A recent article published by The Scientist called Power Couples gave advice and examples for scientist couples who have successfully balanced their life at home and in the lab. It was interesting from the perspective of how two very busy and career motivated people work together to have it all: raise a family, run a lab, and stay in love with each other over the years.
My previous relationship was with a scientist and in fact we worked together in the same lab for a while. We had no problems working together- we enjoyed it. Working in the same field as your spouse means you have much more in common. There is more to talk about and you can actually help each other with your work. How rare is that to have in a boyfriend or girlfriend?
The bigger challenge is trying to maintain a relationship when your spouse is not a scientist. As someone in this position, I can tell you, it’s not easy. Let me tell you why.
I’ll be leaving in 5 minutes honey…
The non-scientist spouse doesn’t understand that when you bring home a stack of papers to read, it means that while he (or she) is sitting on the couch watching “Man Tracker” on The Science Channel, you will be right by his side with your head buried in work. And when his feet make their way up to rest on the paragraph you were in the middle of, it’s not going to get him a foot rub.
The non-scientist spouse doesn’t understand that your job doesn’t end at 5 pm or 6 pm or 8 pm. They don’t realize that long after you are home, the wheels are still turning ferociously in your mind, churning over possibilities. The magnetic draw of the computer to look something up is overwhelming and before I know it, I’ve been at it another two hours until I am snapped out of the reverie with a romantic call from the bedroom of “GET OFF THE COMPUTER AND COME TO BED. NOW!”
The non-scientist spouse doesn’t understand that when you say you are leaving in 5 minutes, you actually mean 5 minutes after the gel is done, you wrote up the result in your notebook, and you sent an email to your boss. (You can’t say “in 30 minutes” or you will be met with a slew of complaints from the non-scientist spouse. The words “the gel needs to finish” has become a meaningless phrase used to avoid going home.)
But it’s not all bad
Living with a person who does not understand the life of a scientist has its benefits too. You spend much less time complaining about work because it would take too much explanation of the issue to gain the sympathy you seek. I don’t discuss the latest new product I saw that competes with mine or the poorly written paper I read that used our product wrong and then said it didn’t work. I go running instead and let the steam out via sweat. In the end, I think this makes for much greater relationship harmony. Who wants to hear their spouse complain about their job all night?
What I love about my non-scientist partner is that it doesn’t matter what I do, he is impressed and he thinks I am a genius. I try to tell him the truth but he won’t accept it. So I let him keep his grandiose vision of me, a master at work unfairly spurned by the Nobel Prize committee for my thesis work that is gathering dust in a library in Virginia, which, incidentally, holds the cure to all known cancers if anyone cared to read it (so he has convinced himself). Why fight it?
There are many professions that demand the dedication and focus that science also does. However, I don’t know if any other profession becomes so infused with one’s “being” as being a scientist does. One’s approach to figuring out problems in the lab is applied in all areas of life.
At least….it is for me. How about for the rest of you?
Tips and tricks
A Bitesize Bio article is not complete if it doesn’t have some kind of tips and tricks list, so here are my tips for making a relationship work with a non-scientist. Every relationship is different, of course, so feel free to share the secrets to your success.
1. It is best to be consistently late so they understand that you will always be late and then they can plan for it instead of complaining about it. If you are always late and then decide one day to be on time, it can be stressful for the non-scientist spouse. Whatever you do, be consistent.
2. Try to devote at least 1 hr a night to watching TV with the non-scientist spouse, even if you can’t stand the show they want to watch. Even if it’s the UFC, or worse, Dog the Bounty Hunter. Leave the research articles on the floor, engage yourself in the action, and pretend that you don’t even know you had something else to do.
3. It is normal that the non-scientist spouse does the majority of the upkeep at home because of your schedule so try to remember to comment on things and say thank you. The non-scientist spouse will be upset if you do not acknowledge their effort. You’ll earn bonus point for noticing before being told that the bathroom is sparkling or that they did all the food shopping and bought all your favorite food.
4. This is a difficult one but sometimes you have to leave the computer at home when you go on vacation. I’ve only done this a couple of times but the response from the non-scientist spouse makes it worthwhile. Of course these were only one day get-a-way vacations. For longer than a day, bring the computer, but it is best that you only check emails when the non-scientist spouse is in the bathroom, napping or going to get ice.
5. There are always work related events, such as happy hour or dinners where everyone gets together. Let’s face it. When scientists get together, we almost always talk about work. Do not bring your non-scientist spouse to these functions. They will feel left out and bored and the next time there is a function, they will complain. Only bring your spouse to functions where everyone else is bringing their non-scientist spouse. This way they have someone to talk to who has some idea of what is going on outside the world of science. Or in the UFC.
That’s my advice for all of you dating or considering dating a person who has a completely different occupation than you do. While it can be tough on your relationship to not share a passion for something that is such a huge part of your life, at least you can count on the fact that your future in-laws will instantly love you.
Personality plays a big role in relationships and so your advice might be totally different from mine. I’d like to hear from all of you out there who are making it work with a non-scientist. What are your tips?