Married But Available: Confessions of a Sloan Wife

I have known that I would marry John since I was 14. We met in our fourth grade orchestra in a small town outside of Seattle, Washington when I made fun of him for being so short (a whole head shorter than me). We came from very different backgrounds but shared a love for music. He was my first love. We moved through junior high school together, graduated high school together, and went to colleges next to each other in California. We have quite literally grown up together and have been through all of life’s most important events hand-in-hand.

John and I in orchestra

John and I in orchestra

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was at one of those moments – our wedding reception on February 2nd 2013 – that we announced John had been accepted into the MIT Sloan School of Management. We told all of our friends and family that we would be packing up our lives, quitting our jobs and moving to the complete opposite side of the country, to the “cold land,” a place I had never been before called Boston, Massachusetts.

February 2, 2013

February 2, 2013

It was just a matter of days before I heard it for the first time, Married But Available – a horrible play on the MBA acronym. People joked that business school was a place you went to ruin your marriage; a place where one partner realizes the other might not be as exceptional as they previously thought?

What started as elation slowly morphed into nervousness and apprehension. Of course I thought this could not possibly apply to us. We were different than most couples. Why then, was I so taken aback by this prevalent sentiment of “married but available?”

I suppose a piece of me was worried about what the Sloanies, who would engulf my husband’s every waking hour, would be like. I wondered if they would change him. Could two short years of business school really change my husband from the man that I had known and loved for most of my life and add his name to the married but available subtitle? And how would they view me? Could his time in this little protected world possibly change the way that he viewed ME?

I am the perfect antithesis of the MIT stereotype. I am a beauty queen, having just walked off the Miss America stage and finished my year as the reigning Miss Washington. I have platinum blonde hair and wear stiletto-heels to the grocery store. My background is rough, having survived all of my childhood on the welfare system with an incarcerated parent. It was a statistical miracle that I graduated from college at all, and my degree was just in communication. What would these people think about me, how would someone like me fit into this MIT world? Fear of rejection was at the center of my mind. Fear of losing my husband to this world was there also.

It didn’t really matter in the end, because we had already made up our minds. We packed up our lives and moved far away from home. Looking back, I knew and expected that John would continue to grow and change at a rapid rate during the two years at MIT. I did not expect what would happen to me.

When we arrived in Boston, John and I walked through the doors of Sloan hand and hand. I knew immediately that we were at a special place. I could feel it. The feeling of belonging. The feeling of comfort. They gave us the same name tag. His read “John Mahler, MIT,” and mine read “Brittney Mahler, MIT.” I didn’t know who were the students and who were the SO’s. We just all were. To my comforting surprise, I found that my differences weren’t unique to me, but that everybody was so different, and that was the strongest commonality between us. What makes the Sloan community so special is how unique each person is, but also the shared character traits like empathy, patience, and passion that are visible in each and every member of the small class. One might think that they were hand selected because of such qualities. Everybody’s uniqueness is celebrated and conformity is challenged. I was never “not one of them.” I was just another unique person with a unique story and a unique reason to be there at that unique moment.

I began to realize the true value of being part of such an incredible program at a Sloan sponsored rafting trip our first weekend in Boston. The experience set us up to have a positive foundation of community and support that has since lasted. I met my first Sloanie friends on the bus ride to camp playing 21 questions. They were genuinely interested in getting to know me and not just my husband. I had fun that weekend. Real, genuine fun. This is one of the things that I can honestly say is one of Sloan’s strength: building community. Because without community—how can one be genuinely dedicated to research, or learning, or advancing knowledge? No wonder MIT students are the most outstanding and elite in their fields around the world. They are not alone. And neither are their “SO’s”.

Sloan Rafting Trek 2013

Sloan Rafting Trek 2013

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Since that first week, time has just flown by at an alarming rate. The Sloan community has embraced me as one of its own and because of that, John and I have gotten to share this experience and grown together instead of apart. Moving to an unfamiliar place is hard, but Sloan gave me a home filled with adventures, challenges, excitement, and experiences I have never had the chance to do before. Imagine what it feels like to be in a room with some of the worlds smartest, most driven, accomplished, talented, people. These are the people that Sloan gave me to share these experiences with. Looking around the room at any given point, I know that these people, my friends, will all do great things for the world. I’ve had conversations with them that have shaped how I view the world, and where I will lead my life. I have bonded with them, and together we carved out a journey that is so much more than attending classes and getting a degree.

2014 Sloanies and So's at a Sloan function.

2014 Sloanies and SO’s at a Sloan function.

Has it been challenging being the wife of a Sloanie? Yes, without a doubt. I strongly remember the first time I did not see my husband for forty-eight hours because he was accidently living in E62. But he had someone to remind him to eat—and I was forced to be okay by myself. Our two years at Sloan have been life-changing and change is never easy, but it is the good kind of challenging—the kind that I believe will challenge anyone to look deeper in themselves, their marriage, goals, and future and ultimately feel motivated. It is the kind of challenging that has renewed my belief in the strength of my relationship and my position in this world.

In the end, my biggest fear came true. John did gain the “Married But Available” subtitle.

He is married, but available to support and grow with his fellow Sloanies, making friendships and forming bonds that both of us will cherish forever. He is married, but available to learn and expand his horizons and reach goals we never could have imagined. He is married, but available to be surrounded by Sloanies nearly every waking hour, serving as their President, and bettering the school for generations to come. He is married, but available to me and I am available to him and our friends as well. Sloanies make up the best group of people I have ever had the privilege to be a part of. The two years at Sloan really did change my husband from the man that I had known and loved for most of my life. Now he is better, stronger, more compassionate, smarter and more driven to make changes in this world, and so am I.

There are only about 3 months left in our MBA adventure, and I feel reflective everyday thinking about the end of this time in our lives. I can say, without a doubt, that choosing Sloan was the best decision that we ever made. My husband – and I –are attending MIT Sloan, but he’s just the only one who has to turn in the homework.

 

wedding

 

Brittney Mahler

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15 Comments

  1. This is fantastic, thanks for sharing.

  2. What a beautiful story! Thank you for sharing and giving a great depiction of the community at MIT Sloan.

  3. this is such a wonderful story – love the mahlers 🙂 you two!

  4. Love you two!

  5. I think this might be the best– and the best-written– story I’ve seen at MIT. Bravo, Brittney. So proud to know you both.

  6. Great article!

  7. Michellana Jester

    Brittney- Thank you for sharing such a thoughtful reflection of your Sloan journey. John is very fortunate to have found such a strong, compassionate, smart, and driven life partner in you. Best to you both as you transition from Sloan into your next adventure together.

  8. So touched by this story, Brittney! When I met my husband, then a Sloanie, I was in the SO role and now I am the student. Having experienced Sloan from both sides, I can sympathize with many things you raised. I share very similar views and believe that Sloan is truly a special place, for many reasons, one being its inclusiveness. Thanks for sharing! 🙂

  9. This is was so heart-warming to read!

  10. A beautifully written story that every wife–Sloanie spouse or not–can relate to. Well done, Brittney!

  11. What an amazing piece, and so reflective of my own experience of the Sloan community. Thank you for writing it Brittney!

  12. mexican wedding traditions

    Such an amazing story! It touched me so deep inside.

  13. Tears running from my eyes, as I write right now, to thank you for sharing such a beautiful, poetic experience of personal growth.
    I was interested to study at Sloan-MBA program, but after reading this true momument of beauty of yours I feel that MIT Sloan-MBA program is My DESTINY.

    Hare Krishna!

  14. what an amazing couple. so proud of you, John! And behind (or hand in hand) every great man, stands a great woman. love you both.

  15. thanks for sharing…this story resonated with me in so many different ways.

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