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A Partner's View of HBS

Exactly when were the words ‘girlfriend’, ‘boyfriend’, ‘fianc‚/e’, ‘wife’ and ‘husband’ erased from the dictionary and replaced by the word ‘Partner’? In fact, the word ‘Partner’ is so descriptive that upon meeting people during our early days, it seems to suffice as our introduction, magically encapsulating our name, our job, our hopes and our dreams.

My two years as an HBS Partner is almost up and I feel a duty to share some of my experiences with you. Partly for fun but partly in the hope that it may smooth the path for future HBS Partners.

Orientation or Disorientation Week?

I began my time here as possibly one of the most vulnerable types of partners – an international partner, a VISA-less partner and an unmarried partner. Immediately we were thrown into the whirlwind that is Orientation Week….

After Day 2, I was ready to smack the next person who greeted me with the words ‘So what Section are you in?’ and whose face perceptibly fell when I clarified that I was not in any Section but actually a Partner.

What is so disorientating about Orientation Week for a partner is that your loved one is catapulted into a new, ego-stroking identity while we are left to redefine ourselves, find a job and cope without the friends we left behind. And while I am aware of the boundless efforts to increase diversity in the school, HBS students are all a particular type of person by their very definition. Firstly, you are more intelligent and physically attractive than any general population I’ve seen. Secondly, you are all competitive, ambitious, confident and most likely bossy.

Anyone can see that this does not make for a good dinner party mix. And believe me, I’ve been to many section dinners where there is no time for small talk. No discussion of the wonderfully random things in life or the field of entertainment. Why on earth waste airtime on inclusive topics when there are international monetary crises that you may yet crack in one evening, right? Next time, take a break from your monologue and glance over at your partner. They may well have gnawed their own arm off.

Section Events – I’d rather be sectioned

I’ll be honest – I hated Section events. And furthermore, I feel no affinity to my partner’s section. Why? Well, because they are randomly assigned and because I’m not even in it. I’m sure my feelings would have been the same whichever the section had been.

No matter how many red cups of warm, Coors Light I drank, I knew early on that I would never be comfortable at a Section Event. My teeth were not straight enough, my t-shirt not tight enough and I just didn’t like that I was only defined by who I was with. Oh and the endless photos – just how many huddled, head-tilted, perfect white smiles do we need a record of? Are we actually casting for the Stepford Wives?

When it came to boat races or Twinkie-eating contests, I was culturally out of my league. Most British people feel silly enough just clapping – cheering and whooping is simply out of the question. Give me a few Appletinis and sure, I’ll give it a go, but I’ll always secretly worry that my friends back home will find out and disown me.

Priscilla – The Black Hole of Dignity

I really hit rock bottom at Priscilla. I had just returned from the UK after a stressful but successful VISA application. I don’t need to tell you that jetlag, nerves and homesickness do not mix well with a ‘hoes’ dress theme and unlimited cheap white wine. But I wish someone had told me.

The night began at the Section pre-party where a huddle of hoes accosted my partner with screeches and hugs and graciously ignored me. Shortly after that, one of the section mates decided they wanted some photos (what a surprise) and actually shoved me away from my partner with the words ‘Do you mind? I only want a photo of them’. Of course, I should have grabbed the camera and shoved it down their preppy little throat but instead I poured myself a rather generous cup of vodka and flat coke. I am too ashamed to describe the rest of the evening to you but I will apologize to the girl who helped me in the restrooms and to the owners of the school buses that drove us home.

The Future – How You Can Help

So anyway, back to my original point – how can you, as a student, ease the lives of future partners? Just remember these five key points:

1. ‘Partner’ is not an actual name, nor a job description.
2. If we are job hunting, do not show pity. We gave up perfectly good jobs to come here and support our loved ones. That deserves respect, not pity.
3. At social events, challenge yourself to begin a conversation on something outside of HBS (Case Appendices do not count).
4. One HBS event a week is already excessive – do not force your poor partner to attend any more than that unless they truly want to go. Even then, be suspicious.
5. If a Partner confesses to not knowing what ‘Porter’s 5 Forces’ are, go easy. Some kindergartens chose to focus on the alphabet instead.

A disclaimer – I have been scathing partly for the sake of entertainment. I will say that we have some good friends from the section and that I have always felt included in HBS life. And my partner has always been an angel for sparing me from most events and understanding how I feel. But I just thought that someone ought to reveal the underworld of the partner, if only for educational purposes.

April 30, 2007
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