Being in a relationship with an MBA student (or B-schooler) is like one of those things when people say, “You have nothing to worry about,” but what they actually mean is, “Nothing can prepare you for this.”
So, simply, the ‘smile and wave’ approach seems an easier course of action for many. And it’s no wonder.
Do you know why they dub Thanksgiving of the first year of business school “Black Thursday”? I’ll tell you why—because a lot of people who weren’t single going into the short holiday come back from it as single as ever. Sure, it is a generalization, but the fact that there is name for it means it has happened enough times for people to notice.
During the year I was a business school partner, there were a lot of highs and lows. For my sanity, let’s say there were a lot more highs though. I learned a lot about myself, about my partner and our relationship.
Here’s three things I learned from being in a relationship with an MBA student:
1. Anything is possible
During the 10 months my husband was at INSEAD, I listened to the amazing stories from his classmates around me. The community was buzzing with high achievers and game changers. The optimism people had to change the world was contagious. I couldn’t help it but to catch the same bug. I included myself in some wonderful initiatives and before I knew it, I was asking myself: Why not? So, it just clicked.
Of course, I did encounter resistance from myself, as usual. It only took the sheer sound of those words. My inner critic (who I call now Bob) would cloud my mind, telling me, “Who do you think you are? You can’t do anything.”
I would, time after time, try to lower Bob’s volume (he would be practically yelling) until I only see him lips move and no sound come out. “I know who I am and I can do anything,” I would tell Bob. (nearly anything, but never mind, let’s not tell Bob that…)
Legend has it that it’s all in your mind. You set your own limits and potentials. It’s true. Whatever you aim for, which may seem near impossible now, you can get to. Keep moving forward, one step at a time, and you can make that difference. I believe it now more than ever. Just remember to shut Bob up.
2. Keeping a seesaw balance
I loved playing on the seesaw as a child. This is just about the same kind of thing, but a little different.
Let me paint the bigger picture here. Time is a precious commodity. I don’t think we realize how precious it is, often enough. In business school, you begin to realize it every, single, day.
As soon as you and your b-schooler step into the b-school bubble, they become consumed by the long hours of studying, group work, traveling, partying, weekend projects, student clubs, happy hours, interviews, recruiting… I’m sure I missed something out, but you get the picture.
Every day during that year, I made the conscious choice to look on the bright side. The lack of interaction with my b-schooler also meant interjecting some mystery into the relationship. Since it was happening anyway, I welcomed and embraced it!
The minutes were literarily squeezed for their every drop. Your b-schooler may ditch you in the b-school bubble, but hey, that also happens in regular life. You need to just get on with it, put yourself first and be flexible.
But sometimes putting yourself first is not so easy, nor is it natural for a lot of us. For my b-schooler and I, we juggled things around plenty. We tried a lot of different ways and eventually we found our imperfect balance, forming our new temporarily asymmetric relationship. What helped finding this was that our intentions were aligned: to keep seesawing the balance of different aspects until we were both happy.
Personally, I took advantage of this time to myself and honed skills I’ve been wanting to dig deep into since high school. I dug into subjects I’ve always wanted to be knowledgeable about. I got involved in the b-school community and, together with my b-schooler, built up shared experiences and friends, which made our relationship stronger.
3. Communication is everything
Cliché, right? A lot of cliché sayings are true though.
To my surprise, a ring is a good accessory in an MBA. It means that you are not only loved by your puppy… or 10 cats. It’s function sometimes works quite the opposite of what you would normally think. Due to the bling, your b-schooler may potentially get more attention than usual.
To keep yourself sane, and avoid succumbing to the silly gossip you may hear (scratch that – you will hear), keep the communication juices flowing. It comes back to the simple things: talk things out and be transparent. By encouraging honesty and being authentic, there is not much room to think twice.
Although finding that time and space to do so can be challenging, you both need to make it happen. Personally, I found that armed with constant communication and a positive attitude made a huge difference to how we dealt with things, and ultimately how we managed our relationship through it all.
The Business School Partner experience isn’t an easy ride. But it’s one that can be embraced with arms wide open. So, soak in the moments, soak in the minutes, soak in the seconds. You’ll grow to love the rush.
If I were to do it all over again, I wouldn’t change a thing. I also guarantee, that when its all done and dusted, within a month, you’ll want to do it all over again, the very same way, too.
Mona Bijjani is a Singapore-based author, entrepreneur and INSEAD MBA candidate. A true third culture kid, she was born in Saudi Arabia, grew up in Lebanon, and has since lived in Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. She published her debut non-fiction book, The Unofficial Guide to Business School Partner Life, in 2017. Tech-geek, forever student, and former INSEAD Partner, Mona is also a facilitator, developing several workshops and online courses, which you can find at designyourlife.thinkific.com.