One Week Engaged, One Week Fed Up: A Rebellious Reflection on Dating, Getting Married and Starting a Family in Grad School

Photo:  AdobeStock

Photo: AdobeStock


One week ago, I got engaged. My best friend got down on one knee in front of both of our families and asked for my hand in marriage. It was without doubt one of the happiest days of my life. And naturally, I took to social media to share in my excitement. By the time I made it to campus the next week, it seemed as if nearly every classmate, student, and professor I had ever come into contact with had emailed me. And this is where a lot of the unsolicited advice started to roll in.


I started hearing things like:

“I’m happy for you, but you better push that wedding back.”


“Don’t let this distract you. You should wait until after you finish your doctoral program to get married.”


Oh. And my favorite one yet:

“Girl, this is going to ruin everything you’re working towards. Don’t let love ruin your career before it starts.”


These responses that I received following our engagement reminded me of one major thing:

Academia and personal are to be kept separate.


We we were not a “public couple” until our engagement. Yep, you read that right. Me and my fiancé did not share our relationship on social media until our engagement. This meant that outside of close family and friends, no one knew we were a couple, including most of those in my academic spaces.


This was an important decision made early on for us. It kept a lot of unwarranted advice and pressure from the outside world. The “advice” that I received after our engagement announcement reminded me that those are two separate entities of my life for a reason. And I therefore can’t expect for colleagues to clap for anything beyond a publication acceptance.  


With that being said, let’s have an honest discussion about the PhD and family. About the doctorate and dating. About academia and children. Because all can coexist. All can happen simuntaneously. All can be a part of one’s life and not take away from the other.


And it’s time we stop shaming women and men for desiring more. If someone wants to take 5 years and get their PhD right away, great. If someone wants to take 10 years to get their PhD, getting married and having a family along the way, great. If someone wants to take 15 years getting their PhD, traveling the world and working at non profits along the way, GREAT.


This academic journey is not black and white. There is no one track. There is no one way. And people reserve the right to enjoy life however they choose on their personal journeys.


I had an incredible mentor in undergrad who once told me, “You could die before you ever get a PhD. Don’t let your memorial service be all about what you were waiting to do once you finished.” And that has resonated with me through all of this.


So let this serve as a public service announcement to all those who have asked and those who may be wondering: Yes, I am getting married. Yes, it will be before I finish my PhD program. And yes, I will take his last name.


I refuse to put the rest of my life on hold as I continue on the journey in becoming a professor. Because yes, I do want my PhD. However, I also desire marriage. I also desire to start a family. I also desire to travel the world, write non-academic books, and become an insane plant mom. And what I have learned in this process is that those things do not have to exist apart from each other.


If that means graduating from a Master’s program and having a wedding two weeks later, so be it. If that means defending a dissertation while 8 months pregnant, so be it. If that means taking a year off to regain mental clarity and do some traveling, so be it. We are and should be able to have all of these things simuntaneously. And while some may scold me for it, I will do just that.


So here’s to relationships, travels, weddings, babies, AND PhD’s. To letting academia’s rigid “expected timeline” for us be disturbed by life and love. To letting life be lived and lived in whole outside of classrooms and libraries. We deserve it.



The Rebellious Academic


About the Author

Rae'Jean Spears is a MA student in English Literature at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, where her research focuses on the intersections of Black Southern women writers and storytelling, particularly as it relates to trauma. In her spare time, she enjoys journaling, loving on her plants, and trying new recipes.

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