Maintaining a love life is one of the most complicated things you can do in graduate school, especially when your program requires you to live abroad for a year. There. I said it, and I stick by it.
For this month, I interviewed members of my cohort who have different relationship statuses. Should you choose to pursue love during the EDPP or another grad school journey, I hope that these perspectives will help feel (at least somewhat) prepared.
How did you and your partner meet?
Claire: My current partner, Jasper, and I met 7 months ago in the backseat of a car for our friend Martin’s birthday. We got together that very evening; don’t like to waste time. We went official in October or November.
Gab: My partner and I met in 2015 at a reading festival in Sarasota, Florida. I was working down there as an actor and then he came down to do work at the theatre as well. Our meeting was brief but we ended up re-connecting in Chicago! We’ve been together for a little over 3 years now.
Fate: Michael and I met when we were 12. We became good friends in high school and have been together for 8 1/2 years and married for almost 2 years!
Richie: (Surprise! This is my romantic partner. We are doing the crazy thing of dating WHILE IN THE SAME PROGRAM, which is something people usually advise against…)
Brittany and I met about a year before the program—twice—but she doesn’t remember either of those, even though we had a conversation each time. I then started performing at the monthly physical variety show she created and hosts. We became friends and found out that we were auditioning for the same grad program. Of course, we got in together, and then got a place together with one other person in Berlin. We were there for each other through some very rough times right before Berlin and in the first few months of Berlin. We started dating in February, and tiptoed through the relationship process because we weren’t sure if it’s what we wanted, especially while we were in grad school. Now we’ve been together for a year and two months, even though it feels like 5.
(I re-worded this question to Ben because he is single—Awooooooga!) How do you meet people?
Ben: I meet people by going out and seeing the city—made even more exciting with Berlin being one of the foremost party cities in the world. I’m all about having good drinks and good company with which to enjoy them.
Describe a moment when being in grad school was challenging for your relationship. How did y’all work through it?
Claire: So, I’ve done every sort of relationship in grad school. Hookups, casual dating, sustained dating, serious long-distance, and a committed monogamous relationship. The last two are the hardest because I put a ton of emotional energy into my serious relationships. In grad school, surprise surprise, you need more energy than usual for yourself and your work. I have felt incredibly drained and pretty depressed trying to both give and receive from a partner while in grad school. My long distance relationship didn’t survive, which was awful because I felt helpless with another few semesters to go.
Gab: The most challenging time of being in a relationship while in grad school was the long distance of living apart for almost a year. I was living in Berlin and he was in Chicago—we needed to find a way to make sure we were still there for one another even at a distance!
Fate: Because of visa issues, Michael had to leave Berlin and go back to America for 3 months. It was extremely hard to be away from him, but with support of my fellow Lispians I was able to throw myself into the work and we went on an amazing trip across Italy and Greece when he returned.
Richie: There were very many moments in this journey of grad school that weighed on our relationship, and we still pressed on. I cannot imagine what my journey would be without Brittany. Not only is she my relationship partner, but we are also able to dive deep into artistic, spiritual, and personal conversation and rely on each other for extra support. At one point in Berlin when we lived together, I had one set of keys, and Berlin does not allow you to make more. We had to be tied at the hip and couldn’t go off to do our own thing without the other one having to wait, and I didn’t have a phone that had data over there. It quickly threatened our relationship, and not just the romantic one. Solution? We bought a lock box to keep outside the apartment. We bought our freedom. Did we ever use it? No. The point was we were willing to find a solution to help each other be an independent person.
(To Ben) Describe a moment when being in grad school was challenging for your dating life. How did you work through it?
Ben: When I have met people and really hit it off with them, it always comes with the caveat that school comes first and might mean I have to move across the planet. Yes, in the moment, those decisions are tough, but as I approach graduation, those challenges seem to be great opportunities to reconnect and plan exciting adventures to do so!
What advice would you give a person who’s navigating dating during this program?
Claire: Here’s the good news! I didn’t HAVE to give so much energy to those relationships and I work everyday to take time for myself. I need time alone to recharge, get focused, get work done, eat well, exercise, create space around me, see friends, remember I have hobbies (!) and go to therapy. Having a partner who understands this and happily gives you space to be you at this stressful time is paramount. My partner and I are still navigating this and that’s okay too. I’m choosing a relationship right now and we understand it will be difficult.
Gab: My advice would be to find communication methods and routines that work for you—each relationship is different and you should always communicate about what your needs are and from there you can work together to maintain the relationship together!
Fate: I would say lean on your partner and have them be your rock when you are overwhelmed. Make time for you to talk about things other than the work and time for just the two of you outside of the space.
Richie: My advice would be the same that I would give to any relationship, and that is to be patient and communicate. And by communicate, I mean that you and your partner have to navigate every day how you communicate. It’s not something you figure out once and it’s going to work the same way every time. It is an active thing that you have to constantly work at, and it is so worth it. Even the simple act of asking for space and knowing not to take it personal when space is asked for. Ask for what you need, be understanding, and be ready to support.
(To Ben) What advice would you give a person who’s navigating dating in this program?
Ben: Keep school and the WORK at the forefront. Casual partners will always be there, but this opportunity is priceless. Dig deep into the work and remember that that is what brought the travel, the mixing of cultures from around the planet, and the excitement to you in the first place. Don’t try to overcommit yourself to all the “new” you will find when you commit to this journey. Slow and steady.
Tell me three words that make you think of your partner.
Claire: HOT, WOW, HOT AGAIN.
Gab: Lover, Silly, Music.
Fate: Whale! Lettuce-leaf! Jetpack!
Richie: Incrediwoman, Teaspoon, Home.
(To Ben) Tell me three words that describe your love life currently.
Ben: True. Patient. Riveting.