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The Wedding Planner

Having a life in graduate school sometimes means the unexpected: getting married.

February 5, 2018

Patrick Bigsby is an alumnus, former employee, and lifelong wrestling fan of the University of Iowa. Sometimes, he tweets.

Valentine’s Day is right around the corner and, with any luck, you’ve already made plans with your sweetie. Finding time for romance, whether that means sharing a box of conversation hearts, sending a tubagram, or even buying some airtime on your local jumbotron, can be difficult for grad students. Despite this and much to the dismay of many of my professors, I’m a very firm believer in the idea that enrolling in graduate school doesn’t mean you should put the rest of your life on hold. So, in the spirit of the season, I have some advice for all grad students and their special someones who think they need to wait until after comps, after graduation, or after that first tenure-track job is secured to get hitched: don’t wait! My wife and I were both full-time grad students at the time of our wedding and, reflecting on some of the logistical challenges therein, a few tips come to mind. If you think both a dissertation proposal and a marriage proposal are in your immediate future, here are some considerations I recommend.

Pick a budget and a timeline. This is universal advice for any engaged pair, but bears repeating to grad students who are perpetually strapped for time and money. The trick is to make your budget and your timeline work together. Once you establish your expenses by deciding what you want the wedding to include, set a wedding date beyond the amount of time it will take you to save the money you’re looking to spend (if you need help envisioning your budget, GradHacker has a tremendous financial planning series). This can run from as little as a week to scrape together the wedding license fee, to, well, whatever you can imagine. Weddings have a reputation for being black holes for cash, though this doesn’t have to be the case. I pass deliriously happy couples waiting on magistrates in the courthouse basement every week. Allotting yourself plenty of lead time to save a wedding fund also gives you the freedom to schedule around your teaching obligations, comprehensive exams, conferences to attend, and all the other immovable markers on a grad student calendar. A wedding date is one of those rare deadlines that you control, so use that to your advantage.

Prioritize and authorize. Your wedding plan dictates the wedding cost, which, depending on your savings plan, determines the wedding date. Once you’ve got a date in mind, you and your spouse-to-be can handle the nitty-gritty details. Grad students are already used to maximizing productivity and subdividing projects, which are the same skills needed to organize a wedding. Assuming the two of you have an equal desire to marry each other and at least comparable amounts of faith in the other’s ability to accomplish a task, then you need to divide the labor, antiquated gender norms be damned, and authorize each other to make decisions without further input. My wife and I made a to-do list, assigned the tasks therein based on our respective strengths, and never looked back. This made it easier, for example, for invitations to be printed or a band to be booked because those commitments didn’t involve waiting for a reply to a “is this ok?” text message. Requiring dual signature authority from two grad students with fractured, frequently opposite schedules would be a recipe for disaster.

Tune out the noise. As I alluded to earlier, not everyone in academia shares my unwillingness to postpone the rest of life while working on a graduate degree. For this reason, you might expect some pushback from advisors and other authorities. A few months after getting engaged, I went out to lunch with some other grad students and our mutual supervising professor to celebrate the end of the semester. Knowing I had recently returned from checking out some possible reception venues, one of my colleagues asked about our wedding plans. After listening to my answer, our supervisor proceeded to tell me that she thought everything I was doing in preparation was a waste of time that would slow and even irreparably harm my academic progress. Then, she told me about another, more senior student in our department (who was, by virtue of her temperament and research productivity, the darling of this professor if not the whole department) who had “wasted a year” planning her wedding. While the tunnel-vision approach to grad school might have its advantages, I’m skeptical that my still-happily-married classmate would call that year “wasted.” Even newly affianced, I knew to brush off my supervisor’s pessimistic warning as bunk. My wedding, timed and budgeted to avoid interfering with academic progress, didn’t delay either my or my wife’s graduations. If anything, it improved my grad school experience.

Reap the benefits. If you’re ready to get married, my argument against waiting until after grad school could be boiled down to the idea that when you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, etc. Getting married sooner meant our marriage incorporated more of our most youthful and energetic years, the so-called primes of our lives. But it also had a directive positive impact on my grad school experience. It strengthened my support system by deepening a personal relationship. It helped fight isolation, burnout, and drudgery by giving me an excuse to throw a big party for our family and friends. It might have even been the source of professional gain. So, lovebirds, why wait?

Are you considering getting married while in grad school? What would influence your decision? If you are married, why are you glad you did or didn’t wait until after graduation?

[Image by Flickr user ilovebutter. Used under Creative Commons licensing.]

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