Granted, this was spring 2008, right after the big crash, but my career took a huge hit during the 2 years we lived in CA. We moved back to Texas for my career, but now his trajectory has slowed, because he's telecommuting. His next step is into management, but they won't promote him to that role unless he stops working remotely. For us, the trade-offs have been well worth it, and provided a net gain. But, individually, I would say that marriage has impacted our careers.

    The key difference, is that we don't think of it as "my career/life" and "his career/life", we think of it as "our career/life". So if a move is beneficial to US, we take it... and sometimes that means that one has to sacrifice. But, we figure in the scheme of the next 50 years, what's a little give and take here and there? :)

  8. @ Ashley - Thanks for sharing your experience! I think that's a great way to look at it—"our career/life." I've also done quite a bit of relocating for my husband, too, and I think the moving around is a pretty fun adventure. :)

  9. My turn to comment- I think being married helped us in our careers. I was 19, he was 21. We were halfway through college and figured, why not get married now? Anyway, since we were both in school and working, we were very supportive of one another and understood late night studying, etc. Then, he went to work and supported me while I got my teaching credential. Then it was his turn to go back to school while I supported him.

    One thing I think is helpful is that there is less stress between switching jobs because we don't have to worry financially if someone is out of work. He's not going to stay in a miserable job for the sake of money, but has put himself out there and thus made better career moves.

    We both understand that our jobs can be demanding, but we're encouraging of each other and definitely understanding of late nights working, meetings, business trips, etc.

    1. Hi Beth!! :)

      That is a great point...two incomes definitely allows for a lot more flexibility. We've definitely found that to be true, especially since for the first four years of marriage I was the breadwinner and since K graduated we've switched places so I can pursue various things. It's a give and take, but I agree that having a partner in the process gives us more flexibility in pursuing our own goals.


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