my partner’s career means we move all the time and it’s destroying my resume

A reader writes:

While my partner has a prestigious career, it often requires we move to places I have no control over. Every time we move, I struggle to find work. My resume is choppy, I don’t speak the local language, my degrees are not equivalent, etc.

I want so desperately to have a strong career, but I’m almost 30 and my resume is in tatters. I have to take low level, minimum wage jobs wherever we go. I feel like I’ve lost my chance to have a career and will just be working odd jobs the rest of my life. I’ve considered going back to school for a career I really want, but it would take me 7-10 years to become accredited, if I even get accepted and can afford the program. I’d be close to 40 by the time I finished. How do I cope knowing I will never be financially independent from my partner? I feel like such a failure.

Building on that, how do I build a life with a high-achieving partner and all his high achieving friends when I feel like I’m so much less? Their disinterest in my career choices is down right comical and while it just might be ignorance about what I do, I cant help but shake the feeling everyone thinks I am actually just stupid/lazy.

No one has been able to give me any more advice than “buck up and work hard.”

I’m not going to tell you to buck up and work hard. I think that’s crappy advice that ignores the reality of your situation (and I suspect people are giving it because they don’t know what else to advise).

I think you should stop dismissing the idea of going back to school for the career you really want. Being close to 40 when you finish isn’t an obstacle at all. You’ll have a ton of working years left after 40 — so why not position yourself to spend them doing what you want to be doing? We’re talking about more than half of your working life!

If school turns out not to be an option for some reason (you’re not accepted, can’t afford it, or just decide it’s not for you after all), then I think you’ve got to figure out if there are any alternatives to low-level, minimum wage jobs despite your frequent moving. Can you get a job that you continue remotely after you move? Is there work where the location-hopping would be an advantage in some way (like something involving travel, languages, or cultural competence)? Can you switch to a freelance model where your clients don’t care where you’re based? (This will depend on your skills, but for example: writing, graphic design, website building, and on and on.) None of these paths are easy but if you can make one of them work, it would probably be a huge increase in your quality of life and overall comfort and job satisfaction.

But there’s also a conversation to be had here with your partner. Does he know how unhappy you are on this front? Have you been explicit about the toll your set-up is taking on your career prospects? Does it still make sense to prioritize his career over yours, now that you both see the price you’re paying? Are you both comfortable with the position this could leave you in if something were to happen to him or to the relationship? And if not, what should you be doing doing differently in response to that, individually and as a couple?

There are all sorts of reasons people decide to make the trade-offs you’re making in your relationship and your career, and you might be very confident those reasons are still right for you — but make sure you’ve revisited those questions recently.

As for your partner’s friends … I don’t doubt that they’re not asking a ton of questions about your career choices, because that’s a very common dynamic. If they’re in fields similar to his, some of that may be the sort of conversational selfishness that takes over when a group of people in adjacent fields get together. But it also could be that your jobs aren’t ones you’ve been deeply invested in (at least that’s my read from your letter) and aren’t a part of your identity in the way your partner’s might be his. If that’s the case, people might be picking up on that and responding accordingly. Or, yes, it could be that they see you as less than them — but unless you’ve seen other evidence of that kind of classism/unkindness/snottiness from them, it’s possible this is stemming from your own feelings on your work situation. Can you try taking to them about other things going on in your life besides work — hobbies, interests, family, however you find fulfillment these days? If they’re not responsive to that either, then your partner has crappy friends and that’s another conversation for the two of you to have.

Ultimately, your partner needs to be part of the conversation with you on all of this. It can’t be that he gets to drag you around the world following his professional dreams while you’re miserable and left to deal with that alone (and surely he wouldn’t want that either). Ask him to be part of figuring this out.

{ 348 comments… read them below }

  1. Anonymous Me*

    I agree that there is a conversation to be had with your partner. You deserve happiness and fulfillment as well. Good luck!

    1. Just Elle*

      Definitely. It can be so hard when the partner you are happiest with and the life you would be happiest with don’t align. Unfortunately, I really think you need both to be truly happy. Everyone deserves fulfillment, and it sounds like you aren’t getting it just by supporting your partner’s career. Some people do, some don’t, and both answers are ok! But recognizing that your feelings are valid and acceptable is an important first step.

      The WSJ article “The Key to Bliss for a Dual-Career Couple? A Contract” was a big eye opener for myself and my husband. I definitely recommend giving it a read and using the contract as a framework for working through this with your partner.

      Ultimately, my husband and I decided that we were willing to make certain career sacrifices if it meant we could prioritize a better ‘averaged’ happiness between the two of us. First, he took a series of non-ideal jobs while I was moving around for 3 years establishing my career. Then, I actively sought out a job at a very large, one-location company where I could have plenty of growth without moving so that he was able to establish a career of his own. We bought a house and agreed to 5 years here. After that, we will re-evaluate. But having these agreements up front and considering BOTH partner’s needs is essential.

      1. SomebodyElse*

        Can we pin this response to the top? It is spot on in so many different ways.

        My husband and I faced the same thing with incompatible careers- Mine was with a company that was very clear on the point that “if you want to move up, you need to move around” my husband’s career is a very much “Get 1 job at one location at 19-20 and retire ~56” job. You can see the problem here.

        When we started having all of the ‘serious’ pre engagement discussions (religion, kids, debt, career) this was a tough topic. In the end we agreed to one more move for my job that would give me more future options and that we would stay put after that for his job. For me, that meant that I self-selected off the trajectory I was on and he had to do the impossible to get another job in his field which is pretty much unheard of.

        Turns out we made it work. While I may have been eliminated from one path, another one opened up. I give my company a lot of credit (and they’ve earned my loyalty) because they have continued to promote me even though I’m on a bit of an island geographically speaking. I did have to commit to more travel, but I’m willing and able to do that. My husband managed to land another job in his field and he’s on track to retire in about 8 years.

        Once he retires we reevaluate my career.

        Very long winded story of how incompatible careers can work in a marriage with a lot of communication, trust, creativity, sacrifice, and luck.

        1. Just Elle*

          It makes me so happy to hear another success story that’s a bit further along than ours. I think your last sentence is spot on. Communication, communication, communication. If something we thought would be ok turns out not to be, we bring it up right away and discuss it openly, brainstorming lots of ideas to fix it until one sticks. Not being stuck in an agreement you made before you were living it is key. Even if you’re stuck for a few more years, but have an exit plan, that’s very different from feeling like you can’t even share how you’re feeling with your partner – let alone escape the issue.

      2. starzzy*

        Ultimately, my husband and I decided that we were willing to make certain career sacrifices if it meant we could prioritize a better ‘averaged’ happiness between the two of us.

        LOL. My husband and I tell people we’ve ruined each other’s careers. Obviously, this is a bit of hyperbole and we’re actually quite happy with the ways our careers are currently on track. It’s not what either of us imagined when we were in school, but they’ve actually really worked out. The key was negotiation. There were times we were both unhappy at how the other stifled particular growth within our fields, but this unhappiness was nothing compared to the alternative of breaking up, which would have happened if either one of us had gotten everything we wanted at the expense of the other.

        1. Overeducated*

          Haha! I love that and may steal your phrasing. My husband and I agreed before we got married to “take turns,” but taking turns definitely has a cost in the long term in terms of opportunities lost and delayed. At this point I’ve wound up turning down jobs in my first choice field and entering a second, while he’s missed out on chances for permanent employment in his field (fingers crossed that’s next for him though!), because it wasn’t the right time for one of us to move.

          The trade off is that we haven’t lived apart or put off having children, which most of our friends in our fields who have better careers have had to do. I think I’d make that trade again.

          1. Just Elle*

            Haha I love this phrasing.

            I agree that trade offs have been worth it. Honestly, slowing our career trajectories have forced us to broaden our time investments into non-career interests that have their own payoffs. Taking up powerlifting (for me) and cycling (for him), education outside of strictly what would advance the singular career goal (bees are FASCINATING creatures), developing mutual interests that we discuss apart from the latest work crisis (newest hobby is window shopping for fancy clothes we can’t afford), planning unique date nights (the symphony) etc. Its made us both into more well rounded, happier people. But if I’d been On The Fast Track, I would have invested 100% of myself into that one singular goal. And I’m sure I’d be much more stressed and exhausted these days. And what if it hadn’t worked out and I’d given all this other stuff up?

      3. AcademiaNut*


        Being a following spouse is really hard, even without international moves. And the sacrifices the following spouse makes don’t go away if the relationship breaks up, or the earning spouse dies or is incapacitated. It’s not just personal satisfaction, it’s also the risk finding yourself middle age or older, with a non-existent or really spotty work history, no retirement benefits and no support system (because of the moving every few years). And the constant moving and lack of life satisfaction places an extra strain on marriages. I know more than one couple where the husband left academia because of the stress of constant moves on his wife and kids (it’s almost always the wife that’s the following spouse).

        I do think that in situations like this, a certain fraction of the income should go into savings in the following partner’s name, with a lawyer-vetted contract to go with it. Most in a retirement plan, but some that could be accessed for things like moving back to your home country or to be near family, and living on while finding a job and a place to live.

        For the OP – if you can swing the logistics and money, I’d advise going for the training. Even if it doesn’t pan out in a job it gives you something coherent and constructive to be doing over the next 7-10 years, which is psychologically better than working a series of unconnected, unsatisfying jobs that aren’t going to lead anywhere.

        The other thing that can help is finding an absorbing hobby, even if it isn’t paying. It doesn’t help the financial part, but it gives you something fulfilling to do with your life that isn’t supporting your partner’s career.

    2. MissGirl*

      I knew a couple in a similar situation only she was the one with the demanding career with his taking a backseat. One thing they decided was that they would continue in the status quo until it didn’t work for one of them. If it stopped working, they would sit down and reevaluate and change it up.

      They had three kids and after the third, he said this was no longer working for him. Their solution was for him to stay at home. That was hard for both of them to adjust to. For him it meant giving up a career, for her it meant she would never have the option to stay home. It ended being the right decision for them.

      OP, it sounds like it’s not working for you. Sit down with your partner and see if the two of you can figure out what will work. Don’t worry about anyone but the two of you. BTW, I completely changed careers at 36.

      1. Imi Wheelhause*

        Not to add to the pile of “things to consider” — moving around for various low paying jobs also means that you may be losing out on securing your retirement. I was in a similar situation in my mid-20s and my partner and I agreed that part of our shared expenses would be a Roth IRA for me, because many of my jobs back then had a wait period to contribute to a 401k, or didn’t offer a 401k, and being low-paying meant that my contributions and employer match were lower than if I had a more established career.

        1. TechWorker*

          This x 100 – sort out your finances! If you’re taking a financial hit make sure your retirement won’t too. My mum at one point (~12 years after graduation, before hey had kids) earnt more than my dad, she quit work to have kids and now earns around a quarter of what he does. She happened to have one really good pension from her pre-kids job so she’s doing ok financially but without that it would have been a joke!

        2. Semi Famous, Mostly Anonymous*

          which if you are a US citizen also means you are not contributing to Social Security as much.

    3. Just Sayin'*

      I had a partner once who was up for transfer to another state. He suggested I consult with my attorney about how best to protect myself if things went south. He ended up not taking the transfer, but I got quite an education from my attorney, and I appreciated his interest in my more vulnerable situation.

      You refer to this person as your “partner” rather than your spouse. If you are not legally married, your protections are more limited. You might want to discuss with him/her how they might help you support yourself under these circumstances if the relationship doesn’t work out. Your partner, in a perfect world, will be interested in your well-being.

      1. anon attorney*

        Divorce attorney here, cosigning this advice. I have represented a number of people (mostly women) who have put their careers on the back burner for the sake of the marriage (and/or kids) and have then found themselves in a very precarious financial position in midlife when the partner they trusted suddenly pulled a switch on them. Not every jurisdiction has solid financial protections in place for people, usually women, to whom this happens. Taking legal advice now is a really good idea.

        1. Just Elle*

          Thirding this. My MIL stopped working to raise the kids. When FIL found a younger model and kicked MIL out, he could also obviously afford better lawyers. MIL was forced to live out of a motel and struggled to find work.
          Husband would spend half the time in the mansion-like FILs house and going on fancy trips, and half the time eating discount PB&J and cube steak at MILs motel. No surprise which house Husband’s preferred to live at, which obviously further hurt MIL. There was even a ridiculous bid for full custody because she was bringing the kids along for her morning paper route job.
          My husband still hasn’t really forgiven FIL for the way he totally disregarded everyone else’s health and happiness under the influence of the new woman. Sometimes people just straight up lose their mind. Make sure you aren’t collateral damage.

        2. willow19*

          I am a woman and was the working spouse, only because he chose not to work. And when it was divorce time, he was eligible for spousal support. Even though he had a nice inheritance. And could get social security (he was holding out in order to maximize the amount, even though he was long past the maximizing age). That was an unpleasant surprise – that I could be the sole contributor and still get screwed.

  2. Detective Amy Santiago*

    OP, I don’t know what career you’re interested in pursuing (though I agree with Alison that you should not discount starting school now), but I’d suggest looking at a board like FlexJobs that specializes in remote work. It’s a reputable site that vets all the listings so it’s worth subscribing to. Some industries lend themselves to remote work easier than others, so that is a good place to research some options.

    1. OP*

      Thank you! This is a great tip. I had no idea where to start with finding flex work, and some sites seem so scammy.

      1. Karl*

        Ditto. As a hiring manager, FlexJobs required 2-3 rounds of vetting (of my company) before they’d let me post a position. I was impressed how hard they’re advocating for candidates. Good luck!

      2. AVP*

        OP, there are also some recruiters and agencies that specialize in remote/flexible work positions! I don’t know what industry you’re in but google for those as well.

    2. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

      This is my advice too. I have some friends whose partners’ jobs (and vice versa) require moving all over the world every three years or so and they have found taking the free-lance/consultant route beneficial. Some picked up technical fields (e.g. GIS, SAS, R), some went clinical (e.g. traveling nurse/MD, pharmacy consulting), teaching, remote project management, etc.. You have an advantage of not needing an income to survive right now, so you can try out some different classes and certifications to see what you like and what is best for you. It might take some time, but you have that. Shoot, one friend’s husband discovered that he really liked teaching in his late 40s and teaches English and Japanese online and on-site.

      1. the_scientist*

        I wouldn’t suggest SAS only because the software license is HELLA expensive. R and Python, though, if you’re interested in that kind of work are hugely in demand, and once you know R, SAS is pretty easy to learn.

        1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

          SAS license is crazy expensive and the folks I know who went that route already had some SAS skills and used the licenses of their clients. You can get the basics down with the free University Edition, but definitely something you don’t want to have to buy on your own

          1. epi*

            I’ve heard anecdotally that the free University Edition has improved. When I started my masters in 2014, I planned to use it but couldn’t find any real documentation for its differences from SAS. There was just a super unhelpful forum. After trying for a bit, I never got it to work and had to get SAS installed mid-semester just to get my work done. Several other people were in the same boat.

            I still work at that institution and I’ve heard from current students that the free edition works fine for them. Those not studying epidemiology or biostats just don’t buy SAS at all. If the OP (or anyone in a similar situation) did want to learn SAS, universities with programs that require it will often heavily discount the license for students. It’s also possible to buy that type of license for less than a year, just to try it out in a relevant course.

            Whether it’s worth learning SAS really depends what you want to do. For a lot of analyst positions, I see job ads with one or two languages that are preferred but it’s clear they’ll consider people qualified in other languages who obviously could learn. However there are also SAS programmer jobs out there where it seems much less optional.

    3. PJs of Steven Tyler*

      Thank you SO SO much – I am going to use this website in future for sure. Spouse is planning a long-distance move soon and I want to be able to contribute to our household bills.

      1. Detective Amy Santiago*

        I don’t know if there is a consensus, but I am not the only person who has recommend it/has experience with it and I don’t recall ever seeing negative comments about it.

      2. Gaia*

        It was for me! I knew I wanted to work remotely and I knew I was struggling to find remote jobs through other means. I found the right role for me in less than a month. Several friends have had similar success.

      3. Seeking Second Childhood*

        Thanks to both of you, I may give it a try next month, after a current but of chaos passes at home.

    1. Mr. Tyzik*

      This definitely warrants a relationship discussion of overall needs and goals. When my husband was laid off ten years ago, he chose to retire early and become a SAHD, and I supported that choice. We talk often about my salary and finances, including investments and insurance, so he’s involved in the home finances despite not making a direct contribution to funds. it also ensures he’s aware of what to do if anything happens to me.

      I would recommend a similar financial discussion between OP and her partner to understand the pooled funds, contributions, and what it means to their relationship health overall. Money is a huge stressor against happiness.

    2. Kes*

      This was my first reaction as well, but on reading the comments I think there’s also a career aspect that can be discussed in terms of “how is it possible to have a stable and progressive career when you have to move around a lot for your partner’s career”. However I agree there’s definitely a more relationships aspect in terms of “how to handle the fact that my partner doesn’t prioritize or value my career since his is high-achieving”

      1. cmcinnyc*

        BUT–it sounds like the LW hasn’t truly prioritized her career, either. She wants a better career, but each decision has detoured her further away from where she wants to be. You make Decision to Prioritze Partner’s Career #1, and the second time the Q comes up, you’re not where you were making Decision #1, and it’s easier to prioritize someone else again, rinse/repeat. Until you’re where LW finds herself.

        1. Guacamole Bob*

          This happened to me because I didn’t have a good alternative answer to the question besides continuing to prioritize my partner’s career for a long time – I was in jobs that paid that bills but were meh and had no idea what I wanted to be doing long term. So I moved a couple of times to follow my partner, until I was 30 with no career direction and a pretty random resume.

          But I did a lot of soul searching and figured out what I wanted to do, and went back to grad school. Going to my preferred school meant my partner moved cities and took a job that wasn’t quite what she wanted, and stayed there longer than she wanted when I added a second masters. Then we both did a job search in a new city, and now it’s a few years later and we’re both in careers we really like. She makes more than I do, but not that much more, and the important thing is that we give equal weight to the other’s overall career satisfaction.

          OP, it was hard to make myself really believe that my career happiness mattered as much as my wife’s, to ask her to change jobs for me, and to advocate for what I needed. It felt selfish to me to ask for those things, when my wife had so much more career direction in a high-earning career. And it was tough at times. But it’s been totally worth it in the long run to have us both feeling fulfilled and for the choices to be about what’s best for both of us holistically, not just what’s best for her career.

  3. Abigail*

    I’m sure you’ve thought of every alternative and this probably isn’t helpful advice, but I wanted to chime in that a friend of mine’s husband is a Foreign Service Officer, so they move all over the world frequently. She got an online degree in data science and does independent consulting, mixed in with interesting data jobs here and there when she can get them in a local place. I don’t know if you are interested in data science, but technical skills like that tend to transfer well and there’s always work. And you can work around time zone differences more easily too if the work is technical. You may not ever reach an executive level if you’re always moving but you will definitely be well above minimum wage. There are some very good online degrees from reputable schools – Berkeley, Syracuse, American, etc.

    1. The German Chick*

      I second this. Many marriages in the foreign service end in divorce for the professional disparity between partners. Try to find a career in something that you can either provide remotely (like data sciences) or in something that is needed in most locations (politics, language teacher, development, medical services). Best of luck!

      1. LSC*

        I think this is great advice, but I’d just be a bit cautious about healthcare-related occupations. Those professions tend to be heavily regulated in most countries, which means that even if you can eventually become accredited to practice them in a foreign country, the process might take too long to be worthwhile. I am a member of my country’s foreign service and know of one physician spouse who has managed to practice their profession in three different countries – the other four doctors married to diplomats that I know have unfortunately had to stop practicing while they are abroad.

        1. AcademiaNut*

          You really do have to do your research if you’re thinking of jobs that involve being hired locally. Medicine, law, teaching, engineering and things like that are needed everywhere, but often involve local licenses that are time consuming or expensive to get – if you move every few years, and it takes a couple of years to get re-certified, there’s not much point. I know engineers who had to gain new credentials moving inside the US, because they moved to an earthquake prone zone.

          Teaching English can be pretty portable, but there are still caveats, and the better jobs tend to require experience and a teaching degree. I’ve heard anecdotally that it’s a lot harder to get ESL teaching jobs in Europe (compared to Asia) if you’re not an EU citizen, because it’s easy to find locals with the qualifications. I’ve known Australian trained teachers who could only get jobs teaching small children because they want American accents for older kids or adults, people with ESL teaching certificates who couldn’t get a work visa because they didn’t have a degree, and so on.

          In my experience, science and tech stuff tend to be considered high demand professions where companies are more inclined to hire foreigners (even non fluent ones), and I’ve also seen good results with marketing and business (assuming you’re fluent in the local language). Translation and interpretation is also a natural choice, but is a lot more specialized and high skilled than a lot of people realize.

    2. Ophelia*

      I’d second this advice – I work in a foreign service-adjacent industry, and many couples I know tend to alternate who takes the lead every 4-5 or so years (the typical length of a project or a few postings). That said, I think the advice to go ahead and go back to school if you can afford it is good–if you can get a concrete technical skill and a more robust professional network through that degree program, it will prep you for the type of consulting work that’s more flexible and applicable regardless of geographic location.

      1. Media Monkey*

        ditto. my friend’s husband is in the UK foreign service and currently living in africa. they delayed his foreign stint until she had established her career (and so would be able to have some good experience to come back to) and they then planned their baby having at this time when potentially she would be at home for a couple of years anyway. the kids have an amazing childhood experience with safaris and elephants in their garden and they will be back to the UK in a couple of years if they want. She is freelancing for local charities so keeping her hand in, but she is able to pick up interesting work but doesn’t need to earn huge amounts.

    3. Just Elle*

      I really like the idea of trying to find a degree that will allow a “work from home” arrangement in the industry. That way, even if you have to relocate, your job can stay consistent.

      I also want to say, you know your relationship best and for some people living apart really isn’t an option. But plenty of people make it work for a few years at a time. Maybe thats a good choice for you, at least temporarily.

    4. Ama*

      I have worked for years with a woman whose husband is in the military — she is an expert in a very specialized grants management software that we use and works part-time for both us and another nonprofit that uses the software during the times of year that we are selecting new grant recipients. She’s currently in her third location in the three years we’ve worked together, none anywhere near our offices. We largely communicate by email and phone and then fly her out to the grant selection meeting every year.

      We actually found her when my predecessor left suddenly and we needed someone who could fill in (the department head at the time was friendly with her boss at the other org, who knew she wanted more hours), but we’ve kept her on for six years now because we aren’t quite big enough yet to bring someone on full time to do what she does, but the full-time staff here would never be able to take on the hours she puts in for us.

  4. Another name*

    There’s a saying about this; in ten years you’re going to be ten years older whether you go back to school or not, so you may as well go back to school so you can be ten years older in a career you enjoy.

      1. Elenia*

        Yes, I made this decision when I went back to school. I was in my late 30s when I got my degree. It’s ok, 40 is not old!

        1. sheworkshardforthemoney*

          Yes! I got the degree that I dreamt about since I was 18. I was 49 when I walked across the stage to accept it. It was one of the best moments of my life.

          1. Indigo a la mode*

            My grandma finally earned the degree in French she’d always wanted back in 2008, at the age of 66. After raising four kids largely by herself, working multiple jobs to support them into adulthood, and grandmothering 11 grandkids, it was a crowning achievement – really one of the first major accomplishments she ever did just for herself. It’s NEVER too late.

      1. Donkey Hotey*

        Seconded. I finally started working at a degree-specific job at 46 and I’m loving it.

        OP: With respect, I realize that at “almost 30” that the idea of not getting into your career until you’re OMG 40 sounds like aeons away. It’s really not. The whole age-related nonsense of “40 is too late to start” is just that: nonsense.

        1. irritable vowel*

          Agreed – and early 40s is often a time when people take stock and start thinking about what they want the second half of their working life to look like. So, you could view getting a degree in a new field in your 30s as one way of getting ahead of the game in that regard.

        2. MM*

          As a 31-year-old, I second this. I’ll be in my late 30s when I’m done with my PhD (assuming all goes to plan, fingers crossed, etc), and while that did motivate me to make sure I got my applications done when I did, I certainly don’t see a problem with it. I can’t imagine how younger people with less life experience cope in a PhD, to be honest. (I dunno what kind of degree OP is thinking of, but if it takes 7-10 years it must be something on the same order as a doctorate.) The only reason I’m not having a meltdown this semester is that I waited till I was 30 to start–much sooner than that and I would not have handled the grad work well at all.

      2. WonderingHowIGotIntoThis*

        My dad did the same thing – his major career shift (computer programmer to freelance health & safety trainer was done at 56 – he retired last year, so he got a good decade out of his new career path.

        I’m 39 and about to *start* a new qualification to move me onto a different branch of my career. This will be my *first* real qualification as well (after A Levels – I didn’t go to Uni, I went into the job market instead)

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      This is such a great way to think about it. And given that many of us are living and working longer, it’s never too late to choose a path that might make us more happy. I’m always impressed by folks who change careers or focus outside of the “traditional” educational defaults, and I suspect other employers feel similarly in many fields.

    2. MissGirl*

      I struggled with this feeling of it being too late. Then I watched my mom retire from a job she never loved and never paid great but it paid the bills. I realized I still had THIRTY years of doing the same thing. I got my butt back to school and in a better career. I had to get a student loan and quit my job. Four years later I am now making more than twice what I was. I can also work 100 percent remotely.

    3. The Original K.*

      I said that on here a few weeks ago and it was the first thing I thought when I read the “I’ll be almost 40” thing. Someone on here responded that their partner was pursuing a master’s at 47 that he’d be 50 when he finished. I read a news story this year about a man who had been a mechanic and then became a physician at 47. My grandmother didn’t pursue post-secondary education or a career at all until her two sons left home, which was in her early 40s (she married young, as was the style back then, heh), and she got a master’s and worked in a field she loved for 25 years. In this day and age, 40 is not that old. The time passes no matter what; you might as well have a degree at the end of it.

      I don’t know how feasible that is for your life, OP, but I definitely do not think you should rule it out because you’ll be almost 40 when you finish. If it’s something you truly want, you should at least consider it in a substantive way – research different programs, application processes, etc.

    4. Goliath Corp.*

      Great advice. I feel I’ve been lucky to have a lot of friends who are older than me, and seeing some of them go back to school and change careers in their late 30s/40s has been very inspiring. You’re not stuck!!

    5. Ophelia*

      I’m in school right now, and I’ll be 40 or close to it by the time I finish, and I’m not even the oldest person in my program. OP, if you can afford it, and can find a program that fits your needs, go for it.

      1. Ophelia*

        Also, OP, I’d just like to gently push back a bit on your timeline – while there are some professional paths that take 7-10 years (medicine comes to mind), depending on the field, even going extremely part-time, a masters is going to take maybe 3 years or so, less if you can devote more time to it.

        1. Parenthetically*

          And SO MANY programs nowadays are really specifically designed for busy working folks in their thirties and beyond. My brother, who is 36, just started a fully online bachelors program in his current field that’s tailored for people like him who are going back to school later in their career. He reckons it’ll take him about 2 years of really busting his tail (or 3 years of going a bit slower), but at the end of it he’ll be able to move wherever he wants and get a job that pays about 3x what he’s making now.

        2. Washi*

          I took the 7-10 years to become accredited to mean that there are requirements to meet in addition to just the degree.

    6. CMB*

      Yes!! My mom is almost 60 and she very recently got her second Master’s and switched careers, and is loving it! In fact she’s one of the people who I look to so that I know that so many things can change and you’re not stuck in one career path for your entire life.

      1. CheeryO*

        My dad is 60 also and is pursuing a big career change. He also went to college for the first time in his 40s. I admire him a lot!

    7. Antilles*

      For what it’s worth, there’s a school of thought out there that going back to college later in life can even be more career-enhancing than going when you’re early 20’s – you have more real life experience to judge against, your personality is much more settled, and you’re probably much more laser-focused on maximizing all the potential opportunities available.

      1. Parenthetically*

        I’ve found this to be SO true in my experience. I worked in my university’s tutoring center and at least half of the people who came in for help were “non-traditional students,” i.e. older students. They were invariably far less concerned about being “cool” and far more concerned about really getting the most bang for their buck — always asking questions, signing up for professors’ office hours, searching out as much feedback as possible, etc.

    8. Artemesia*

      Absolutely. Wish I had figured this out as I once said ‘but I’d be 40 when I finished the program and started to practice’ — well guess what I was 40 when that day came anyway but not doing the career I really had wanted. I had a good career but always wished I had gone for the career I had always wanted and been convinced could not be combined with family.

      My husband and I sort of took turns — we made one huge move when I graduated grad school which uprooted him from a partnership track position and essentially made him start over in a city where we had no connections — and it was a ‘brother-in-law’ kind of town. He coped; it was hard. When my firm later merged and I lost my job, I could not ask that of him again so I coped. We both essentially chose good but less august jobs than either of us could have had alone if I could have moved a couple more times, or if he had not been pulled off the fast track. And he and his partners consciously chose to have lives as well as practices and so did well but not dazzlingly — but each had strong other hobbies or activities as well as family time.

      Some couples put all their emphasis on one career which can make sense if it is a career with high potential and then the other copes — but it is critical that the wife who usually makes the sacrifice is not left financially damaged. They need to have clear agreements on how the assets are split especially if they are not in a community property state; those need to be legal agreements.

      1. Indigo a la mode*

        Your last paragraph – totally. It might sound callous or pessimistic, and I know couples hate to talk about the possibility of divorce, but it is too realistic and important of a potential consequence to just dismiss. Plus, I imagine divorce rates are quite high for situations like this that can breed feelings of loneliness, resentment, inadequacy, and anxiety. (This is not to say that it’ll happen, obviously, but it is imperative to think about.)

        In fact, thinking honestly about the emotional load of trailing spouses goes nicely with the second comment up top regarding a contract. Don’t just talk about career decisions, but about what career decisions mean for a relationship. If the trailing spouse is beginning to feel so inadequate and resentful that they’re considering divorce, is that an instant kill switch for the working partner so that they can work together to refocus work more equitably in favor of the relationship? Does each spouse get a no-holds-barred red card to pull for an ultimatum “I absolutely need this and I need you to support me” situation? Perhaps agree on a monthly check-in with a marriage counselor to make sure no issues are unspoken?

    9. Humanist Hedge Witch*

      This. I finished my professional degree at 39. Several people in my class were older than I was. I’ve been working in my field for 18 years (feels like a lifetime), which is more than enough time to acquire seniority and learn a specialty. Can’t say I’ve always enjoyed the work, but it’s always been challenging and well-compensated. I would be a very different and much unhappier person if I had spent those 18 years doing minimum wage jobs. Don’t let age limit your choices!

    10. LessNosy*

      Precisely this. My MIL is going back to school for her MSW at 66. The family has been encouraging her for years and we are all beaming with pride at how happy she is for doing what she finally always wanted to do. No one is thinking at all about her age!

    11. your favorite person*

      I said this to my husband, who decided to go a code school at the age of 31. We both agree it was the best career decision he ever made. It was tough living on one income for a while, but we made it work and we once again swapped the ‘breadwinner’ title. He’ll be earning that title for years to come and I’m happy to give it up!

    12. OhGee*

      Yep. My mom got her nursing degree at 45, when I was in college. She’d previously been a waitress and had dropped out of college after 1 semester. It was a LONG road, but she’s in her 60s now and has gotten to spend the later part of her working life doing something truly fulfilling.

    13. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I love this.

      My go to is “It’s never too late until you’re dead.”

      Age these days doesn’t ping on my radar. I can’t tell anyone’s age regardless. So the only person who really knows your legal age is whoever processes your paperwork or whoever you tell.

      1. pancakes*

        That’s my outlook too and it’s always heartening to see other people talk about it, but I have encountered inane pushback from interviewers at times. I’m thinking of one in particular who asked what I’d say to someone who thought the fact I didn’t go straight to law school after undergrad reflected “a lack of focus.” I said that would be a puzzling view, considering I’d learned a lot from my work in another industry and taken a once-in-a-lifetime chance to become a co-owner of the small company I’d worked for in my early 20s, and that people I encountered in law school who’d gone straight there didn’t seem particularly focused—many seemed to be waiting out a bad economy or following in the footsteps of parents who were also lawyers. I have no idea whether that interviewer was asking about her own outlook or trying to see how I’d react to a dumb question, but the firm went down in my estimation for that. I did get the position, which was only a freelance project, and when I was offered a full time spot a year or so later I turned it down.

      2. TardyTardis*

        I got my tax preparer’s license when I was 63 (which in Oregon is somewhat more difficult than in other states). Mmmmm….Publication 17….

    14. Iconic Bloomingdale*

      In his 40’s, my uncle enrolled in college to obtain his Bachelor’s degree, then immediately continued on to obtain a Master’s degree in social work. He became a licensed and practicing psychotherapist in his own private practice, which he is still doing today at the age of 69.

      1. Kitrona*

        That gives me so much hope! I’ll probably be 45 by the time I’m licensed, and I was feeling really down about it until this thread and your specific example. Thank you!

    15. Rachel 2: Electric Boogaloo*

      Yes! This reminds me of the letter to Dear Abby from a person whose lifelong dream was to be a doctor and was concerned that it would take 7 yeara to complete medical school and a residency, and by that time, they would be 42 years old. Abby’s advice was simply “And how old will you be in 7 years if you don’t go to medical school?”

      1. Ktelzbeth*

        My dad asked me that when I was considering whether to start medical school in my late 20s. I finished 10 years of training and started practicing at age 39. You’re not too old, OP!

    16. 2horseygirls*

      I went back to school for an equine science certificate that I *REALLY* wanted, and graduated almost 20 years to the day of graduating with my BA, at the ripe old age of 42.

      Never too late.

    17. embertine*

      Good advice. I changed tracks at 38 and, two years later, have just completed my MSc. It’s only too late when you’re dead, as they say. OK they don’t say that, but they should.

  5. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

    You’re going to be close to 40 in 7-10 years whether you go through the process to try to get into this “career that you really want” or not. It’s not like the time magically won’t pass otherwise. So why not try for a thing that would make you happy in the meantime? :)

    Signed, bachelor degree at 34 and masters at 38 :)

    1. Patsy Stone*

      Intetnational adventure tourism until I was 44. Went back to school to become a Registered Practical Nurse; BScN and Registered Nurse next year. Age 49 ( in fact, will be one week shy of 50 when I officially finish school). Never too late to make a change :)

    2. Sneaky Ninja for this one*

      Bachelor’s at 38, Master’s at 40. There were A LOT of people my age in my classes. It’s not as unusual as it used to be. If you can afford it, go for it!

    3. Geillis D*

      CPA at 43 (following the traditional B.Sc and M.Sc. in my early 20’s).
      It was hard to let go of the career path I have chosen. It was too entwined with my idea of who I was and I poured my entire self into school, only to under-use it. Cue 10 years, several kids and one long-distance move later and I was finally ready to admit I’m not that dewy-eyed student. I started at the bottom in my new career but I chose it with my eyes wide open, I’m very good at what I do, and best of all – I’m still surrounded by geeks. It can be done.

    4. starsaphire*

      This, this, this.

      I was settled in a mediocre career, but then my life blew up when I was in my mid 30s. I thought I was too old to try going to college and getting the career I really wanted. My friends subjected me to a “come to Jesus” about it, and I went back to school anyway.

      Reader, I graduated at 40 with a BA, and I’m so much happier in the career I have now.

      It’s never too late, and you’re never too old, to make a positive change.

    5. Forrest Rhodes*

      Went to my first day of college, age 40. Full-time student, received BA at age 44 (after living in 14 different residences in four different cities in two different states, but that’s another story). It’s one of the best decisions I ever made.
      If your interests are elbowing you in the direction of school, I encourage you to go for it. It’ll likely direct you to paths you never even considered.
      Not easy, but definitely worth it.

    6. Blue Tinted Lenses*

      B.Sc 34 + Career Change
      My mom told me two things:
      — Learn how to drive a vehicle with a manual/standard transmission
      — An Education is the best accessory a woman can buy

  6. Linzava*

    Hi OP,

    I don’t want to pry, but if you’re legally married to your partner, then you’re legally sharing his income and it’s not so bad. A lot of less successful spouses handle the family end as high income jobs often come with less “family” time.

    If you’re not and aren’t planning to, you absolutely should focus on your career. My partner and I aren’t married because of his student loans, so we are together, but both have to make sacrifices to stay together. I’m in school and work right now, and while we’ve lived where his career is, if I get a full ride scholarship, we move for me next.

    It’s about seeing the legal ramifications on our individual futures for our choices as opposed to a legal family unit working as one.

      1. BlueNicht*

        It’s really saddening for me to read this article, remembering how in the late 1980s, in my Country the Slogan was “Good mothers go to work!” – both as positive role model for their daughters, but also to get self-confidence for being Paid; to talk to adults About Topics aside from raising Kids; and to have Time-out from the Kids to be refreshed.

        That the (middle-class) Cult of total motherhood is still so strong in the US is disappointing.
        Is it because of the Fundamentalists and their (new invented) Quiverfull movement, Ladies against women and similar?
        Or the recession causing the old bullshit that men could get a Job easier if there was less Competition = less women + non-White People working?

        1. alienor*

          I think part of it is also that the US doesn’t have the structure that other countries have to enable working parents. Apart from factors like the cost of daycare, which is astronomical, most things that involve children are built around the assumption that there’s a stay-at-home parent who is probably the mother. I’ve worked full-time since my now-20-year-old daughter was a newborn, and almost every pediatrician appointment, playgroup, library storytime, parent-teacher meeting, class party, etc. seemed to happen at ten-thirty in the morning when I was at work. We did as much as we could on Saturdays, and I was lucky to have a flexible enough schedule that I could usually leave for a couple of hours to attend something, but I could also totally understand why people chose to quit working (especially if they had multiple kids) just for logistical reasons.

          1. MM*

            Ding ding ding. My mother left her intense, prestigious job to stay home with me. Her main reason for this was that if she didn’t, I would simply have been raised by someone else (a nanny or an au pair or what have you). I’m sure the rampant and disgusting sexism she had to deal with in the office every day didn’t help (this was the 80s–and as we’ve seen, in many industries and workplaces, things haven’t changed much).

            Nothing is set up to enable any sort of an in-between. The government doesn’t offer any of the sorts of structures you alluded to, but the culture (individualism, self-reliance, prizing the nuclear family, childrearing as a life-or-death competition) also plays a huge role here. The US has one of the worst paid family leave systems among any of the economically equivalent countries, for example. The cost of childcare is such that to this day, couples fairly routinely have to consider whether it would be cheaper for one of them not to work and have no income! (Because heaven forbid anyone but the poorest rely on publicly funded childcare.) The postwar emphasis on the nuclear family (rather than multigenerational ones) means a lot of parents don’t have the kind of family teamwork available to them that they otherwise might have (see also the disaster that is elder care in this country). Ditto for community social networks and mutual aid (destroyed by the nuclear family cult and suburbanization, but also, significantly, union-busting). Neither the state nor society equips people to “have it all,” so the burden falls on individuals and individual families–and in that scenario, the legacy of the long history of sexism will inevitably come into play as people try to pick up the slack. For those with any kind of means, the eternal arms race for more and more intensive parenting just makes it all even harder to balance.

            I could write a whole other comment on how American feminism has been affected by this situation, but I think I have gone on too long already.

            1. Anxa*

              Also, I think being a large country compounds the issue of not being near family. I cannot foresee a situation in which I end up close to my family if I have children, and my current SO and I would not have anyone that could step in anything but the most urgent emergency (asking other coworker friends). Of all my close friends from my home town, the only ones that have kids are those that live near home and have retired parents. They also work good jobs and never went to graduate school. 

            2. Grapey*

              I’m interested in what you mean by “how American feminism has been affected by this situation” and also what your thoughts might be on how american feminism may have CAUSED the situation too. e.g. arguing that “multigenerational families” don’t help with child care…but to me, that sounds like you’re arguing for older women to stay in a traditional gender role of doing yet more child care to benefit their daughters.

              The handful of 2nd wave feminists I know enjoy/need their job and don’t want to/can’t care for their own grandkids full time.

              Agreed with you on subsided childcare (where yes, someone else in your community should be paid a fair wage to take care of children) and even the same for well paid elder care for those of us that aren’t willing to give birth just to have someone care for us in old age.

            3. Working Mom*

              You might want to rethink the phrasing “Her main reason for this was that if she didn’t, I would simply have been raised by someone else (a nanny or an au pair or what have you).” Lots of parents work full time, with wonderful help from nannies, au pairs, and daycare workers. But no one is confused about who the parents are or who is ultimately raising the children. I say this as a product of two working parents, who is raising two children with a lot of help.

          2. Harper the Other One*

            So much this. Canada is somewhat better than the US, but not by much. And in my case, we have two kids with some special needs that require appointments/therapies/etc. If it weren’t for the fact that my work is from home and I set my own schedule, my partner or I would have had to quit working completely to accommodate.

          3. Librarian1*

            Bingo. Plus there’s still a huge assumption that if the couple is a man and a woman, the woman will take on the majority of the childrearing responsibilities. I’ve heard stories of families where both parents work and the father is more available to be contacted during the day and schools STILL insist on calling the mother and not the father because of sexist assumptions about who should do what.

        2. Liz T*

          Also, honestly, I think it became an upper-middle-class status symbol. Having multiple children on only one salary was pitched to a lot of people as the definition of success, and since feminism got pop-culturified into “anything a woman does is by definition feminist,” a lot of women bought it.

          I keep thinking of Charlotte MacDougal yelling, “I choose my choice! I choose my choice!” when she gave up her gallery, only to several seasons later (now once again Charlotte York) be barely able to get an unpaid part-time docent gig.

          1. Liz T*

            (This sounds like a joke, but Sex and the City was full of this lesson. I remember when Carrie followed Petrovksy to Paris only to be totally dependent on him and totally neglected by him, I said to my mother, “And that’s why it’s important for women to work.” She was a proud mama.)

      2. Lifeandlimb*

        This was an interesting but upsetting read. When I got to the part below, I literally yelled “What did you THINK was gonna happen?!” at my computer.

        “Many of the women I spoke with were troubled by the gender-role traditionalism that crept into their marriages once they gave up work, transforming them from being their husbands’ intellectual equals into the one member of their partnership uniquely endowed with gifts for laundry or cooking and cleaning…”

        1. AuroraLight37*

          Yeah, I read the Leslie Bennett book years ago and, well, I could definitely see this coming. There’s a reason that Terry Martin Dekker, who wrote a book extolling being a SAHM, wrote a second one called “Disregard First Book.” Her husband decided to dump her for a younger woman after 40 years of marriage. This is not an outlier, by any means.

          1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

            I met an older woman once in my church (way back when I went to church) who was a SAHM and had a very happy and loving marriage, her husband was faithful, and then one day he died suddenly of a heart attack at 50. She had not worked a day in her life, couldn’t drive, barely spoke the language, she had never even gone grocery shopping without him when he was alive. She had to take a minimum-wage job at a bakery that was the only workplace that would hire her that she could walk to. She had three school-aged children and her husband had somehow never gotten himself a life insurance policy. She told me that her children were adults now, and that she made sure that her daughters each had an education and a career.

            Also in the same church, when I first started attending with my then young children, I’d be approached by nice older ladies, who would immediately ask, “What does your husband do?” I found it puzzling – they’d never met my husband and were likely never going to – they’d seen me come in every Sunday without him – why would they want to know what he did, and why would they never ask about my job? Then it finally dawned on me that, by default, to them, a married woman did not, and could not, have a job. It never entered their minds that I might have one. Kind of chilling, in my opinion.

            1. Filosofickle*

              This is what seems to be often left out of the conversation. It’s not just divorce, which people hope they can avoid. There is death, disability, mental/physical illness, industry disruption…so many reasons a partner you rely on could become unable to work, or work enough. It is very risky to be completely reliant on one partner, at least not without having a really (really) good backup plan.

              1. AuroraLight37*

                The Bennett book talks about that- one woman whose husband was an alcoholic, and because she had a job and money, she could tell him to go to rehab and back it up with, “If you don’t, I will file for divorce tomorrow.” Another whose husband had been very healthy, right up till he collapsed with a stroke. She had quit to stay home with the kids, and now couldn’t get hired anywhere in her field.

                1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

                  Adding this book to my Goodreads “to-read” list. Thank you! (I assume it was probably referenced in the NYT article, but yesterday when I tried, I wasn’t able to get through the hassle of creating an account or whatever else it was going to take to read their article.)

              2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

                I became a sole income provider after my divorce, when both of my sons were in high school, and it felt… daunting! A lot of pressure! I took out a term life policy for the period of time that I figured it’d take the kids to start supporting, or being able to support, themselves. And I was still confident that, if something happened to me, that their father would step up in some fashion. And it was still a scary thought that my whole family was now financially dependent on just one person; me; and, if I were to suddenly become unable to work, we’d all be left with no income. I admit it did keep me awake at nights.

        2. Parenthetically*

          Yeah, I mean, when our entire culture is built around that gender-role traditionalism, you’re GOING to slip into it unless you negotiate and re-negotiate it constantly, and/or unless your husband is exceptionally self-aware and fighting against it.

        3. Anon Librarian*

          My mother was a SAHM. My father hid most of his work life from me. I wasn’t supposed to know how to get a job or have a career because of my gender. On “Bring Your Kid to Work” day, he made me sit in a closet and draw. My brother got a tour of the building and got to meet all the co-workers.

          Fast forward a few years.

          I need a job to survive. Who, in modern times, outside of certain religious communities, wants to just marry someone fresh out of college with no work experience and support them for the rest of their lives? No one. I wasn’t looking for that. But, believe me, “I don’t know what a resume is because my parents didn’t believe in teaching daughters that,” did NOT win me any dates. Quite the opposite.

          It’s fine to be a SAHM if it’s a personal choice for personal reasons. It becomes an issue when it affects the next generation – when daughters are taught they shouldn’t work and aren’t given any education about the reality of earning income, when sons are taught that women exist to do housework for them. And so on.

      3. CM*

        I just want to smack all the husbands in this article, like the one who called his wife’s stay-at-home years her “journey of self-discovery” even though she was running the household. They really have no clue and put so little value on the work their wives are doing.

        But yes, very relevant to the OP — I think it’s easy to start off egalitarian and end up far from that, if you don’t keep re-evaluating along the way. OP, I hope your partner doesn’t dismiss your ambition and desire for a meaningful career — both of you deserve to have that. And if your partner’s initial response is that their career is more important, you really need to make them realize that’s not fair.

        Also, as a 40-something who switched careers in my early 30s — joining the chorus saying you have SO MUCH time. You absolutely can establish a new career, whether it’s in your current field or something different. You have DECADES.

        1. Dusty Bunny*

          Yes – that guy – why he could have become an astronaut if he had “12 years for self-discovery.” I would like to launch him into space. And then his mission would be fulfilled!

    1. OrigCassandra*

      Well, it could become that bad. I absolutely do not ill-wish the OP or the OP’s family unit, but… marriages do break down — mine did — and accidents and illnesses do take people from us unexpectedly.

      That’s another reason to take your situation very, very seriously, OP — not that you’re not, of course; I’m just saying. It is always, always wise to have an answer to the question “if I unexpectedly end up unpartnered, how would I get by?”

      1. EPLawyer*

        My whole law practice is “marriages break down.” Then you have the stay at home parent, lower income parent trying to figure out how they are even going to keep a roof over their head. Child support does not even begin to cover what it costs to raise a kid.

        At the very least you need to have a talk with your spouse about your income and your separate finances. Maybe some of his income can go into an account that is solely in your name. it is YOUR money. Or something.

        But definitely start with a long talk with your spouse about how you feel. Their reaction will tell you a lot.

        1. Artemesia*

          No way you do this sort of deal with ‘separate finances’. No way you sacrifice your career without financially sharing in his. That is a basic part of this kind of deal.

        2. Koala dreams*

          I see these advertisements for lawyers that say that marriage, even the most happy marriage, always ends, and better prepare now than wait for the bitter end. The idea is that a marriage will end, either with a spouse dying or divorce, and it’s much easier to plan ahead as opposed to having to solve everything while grieving. There is some truth to that.

      2. The Original K.*

        Yeah, I know a divorce attorney socially and she says she tells her teenage kids that they always need to be able to support themselves regardless of their relationship status because she’s seen people financially ruined by divorce. (She says she also tells them to always take an active role in managing the finances for their household to avoid being blindsided if things go left.) I think it’s sound advice.

      3. Book Badger, Attorney-at-Claw*

        Co-signing. Heck, you don’t even have to anticipate the possibility of being unpartnered, just the possibility of your partner being unable to work for any reason for any period of time, like a layoff or a disabling accident. Even if your love is pure and true and unbreakable in the face of adversity, that won’t pay rent when your partner is hospitalized for three months after a freak clown car accident.

        1. AuroraLight37*

          One of my friends woke up to find her husband having a massive stroke. They were in their 40s. He died two weeks later, after repeated surgeries and procedures. If she hadn’t been earning money, she’d have gone under entirely. They were a devoted couple, but hemorrhagic strokes don’t care that you’re in love.

      4. Aggretsuko*

        Yeah, that’s why I would discourage SAH’ing. It doesn’t seem like something you can financially recover from well if you have to go back to work with no job history.

        A friend of mine’s marriage almost broke up and she was all “I’m going to have to move in with my first ex because I have no job history and nowhere else to go.” Thankfully the marriage recovered there though. And my ex-cousin-in-law, well…my cousin’s a jerk and I was horrified when I heard she wanted to SAHM because I wouldn’t depend on that guy to hand me a Kleenex. (They are now divorced and she’s back at work.)

      5. Clisby*

        Absolutely. Both my mother and my father were young when their own fathers died – my father was 9 and my mother 11. They were raised by widowed mothers during the 1930s-1940s. My mother drilled it into me and my sister from as early as I can remember – you have to be able to support yourself and your children. You cannot depend on a husband to do that.

      6. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        +10000. I already left a comment on this thread about a woman whose husband passed away suddenly. As for me, I never counted on my marriage ending when I got married (who does?) But my mother and my grandmother had both worked their whole lives in professional careers, and I had grown up in a society where all women worked outside the home, and so it was never a question to me. Besides, I was good at it and made at least as much as my husband did. So, when the time came for our marriage to break up, we each basically took our own and went our own separate ways. I asked for the kids and the dog and got them. He chose to stay in the house and gave me my share of the equity. But overall it was the easiest and quickest divorce, because we each had our own finances and made about the same. 10/10 would recommend.

        1. OrigCassandra*

          More or less how my divorce went too, with the additional simplification of no children. By mutual agreement, he took almost all the liquid cash out of the marriage, and I took almost all the assets.

          (I think I got much the better of that deal, but I was also well aware that it wasn’t my place to inform or advocate for him any more — did that the entire marriage, never had it appreciated, decided to stick up for myself for once.)

          I can only imagine how immensely much more terrifying and difficult it all would have been if I didn’t have a steady job with good benefits, as well as a solid work history! (And EAP. EAP was very helpful. OP, if you have access to your partner’s workplace’s EAP — not a certainty, but not impossible either — give them a shout.)

    2. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

      Even if the OP is legally married to their partner, when push comes to shove, the income is not theirs, and financial dependence is a very tough situation to be in. And for that matter, a lot of unmarried partnerships split breadwinning and household management the way you described married couples doing.

      It isn’t a bright line.

      1. Autumnheart*

        Yeah, they might be legally entitled to the money, but that’s not much comfort when only one individual is receiving the paycheck, and can therefore control what happens to it.

        1. OP*

          This is the big one for me. He make enough to support us both but not having your own money, or the ability to support yourself or something went sour. It’s a very scary feeling.

          1. OrigCassandra*

            I completely validate your feelings here. I was the higher earner in my former marriage by a large margin, yet the shock of divorce was real and unsettling and scary for me.

            (Nobody worry about me; I’m doing fine financially, and recovering personally.)

            I wish you all the best making a better situation for yourself.

          2. Darcy Pennell*

            OP, I’ve been there too: even if you have no intention of ending the relationship, knowing that you can’t is very scary. Every argument is so fraught. In the back of your mind that risk is always there, that if things go too far you’ll be left with nothing, unable to support yourself. In my experience it’s difficult for a person who’s never been dependent (since adulthood) to understand how that feels. Good luck on some possibly tough conversations with your partner.

          3. female-type person*

            Then there is the Golden Rule: If you make the gold, you get to make the rules. Making all the income can lead to a power imbalance, even if only in the head of the person who isn’t the earner, who feels less entitled to “make a fuss” or raise issues. And, making more money or having a career can correct a power imbalance or fix the thinking that created it. In a bad marriage, I thought I had to suck up things that weren’t desirable because I made less money. When I began to make more money, the same as my partner, I remember thinking, wait a minute, I’m making equal money and still sucking up stuff? LW, I’m not suggesting anything about *your partner* I just share this about my own experience and my own recovery from that (not good, very bad for a whole lot of reasons) situation, in case it is helpful.

            1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

              Then there is the Golden Rule: If you make the gold, you get to make the rules.

              You just described my marriage during the couple of years when I was out of work. I didn’t know it had a name.

          4. RecoveringSWO*

            I hope that you’re able to have good conversations with your husband about these fears and your plan of action. Allison’s advice is great, along with others here. I want to note 2 options for you to consider as you carve out your plans–insurance and a post-nup. Life insurance, long term care, and other potential insurance plans could provide you with assurances that lower the “scare factor” of having unequal incomes. Another option is a post-nuptial agreement. Your sacrifices are real here and could be counter balanced in a marital contract that pays for what your giving up–perhaps an agreement to pay for a degree, alimony based on the number of years you were married + not working in your desired field, etc. Once you’ve started tackling the emotional background of these issues together, feel free to solidify your solution with financial and/or legal documents.

          5. FaintlyMacabre*

            Unfortunately, I’ve been there, done that. Invested time and money into my partner’s need to move and even though he said all the right things about teamwork and support and whatnot, every time we talked, I could hear the quotation marks whenever he mentioned my “career.” I’ve yet to recover financially, but things are finally moving in the right direction.

            As far as advice goes, make sure your partner talks the talk AND walks the walk. But for sure, make sure you are protected.

          6. RC Rascal*

            OP— this very thing happened to a friend of mine. Hubby was a surgeon. Lots of moves, fellowships & internships. Many in small towns with limited economies. Marriage broke up in their forties, no kids. Career in tatters. Her family was wealthy and she now lives off an inheritance. Without that who knows where she would be. She has a Ivy League degree in English, btw.

              1. RC Rascal*

                If it helps my friend now has a job she likes. Many years ago she volunteered at a horsemanship program for disabled children. Friend is a whiz with both kids & animals. Now she is an aide to disabled children at a school. She likes it; job is stable & health insurance is good. But pay is low.

          7. tgirl*

            OP, If you need to go back to re-qualify in something you can work in remotely then I would expect your partner to pay most or all of the cost, you need to do this because of their career after all. They have a moral (if not legal) and practical duty to support you financially and otherwise.

            As for graduating at nearly 40, at that age you still have more than half your working life ahead of you. From the perspective of 49, it seems very young!!

            Best of luck

    3. Dan*

      I think the legalities are location specific — OP’s use of the phrase “I don’t speak the local language” certainly suggests she’s outside the USA. And in the USA, this stuff will vary by state as well. When I was married, my then legal wife had no legal entitlement to my income, and I had no legal obligation to the debts that she incurred in her name alone.

      Community property states are a bit different… in those cases, there is a much stronger legal sharing of assets and debts. But there are only 7 community property states in the US, they’re far from the norm.

    4. Morning Glory*

      Except OP is deeply unhappy with the setup so it is ‘so bad’ regardless of whether she’s legally protected. Many people don’t want to sacrifice their career for their relationship for reasons beyond financial security.

      It’s also worth noting that if OP doesn’t develop a career now and gets a divorce later, she still risks financial insecurity.

      1. Diahann Carroll*

        Yup, so I completely understand why she’s concerned about how her resume looks – she’ll have a rough go of it in the job market if she doesn’t figure out a career path that can be portable.

      2. Antilles*

        There are some (many?) people who could be 100% happy with life as a stay-at-home parent. But based on OP’s letter, it doesn’t seem like she’s one of them, at least not at this stage of her life. That in and of itself, is sufficient reason to figure something out careerwise, no matter the financial security concerns.

        1. Clisby*

          Being happy as a stay-at-home parent isn’t enough. My mother was happy being a stay-at-home parent, but before her marriage she had been a schoolteacher. As soon as her youngest child was 6 and in school, she went back to teaching, because that was the practical thing to do. Granted, if she had won the Powerball, she likely wouldn’t have resumed teaching, but in the absence of that kind of windfall she knew she had to have some earning power.

    5. Triple Threat Diversity Hire*

      I don’t know if you mean it this way but “less successful” comes off as kind of judgemental, especially since the OP is writing in to say that their joint pursuit of her partner’s career is actively hindering hers. And as long as divorce is legal, it really doesn’t matter whether they are legally married or not.

      1. Artemesia*

        Of course it matters if she is married. although most states are not community property, all states (IANAL so only speculating) make some provisions for the widow in the event of death even if there is a will that excludes her and she is likely to have some claims on assets in divorce. But if she accepts such an uneven deal then she needs to have specified legally what she will be entitled to of ‘his assets’ if they divorce.

        1. Triple Threat Diversity Hire*

          You are factually correct, at least within the US, but I don’t know where they live or what the laws are there, whether they have a pre-nup, whether it’s enforceable where they are, anything like that. The spirit of my comment was that if the relationship ends, OP has the potential to be out on her butt whether they were married or not.

    6. Lime green Pacer*

      I wish I’d thought ahead enough to ask this question when I was 40, and have a full discussion with my partner. I was a SAHM, and then a caregiver for my husband. I’m 57 now, and although my partner’s substantial savings were enough to support us through 10 (!) years of his illness and disability, I am now looking at reentering the workforce after being out of it for 25 years. Please think about your personal financial future.

      I keep thinking of women who have been abandoned by cheating spouses, and ended up in a similar (or worse!) position to what I’m in now.

    7. Long-time AMA Lurker*

      Linzava – if it’s not too personal a question, can you share why/how student loans factored in to your marriage? My partner has substantial student loan debt, so if there are known legal ramifications to something like this, I’m very curious. I know this can be state-by-state in the U.S., in terms of whether or not you are legally accountable for your partner’s debt.

      1. Linzava*


        Of course, I don’t mind. We live in a community property state. He has almost a quarter million dollars in student loans from a now defunct private college, you know the one. There are 6 loans, he only signed for 2, and 1 was taken out after he graduated(they refuse to prove the debt, but nothing he can do) . Unfortunately, no lawyer will touch this, so he’s on the hook for all of them. He makes much more than I do, but I have no debt. We rent, so my credit and his income open doors, that would be closed to us otherwise. We will get married if the student loan situation is corrected, but the sheer volume of the debt would become mine as well if we married. Also, as a single woman with lower income, I can apply for additional scholarships to limit my student loan debt.

        At this point, it’s financially prudent for us to remain unmarried. We hope that once I graduate, I’ll have a similar income and we will be able to punch down the debt, get married, start a family, then build our retirement.

        I would definitely check to see if your state will hold you responsible for your partner’s debt and see if any long term plans you have will be affected as well. Make sure, if you’re not married to keep your money separate and don’t co-own property, it’s a mess to clean up if you separate, worse that divorce.

        1. emmelemm*

          I also live in a community property state, and it’s my understanding that any debt incurred by one partner before legal marriage does *not* become the other partner’s obligation, even once they are married. I have looked into this, as I have a partner who has huge students loans and I do not. Perhaps I’ve misunderstood, but I don’t think so.

          However, part of the reason we’re not married is that student loan repayments can be calculated on household income, and if we’re married, his household income increases and he’d have to pay more.

          1. Long-time AMA Lurker*

            This is an incredibly helpful thread! Did not think about how applying for other loans would factor in…I have talked to a financial advisor, and she did caution me as much if we wanted to buy a home together (my credit is better and I’d be illegible for a better loan). Didn’t think about household income factoring into repayment, either; that could definitely put my partner in a bad spot. He has about 60K in student loans and 20K in credit card debt, so it’s tough. 5K of that credit card debt is from our first card together, where I paid off my portion on time and he’s now accumulated debt. Ugh. Unfortunately it is affecting my credit. He is paying it off first, but still, not fun.
            Anyways /endrant on money stresses. It’s nice to be able to be transparent about it!

          2. Linzava*

            Yes, I just looked it up and you are right, I guess I got some bad information. It’s still better for us to stay unmarried until I finish school as there’s a big income difference and we do handle our own expenses with the exception of rent.

    8. Madeleine Matilda*

      OP I would strongly encourage you to go back to school. Many years ago my father was diagnosed with a serious chronic illness. Neither he nor my mother made a lot of income, but he made more than she did. They didn’t know if he would be able to continue to work with his illness or even survive it. My mother decide to go back to school in her 30s for her degree while working full time, caring for my father, and parenting two children. My father died a couple of years later. My mother continued working full time, parenting, and going to school at night. It took her six years but she received her degree. Her work place was very supportive and with the degree she received promotions until she was the #2 person in her department. Then she was offered an even better job with a company her work place did business with. The degree was key. Now retired she recently lost her second husband, but because of her degree, which led to good paying jobs, she has a good retirement income that will sustain her for many years. This was one of many life lessons I’ve received from my mother and I have made sure that I have the means to support myself whether I have a partner or not.

  7. Kix*

    I’m sure it feels like it to the OP, but career life doesn’t end at age 30. I did a lot of low level/entry level jobs until I found my true calling at close to age 30. Without knowing the OP’s history or career, it’s hard to provide solid advice, but there are careers that can move with you. I spent 15 years at a government agency being transferred every year and it was a good way to work up the ladder. In addition, there are remote career options and remote college options available now that weren’t available when I started my work life. I’m not going to say, “Buck up and work hard,” because that isn’t helpful, but I will offer that there are flexible options available if you’re willing and/or able to think outside the box. Again, without knowing specifics, it’s hard to offer advice that doesn’t come off as some kind of platitude.

    1. A Marketing Director*

      Same here – I fell into my current career at around 30. In my 20s I worked low-level jobs unrelated to my current career.

      Actually, I got started with remote freelancing. I second Allison’s suggestion of getting into freelancing. You can work from anywhere with an internet connection.

    2. cmcinnyc*

      Also, there’s a very corporate/academic way to look at a resume… and there’s everything else. “I spent 10 years traveling the world and working in X, Y, and Z fields as a result of my partner’s career. Some of my jobs were pretty low level–but I accepted that because working in my 2nd (3rd, 4th) language was tough! I learned a ton, I had a lot of different experiences, and I’m really excited about bringing all of that to [Insert Here].”

      This is not tatters. This is interesting. You are interesting and experienced and unique. That is not bad.

    3. Consultant Catie*

      Yes! I came here to emphasize this. I started my dream job (which I didn’t know was my dream job at the time) a few months after I turned 30. It’s not too late, and your resume isn’t ruined by a long shot!

      I want to recommend some of the large consulting firms to you as a potential solution, for a few reason:
      -On my current project, we had a member who had to move out of state for family reasons. She did such a great job that we changed her position to 100% remote so we could keep her.
      -Consulting firms value varied experience. The more experience you have in different sandboxes, the more types of situations you’ll be familiar with working in and on.

      Hope this helps! I know from experience the feeling of having to prioritize your partner’s career, but y
      -Another colleague on my project is married to a Foreign Service Officer. She just received a transfer to an internal role that’s 100% remote so that she can travel with her husband wherever he’s assigned.

      1. Consultant Catie*

        Ugh the formatting totally messed up! I meant to end with, Hope this helps! I know from experience the feeling of having to prioritize your partner’s career if they’re the breadwinner. But you’re calling them a Partner, which means you’re in a partnership, which means it’s the two of you together. They should be invested in making sure that you’re happy and getting what you need!

  8. Colette*

    I agree that the OP needs to talk with her partner. Some things to discuss:
    – do they actually have to move as often as they are? If they could move every couple of years, that would help her build a career path. It may be that her partner prefers to move and thinks she’s OK with it when she is not.
    – if her partner has to move frequently, does she always have to go along, or can they build a home base where she stays?
    – how would their lives change if she goes back to school? (Would they be able to stay in one place long enough for her to do that? If not, what are their options?)

    And for the OP:
    – do you have a good view of what the day to day work is in the career you want, or is it a dream you haven’t investigated?
    – are you ready for the work involved in going back to school?
    – what do you like about the jobs you’ve been doing? What would change if you were able to stay in one place?
    There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with working minimum wage jobs, or with having a job instead of a career. In fact, for some people being able to do poorly paid (but rewarding) work while being partially supported by a partner is a good thing. What can you get out of your situation while you work on the career issue? Are you learning languages, working on hobbies, or otherwise taking steps to build a fulfilling life?

  9. Summertime*

    I agree with Allison that this is definitely a conversation to be had with your partner. He won’t have the opportunity to change anything if he’s unaware that OP is unhappy in this situation.

    As for the “I’m almost 30 and it’s too late for me to do anything!”, it is never too late! I feel we’re always in a hurry to get somewhere or feel like we’re racing to the top against our peers. The reality is that everyone takes a different path, in their career and their life. I find that many of my most dynamic friends and coworkers have taken nontraditional paths. My mother’s coworker quit her job at 40 to go to med school. She had worked for 20 years in a stable job to provide for her family and the family decided that they were in a good place for her to take some risks. Now she’s an MD!

    Don’t give up and don’t be too hard on yourself OP! I’m rooting for you :)

    1. Mr. Tyzik*

      I didn’t find my calling till I hit 40. I’ve been working in that for a while and find it fulfilling. I could have been farther ahead if I got a degree but I didn’t have time or finances to pursue.

      OP, go for the degree and work toward that career change. Someone said above – you’ll be growing older anyway, so might as well have that degree in 10 years than never if it will help you.

      In the meantime, are there any common themes in your jobs that you can suss out from your work? You might work to emphasize those accomplishments on your resume and get past some of the hopping issues.

    2. Mockingjay*

      Most working careers span 30 – 40 years, if not more. Most people change careers in the time span. OP, when you talk to your partner, I suggest looking at long-term goals. When you two are in your forties or fifties, you probably won’t want to move every year. Maybe come up with a compromise limit: partner can do the career moves for the next 5 – 10 years while you do school; after that, settle in an area that supports both careers.

      That’s what my husband and I did. I was a SAHM for 12 years, partly because my husband took a job overseas for 9 years. These kind of moves do impact your career, but the effects can be overcome with hard work and studies. When I returned to the workforce, I already had a degree, so I took short-term classes for certifications and skill updates. I started at a pretty low salary, but a decade later, I now earn a very decent amount.

    3. Sparrow*

      I spent most of my 20s in a PhD program, and I definitely struggled because I wasn’t happy but felt like it was too late, that I had “wasted” so much time and wasn’t qualified for anything else. I was closing in on 30 when I realized that if I did the safe thing and continued on the academic track, I’d continue to be miserable indefinitely. That long-term perspective was what I needed to make some changes. Starting over seemed intimidating, but it held the promise of something better, and that was infinitely more appealing than carrying on down a path that was already making me unhappy. (No regrets, by the way. None.)

  10. Christmas Carol*

    Your age when you finish school might not be as important as you think. If you go back to school for a career you’ll be 40 when you finish in 10 years. Well, you don’t go back, how then old will you be in 10 years?

    1. That Girl from Quinn's House*

      The problem is, age discrimination in hiring is a real thing. There are tons of examples of people 50 and older who were sidelined from working entirely, because no one wanted to hire an “old person.” So if you are expecting to be pushed out of the economy at age 50, at 40, yeah, you only have ten working years left.

      1. Autumnheart*

        But on the positive side, having a “new” degree fudges that equation a little. If my resume lists the last 10 years of experience and my degree from 3 years ago, how old am I? An employer wouldn’t be able to tell right off the bat.

      2. CMart*

        But even so… so you have 10 years of doing school and learning new things + 10 years of a career you worked toward. Or you have 20 years of working minimum wage jobs you loathe. That first path is not a waste.

      3. Parenthetically*

        Wow, it’s a super dark way to go through life “expecting to be pushed out of the economy at age 50”.

      4. Ask a Manager* Post author

        The vast majority of people over 50 but younger than retirement age do work, so it really doesn’t make sense to expect to be pushed out at 50. Yes, age discrimination is a thing, but you’re extrapolating from that in odd ways. (Gender and race discrimination are things too; that doesn’t mean you expect not to work if you’re not a white male.)

    2. Forrest Rhodes*

      A friend in the corporate world tells me that in some fields what they call “grey-hairs” are becoming valuable (and even sought-after) assets as employees—knowledge of the world, benefits of experience, tendency to not flip out when things go awry, etc.

  11. Havarti*

    Oof. As soon as I saw the headline, I thought, “This is a relationship problem.” Glad Alison addressed that. Being the trailing spouse is a challenge. Some folks try to balance it out by trading off who moves for who. But at the end of the day, you need to talk to your partner. If he doesn’t want to listen or tries to minimize your concerns, think really long and hard about what you really want in life because an unsupportive partner might be worse than no partner at all. Also, you’re never too old to go back to school. I’m older and trying to get a masters now (ugh, I still hate paper-writing as much as I did in undergrad tho). Good luck!

  12. Bopper*

    Think of a career that is fungible…that is you can go anywhere and do it.
    E.g., teaching, accounting, project managing

  13. Squirrel*

    What I’m about to say may not work for the Letter Writer depending on their area, but I am in a somewhat similar boat. Moved with my spouse from the capital city of my state (so lots of opportunities in the field I wanted and for the degree I had) to a large metro area in a different state (with a completely different job market) for their job, so I tried switching careers and it hasn’t worked so far. I’d like to break into something, but I’m finding I just don’t have the experience or education that it seems like everyone else has, so I’ve been trying out volunteering as a sideways way into the field. Maybe it never gets me a job in it, but I can meet people in the field, do work that I find fulfilling and interesting, and it helps scratch that itch for me. So my job might not be a career, and it is essentially just for money, but my volunteering is for my passion projects and is what makes me happy. Maybe reframing it as something along those lines might help? Good luck!

    1. OP*

      I’ve considered this but I haven’t actually meet anyone who has been able to vollenteer their way into a job, in my line of work that is. They are all to happy to not pay for your services. But it might give me something to do haha!

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        The thing is that volunteering is still experience you can draw from the next time you look for a paying gig in that field. “I have volunteered my services to St Catherine’s doing XYZ.” may get you into an entry level role in another organization.

        So you don’t go in thinking you may get a job at that organization you’re volunteering in [though it would be great if they did have an opening for you to slide in of course], go in with the idea it’s experience that you can put on your resume and talk about in an interview!

        1. Squirrel*

          This is a great expansion on my points, thank you! Volunteering is a great way to informally network as well. Maybe you can’t get a position at Company A from your time there, but the person who is leading your volunteer team has a friend who works at Company B and heard they’re looking for someone and says they’ll put you two in touch.

      2. RC Rascal*

        Volunteering may lead you to a career outside your field that can make it easier to find jobs when you move. Examples: volunteer to fundraise for a non profit could lead to a career in NP Development. Volunteering at a program for disabled kids might lead to a disabled aide position in a school. Employers hire people when they can understand who you are professionally by the resume. You need gigs to position yourself as something.

  14. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    Oof, OP, my heart goes out to you. This sounds like an incredibly difficult and demoralizing situation.

    You deserve a career that makes you feel valued and fulfilled. You deserve the opportunity to feel that you contribute economically to your household, and that you can be financially secure without your partner. You deserve a partnership where each partner is invested in one another’s success and dreams, and where sacrifices in support of one another are shared over time. And if you feel additional academic training would be helpful, you deserve the opportunity to explore that option and to reinvest your path at 30, 40, 50, or any age. It may be that your partner thinks you’re not enthusiastic about the jobs you obtain, but that you’re overall ok with the arrangement. Hopefully after a frank conversation with your partner, he’ll understand and believe that you deserve those things, as well.

    As Alison noted, it sounds like it would be helpful to explore jobs where constantly moving around can be a net plus or where remote work allows you geographic flexibility. For example, my friends who work in international development, English education overseas, philanthropic foundations with international development portfolios, the UN, the diplomatic service (i.e., State Department), private engineering firms or real estate brokerages or banks with overseas clients, and consultants to all those kinds of organizations and foreign governments often move every 2-4 years or travel constantly without a home base. Their ability to relocate and travel, paired with their experience in multiple countries, is generally a benefit that makes them more competitive candidates as they advance in their careers. Which is all to say, is there a way to leverage your moves to your advantage?

  15. I GOTS TO KNOW!*

    Alison mentioned work that continues remotely when you move, but there’s also positions that are 100% telecommute from the beginning. You could maintain the same job no matter where you move and build a career that way.

    Also, do you have any skills in writing or video? Travel freelancing might be good because you aren’t spending part of your fee on getting to the location. You’re already there!

    1. Diahann Carroll*

      I have one of those 100% remote jobs that was advertised that way and will, more than likely, stay that way since more than half of my company’s 3500 employees either work from home in different countries or work from satellite offices around the globe. My company also has a program where an employee can ask to be moved to another country to work out of their main office(s), and the company will cover their full relocation expenses as long as the move is proven to be a benefit to the company.

      It was not easy to find this job – I think I’ve been searching for remote jobs for going on six years now. But I’m also seeing more and more remote job listings for writers and content producers (my field) with Fortune 500 companies in industries like insurance, technology, financial services, etc., so it’s a lot easier to at least identify positions and industries where this is A Thing these days. If OP is a strong writer, these types of jobs (content development) would be good to target. Of course, the competition will be fierce, but that’s where drafting a very strong cover letter can help you.

      Good luck, OP!

      1. I GOTS TO KNOW!*


        I specifically meant freelancing for magazines, newspapers, websites that focus on travel or have a travel section.

        But I bet there are a number of ways to work in the travel industry even if moving from place to place. Be a tour guide of the city for people from your home country, for example. Seasonal work in touristy areas. That sort of thing.

  16. AnotherProf*

    have you & your partner talked about where you want to be in 10 years time? what country might you live in? what might your job look like? and can your partner support you in getting there?

    I agree with the comment above that data science consulting is a highly mobile option. Two other possibilities are teaching (e.g. English as a foreign language) and art/craft (e.g. selling crafts on Etsy). Obviously, all of these are self-employed and don’t have a trad career structure in a big institution. but they can be fulfilling and engaging with a good sense of community.

  17. Nikki C.*

    You also might consider grant writing, which can be done remotely. A way to start is to find nonprofits (idealist is a good site) to volunteer with and then turn it into paying work once you have some samples and a track record to show.

    1. Ophelia*

      For that route (which I also think is a great idea, since it’s going to be applicable overseas in a wide range of contexts, as well), I’d also suggest that the OP consider doing a certificate course to get the basics of grant writing down first–it can be more trouble than it’s worth for an org to engage an inexperienced grant writer, even as a volunteer, so coming in with an understanding of how it works will be helpful.

      1. Diahann Carroll*

        This. Also, proposal writing is another option OP should consider. I did this for a year with a smallish company making an okay salary with no prior experience in proposals, but was able to parlay this experience into a new, fully remote position with a global company in the tech sphere in the span of about five months after reaching my one year anniversary. I’m also making good money now to allow me to live comfortably – the jobs are out there, OP. Keep looking and think outside of the box.

    2. Smithy*

      Grant writing could also be an interesting way to combine remote work with in-country consultancies/positions. Abroad being a native English speaker can be helpful for local organizations but it’s also a skill that can be offered remotely.

      What I would not advise doing is volunteering in the hopes of turning it into a job. There are assorted MA degrees on nonprofit management, as well as programs offered around proposal writing looking to specific government or private donors. There are ways to collect both training and experience to build those skills into broader nonprofit experience. But organizations that hold the carrot of “volunteer until you fundraise a paycheck for yourself” are not places with good professional practices.

      1. Diahann Carroll*

        Agreed, though I do like the suggestion that instead of volunteering, OP can take a course in grant writing to get the experience she desires.

        1. Ophelia*

          Yes – and to clarify – I don’t think OP should expect to get hired at the organization(s) she volunteers at, but particularly if she’s in a country context where there are a lot of small/local nonprofits that need resources, she can parlay the experience doing grant-writing for them into paid consulting work for larger outfits once she has a bit more experience under her belt. I’m thinking specifically of the awkward trailing spouse context where finding paid work is a challenge due to frequent moves (this also is going to vary significantly depending on whether OP’s spouse is moving from, like, London to Taiwan, or from Honduras to Rwanda–the job markets for short-term expats in those places are going to vary significantly).

  18. BronzeFire*

    As a military spouse, I know all of these feels and struggles, so lots of sympathy and encouragement to you. I’ve started my own business that’s completely online, so even though it’s a grind to get started, once I’m established I’ll feel like I have something that’s mine that I can build on the way he’s built his career, and I can do it from anywhere in the world (in fact, I just moved it across the continent). Even now in the early stages, I’m proud of what I’m making and am happy to have a pursuit I’m passionate about. You might not be entrepreneurial, though, so I know that isn’t an option for everyone. I also know a lot of people who let go of having a traditional career path and found value in volunteering with groups whose missions they admire. They often climb the ranks of those organizations, going from an extra set of hands to becoming coordinators or board members. So if the issue isn’t money, so much as feeling like you’re building skills and a network, or contributing to the world in a significant way that you can take pride in and speak passionately about, finding a group or two to volunteer with could be an option to consider.

    1. Mrs_helm*

      A friend is a military spouse, and found a way to work entry level into a career. She’s a personal trainer. Gyms always need them, and she’s had some great success stories and interesting clients to showcase. This kind of thing could also work (I think) for chefs, organizers, nannies, and probably a lot of things where years of varied experience and a few high profile clients would add up.

      1. That Girl from Quinn's House*

        Personal trainer certs aren’t always internationally transferable. I had a bunch of similar certs while my husband was looking at a job in Canada, and I would have had to start over from scratch there if I wanted to stay in that field. Which would have been an issue, because according to the company’s visa office, I’d be issued a visa restricted to only one field of employment.

        1. BronzeFire*

          There are lots of jobs that require recertifying every time you make a move (teacher, lawyer, anything medical, librarians sometimes have to take civil service exams in new states). And sometimes agreements with our allies prohibit spouses from doing those jobs at all when they’re stationed in another country. It’s very frustrating, but several things are in motion to make that situation a little better. If OP’s spouse is not military, perhaps their company or industry community has programs or services in place to help with these issues.

  19. Meepmeep*

    Yes on remote work. I’m an attorney and a lot of lawyer jobs can be done from anywhere. I haven’t worked in an office since 2011.

    Prior to law school, I did freelance translation. I don’t think most of the clients even knew where I was located.

  20. C*

    I am in grad school training to be a therapist and at 29 I am often noticeably the youngest in the class. If that is a field that appeals to you it is something that has training and career options that people who are always traveling can access. We have several people married to active duty service members in the program. You can train through your computer and provide telehealth when you’ve graduated. I know there are ways that can be tricky and it is a lot of work but it can be a wonderful career.

    1. Augusta Has Gone East*

      This! English-speaking therapists are harder to find than you’d think even in bigger cities outside English-speaking countries. You can also specialise more on challenges expats are facing. International experience is definitely a plus here.

  21. Blisskrieg*

    OP–I work in an industry where a lot of people work in brick-and-mortar buildings (healthcare). However, there are a LOT of opportunities within that same industry to work remotely and/or travel to location (pharmaceutical, device manufacturers, educators, auditors, etc). What always strikes me is that the people working locally, (in the brick and mortar) often seem blinded to this whole other part of the industry–they just haven’t thought about it as a career. Oftentimes, these remote positions are higher paid and with better opportunities for advancement.

    I bring this up just in case there might be corollaries with your own industry of interest. You might find there are “shadow” support industries that most people don’t think to explore.

    Beyond that–I just want to say that so many jobs at all levels require so much skill and finesse, and you should be proud for all of your employment and what you’ve been able to accomplish despite all the moves! Some of the most difficult and stressful jobs are not well-respected, which is a shame. Often when digging in, they are the most interesting as well! (who doesn’t love a good customer service/strange office story). It sounds like you have done a good job with your situation at hand.

    1. OP*

      This is good to know. My partner is in the medicine so while we could be loving anywhere in North America, their will always be hospitals to work at

      1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

        Conversely, I manage a team of medical coders for one of the ten largest medical systems in the US and my whole department is remote below the director level. :)

    2. Diahann Carroll*

      This is true. In healthcare and life insurance especially, I’ve applied to and/or interviewed with a few major companies (e.g., Guardian, Aetna, UnitedHealth, Anthem) for remote jobs in proposal development (i.e., doing the work of proposal writing, editing, managing, content development, etc.). I never even knew this was a thing, and I worked in insurance for years (well, the property and casualty sector, but still). I’m also seeing remote jobs in the legal field I didn’t know existed, and I worked in law for nearly three years as well. It’s amazing to see this shift occurring – people really don’t need to be on-site to do a lot of jobs.

  22. Peaches*

    ” I don’t doubt that they’re not asking a ton of questions about your career choices, because that’s a very common dynamic. If they’re in fields similar to his, some of that may be the sort of conversational selfishness that takes over when a group of people in adjacent fields get together.”

    This is very true. My husband is a PA, and when we have get togethers with his former classmates, they talk 99% medical jargon. They don’t really ask about my job, but I don’t think it’s an intentional, “we don’t care about her career/think it’s worth anything.”

    I think Alison has provided some great advice in nudging you to not dismiss the idea of going back to school. Long term happiness is important, and if you’d get to spend 20+ years of your working life doing something you love, the 7-10 years of schooling is absolutely worthwhile.

    1. Antilles*

      Yeah, I was going to make the same point. Been on both sides of this dynamic and it’s very common for the spouses to get only very vague questions. Partly because they’ve got the shared connection of their own jobs to discuss and partly because your husband’s coworkers probably have only the most remote vague idea about what you actually do.

    2. MOAS*

      Agree with that. I’m guilty of doing that — a few times 3 coworkers and a spouse went out and later on the spouse said they felt left out. I have a decent relationship with the spouse too so I made an effort to not do that the next time we all went out. But it is a natural consequence.

    3. AndersonDarling*

      My husband works for a very conservative, traditional company and no one asks me what I do at the holiday party because no one expects the wives to be working…unless we do something “traditional” like daycare or teaching.

  23. Seal*

    As someone that got 2 masters degrees and a post-baccalaureate certificate in their 40s, let me assure you that you have not lost your chance at a career. Even if you’re moving around frequently at this stage of your life, you definitely have options. There are any number of masters programs from accredited institutions that can be completed entirely online or that require minimal time on campus. As Alison points out, remote work or freelancing are also options to consider. Don’t let your concerns about your age hold you back. In 10 years you’ll be almost 40 regardless – do you want to be almost 40 and regretting not getting another degree?

  24. Naomi*

    OP, on the issue of partner’s friends and their attitude: how much of this is based on actual things they have said to you, and how much is speculation about what they think? I ask because those are potentially two different problems. If your partner’s friends have been polite and you’re just projecting your own unhappiness about your career, then hopefully any steps you take to work on your career will make you feel more confident and comfortable. But if your partner’s friends are actually being assholes, then you should talk to your partner about having your back when they’re disrespecting you. (If your partner has been one of the people disparaging your career… well, that’s a bigger relationship problem.)

    1. OP*

      It’s been a bit of both. Definitely some boiler plate “ah that sounds like interesting work” with no follow up questions, all the way to responses “Don’t you want to do something meaningful with your life instead?”.

      1. A Simple Narwhal*

        Ew gross those latter people suck. Though the (poorly) feigning interest people aren’t much better,

      2. Alston*

        If I was feeling particularly bitter that day it would be hard not to respond “it’s difficult to build a career ‘thats’s meaning’
        when you get dragged around the country for your spouses career every year.”

      3. Julia*

        FWIW, I immediately believed you. When I worked as an office assistant while my now-husband was in grad school, some of his classmates gave me similar looks and comments – while I was supporting his studies at their very expensive school! Privileged people can be very snotty sometimes.

  25. Genny*

    OP, what you’re describing is a frequent problem for trailing spouses/partners. Your partner’s company is likely well aware of that as well as how expensive it is to relocate an employee only to have them curtail the assignment because their spouse or children aren’t happy. They’ve probably developed resources to address that problem. As you’re thinking through your next steps, take advantage of whatever those resources are. You may end up deciding that whatever they can offer isn’t for you, but it’s a good place to start thinking through how to make this arrangement work for both you and your partner.

  26. #1 The Larch*

    As a person who opted out of college (for personal reasons) at the “traditional” age and then got an associate degree and married their partner in their 30’s, age shouldn’t be a factor when deciding what to pursue in life. I’ve seen plenty of folks ages 40 and up going back to school. Heck, Stan Lee (RIP) created Spiderman at age 44 and look what happened!

    Deciding to pursue your dreams is important and if you think it would be advantageous to your career goals to go back to school then definitely pursue it. Also, I agree with the other commentators. You should definitely have a sit-down with your SO and let them know how you are feeling. If they are truly supportive, they will want you to succeed as they have succeeded!

  27. BTDT*

    I was/am in your shoes, OP. I chose the school option and I’ll graduate 1 month before I turn 40. That is less than ideal but once I got past feeling like everyone’s mom, it has been a very positive experience. I’m studying a subject that is desirable globally, but also has remote options. You’ll want to make sure whatever subject you pick is similar because it’ll only add to your frustrations if you can’t use your education. The other option I considered was non-profit positions. Often when we live overseas I don’t have a work visa which has made it damn near impossible to find work. But volunteers are needed everywhere and they typically don’t care that you won’t be there long-term. Taking on leadership positions felt like having a job and fulfilled that need I have to do something important. So if that appeals to you, I recommend that too.

    1. BTDT*

      Oh and re: how you deal with being financially dependent/feeling “less than”. I get that and it’s exactly why I felt compelled to go back to school. So I’m not going to say you just need to get over it. I could only get over it by doing something to address the feeling. But I also want to say that your worth is unrelated to how much money you earn, and so is your partner’s. Being successful in life looks different for different people. For some it’s a career. For others it’s volunteering. For others it’s supporting the family. There isn’t one way to be a success and if your partner’s coworkers can’t get that then that’s on them.

        1. J.B.*

          Ohh, where?

          I am studying that along with data-science-y stuff. I’m sure I’ll find a job but it’s a little more complicated then when coming straight out of undergrad.

  28. Xandria*

    I exist in an similar place. My wife doesn’t move for work, but she has a very prestigious and well known career, and I work a job that no one has ever heard of outside my industry.

    When we first started dating and it came to meeting all her coworkers I was so worried about talking to them and not knowing a damm thing and not being able to explain my job. And I was right, I still can’t really explain what I do, but with people she’s close with I’ve gotten a good friendship built around other things. Are there hobbies you have or something else you can talk about with your husbands coworkers that isn’t work focused? Work doesn’t have to be all there is.

  29. BeenThere*

    I am close to the end of my working life now, but since I started working 50 years ago, I’ve gone down several paths. I started out with lots of part-time, low wage jobs. Then I moved into a union trade and stayed there for 13 years. Then I went to college and got my bachelors degree at 37 and masters at 39. Then I taught college-level courses for about 4 years, and finally I moved into technical writing and medical writing.

    So, going to college at your age seems like a great and worthy next step. You have lots of working years ahead of you, and if you’re like me and many, many other people, you might even have more than one career during those years. I would just say to do it sooner rather than later.

    Also, I agree that it’s worth carefully looking at how financially secure you are in this relationship, especially if you’re not married. At least in the USA, being married can provide a lot of protections for the lower-earning spouse. Being married is not “just a piece of paper”, despite what some folks say.

    Good luck!

  30. Wakeens Teapots LTD*

    Anecdote time.

    One of my dearest friends graduated valedictorian from HS & obtained an Ivy League degree (we are from working class roots so, all the more impressive that way). She married a fellow Ivy League grad right out of college and after working some of her 20’s, even with small children (this was the 80’s so not a given back then), his career trajectory took them into the life of ex-pats. She worked some as she could (HR at the American School as one example), but trailing spouses have fewer options.

    Out of nowhere, at age 55, she (as she words it) became a cliche. Yup, dumped for a much younger woman. The divorce settlement was good, but so is her health, and she wanted to go back to work (after settling back here stateside) because she could live to 100, who knows.

    And, it happened. Not the fast track whatever she could have had for herself in her 30’s if husband hadn’t happened, but a good gig at a law firm doing HR and some other practice management type things.

    In this case, the fall back was a good degree (albeit from a million years prior) and having been able to keep her hand in professional jobs as circumstances allowed.

    Which puts me at, for the OP: please consider going back to college for a fall back. May you never need the fall back from any kinds of poor circumstances, but if you have the opportunity and the desire, the education is a card up your sleeve.

    1. wittyrepartee*

      Yes, and even if letter writer doesn’t want to consider that her husband might lose his mind and divorce her- people can get sick or injured, jobs can disappear, car crashes can happen. A second income is a way to spread risk out between two people as a form of insurance.

  31. Anon for this*

    For what it’s worth… I had low paying/entry-level jobs for years and some of them I was really really bad at. Nearly all of them were jobs I was embarrassed to explain to friends. When I was 42, I took an entry-level job in a weird niche industry. I was fortunate enough to keep rising when the product began to take off. I was eventually headhunted by another company and now make 6 figures. I *never* would have expected this ending when I was younger.

    Please don’t feel like you don’t have a way out. And take it easier on yourself than I did, I shouldn’t have been embarrassed by those jobs, I should have taken pride in doing them well. Sometimes that’s hard to find in the moment though.

    1. Ann Nonymous*

      Yes to not being embarrassed over jobs. Your attitude towards them and the way you present them to others goes a long way. I have an MBA and most people I (and my second husband) socialize with have professional jobs, many of them very successful financially. My husband drives a trash truck. When someone asks me what he does, I unashamedly tell them. Any awkwardness I let fall on them. And people who know my husband really like him, so we get zero backlash from him having a very blue collar job.

      1. Belle of the Midwest*

        If we were at a party, your husband is the first person I would want to talk to. He gets to see every part of the community you live in and probably has the scuttlebutt on what neighborhoods have lots of houses on the market, where new buildings and businesses are going up, etc. And this is definitely an important job.

      2. Blueberry*

        Your husband has one of the most important jobs in society. I’d be right there beside Belle asking him about it.

  32. NYWeasel*

    I pursued a new career at age 41, graduating from school when I was 45. Some things I did was that I chose a school where I was technically part-time, but when I wasn’t working I could accelerate to a full-time schedule. This flexibility meant that I could pursue jobs in my new field without worrying that I’d have to quit school if something came up. I also was super clear on what I was looking for in a job—in my case I would say “I’m looking for teapot marketing positions that let me draw upon my knowledge of X, Y and Z.” Even entry level work can be applicable (“draw upon my working knowledge of retail practices”, “familiarity with assembly line protocols”, “able to thrive in fast-paced working environments”)

    The best part about going back to school at a later age is that it’s a pretty awesome reset for an older employee. It signals that even if you are older, you are still actively challenging yourself to learn new things. I went from getting a handful of single interviews that went nowhere to having tons of interviews and multiple offers once I added my program on my resume.

  33. annie*

    Be careful and protect your heart and your financial independence. If you’re committed to a future with your partner, he(?) should pay for your school since you are in this together and his frequent moves have contributed to his financial/career success and decreased yours. If that doesn’t sound right, then I think you have more questions to dig deeper into. If something should happen where this relationship will continue, will you feel bitter about years of your life that feel wasted? Or will you feel that this was the right path to choose in the circumstances?
    There’s also nothing wrong with long-distance relationships. They don’t work for relationships that don’t work and they work for relationships that work. If there’s an expectation that *of course* you would move with your partner, I think you should challenge it. Even if you don’t like your job, you shouldn’t have to give it up for someone else’s job, at least not EVERY time. The other person needs to make equivalent sacrifices that benefit you.

  34. Cucumberzucchini*

    Is there something you can do that you could build a business out of that is not location depended and could be remote? Anything you’re good at or enjoy and could become good at to build a career around?

    It’s hard to get specific without knowing more about you so on my end, I would work on developing a freelance illustration and writing career. These are both things I’m good at and could become a career if I was able to devote time to. Are you dependent on the income from your odd jobs? If not maybe take some time off working to develop a business or freelance career that belongs to you and not dependent on a traditional employer.

  35. Justme, The OG*

    Almost 40 is not too late! I’m almost 40 and am just starting towards a Doctorate, a lot of people in my program are a lot older than I am.

    Also, this was my family’s situation. My family moved every few years because of my dad’s job and my mom could basically never establish herself in those places.

  36. Abogado Avocado*

    OP, my spouse had a high-flying job with a big company that employed spouse in City #1, transferred us to City #2 (across the county to State #2) for a decade, and thence to City #3 (back across the country to another State). Your worries are familiar to me.

    I expressed my concerns to my spouse, who was not a licensed professional (as I am), but took lime to understand my fears about licensure in another jurisdiction, not having a book of business to bring across the country, and about finding a new position. Spouse explained these concerns to employer, who paid for my expenses of moving my office, getting relicensed in new jurisdiction, AND for job-search help. Spouse’s employer paid these expenses again (minus licensure) again when it moved us back across the county a decade later.

    I would be lying if I said that, notwithstanding this help, I wasn’t worried about the effect on my career and that there weren’t fraught moments. However, I’m here to say (30 years into said career) that it has turned out more than just fine. I ended up becoming a leader in my profession, led a prominent organization, and now have a another leadership position that I enjoy immensely. It wasn’t clear sailing all the way through, but it has turned out to be a very interesting and satisfying journey. I truly believe it can be that way for you and wish you all the best.

    1. Manchmal*

      OP, I wanted to suggest something similar. In academia, the “two body problem” is a familiar one. Jobs come open at universities around the country and they are very competitive. The best candidate often has a trailing spouse who is also an academic. The person who got the job can often negotiate a second job for their spouse. If they’re really good and the institution really wants them, sometimes they can finagle their partner an actual tenure-track job, but sometimes it’s a different kind of appointment. The point being, that even if your partner isn’t in academia, if they are a hotshot who is being wooed for their position, part of their negotiation in moving to a new place can be some consideration for you. That might be a job within their organization or a partner organization, but it also might be the kind of help that Abogado mentioned above. Your partner has to be the one to negotiate for it obviously, but it is possible.

      1. OP*

        I am not currently I’m academia but this is super interesting! Good to know if I ever need it. Thank you

  37. Lolo*

    My aunt got her degree a little later in life (she was pushing 50 when she got it). She was a little intimidated by the 5 years she would need to commit, but she said something I’ll carry with me forever: “The 5 years are going to go by whether I’m in school or not- so I’d rather have a degree at the end of it!”

    The 7 years it may take to get accredited are going to pass one way or another. How do you want to use the time?

  38. 867-5309*

    OP, I moved to Norway with my husband and it’s a notoriously difficult country for ex-pats to find work at all, much less in their given field. Here are the things I did that helped me find a related job quickly:

    – I do marketing and was freelancing when we moved. This allowed me to keep English-speaking clients and continue to pickup work from them. I was remote while they were in the U.S. This also allows you to show continuity on a resume, even if you move around.
    – Explore jobs at international schools or online options to teach English.
    – Leverage LinkedIn. I looked up people in the Oslo-area who were in my field and asked for informational meetings and coffee. It led to one interview.
    – Many, not all, countries have large, global organizations. Focus your job search on these organizations since many want native English-speakers or at least that is the operating language of the company.

    As for taking minimum wage jobs… When I lost my job a few years ago, I started working the front desk at a gym. It was fun and had nice perks, even if the money is bad. Never be embarrassed. All work has value, even if others don’t appreciate it.

  39. Missy*

    At 30 I really hated my job. I was a secretary and very bad at it. I had mental health problems in my 20s which I’d helped manage with therapy and medication but that lost time made me feel like I’d wasted my life and was hopelessly behind me peers forever.

    I went to law school at 31 on a whim. I did really good on the LSATs and got full scholarship. I discovered I loved the law and now, at 40, am an attorney in a career I adore. I did get a lot of pushback at the start from people thinking I was too old, but that didn’t last long. And I got promoted quickly because even though I didn’t have much legal experience the soft skills I had from my previous career went a long way into helping me move ahead.

    Too old shouldn’t stop you. It is amazing how much easier school was the second time around with more life experience. Now there are other issues, obviously, but just wanted to share my own story of a career change after 30.

    1. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

      I chime in on the life experience informing your school experience thing!

      I returned for a MS degree in counseling … and there were students who were doing a 3+2 program for a combined BA/MS. I wasn’t ancient, but I had a lot more life experience … and I felt far better prepared to deal with a broader set of situations — in workplace dynamics and in the stuff of counseling itself.

      Much easier to learn when you have your own case studies in your head to apply it to.

  40. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

    OP, you’re worried that you’re going to be almost 40 — ie, in your late 30s — when you finish school. That’s not that far into your working lifespan, quite honestly! Based on the math, it sounds like you’re in your mid-late 20s now, and while it can definitely feel like those older numbers are pushing toward the climax of your career story arc, that’s really not the case.

    Consider that full retirement age (at least in the US) is 67, and only looking to rise. Finishing a degree in your late 30s gives you a solid 30 years to have a career based on that degree before you retire. That’s still a very long time! And it’s much better to go for it and start a little late — and there are plenty of famous people we can point to who started their very famous careers later in life — than to slog through another 30-40 years of work you don’t like and don’t feel respected for.

    1. londonedit*

      Totally agree. As someone who is ‘close to 40’, I enjoy what I do, but I don’t really feel like I have a ‘career’ that’s really taken off in a particular direction. I’m not working towards moving up a ladder, I’m just focused on enjoying my work. And that’s fine with me! I certainly don’t feel like I’m anywhere near the end of my career – by the time I get anywhere near it, I expect the UK state pension age (if such a thing as a state pension still exists) will be over 70, which means I have more than 30 years of my working life left. I think for a lot of people, the idea of having one traditional career that goes in a linear trajectory from start to finish just isn’t what happens anymore. People change, they decide they want different things, they have to adapt when life throws curveballs at them. Graduating at 40 really isn’t a big deal, especially if it means you can end up doing something you really enjoy.

  41. Beancounter Eric*


    First, you and your partner need to have a wide-ranging, frank discussion on your current situation and how the two of you will proceed.

    Without question, further your education; distance learning may be an option, and don’t discount vocational/technical training, which may get you closer to your goal with more flexibility and a shorter time commitment.

    Good luck!!

  42. ShanShan*

    Hi OP,

    Everybody’s been giving you good advice, but I just want to chime in on the “how can I accept that I will never be financially independent from my partner?” part. You absolutely should not accept that.

    If your partner is willing to ask you to sacrifice your career for their sake, then they should also be willing to put something down, legally, in writing, with signatures and lawyers, assuring that you will have a means of support for a period of time if the relationship breaks down. This is something you need to do even if you are married, because you are moving around a lot and marriage laws are different in every location.

    This is not too much to ask, considering what your partner is asking of you. Ask for it!

  43. 1qtkat*


    I totally empathize with your situation since I’m in a similar one with my Dr husband. Definitely talk to your partner about your feelings of discontent, hopefully like my husband he would be understanding and be willing to work with you to find connections or fund more schooling or simply just establish yourselves in one city or state like I had to withbmy husband. If you can talk to professionals in the field where you establish yourselves and get a sense of how they got there and there you can get a mentor or at least someone who can relate and you can bounce ideas off of. It’s so much easier to build a professional network once both of you can agree on one place to stay.

    In going through the process for the past year or so, I have done a lot of introspection about what I want and talked to others about my options. I have realized so many of us define ourselves by our jobs/careers. A lot of my dream jobs since leaving law school have been crushed since we moved and got married, and my husband has asked whether those dreams are just a basis of ennui (AKA why do you keep applying for those jobs) versus realizing in reality I could be equally happy doing something completely different. I know I can’t go back to start and redo my path, all I can do is move forward. I’m just glad I have a supportive partner willing to do and give as much to help me find that way.

  44. De Minimis*

    For what it’s worth, I didn’t really start my “professional” career until age 40. I fell into a well paying union job not long after college, and ended up staying there until my early 30s, went back to school, had some ups and downs due to the Great Recession, but didn’t really get on a true career path until not long after my 40th birthday. It’s really not that late in the overall scheme of things.

    I’ve been the trailing spouse before, so I understand what it’s like.

  45. ThinMint*

    My mom struggled to get through school as we moved around for my dad’s job a lot when I was little. She always had to wait a year financially because of residency issues. And then when we would move again, perhaps the credits she took didn’t directly transfer. Thankfully with so many reputable online options these days, that would be less of an issue.

    My mom finished her degree at 47 and got her MS at 49. It definitely wasn’t too late to enter the work-force.

  46. pcake*

    Remote work rocks. I could do the work I do from anywhere in the world where there’s at least slow broadband. I’ve never met my main client in person, although he and I have been working together since June 2005, and I’ve never met my current coworkers in person, although I’ve known one of them on industry boards since around 2001.

    It may take longer to find a 100% remote job, but if you’re a self-starter, you can’t beat the flexibility of working from home – where ever that home is. And it will let you hold the same job and develop a resume and a career even with frequent moves. That will make you more independent and more secure.

  47. Geek history*

    Also remember that a career and job aren’t the end all be all. If you want a career and job go for it with others suggestions, but maybe also explore other things that will help you feel fulfilled. Find what makes you happy and don’t focus on what others think about it, at the end of the day it’s your life. Good luck.

  48. female-type person*

    I am very wary of situations where a partner–often, a woman–is financially vulnerable with all their eggs in the partner’s career basket. I watched this play out, badly, in my mother’s life, and I’ve watched several women I know invest fully into the SAHM and caregiving gig with an earning and supportive partner, only, later to have the relationship that produced the income implode. In a couple of cases, there were health changes that made working difficult or problematic. And . . . there they are. No education to fall back on. No resume. Health issues, in some cases. Alimony is not universal, and is often for a limited amount of time intended as temporary support, not a life-time income. Child support is typically for minor children, not children who are out of secondary school. It is hard and it is ugly. I’d vote for the LW to take a hard and realistic look at training that is available to give him or her job skills that will translate into satisfying employment that creates financial survival if single, regardless of location.

  49. Sally Forth*

    I left a great career when my husband got a transfer to another country. Our kids were little and I thought of it as a good time to stay home with them. My husband got transferred (again!) the day before I started grad school. My career lost all momentum. I went back to school and took something more portable that I enjoyed. I am now retired but never got to the pay level I had in 1988.

  50. jstarr*

    The best advice I can give was once given to me: You’re gonna be 40 either way. May as well start something now

  51. Chaordic One*

    Alison and the commentary have provided excellent advice as always. Maybe I’m reading something into this that isn’t really there, but the only thing I would add is that, if you do go back to school (and I hope you will), consider getting some counseling from a psychologist (or maybe a social worker or life coach) to help you deal with the possible stress and anxiety that come with going to school and also trying to juggle a family and personal life. I wish I had done so when I went back to school.

    Also, try not to compare yourself to your “high-acheiving” spouse and friends. I can understand how this might make you feel bad about yourself. Even people who love you can be insensitive and a bit snobby. (Counseling can help with this too.)

    1. CheeryO*

      Surprised to see this so far down, honestly. I hope LW will consider talking to a therapist regardless of what path she chooses. There’s a lot of stuff to unpack in this letter, and some of the issues mentioned might not ever really go away, even if she finds more financial independence in a different career (e.g., husband’s work friends might always be dismissive – maybe they’re just rude!).

  52. Jellybean*

    A lot of people will give you relationship advice here, but I’d like to offer what worked for me in this situation.

    I went back to school and completed a degree/certification in Teaching English as a Second Language. I have been a successful teacher for 6-7 years now and never have a problem getting work anywhere else in the world.
    The industry is basically two-tier: lower-wage, entry-level work for English-speakers people with any degree (visa requirement) OR decently-paid, good working conditions for people with teaching certification/education degrees.

    I realize that it’s not the right job for everyone and feel free to ignore the suggestion, but it is one of the few options where country-hopping doesn’t really kill the resume.

    1. Weegie*

      Yup, ESL was the career option that jumped out at me immediately. The certification training doesn’t take too long, jobs are reasonably available in countries where English is not the first language, private tutoring can be lucrative and rewarding if there are no school-based jobs going, and short-term contracts are the norm. It’s not for everyone, but lots of expats/trailing spouses do it.

  53. Tragic The Gathering*

    Hi OP – I’m in a similar position though luckily we stay within the states so language isn’t a barrier for me. What I ended up doing is changing career tracks to something parallel to his. We both know and acknowledge that we will continue prioritizing his career over mine, but that I want to still contribute and have a career I can be proud of. It’s not easy, and it’s not perfect, but maybe there’s an equivalent parallel track to your husband’s that you can take?

    My husband is a college football coach, and I’ve moved into higher ed recruitment. Whenever/wherever we move, we’re always going to a college campus, and typically there are jobs available that at least touch on my interest and background. I won’t say it’s perfect – I’ve had to turn down job opportunities knowing I wouldn’t be able to commit to staying any significant length of time. But I’m planning to go back to school for a masters in this field which will help me move to the next step. I know this won’t help me forever, and I won’t immediately be able to move up in the way I would if my location were stable – no one wants a Vice President that’s tied to a football coach’s contract – but at least for now it’s allowed me to put together a career I enjoy, that uses my skills, and that is somewhat continuous on a resume.

    1. Tragic The Gathering*

      I want to add that we talk about this FREQUENTLY and lines of communication are open surrounding this topic. I know that veers into relationship advice territory but from your point of view relationship and career are mixed.

  54. Policy Wonk*

    Situations like this are challenging for two-career couples. The best solution is if your partner’s employer would also hire you – if not for a position in the new location (often not possible because it would put you in the reporting chain), then for an “extreme telework” position. There are all kinds of jobs that can be done remotely, with regular check-ins via video teleconferencing. I know of a number of couples that have made this work. If you don’t have the skills partner’s employer needs, ask if they can fund your education. They may already have programs for family members that permits this, or be willing to do this to keep partner happy.

    1. Diahann Carroll*

      You don’t even have to do video conferencing these days for remote check-in – my company uses Skype and Microsoft Teams, but no one enables their cameras in this company. We all just do regular teleconferencing. Heck, all of my interviews with this company were also conducted over the phone, no video required.

  55. The Bad Guy*

    As someone who follows their SO around, I think the best advice here is to find a company you can work remotely for if at all possible. If that’s not possible, consult. We made the decision to follow my wife’s career 4 years ago and have moved twice since. Choosing a remote job and accepting that not every couple can be a “power couple” is honestly what has made me the happiest. The financial independence thing is a problem though, your partner should never make you feel like their money isn’t yours. You’re giving up career prospects to be with them, the least they can do is not make you feel bad about it.

  56. Classroom Diva*

    As a wise person once said, “How old will you be in 10 years if you *don’t* go back to school?”

    Exactly. So, go ahead and go!

  57. Doobeedo*

    I have moved every 2-4 years for the last 19 years with my husband. I combated this by joining a consulting firm where I worked on client sites or from home, but that means I have to travel often. I am now a self-employed consultant.
    My recommendation would be to look into something like WeWork, where you can be a virtual assistant for hire or that kind of thing.
    Don’t compare yourself to other people’s successes. You have sacrificed a lot to make sure your husband is successful. That in itself is amazing. It takes a lot to move, make a home, make friends, and then leave again. It is a huge sacrifice and I have had to seek the help of a therapist a few times to help me deal with the stress and feeling disconnected from any sort of community.
    I hope that you have a good and open line of communication with your husband and he shows you he is appreciative of all you do to further his career. If you two do not communicate, if he doesn’t acknowledge what you do, resentment can set in. All of this has made us stronger and closer than I could ever have imagined. But that is because we recognized what could happen to us, so we worked hard to stay on the same page. At any time if I said I didn’t want him to take a certain promotion that would have led to a move, he would have turned it down, and stayed at the level he was at.
    The appreciation goes both ways, his drive, ambition, abilities, and skills has landed him in a very high executive role, which has given us a lifestyle that when we got together so many years ago we could only dream of. He has made sacrifices too to get us here, and I acknowledge that and appreciate that as well.

    I hope that this helps! Good luck!

  58. Sarah N.*

    I agree that both partners careers should matter. My job is such that I do need to be flexible on location, and my husband has followed me to two different cities. He is legitimately in a field that is more mobile. BUT, we put a limit on the total number of moves and also made an agreement that we would not be moving every year (at least 2 years per location) to protect his career prospects as well. I also did not apply to jobs that were not in close proximity to at least a medium-size city, since that would give him more options. So, although my husband has definitely made more compromises on balance, I’ve also made some compromises and potentially would have made more if my current job hadn’t worked out so well. I think both partners need to be really open to being flexible and sacrificing some opportunities for the other person — it can’t be one person gets 100% what they want and the other person gets 0%.

  59. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    A lot of people go back to school and really, if you’re “almost 40” when you graduate, that’s absolutely normal. There’s two waves of university students, the ones right out of standard schooling and then the ones who go back for various reasons, including finishing degrees they may have started years ago but only now have the stability or resources to finish.

    I don’t think this is a relationship issue honestly. Sometimes our partner’s lives take us on a ride that is difficult to navigate on a personal level. That’s just the hand we’re dealt and given our love for each other, we go along for it and figure out the rest of it as we go along, like you’re doing now.

    I like the idea of remote work, that way you can at least start building up your resume to be less choppy. Once you’ve established yourself, which really shouldn’t take more than a solid job for a few years, it gets so much easier to jump around.

    Now as the partner in a relationship that’s in a “high achieving” role I can say that we just want you to be happy in the end. I am proud of my partner regardless of what they’re working as at any given time. Which is anything from manual labor to marketing and sales. I do flinch a bit that they seem “uninterested” in your positions since they’re minimum wage positions often. I have to wonder if this is really them being uninterested or if you’re internalizing it and feeling shame that’s projecting that feeling? I can’t speak for everyone in general of course and there are outrageous snobs out there for sure but usually, we’re with our partners because we love them. It’s not about points system, we don’t take points away because of the job you hold down at any given time! That’s very odd and toxic behavior. I have friends and family who range from doctors to retail to housekeepers. It doesn’t matter what someone does, ever. It matters that they’re good people who work hard wherever they land.

  60. Butter Makes Things Better*

    I can’t the only one who thought of the last episode or two of Friday Night Lights. OP, if you need some encouragement or inspiration to revisit the convo with your partner about making room for both careers, Tami Taylor’s speech (or conversations? not remembering exactly) to her husband is worth watching.

    1. Diahann Carroll*

      I did, lol. I love that show and, yes, her speech about it now being her turn was fantastic.

  61. Moi*

    A few comments: finishing school at 40 isn’t a bad thing. I just started my masters and I’m 40. I know many other people who have also done degrees at this age. 2. Your partners co-workers likely have significant others in the same situation as you. I don’t think that they’re looking down on you as much as they have less in common because you’re not in the same line of work. The same may happen if you had a great but different job. 3. It sounds like you are putting a lot of your self worth into your career. It’s doesn’t need to be that way, we are not defined by our professional success (:

  62. Academic Addie*

    Hi OP, I’m in the spouse’s shoes. We’ve moved a couple times for my career. This last move is permanent (hopefully), as I have a tenure track position. My spouse had a hard time – finished law school at the height of the recession (lots of temping!), then moved with me twice. After our first move, he was a stay at home dad for a bit, but then found some minimum wage work in a law-adjacent field. It is important to me that he is professionally fulfilled. So I shouldered more domestic burden so he could do things like job fairs. After our last move, we delayed financial plans so he could relicense in our new state. I probably will apply for a few jobs, since that’s the only way to get a higher salary in my position, but I would be extremely hesitant to take one, at this point, since he is finally in a career-track law job.

    Everyone else has said good stuff. You should start making plans to retrain into a career you find fulfilling. Your spouse should support you in doing that. Having been the leading spouse, I do think you’re due for a conversation with your spouse on this. I agree with Allison’s point that they might not realize how hard this is on you. In my field in academia, it isn’t uncommon for people to take 2-3 short term research gigs before becoming faculty, which leaves spouses in the lurch. It is pretty common, though, in my field for folks to know they are going to move for a few months before they do. Knowing that info, would it be possible to apply to programs before moving? Or for you to go early on a move? A couple of my friends did it this way on their recent move. Husband was starting his faculty post in Jan 2018, wife did a remote search and found a local job with a start in November and moved early. If we did ever move again, I’d certainly be budgeting for double housing expenditures over the summer (most academic appointments start in August) so my spouse could arrive early and start looking for new positions, or budget for double housing in the fall so they could stay and wrap up their position.

    Basically, this conversation needs to be on multiple fronts: Does your spouse know you’re feeling pretty unhappy? Can they provide you with more information about when, where, and for how long you’ll be moving? Can you work out the financials to go back to school online? Is there budget/lead time/extra information you can get earlier to help minimize the impact of these moves on you?

  63. Grand Admiral Thrawn Is Still Blue*

    What concerns me…. Is this a partner or a spouse? After sacrificing so much, will you find yourself traded in for someone younger, without any benefits from the other’s career?

    1. OP*

      Ideally we would like to take turns but he is in a profession that hire 2 people across the country annually, with no say in location. I like it in theory but I get the sense it would not work in reality. But I will watch it and be inspired regardless.

  64. Gail Davidson-Durst*

    Just another vote of confidence that you can go to school and relaunch around 40! I spent ten years at home with my kids, then got back into the work world in a completely different career at 41. I really love my work, and even got courted by my old boss to move to her new company when she switched a couple years ago. Starting a career after 40 hasn’t held me back – on the contrary, I think my bosses have appreciated having “the new kid” on the team be someone with a little life wisdom and perspective.

  65. Gymmie*

    Definitely something to talk to your partner about, and I mean seriously talk, not just in passing. You have to know what your future holds a bit before you can make any decisions, so you need to nail this down about the two of you first, and then you can understand what you want and will be willing to do.

  66. Happy Pineapple*

    I don’t have much advice, but I do want to send you some encouragement. It is completely normal and okay for one partner to be more successful / the primary income earner, so don’t shame yourself for that or worry what others think. People fully understand that when one partner’s career requires frequent travel, it often requires sacrifice from the other. Your partner’s friends and colleagues may not be deeply interested in what you do, but that doesn’t mean they don’t respect it; it’s more likely that they admire your dedication to your partner despite the instability.

    My one recommendation to anyone who is trying to bolster their resume or find greater fulfillment that they’re not receiving at work: start volunteering! Volunteering often doesn’t require a long term commitment but you can still learn valuable hard and soft skills that employers would find valuable.

  67. Haven't seen this side yet*

    Take a look at some trailing spouse folks who did great things – Julia Child comes to mind first. She didn’t enroll in cooking school until age 37. She also found a project that she could cart around with her, and she didn’t have the internet to ease communication with her co-authors, agent, and publisher! Being a creative type, I’m a bit jealous of your situation, because I can imagine so many artsy/analytical/writing/entrepreneurial projects to get into during international travel that I would do. Anything worthwhile will involve hard work, what’s needed is self-examination, imagination, and creative risktaking.

  68. LawP*

    I cannot recommend strongly enough getting a post-nup if you’re married or a pre-nup if you’re not (or whatever country equivalent is). So many people end up getting left high and dry after taking a backseat to a high earning partner. Negotiate it now when everything is good. Worst case scenario, you don’t end up needing it. If you are trading your career for theirs, protect yourself.

  69. YoungTen*

    This is one of those situations where the phrase “you complete me.” is total rubbish. Everyone finds out sooner or later that their partner, no matter how good or successful they may be dosen’t necessarily mean happiness for both. You have to find your way. You may need to reassess your life. Where do you want to be in 10 years? What do you want to be remembered for? These are daunting questions but if not asked, they will answer themselves in underwhelming ways. BTW, I’m 41 and going to graduate in 2021. If you really want something, then nothing will stop you. But even if college isn’t right for you, they are a ton of cheaper ways to get skills with sites like Shaw academy Linked in learning. Maybe your partner can even pay for some of them. Anyway, take this feeling you have as a wake-up call to action. All the best to you!

  70. archangelsgirl*

    I read a stat recently that said 40% of work will be remote by 2025. My travel agent daughter recently got to move from an office to working at home, and says she will NEVER go back to working in an office again. Her pay, which I thought was just so-so when including an hour commute, car maintenance, clothes and lunch looks unbelievably more attractive now that she doesn’t even have to get dressed. In addition, I recently retired from teaching to work remotely from home for a company I probably can’t mention here, but I have more work than I can handle, and earn what I consider to be a great amount of money, especially since I, too, no longer get dressed in the morning. It’s so great to be able to have appointments, go to the gym, etc., whenever I want.

    All of this is just to say, don’t discount the side hustle/remote work that’s out there. It can take a lot of time to find the thing that is right for you, but once you do, you might find that you never go back. In fact, the continuity of doing the same work for the same company where you go, no matter where you and your partner move, may actually ease the stress of the move – at least work will stay consistent.

    I do love the ideas of the other posters of making sure that you are shoring up retirement contributions, though. I wouldn’t have thought of that aspect.

  71. M*

    Hi! This was me. Talk to your spouse. My spouse moved all over the world with the United Nations. So I started doing consultancies or freelance work. Lots want experience but many just want someone who is a good writer and critical thinker. They also have trainings that can help you get a job. Look on relief web under jobs if this is your situation or you are in countries that has humanitarian or development work. It’s another type of career but I did it for years after being in the private sector. We decided after talking long and hard it wasn’t for us anymore but while this was our life these types of jobs were great for me. And for your cover letter just explain you moved for your spouse. It’s difficult but it can work. If you want to work in an office or in the field these types of jobs can be for long or short term and I this field it is normal to job hop because sometimes a grant is only for a couple months to a few years. Good luck!

  72. Hannah Banana*

    From my perspective, if y’all are a true partnership, supporting his career and supporting him emotionally is just as important as being financially supported. There are many ways to strike up interesting convos with his friends besides talking about work, there is no need to feel less important. Pick up a hobby. Learn languages. Volunteer. I guarantee you that those friends have lifelong goals they want to accomplish that aren’t work related but they can’t because they don’t have the time.

    I always tell myself that everyone I come across at work needs to treat people with the same respect, regardless of their job title or level. I expect the same respect from a VP for our sales organization as an analyst on my team. I have legit called out Sales Directors on the phone for interrupting me when I haven’t finished speaking or called them out when they have been rude and using a tone I don’t like. It doesn’t matter what level you are, you’re still a person and if you’re a dick then that speaks volumes more than your title does.

    If this is the life you and your partner have chosen, be the fucking awesome bad ass partner who supports their partner without having to be the breadwinner.

  73. MOAS*

    I started my career job at 29. I find so many of these comments about “late starts” so heartwarming because not too long ago, I was so down in the dumps and facing a bleak future. I was struggling to find work. I majored in something completely useless in college, because when I first started, I just wanted to be a housewife and had no intentions to work. When I graduated, it was like a car in its last legs, sputtering and gasping its last breath. I was DONE with school. 2 months of the housewife life and I was ready to work, exceptttttt I wasn’t very qualified! I found out the hard way that to do anything remotely in the field I wanted to do, I needed a degree. I applied to go back to school for a second bachelors. It would’ve been just one or 1 1/2 years at the most. I didn’t get accepted. I was crushed. Through luck (good and bad) I figured out another way to get there.

    I’m almost at 5 years at my current job.

    I’ve been promoted every year with raises. there’s no one linear path to success, as everyone here can attest ot.

  74. Manders*

    When my partner was considering a career that would involve a lot of moving around to areas with bad job markets for low-paying temporary gigs, I told him that I could be the trailing partner or the breadwinner, but he couldn’t have both things at once. He thought it over for a while and eventually chose a different, but related, career path that was much more stable.

    We had a lot of very difficult discussions about what our options were and what we’d be losing out on if he continued on his path of unstable employment with lots of moving around. One huge thing we discussed was starting a family–I made it clear that if he wasn’t in a stable position by his mid-thirties, kids wouldn’t be an option because there was no way I could handle being the breadwinner AND the trailing spouse AND pregnancy/maternity leave. It was a tough conversation but I’m glad we had it.

    I also had to work to make some friends outside his social circle, which was mostly grad students and academics. Yes, some of them did make it obvious that they looked down on me for not having an advanced degree or not being able to keep up with conversations about their obscure field. I found friends who I could talk to about my own hobbies and interests.

    Now that I’ve had some time to stay in one place and establish my career, I’ve developed a skill set that’s desirable enough that I could work remotely and make good money. We’re talking about spending a couple years abroad in the future. But I wouldn’t be in this position if I hadn’t insisted on putting my own career first for a while.

  75. All The Things*

    Hi OP, if your husband’s career can support you both then taking minimum wage jobs with no long term potential is doing yourself a disservice (unless these are the kind of jobs you really enjoy of course, but this doesn’t seem to be the case). You should focus on your long term plans towards a career that you find fulfilling and that can support you independently, since this is a source of stress for you. You are sacrificing a lot by moving all the time to be with your partner, and it is fair that this arrangement gets you something in return, for example the chance to plan your future career without having to worry about earning an income right away. This also means that your age doesn’t matter at all! All that matters is having a plan with an amount of future uncertainty that you can deal with.
    I also think you should have a conversation with your husband about why your current situation isn’t working for you. Maybe you can find a way to compromise on how much moving around you do and which countries that involves?

  76. staceyizme*

    Honestly, you sound a bit stuck, which is TOTALLY understandable, given your context! A listening ear can help, and a coach or counselor can help you to gain clarity, insight and confidence in a safe, private and personalized space.

  77. AndersonDarling*

    OP, when your husband is offered a new job, he should be casually asking the hiring team if they can recommend an employment placement agency that can help you find a job. My non-so-big city has many boutique placement businesses as well as big temp agencies. The Employment Placement companies (not temp services) take the time to talk to you, learn your skill, and review your background. They vouch for you so you can get into mid-career jobs instead of min wage jobs.
    Your husband’s recruiters would have recommendations and they are invested in the whole family being happy with the move, not just their employee.

  78. Lifeandlimb*

    Oh man, I’ve been in a similar situation, and I know how degrading it can feel. Listen: I believe in you. I believe that you can build a remote career, or go back to school, or do whatever it is that eventually provides meaning to your work. I can tell by your letter that it’s important to you. The cool thing is, you’re currently aware of how unhappy all this is making you: this is the first step to taking action!

    It’s likely your partner’s friends’ behavior is more a result of ignorance than anything, so don’t pay attention to their reactions. I’ve been there as well, and I personally got a lot out of leaning more into my own friend group. Part of that involved picking up a new hobby and making friends through that. Those people honestly don’t care what my job is (how refreshing, right?), but they care that I’m happy.

    Also, please don’t wait any longer to have an honest conversation with your partner about this. If they love you, they will offer support. You can potentially figure out compromises that could suit you both. And don’t be afraid to be firm. Pushing for your career takes a certain amount of self-centeredness, and you deserve it. You’ll get there.

    1. KR*

      To your point about the husband’s friends – OP, ask your husband to talk up your interesting career experiences and what you’re good at! Ask him to do that before y’all meet for dinner or at the dinner. My spouse thinks my job is SO COOL and he talks it up at work so when I meet his coworkers, they say “Oh KR, So-and-so mentioned you work with x. How is that?” Because it’s already in their head.

  79. Senor Montoya*

    While you are figuring out what to do, I would have a sit down with my partner to discuss financial support: do they have a life insurance policy and what are the benefits you would receive? do they have their will in order and is it set up to support you? Are they *right now* putting money in a retirement account / other accounts for you, so that when you hit retirement age, you aren’t stuck with nothing? so that when your spouse hits retirement age, there’s enough for both of you? I’m sure there are other considerations — meet with a financial advisor to find out. You might meet with a fin. advisor both on your own and with your partner.

    Also, and this will sound flippant, but it’s meant seriously: if you don’t go to grad school, you’ll still be in your 40s in 7 – 10 years. So, figure out what you might want to do, figure out what kind of time and resources it will take, make a plan, put it in action — and, you don’t have to decide on just one path. You can be in grad school and working remotely as an editor (or whatever), for instance.

  80. Close Bracket*

    OP, commit to a distance relationship until your job history is where you want it to be. This can take many forms, with the different locales being while you study or while you work for a while or some of both. Your partner may need to commit to dialing back their career while you work on yours. I know a couple who spent a decade with one partner pursuing her career in different countries while the other was a trailing spouse, and then they traded. Once they traded, the initial leading spouse couldn’t stand the country they were in, and they did distance between Europe and the Middle East for a while. Now they are happily settled in the same place again and are out of the career that had them hopping countries.

    This is why I am committed to being single af. I am highly specialized, and I have almost always had to move for a job. No way would I stick around in a town with no opportunities for a partner. Since I’m regretfully female and straight, there is a shortage of available partners who would agree to move with me. I wouldn’t be where I am if I were tied to some guy.

  81. Jenn*

    This may be a little out of left field, but I have a friend who is in a similar situation. She moved overseas for her husband’s career and they’ve lived in a few different counties since. She was working part time jobs and started posting about her travels and new experiences on social media. She ended up with a pretty good sized following and actually makes money off of her posts now and sharing her stories has turned into a job she loves. It’s also led to some freelance writing opportunities. I’m not sure if this is something you’d be interested in, but I think your current situation is unique to many people and something people would be interested in following.

  82. Penny*

    I feel this 100%
    My spouse is active duty, and we always move right when I find and like my job. I have work 5 jobs in 6 years.

    One thing I highly recommend that has helped at least for me, is submitting an application but also reaching out to HR or the hiring manager themselves if possible and making sure that I speak to them and emphasize that I have a good reason for my choppy resume. This at least got traction on my application movement for my last two previous jobs.

    Good luck @OP!

  83. Half-Caf Latte*

    In our 15 years together, the Tall Americano and I have alternately been the (relatively) high-earning half of the couple.

    His is a field that comes with expected early career job-changes/moves, trailing spouses are common, and workers have little control over their assignments until well into their careers.

    I knew that when we met, and I signed on to marry into it, but I’ll give you that it’s different when you’re living it vs imagining how gracefully you’ll handle it.

    For us, it’s been an ongoing conversation, and some give and take on both sides, about what I want, what he wants, and what we as a couple want. It’s always been understood that what works now might not work later, and we revisit as needed.

    We’ve had times where we had home base that was equally inconvenient to both of our worksites, and we’ve also made conscious decisions to spend money to buy time/flexibility. We currently are happy with our location, but have seriously discussed (and know many who have opted for) moving to a less desirable location that would lead to substantial pay increases and lowered COL, and using that $$ to visit “home.”

    1. OP*

      This resonates. I knew what I signed up for and had an imagined version of how I would handle it. Now that I am hear… less graceful.

      Thank you for sharing.

  84. Prof*

    I want to suggest that you should consider a long-distance relationship, given your circumstances. In careers/fields in which there is a lot of moving around (like mine, academia, or military/foreign service work), many couples have long-distance relationships for short or long periods.

    Would it make sense for you to pick a home base that you can use to develop your professional career/network (with a plan of moving into remote work eventually)? If you are considering going back to school, this makes extra sense – you should go to the best possible program for your field, so going somewhere your partner is not based in order to pursue your career makes a lot of sense.

    Long-distance is possible, and it tends to work in circumstances where you have a clear game-plan, a set of goals, and a timeline in mind. Knowing that you will be apart for X years (with visits, of course) but that at the end of that time period you will have achieved Y professional goals or Z degree will make it worth it. It takes a lot of trust and hard work, but it is possible and it can work out well.

    1. OP*

      We did long distance for 3 years already and I am not ready to get back to it. But it’s definitely being considered again

  85. FormerExpat*

    Hi OP! I have some experience in the world of trailing spouses (see username). I also live where I live because of my husband’s job. I think it is time you got down to brass tacks with your partner. 1. Have an explicit conversation with your partner about the financial impact moving has had on your earnings. Be specific with the figures. 2. Discuss what will happen if he drops dead. What will be the financial impact on your life? Does he have life insurance? Retirement accounts? People with high flying careers usually have both. Are you the beneficiary? What are the tax implications for you in this situation? 3. Are you married or not? Again, what are the tax implications? Most likely he will be saving money if he is your husband. If you were to get a divorce, what are you entitled to? This may turn out to be a complicated question depending on where you are. 4. What resources are available to you to get you on a better career path? Almost every career that I can think of that sends people all over world often has some sort of provision for the trailing spouses. There are jobs at consulates and embassies for trailing spouses, universities often have a policy of hiring spouses first, large corporations will pay for recruiters to help the spouse. Large corporations KNOW that one of the top if not the absolute top reason that expat assignments fail is because the family is miserable. There is probably some help available to you that you are not getting.

    These are probably a series of conversations. They will be hard. Your partner may think you are plotting to kill him. Mine did, and then he got over it and bought more life insurance.

    I’ve also got a few words of encouragement. 30 is not very old. I’d be mad at you for implying that but I have too much sympathy for your situation. There are a lot of well-meaning people on this board who are gonna make it seem like if you take a series of low-paying jobs and follow your partner, that he will eventually leave you for a younger person and you will be eating cat food between shifts at the local diner when you are 80. Your choices are not complete financial independence from this man or eating cat food. About half of the working people in relationships out there make less than their partners. What you need to think about is what YOU need to make you feel comfortable in YOUR situation. And if your guy deserves you at all, he will help you do that.

  86. KR*

    As a US military spouse I totally know what you’re going through. While my spouses career doesn’t have the same prestige there is a bit of an expectation that the wives/spouses are generally there to be home and take care of the kids and that their career just isn’t that important. His coworkers are frequently surprised that I have such a demanding job and that I travel for work more than he does.

    1. KR*

      Also, we’re stationed in a really remote area and it took me forever to find a good job. I was really resentful of my husband when I couldn’t find employment. It really solidified my desire to get into business administration and finance because I want a career path that’s applicable everywhere and can easily be done remotely so I can minimize my chances of ever being unemployed due to location again. I realize that isn’t the right path for everyone. I hope you’re able to find a good career for you and I’m sorry you’re going through this.

    2. JJ*

      My spouse’s military career has absolutely slaughtered mine, and it is really, really hard. I am so envious of spouse’s who have managed to “keep it together” on the career front. He does have a rather prestigious career and educational background because of the military, and I’ve gone from a rather successful career to underemployment and, even worse, periods of unemployment. I’m 30 and having to consider a career change solely because of his. I feel like barefoot and pregnant might be the biggest achievement I’ll ever have now. Obviously we discussed these challenges in the beginning, but now that is has happened it sucks even more than I imagined.

      1. KR*

        So sorry you’re having so much trouble keeping your career. I so get you on the “barefoot and pregnant” thing and it’s so hard when you don’t actually want to be a housewife. I also feel like local businesses are not helping on this front – it’s like they see that you didn’t go to school locally and they automatically realize you’re a mil spouse and put your resume in the reject pile.

    3. RecoveringSWO*

      Thank you for your sacrifices. I don’t think families get enough thanks for their part in serving the country.

      I feel like many large name international companies (hotels, tech, etc) have touted hiring goals and big programs for military spouses, but I haven’t met anyone who has applied (my spouse was in secondary education, so she didn’t look into them). Are they all PR and no substance, or has anyone in your circles had luck with mil-spouse hiring programs?

      1. KR*

        I haven’t heard of many military spouses I know using those programs. Some on-base jobs give you preference but they also want you to already have a security clearance and be prior military or gov employee. Unfortunately when you’re at a remote duty station sometimes the issue is just that there aren’t enough jobs for both the people living out in town and the spouses on base.

    4. AuroraLight37*

      I was talking to a high school student recently about this. He wants to go into the military. We were discussing military life, and I pointed out that a lot of women with professional careers aren’t going to be able–or willing– to drop everything and move when their spouse gets transferred. If your spouse is a doctor or a lawyer or a pharmacist, then they have to re-qualify in their new state, and then find a job, which might not be there. Or if they go overseas, then she’s probably out of luck entirely unless she can get a job on the base or start her own business.

      There’s a reason a lot of MLMs target military spouses- the idea they’re selling is that it’s something she can make money at in a flexible environment and take with her when they move, even though the reality rarely works out that well.

      1. KR*

        There are so many MLM schemes out here. Right now Rainbow vaccums are making the rounds. I know nurses can use their home state license anywhere if they’re working on the base hospital but teachers aren’t that lucky. It definitely sucks for professions with licensure requirements.

  87. Koala dreams*

    Firstly, I’m a bit unclear on why you are considering studying for seven years, which probably will mean that you can’t follow your partner wherever they (he?) go for that many years, and yet are not considering to stay at your current job even as long as two years to avoid the bad resume problem. Seven years of studies might seem long, but seven years of moving every year seems even longer to me. If you feel you would be willing to sacrifice moving with your partner for your dream degree, but not for work, what are you planning to do with your degree after those seven years? Does your degree lead to a job you can do remotely from everywhere, and would it be allowed on the kind of visa you’d get as a spouse? Or are you planning to go back to the minimum wage jobs after achieving your degree? You don’t need to answer all those questions, of course, I’m just a stranger, but maybe you’d want to think about them in your own head.

    Secondly, I think you are unnecessary hard on yourself. You might not have the perfect resume, but that’s not the goal of everyone. You have prioritized family (your partner) over yourself, lived in many far away places, gotten to know many different cultures, experienced many different workplaces. Some people put their career first, some people put their family first, some people put their hobbies first, some people put their health first. If you feel unhappy with being a family person and wish to become a career person, you are free to change your life. But, that doesn’t mean all those years spent supporting your partner and moving from place to place was a failure. It just means that you, as we all do, change during our life-time, and our goals change with us. That’s not failure, that’s life.

    1. Dana B.S.*

      My interpretation was that dream degree is something that could be done remotely. Which explains why it might be too expensive – a lot of those are way overpriced compared to brick-and-mortar schools.

      Your second point is beautiful and I completely agree.

  88. Jared*

    Maybe it would help if you reframed this as an advantage.

    Many of us end up taking jobs we aren’t necessarily thrilled with because we need the money. Many people spend their entire career doing work they would stop doing tomorrow if they didn’t have to. Are there any low paid or unpaid jobs out there that you would love doing? You have an opportunity few people have, the freedom to look for a job based entirely on what you want to do and not because you need to pay the bills next week.

    My younger sister works a pretty cool job at a local nonprofit training volunteers and directly working with youth. It’s an amazing job and she loves her work. Benefits are terrible and it doesn’t pay much, she’s young and eventually she’ll need to find something that pays more. But what if she didn’t have to? I don’t know what your interests are. I enjoy teaching and working with kids so if I didn’t have to worry about salary I’d consider nonprofit or private school work in that area. You could also take a job that doesn’t give you full time hours because they can’t afford benefits, but you don’t need to worry about that.

    Basically it may not be the best situation for a high powered corporate career, but depending on your interests maybe you could find something better using the flexibility and freedom you have at the moment financially.

  89. rbloom884*

    I want to just warn OP to be warry of MLMs. I know a lot of military spouses who get roped into them because their situation is similar to yours. I would look into the freelance work Allison suggested.

  90. Sidestep the issue*

    OP, what might help is for you to look into distributed companies and try to get a remote job so you can have a career-oriented gig that doesn’t need to change just because you need to move.

  91. Brett*

    When I was 30, I was a college drop-out working fast food jobs and clerical temp work for a living. I had thousands of dollars in defaulted student loans and a hold on my transcripts, moving almost every year.

    I ended up clearing my defaults and my holds and started over at a much less prestigious school. Partly because I was an older student, I finished my degree in 2 years at age 32 with a high gpa and really high GRE scores. I landed a good grad offer on the basis of my GREs, moved across the country, and had my master’s degree done in 3 years. What I expected to be a 6-10 year path was done in 5 years.

    My very first career track job ever was at age 35.

    By age 43, I was on my second job, keynoting conferences, running industry workshops, and was earning approximately 10x what I did working fast food.

    Careers don’t have to start before age 30.

  92. Ann Nonymous*

    When I moved overseas with my spouse after getting my MBA, I have to admit that I did not think very highly of the women who were hairdressers or similar. However, over time I came to realize that their job 1) could be done anywhere, 2) paid pretty darn well and 3) were as prestigious as they made it. If OP can find something similar, it might work out very nicely for her.

    1. Belle of the Midwest*

      I kiss the ground my hairdresser walks on. And if her salon allowed tipping, I’d tip her on top of the money I already pay her for what she does for my hair. The training for that trade includes chemistry, biology, math, and business–you have to be smart to get through it.

  93. Dana B.S.*

    While there are certain parts of your letter that are definitely problematic, I actually would like to be in your situation. I don’t particularly like working a standard job and I don’t think it’s really good for me in the long run. Obviously making money and having a retirement plan is important, but I could make my own path. I would try to find a couple remote part-time positions that are fulfilling, but not overly stressful. I would set up an independent study for this one topic that I’m passionate about. I would also volunteer. (I definitely have time to volunteer now, but I think the mental load of my job & home responsibilities prevents me from seeking out opportunities.)

  94. Sandman*

    OP, I feel for you. We were expats for a couple years and my partner’s career has very much been the priority for quite some time, and it’s tricky. There are some resources out there for accompanying spouses – I Am Triangle and Tandem Nomads are two of them, though it’s been long enough that I can’t vouch for them anymore. If you think that a degree program would give you the options you want, though, I’ll echo the others and say go for it. The years are going to pass regardless; set yourself up in a way that will work for you long-term!

  95. LadyCop*

    To paraphrase a wise statement I once heard about school…

    You’re going to be 40 someday anyway, might as well get your degree too.

    I know it’s not that simple, but it’s also an accomplishment that all the moves in the world won’t take away.

  96. Frankie*

    If this is a partnership and you are sacrificing earnings and financial security as well as job satisfaction, all in support of his career, then he should step up and compensate for this in some way. For instance, he could contribute to your school costs (if not pay for them outright) when you go back to school. Or you could try for a moratorium on moving while you establish a career. Or he could financially support the two of you while you build some kind of remote work career.

    You’re sacrificing a lot for his career satisfaction and earning potential, directly at the expense of your own. Relationships are not tit-for-tat, but it’s important that there’s balance and that your sacrifice is recognized.

  97. Jen H*

    From your reference to languages, I assume that your husband’s jobs are taking him out of your home country. I worked for the US government at our Embassies and Consulates for many years and saw this dynamic, of a spouse having to put their career on hold to travel with their partner, play out in many different ways. Some of the spouses loved the opportunity to experience different cultures and appreciated that they didn’t need to work. Others felt frustrated that they were having to put their career on hold, or that they had to live away from their family. I don’t think that there is a right or a wrong way to feel – but I think that for a marriage to succeed, both partners need to have an open discussion of what the costs and benefits of the lifestyle are to each partner. Is there anything that you could be doing while overseas that would give you satisfaction and allow you to build experience that isn’t a formal job? Are you looking for work because you need a second income, because your partner is pushing to work, or because you want the satisfaction of a job. Does your partner have the opportunity to transfer back to your home country where you can work more easily? I was never in the position that you are in – as I first went overseas as a single and, when I married, it was to someone in the same line of work, so we were able to get tandem assignments where we both had career positions. However, in my experience with friends, having a gap in employment (or less challenging jobs) because you were living overseas is not necessarily a black mark, particularly if you can show how you were able to learn during that experience and what you were able to do (paid or unpaid, personally learning or formal study) during that period. I would suggest that you figure out what it would take for you to be happy with the lifestyle that you have, or decide there is no way to be happy with this lifestyle, and then figure out with your partner how to find a compromise where you can both be happy.

  98. willow19*

    Is there such a thing as a mid-nup? Where you could talk to your partner and arrange for your financial future given the situation as it now stands – low wage jobs, probably no health benefits of your own, etc. It sucks to make it all about money, but sometimes it’s all about money.

  99. Observer*

    I’m a woman with one of those prestigious, constantly moving internationally jobs. I’m not married yet, but I pay close attention to how my married colleagues make this work, because I’d like to be someday. I have a lot of male colleagues whose wives focus on parenting full-time, often homeschooling as well. We have some female employees whose husbands are stay-at-home dads, too, but not as many, and almost all of them came to this career in their late 30s or 40s, so the man already got a turn to have a career. Other spouses take on whatever work they can find at each new location, or maintain US-based remote jobs if the time difference isn’t too bad, but they affably accept that it’s not always going to work out and find identity in other ways.

    For the happy couples, the common denominator is that the spouse knew what they signed up for. When I meet a new spouse in our community with high hopes for continuing his or her traditional career, I immediately start worrying for that marriage.

    1. Jen H*

      A big piece of making it work is also that both parties have to respect each other. The non-working spouse has to know what they signed up for, and be ok with the tradeoffs. The working spouse has to remember that the non-working spouse has made a huge sacrifice to support them and is a full partner. And it doesn’t always have to be just one way. My husband and I have filled both roles – as working spouse and the one who put their career on hold.

  100. Dip Plated*

    I don’t want to come across as too harsh, but many of us who work in diplomacy and other international affairs/development/foreign service-adjacent careers are really, really tired of having to hear about a trailing spouse’s latest snake oil MLM/new “book”/art class/yoga class/etc multiple times a week for years on end. Please don’t go that route.

  101. BethRA*

    This may not apply to OP’s situation, but there are situations where part of a job offer that involves moving would include not just help relocating but help getting a candidate’s spouse a job. Probably more common in acadamia (if they still do that?), but might we worth exploring the next time a move is on the horizon.

  102. Ladylike*

    The idea of being completely financially dependent on a partner puts me in a panic. It’s just not fair to expect that of anyone – people change, relationships change, and life happens. LW, you need to be able to support yourself and be happy doing it. It’s time for your partner to flex in support of your goals.

  103. Enginear*

    Also worth noting, if you do go back to college (assuming traditional, in-person college), would an abrupt move due to your partner’s job mess up your schooling?

  104. Sammy*

    I don’t like the idea of being completely dependant financially and in other ways on the partner, but what concerns me even more is that it seems that your partner loves work and the #1 priority in their life is and always will be work. You will always be in spot #2. You have to really evaluate this. Is this something you are okay with just now or forever? If there is something really important to you, are you sure your partner will be there for you? Will this person really put you in #1 over job demand if needed? My dad was workaholic and as much I love him, he missed so much of my growing up, he was never there 100% for my mom, his job was always in a way. His time with his family was always #2. Job was always #1. Run through different scenarios – are you okay with this?

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