Like many couples, my man H and I have wrestled with the ‘two-body problem’ during our eight years together. The two-body problem is mainly referred to when discussing academic couples finding work in the same place. I do agree that the geographical and job distribution of universities is lower than the distribution of, say, accounting firms. However, to my mind it is surely a challenge to find two great jobs in the one place regardless of your field.
H is not an academic but a building designer, trained to create beautiful homes that follow strict Australian building codes and regulations. So he can work anywhere. As long as it’s in Australia or New Zealand. And doesn’t require tropical cyclone-proof housing. Because his Victorian education did not teach him that.
Despite this, H and I have always been on the same page when it came to working overseas after I finished my PhD. Without kids or a mortgage or any of that grown-up stuff, a post-doc seemed like the perfect length of time to have an overseas adventure, as well as a great boost for my career. However, three weeks before I submitted my PhD thesis, he got a dream job, permanent position, in a great architecture firm. And so we stayed in Australia for a bit longer. I found contract work in Melbourne, and for the first time since we met, we both had incomes.
During this time we had several quite adult discussions about what would happen when my contracted ended. We finally decided that if the right overseas opportunity came up, we would go for it. I would work, H would cook and study, it would be hard but it would be worth it. We were terrified of course, but when I was offered the job in Spain, we dived in head first.
It was tough telling his company that we were leaving. Amazingly, the dream job also came with a dream boss, who understood H’s decision and even offered him remote work. We don’t know how long it will last, but now that we are set up with Internet at home H is helping with Aussie projects a couple of days a week.
But the whole point of moving to Spain was to experience a new culture, learn new things and meet new people. Did we really come all this way so that H could work in our apartment all by himself, slowly going mad? No.
This week, H added another activity to his calendar: volunteering at the local dog shelter. Four hours a day, twice a week, he walks, pats, feeds and cleans up after more than 100 neglected Spanish pooches. By all accounts it is not glamorous work. There is plenty of caca. A favourite jumper has already fallen victim to an overzealous canine and my goodness, does he reek when he comes home.
But he is loving it! His eyes were actually sparkling on Monday when he got back, full of stories about new people, the dogs, the place, and the work. It makes me realise just how important it is to have purpose, to have things to do. And how awesome dogs are.
I know that the volunteering is not a solution to the two-body problem, more of a work-around. Friends who have moved overseas for the job of one member of a couple tell us that it can take six months or so for the teammate without a job to find regular work and feel settled. But we will take it one day at a time (poco a poco as they say here). Who knows, one day he might foolishly bring home a puppy! That would give us both something to do.
Cool your boots Florence: the dog days are just beginning.