Thursday, May 24, 2018

The College Girl's Guide to Dating a Med Student

Hello, beautiful! The title of this post might seem a little silly to some - but for those of you who have been in a relationship with someone in medical school, you know why I think it's necessary to write this post in the first place.

If you don't know anything about med school (don't worry - a month ago, I didn't, either!), then you're probably wondering what makes dating a med student so difficult that I'd want an entire blog post dedicated to it. But if there's anything I've learned over the past month, it's that balancing a relationship in med school - or any graduate school - is hard. Like, really hard.

Not only do med students rarely have any free time, but they also don't come with an "off" switch. Because they're so busy studying for board exams and worrying about getting the best residencies, it can start to feel like you're in med school, too. (I could probably tell you just as much about antipsychotics and cardiac arrest as David at this point.) And if you don't know how to handle it, or any of the other challenges of dating someone in medical school, it can take a huge toll on not just your relationship, but also your personal mental health.

But if you think dating a med school student is hard, try dating one long-distance. While David's in Pennsylvania/Cleveland studying for boards and doing rotations, I'm in Boston taking summer classes and getting ready for my LSATs. It's being in this position that's helped me learn everything I know about balancing med school and dating - and it's everything I know that's made me want to share it with anyone who might be struggling with the setbacks of being in this kind of relationship.

So, that being said, I've put together some of my most important advice for anyone dating (or contemplating dating) a med student while still in college themselves. I hope you can take something small from it, or at the very least, find comfort in knowing that I'm in your shoes, too.

(Oh, and P.S. LMK if you'd like to see a law school edition of this post in the comments below!)

Prepare to Make Sacrifices

If you're looking for a knight in shining armor to come riding in on a white horse to rescue you whenever you're stressed or sad, you're probably not going to find that in a med student. Medical school is notoriously busy, and med students are on a rigid schedule with little-to-no wiggle room. Realistically, and as douchey as this sounds, you can't expect much from them when it comes to taking days off or traveling to be together. And if you decide to get into a long distance relationship with a med student, you should probably expect that you'll be doing most of the flying in the relationship.

Of course, all healthy relationships are about just that: sacrifice! But sacrificing doesn't have to mean skipping school or work to spend the day together in bed, or coming with you to your spring formal. Sacrifices happen in all the little actions your significant other makes, too. For example, even though I usually have to fly to go see David, he takes a lot of breaks from studying just to talk about our days on the phone, and loses a lot of sleep staying up with me when I have panic attacks. Even if it's only 5-10 minutes of sacrifice, that adds up - not to mention that it shows me just how much he cares about making our relationship work.

Naturally, any good relationship is about the give and take. Just don't get a set idea in your head of what "give and take" looks like - because when you're dating someone in med school, focusing on the little things is the way to go. 

Don't Give Ultimatums

Along the lines of what I wrote above, I'd advise you to learn from my mistakes and not make ultimatums when it comes to your relationship. For me, this meant (stupidly) saying something along the lines of "if you don't come to my college graduation, I don't know if I can be with you" - but the thing you have to realize about med school is that it just isn't their choice what their schedule is going to be. 

Thus, giving ultimatums like "you must do X or be at X or else" doesn't work when you're dating a med student. It only hurts your relationship and sets you up for disappointment when things don't go the way you both planned. Instead, the best thing you can do in this situation is to encourage your significant other to make the best effort possible to do X, Y or Z, but be forgiving if they can't make it because they're on call at the hospital or in the middle of taking an important exam. Chances are they're just as beat-up about missing your important events as you are, so blaming them for it will only create undue stress, resentment and guilt...which are definitely not things you want as part of your relationship - like, ever

In the example I shared above, planning as far in advance as humanly possible was a super successful strategy, too. (Like, we're talking requesting a weekend off an entire year in advance. That's what dating a med student is really like!) Planning a year in advance might seem a little extreme, but when med students' entire schedules are often fixed from the moment they step on campus their freshman year, it's sometimes your only choice - and your most successful one - for helping them make that big life event. 

Dedicate Time to De-Stress

Remember when I said that med students don't have "off switches?" As the girlfriend, that's where I come in: I keep David grounded and remind him that there's more to life than board exams and residencies. 

There are so many ways you can help your future doctor succeed, whether that's reminding them of deadlines or helping quiz them at night before bed - but the one I find the most helpful and rewarding is helping lift the stress off their shoulders. Don't get me wrong: it's not your responsibility as a significant other to take on undue burdens, or fix everything that goes wrong in your S.O.'s life. But it definitely helps both you, them and the relationship to take a few moments together to pause, breathe and talk about things that have nothing to do with the myocardium or peristalsis or insert-fancy-vocab-word-here!

That's why I think it's so important to set apart dedicated time where neither of you talks about school, work or stress. For me and David, this usually means watching Game of Thrones episodes or swapping embarrassing photos via iMessage - but there's no one-size-fits-all approach to a relationship, so our methods of de-stressing might not be right for your relationship, either. Scheduled, agreed-upon dates and times can definitely help, too - because when your boyfriend's in med school, sometimes your commitments don't feel permanent until you know they're in the calendar. (Yup, we have a shared calendar - we are, in fact, that couple.)

Pay Attention to Arguments

99% of the time, David and I don't argue at all. But some weeks, when I miss him a lot and the toll of being long-distance hits hard, we can bicker like an old married couple. 

It's firmly my belief that those arguments stem from the challenges of him being busy and far away, not from anything we did wrong as a couple. But when you're in the middle of a particularly emotional argument, it's easy to ask yourself what you did wrong, or blame yourself for stirring up trouble, or wonder if the relationship isn't the right one, after all. 

I find perspective helps the most when I start to get down on myself after a difficult week. Yes, arguing sucks - but when I started reflecting on our arguments, I realized that most of them stemmed from the challenges of being a long distance couple with two busy halves. When it's that kind of situation, you tend to argue because you care about making the relationship work - and often, you want them to put in time and energy that they don't necessarily have. 

The fact of the matter is that med school is temporary - it's only four years, after all. Med school exacts its toll, true, but before you know it your S.O. will be walking down the aisle at graduation and signing their name with "Dr." at the beginning. So if you're fighting solely about conditions and circumstances that could be solved by your S.O. graduating from med school (assuming that 1. they're never physically or emotionally abusive toward you, and 2. you're still happy in the relationship 99% of the time), start a countdown on your phone and remind yourself that it will all be worth it to see them happily succeeding in their chosen field in four years' time. 

Don't Fall for the M.D.

Wait, what? Didn't I just say I was in a relationship with a future doctor? Well, what I mean by "don't fall for the M.D." (or, in my case, D.O.) is that you are dating the person, not their degree. So, don't be that girl who dates a future physician with rose-colored glasses. So many girls fall for the idea of the white coat, the financial success and the prestige of being with a doctor long-term - but when medical school is so hard on both parties, there's no way a relationship can survive if it's built on that kind of idealism.

As bitter as it sounds, I would encourage you to think long and hard about why you're attracted to your significant other. IMHO, it's only worth entering into a relationship as stressful as a med school one if you're 110% committed to being with someone long-term. A FWB situation or casual relationship with someone in med school isn't something I would ever recommend for either your mental health or the relationship's survival. Seeing as it takes tons of willpower and patience to understand and forgive the struggles that med school inherently brings, it's not worth dating a med school student unless you love them enough - or want to try to find out if you love them enough - to handle the challenge.

It takes a lot of soul-searching to figure out if you're in love with a person or just their degree - but when you do figure out that you're madly in love with them, not their title, well...let's just say it's the best feeling in the world. As in, the kind of feeling that makes you forget how hard med school is for both of you, and just feel grateful that you met in the first place :)

Remember Why You Started

At some point, you and your significant other probably had to make a choice. Whether you started dating in college and had to decide whether to keep dating before medical school, or had to decide whether or not to take a chance on a relationship in the middle of the stress, you faced an important decision - and if you're still in that relationship now, the answer had to have been "yes!"

So, my advice when the relationship gets tough is to always strive to remember why you took a chance in the first place. What are the amazing things about your significant other, and your relationship, that defied the odds and made you want to pursue them? 

Those are the positive qualities I like to focus on when I feel anxious or stressed about my relationship. Since I have anxiety, I find it's easier to believe my positive thoughts when I write them down - so I made an index card with all the positive aspects of our relationship on it, and look at it when I get nervous. (At least, I did until I spilled water into my purse - but that's a story for another time...)

As I said before, dating a med student is hard. Like, really hard. But when it's the right person, it's so worth it to see them happy and successful doing something they love. So, whatever you do, don't let medical school be the thing that gets between you like so many other couples do. If you love them, stick it out - and if/when you figure out that they're the one, never let them go. 

What's your number one tip for keeping a relationship alive in med school? LMK @haleymarieblog or in the comments below!