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The M Dash

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Work-Life Balance: One Couple’s Breadwinning Arrangement

August 04, 2015

I remember one morning in particular. I was scrambling around the house, squeezing into a suit and heels in preparation for a major work presentation. My husband Nate strolled out of the bedroom carrying a small duffel bag. He was about to caravan with friends down to Panama City Beach for fall break and wanted to know where his beer koozie was. By this time, I had learned to curb my nostril-flaring at the mere mention of fall break, which is not a real thing that exists in the adult world. This was the decision we had made in our partnership: We would uproot from Los Angeles to Nashville so that Nate could advance his career by attending business school at Vanderbilt, and I would take any job that paid enough to keep the majority of student loans at bay. I handed him the koozie.

I accepted a communications job at a healthcare IT company. It was an unfamiliar industry in a new town. As is the case with starting any new job—no matter the circumstance—I had to do a lot of pretending until I figured out what the hell was going on. I constantly left my badge in the bathroom, mixed up hospital terminology, and gave colleagues spacey looks when they addressed me by my brand spankin’ new married name. Who are they talking to?!

Although the work ended up being challenging and a great learning experience, I decided early on that it was not a professional path that I wanted to follow. I had other unrelated ambitions that were bubbling up, but would need to be kept on the backburner until we figured out the next chapter. We enjoy the perks of money too much to stray from the day-job world at the same time.

Not to say that our arrangement wasn’t blindingly frustrating at times. Vanderbilt is my alma mater, and moving back seemed like a dream come true: I would relive my college days, but this time I’d have more confidence, a wonderful husband, and a VitaMix. Instead, I spent long hours on a freezing corporate campus, traveled across the country to other freezing corporate campuses, and seethed in bed while my husband waltzed in at 2am smelling of delicious late-night fried chicken. I was pissed off that his life was an endless spread of new friends and sunny opportunities while mine seemed like a fluorescent trap.


I stayed motivated, however, because koozies and pub crawls aside, Nate was working really hard at school. He had abandoned the security of full-time work—a daunting move for a 32-year-old. His determination inspired me to keep hanging on, because we were both working towards something better for ourselves and our future family.

After Nate’s graduation two years later, we moved cities once again. He shifted into a shiny new MBA job while I slid out from under full-time work to pursue freelance opportunities and manage a particularly nauseating pregnancy.

Currently, I stay at home with our nine-month-old daughter. Nate is squeezing into a suit, adrift in PowerPoint presentations and industry jargon, and keeping his creative inclinations in check. He watches and winces as I spend my days taking long strolls through the woods and leisurely trips to the public library. And there’s beer, too! I have my share of frustrating days, like when the baby decides not to nap, or when I wake up with a horrific cold and there is no “lay in bed and stare at Instagram” option. There have been times when I go an entire week without interacting with another adult, which is both refreshing and terrifying. I miss making a salary, but I am much more focused on making cost-saving choices for the household. Nate and I have learned to make peace with our respective roles, knowing that one day, they could shift again.

We have a mutual understanding that, like the business school stint, this is not the long-term plan. If and when Nate wants to switch over to a creative endeavor, I’ll be ready to step in and make the money again. I currently spend my free time working towards that next step, so that my new job will be something that I would, hopefully, truly enjoy. In time, perhaps we can reach the point where we’re both earning income and achieving professional fulfillment. Someday.

Illustrations by Mai-Dea

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Julia Bensfield is a freelance writer, comedian, and communications specialist based in Nashville, TN. She has two red-headed children and one naughty brindle dog. Read more of Julia's posts.

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