I’ve noticed a pattern in law school when it comes to relationships. In first year, people seem to want their independence. They want to be free to study when and how they feel like it, free to make plans for the summer, free to put their schooling first. Blown away by the amount of work in first year, there just doesn’t seem to be room to fit in a significant other.
However, that shifts in second year as the future becomes more real and people begin applying for jobs. All of a sudden, 2Ls are confronted with some serious uncertainty. Your mark on the contracts exam is a lesser grey zone in contrast to the questions of “What am I going to do with this degree?!” and “How will I ever pay off this debt?”
Faced with these uncertainties, I noticed my friends and I talked more about having someone to support us through it. Conversation after conversation seemed to be about needing some comfort, desiring stability, wanting to be with our “person.” As we try to organize careers and futures, we now include our partners (anticipated or real) in that process. It’s quite natural really. We want the certainty in our personal lives that our academic/professional lives don’t yet offer.
Yet this can be challenging for our partners, although comforting for us, if they’re not at the same life stage. A lot of time is spent discussing the impact of law school on law students (and rightfully so), but the impact on our significant others is also great. To be in a relationship with a law student comes with some challenges — to live with the hyper-organized, super-planner that emerges from this degree being one of them.
Since entering law school, my natural tendency to plan, organize, and strategize has been exacerbated. Generally, those qualities are quite positive and certainly useful in law school. But I admit they can be a bit frustrating in a romantic relationship. I think I had achieved a level of spontaneity and flexibility prior to entering this law world that I was very happy with. I felt balanced. However, over the past year and a half, that balance has been challenged. I try to maintain it, but I’m afraid my boyfriend has borne the brunt of it at times.
Law school is so future-oriented and it moves at such a rapid pace it’s no wonder so many law students become obsessed with having a plan. However, it’s rare that a relationship moves at a similar rate. Often, it’s unhealthy that it does. Especially in a relationship where one person is in law school and the other is not, the pressure on the non-law partner may feel very heavy.
The 2L job hunt commencing with OCIs in October, the exam hibernation in November and December, scrambles for articling jobs in second-year summer: if you are the loved one of a law student, all of these timelines and anxieties become yours as well — whether you like it or not.
And it goes beyond just the law school period. Especially as a young woman in law, I’m thinking about other milestones in the near future. How do I balance a family and a career? When does that process begin? What do I have to do now to best accommodate those things in the future?
Perhaps these aren’t obsessively organized questions but simply practical ones. Either way, I’m thinking about five years down the road in a very tangible way unlike I ever have before. I think some of my classmates are too, but our partners — not necessarily!
If my comments above are accurate, it would follow that couples made up of two law students would have fewer challenges since they are both on the same track and understand the uniqueness of the legal world. However, I think they might have similar difficulties with hyper-planning and trying to fit two major careers into one unified path. Their high-stress moments would coincide as well, making for a pretty tense pairing at times.
I think the one conclusion I can draw from my observations of relationships in law school is that generally speaking, it’s tough to find room for romance. It takes extra effort to remember the spontaneity of non-law life while making strategic plans for the future.
To the partners of law students (including my own), bear with us. We’re being trained to become professional strategists. Unfortunately, that overflows into our personal lives sometimes. But the support and patience you provide is much appreciated and needed.
Law school should really come with a warning, both for students and their loved ones: over the next three years there will be many bumps in the road for everyone. Law school can be all-consuming and sometimes even transformational. Make it through though, and it will all be worth it.