Hi there, we are Matt and Patty. We’ve been together for 4.5 years after meeting in college, and moved from Boston to Ann Arbor in July for Matt to begin medical school. Having been in Ann Arbor for under a year, we are still discovering new things about our new home and each other. Here are a few things that have been the most important lessons for us so far.
From the student, Matt:
Now that we’ve been here for a few months, I can look back on the choices that have made the biggest impact so far. One that has been especially helpful is my flexible quiz schedule. At Michigan, we take a quiz every two weeks that covers the previous two weeks’ material. The quiz helps us solidify our understanding of the material in a lower-stakes environment. Students can take the quiz from Friday night through midnight on Sunday at their convenience. This flexibility is nice, but without proper planning your weekends can become filled with studying instead of taking a much-needed break and spending time with your partner. At the outset, I decided that I would always take the quizzes on Friday night. This has allowed us to spend the weekends together (with a bit of light studying mixed in). It’s been so freeing to not have a quiz hanging over my head on the weekend. Being a self-enforced rule, there are times mid-week where I don’t feel fully prepared for a Friday quiz, but I’ve somehow managed to keep to my Friday rule. Michigan does allow a re-take of a different version of the quiz on Monday called remediation quizzing, which replaces your other quiz grade if you score better. Having the option to re-take the quiz on Monday lowers the pressure of the first quiz and has allowed me to learn from my mistakes on Friday’s quiz.
Another important aspect of our curriculum is the ability to stream lectures. This has allowed me to spend more time studying from our home, which works well since Patty works remotely. As for the content, streaming offers the ability to pause and re-watch components of the lecture and take notes at a pace that is appropriate for me. Studying from home lets us have breakfast and/or lunch together on days when I don’t have required events on campus. This lets us see each other more during the week. Even if your partner doesn’t work from home, it’s thoughtful to prioritize being home for at least one meal of the day to share with each other. The gradual accumulation of dedicated meals each day or week, regardless of how spectacular (or not) each one may feel, leads to greater feeling of closeness, especially when studying can feel all-consuming.
In terms of friends, we’ve both tried to establish independent lives and social circles. Patty has encouraged me to attend medical school social events without her, even if that means not being home some evenings. The students in your medical school class will be the people that you study and work with for the next four years. They make you feel less alone during the grueling periods of study. Both partners need to be OK with building up your networks separately from one another. In addition, your partner should try to develop their own network of friends because your medical school friends are likely just as busy as you, and that only escalates during the clinical years. Luckily, Patty has found a community with her water polo team. I encouraged her to seek out a community based on her interests, so that when she shows up, there are already built-in commonalities and shared experiences.
From the partner, Patty:
Supporting a partner in medical school requires patience and understanding that school is the number one priority. This acknowledgement is easier to stomach knowing that medical school lasts four to five years, while your relationship together is lifelong (I hope!). Being willing to support your partner through this time period is essential. In many ways, we’ve felt the schoolwork taking over our relationship in the past year. Meals, social events, and working out needs to be planned around it. Because of this, it can feel like you are always short of time with each other. We’ve tried our best to push away this feeling, as it gets in the way of being able to spend time pursuing independent aspirations. The happiest times of our life together (so far) have been moments when all the chips have fallen into place — when we’ve had a network of good friends, well developed hobbies, athletic outlets, and each other. Moving to Ann Arbor, we had each other as a guarantee, but that was about it. We both needed to find new friends, find ways to pursue our hobbies, and discover new fitness routines. Michigan Medical school offers all of these things for a student, but what about a partner who is along for the ride?
Early on, we acknowledged that this was something that could make or break our happiness. While Matt joined in on the activities laid out for him in school, I threw myself into anything I could find – saying “yes” to as many things I could. Pushing away the awkwardness and discomfort is challenging, but I felt that at 26, if I couldn’t move to a new city and make a life for myself, then I never would be able to. To my surprise, the “yes” strategy started working. I joined the Ann Arbor Master’s Water Polo team, which I was elated to find (it’s incredible that Ann Arbor has its own team!) and said “yes” to the tournaments in Toronto, Chicago, and Seattle. I downloaded Bumble BFF and found so many other women in similar situations to me. The friend dates that I went on were a lot of fun. I joined a networking group for women in tech roles, and after dragging myself to the first meeting, I made an amazing new friend! Setting yourself up for success needs to come along with the dedication to your partner.
Things to do together:
As folks who have jumped around the East Coast and New England for our whole lives, we were initially hesitant about Ann Arbor. Neither of us had ever been to the state of Michigan before. It was helpful for us to admit our privileged past openly — Ann Arbor is not the same as New York or Boston. Once we acknowledged that, we were opened up to see all the incredible things that this place has to offer. In many ways, we’ve been able to do more of the things we love in Ann Arbor than we did in Boston. Patty’s water polo team and watercolor painting classes didn’t exist in Boston (at least not affordably). We live around the corner from the Kerrytown Farmers Market, which is something we’ve never had access to in a big city. We are able to drive around without traffic — an understated benefit. In the summer, we visited local farms for sunflowers, pumpkins and hay rides. In the winter, we’ve attended basketball games and visited museums on and off campus. In any season, downtown Ann Arbor offers more restaurants than your wallet will allow.
Since we try to spend one full day on the weekend together, we are always looking for the next new place to explore. We’ve loved exploring Detroit and taking photos of the beautiful architecture. Detroit is filled to the brim with interesting restaurants, history, museums, and shops that showcase passion and flair of the Motor city. On our way in or out of Detroit, we’ve made pit stops in Dearborn for Middle Eastern food or at the Henry Ford Museum, which boasts a spectacular display of planes, trains and automobiles.
The one thing you should take away from reading this is to discuss priorities and set expectations. Despite feeling like you both are on the same page, there is a good chance that you and your partner have different expectations of what medical school will require, what your lives will look like, and what will be expected of each of you to help the partnership work. Discussing your thoughts, feelings, and hopes in this regard is absolutely essential and should be talked about as openly as possible, as vulnerable as it may feel. Disappointment and hardship often come from a mismatch between expectation and reality, so calibrating those expectations can lead to a much happier and fulfilled life for you and your partner. We both wish you all the best here at Michigan and we know you’ll love Ann Arbor as much as we do!
Matt is a first year medical student at the University of Michigan. He spends his time watching soccer, taking photos, and exploring the world!
Patty works remotely for a tech startup based in Boston. She spends most of her time crafting, caring for her plants, and playing water polo.