Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Mrs. Degree

I read an article yesterday that made me laugh--although it could have been written about me, if you didn't know me.  The article was about the return of the "Mrs. Degree," where women attend college solely to find a husband (no accredited degree required!).  Although the motivation for attending college has definitely changed since the 1950's, in that now most women actually go to get an education, apparently many women are still looking for that ring before graduation.  I clicked on the article mostly for procrastinating purposes, while avoiding starting dinner or cleaning, but a concept in it really got me--because even though I have joked about the Mrs. Degree before, I've never thought of it in these terms:  the Mrs. Degree exists because girls dream of finding a man to support them the rest of their lives, so that they don't have to work.

Dan and I got married when we were 23 years old--at the time, I felt kind of old to be getting married (ha ha--thanks for the skewed outlook, Mom and Dad...because they were both 21 when they got married!), but now I know that's pretty young to settle down compared to other women.  The average age of women getting married now is something like 26--I already had my first baby at 26!  I wasn't looking for a man in college (although, hey--who doesn't want to be loved by someone?)--I really, truly wanted to earn my degree in psychology and devote myself to meaningful work...and get married young.  When I think of my 20-year-old self, with all my hopes and plans and dreams, it makes me shake my head a little bit--I didn't know what I wanted, or at the very least, I didn't realize that the things I wanted were either mutually exclusive or somehow conflicting.  I wanted to graduate with my bachelor's degree in psychology from the University of Virginia, get a job in substance abuse prevention (maybe with a non-profit), make a difference in the lives of people who have been affected by addiction issues...oh, and get married, have babies, and be a stay-at-home mom.  Huh?  Clearly, I couldn't have both, and I didn't accomplish both.  If you had asked me when I was 22 years old, fresh out of college, if I went to college with no intention of using my degree, I would have laughed at you...  Looking for a job in 2002 gave me my first, fairly heavy dose of reality--even the jobs I thought I would be a shoe-in for in my field were out of my reach because no one was hiring, or folks with master's degrees were coming in and taking the entry-level positions.  I didn't have a master's degree, nor did I desire more schooling.  I also wanted to stay in Charlottesville for a few years, because it's my favorite place and I felt really at home there, so that limited my opportunities.  I did get offered a position at UVa in the psych department, but taking that job would have meant living well below the poverty level--I had an apartment and a car and bills to pay, so I had to find something else.  I ended up in a job that had nothing to do with psychology--although my boss was nuts, so I did spend lots and lots of time talking my co-workers off the ledge and attempting to navigate the emotional minefield that was working there.  Not quite what I envisioned doing with my expensive degree--but I always figured I would get a little wiggle room monetarily, and then go after my dreams.

I didn't want more school, but I did want to use my degree!

Dan asked me to marry him 1.5 years later (while I was still working at that crazy company), and I said yes--not thinking that by marrying him, I would be set for life and never have to work another day.  I always intended to pull my own weight--although I wanted my Mrs. Degree (let's call it my master's, shall we?  It surely has taken a lot of years of study and effort!), I didn't see it as a free ride through life.  I guess I didn't realize that the Mrs. Degree joke had a more sinister edge to it--I wasn't looking for a rich guy...just a good guy who makes me happy.  I spent a lot of time, hard work, and money on a really good degree from a really great school, and sometimes I still struggle with the fact that I didn't do/haven't done more with it.  Will there ever be a time to pursue those long-ago dreams?  Or have my dreams for my future shifted?  My mom, the inspiration for what a Good Housewife should be, was already out in the workforce after having completed nursing school when she got married--and she supported my dad while he completed the last year of his undergraduate degree.  She stopped working when my brother (the oldest in our family) was born, and went back to work (albeit, not as a nurse) when I (the youngest in our family) was in elementary school--she worked in my school, so that her hours would be compatible with being home as much as possible for her kids.  Her dreams and goals shifted after she had us kids, and I think she would say that she had a happy, fulfilling career--as a nurse, a wife, a mom, a teacher, and now a grandma!  I don't know where this life will lead me--when Alex is 5, will I suddenly want to get a master's in public health?  Will I want to stay at home baking cookies for the kids when they get home from school?  Will I want to get a part-time job at Hallmark again?  Will I fill my days with military spouse groups and volunteering?  Even though I'm not working right now, you'd better believe that Dan and I support each other--he earns the money, I raise our children and manage our wouldn't work without both our important jobs, even though mine doesn't contribute to the bank accounts.  I don't know where my heart will lead me in a few years, but I sure am glad I got that Mrs. Degree to fall back on.  ;)

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