Imagine a life in which you’ve married your perfect match. Now take that life and add to it the fact that you both hold jobs in the same field. Go a few steps further — you’ve married your perfect match, you both hold jobs in the same field, you both secure faculty positions at the same university and those positions are in the same department.
To some, this might reek of claustrophobia and evoke images of two people actually attached at the hip. This is not the case, however, for Gregorio and Carolina Caetano, both who are assistant professors in the Department of Economics, whose work life and married life are carefully and constantly intertwined — but they wouldn’t have it any other way.
The native Brazilians met during a master’s program in their home country and had already established their relationship when they relocated to California for a Ph.D. program at the University of California, Berkeley, where Gregorio Caetano finished one year ahead of his wife. Even when they were searching for jobs, the two were hand-in-hand, dead set on not accepting any positions unless they were together.
“We were prepared to take any job — we would take lower level jobs, or go back to Brazil, or even change professions [just to stay together],” Carolina Caetano said.
Even the thought of working at separate universities in the same city was unacceptable, and to this day, the pair regret the fact that at UR, they don’t have the luxury of working in the same office that they had at UC Berkley. On the outside, their connection might seem overzealous, but they feel it suits the relationship they set out to have.
“Even the separation of the offices is, in a way, negative for us,” Carolina Caetano explained. “We work very well in the same room because we want to be together, so when we’re not together, there’s a tendency to work fewer hours so we can get back to each other.
“If we were in different universities, that would impact our jobs negatively and would make us less happy.”
This campus is no stranger to married professors and faculty — they can be found in departments across diverse academic disciplines and faculty appointments — but not all of them make an effort to collaborate on a regular basis or spend work hours together, in addition to hours at home. The Caetanos strive for the opposite — to spend as much of the day together, regardless of the context. This presents them with unique career opportunities and increased collaboration.
“We certainly value the personal part way more than the professional part, but there is also something that is professional [in this relationship],” Gregorio Caetano said. “For example, she’s also my co-author — I work with her on papers and on research. So that is helpful to have your co-author so close to you!”
Despite being involved in different fields within economics — perhaps their only form of separation — they are each quick to consult the other on even the most fleeting idea.
“Even when we’re not co-authoring we still like the consultation,” Carolina Caetano said, as her husband finished the thought for her.
“Generally when we have an idea, the other is the first person we communicate it to,” he said. “So the absolute majority of ideas get passed through the other first, providing some sense of co-authoring even without the credit. It’s kind of nice because I have no shame that I’m acting like a dumb person in front of her, so I can essentially show any idea that I have to her, even ideas that I don’t understand yet.”
Hailing from Brazil, the couple speak Portuguese, in addition to English, but they also speak a third language — one that is unique to their own, fully collaborative world.
“One thing that happened to us, that his father keeps warning us about is that we’re together all the time, we’re in the same profession, we speak the same language — even the same sublanguages — and we’ve been speaking to each other on those terms for years, and years and years, so we speak in half-words and half-ideas and things like that,” Carolina Caetano quipped. “It’s very fast and very efficient, but many times it’s hard to bring the ideas we develop in this way out to other people, which has happened.”
“It’s actually a little scary for our friends on the outside to watch us interact about research,” she continued, speaking to the raw, honest nature of her relationship with her husband. “It’s very no-bullshit, and might come across as aggressive arguing, but it’s not.”
One thing they will argue about, though, is how long they’ve been married:
Gregorio Caetano: “Oh my god… we’ve been married since 2004? Yeah, I’m the romantic in the relationship. Yes, July 2004, so over seven years.”
Carolina Caetano: “But we were living together for two years before that, so then do the math since 2002.”
Gregorio Caetano: “So we are almost 10 years together.”
Carolina Caetano: “Actually, more, because it was 2002 and now it’s 2012.”
Gregorio Caetano: “Yeah… so that’s 10 years!”
When it comes to true love and an unbreakable partnership, sometimes even economics professors forget how to do math.
They acknowledge that what they have may not work for all couples, but Carolina Caetano feels that part of what their relationship is founded upon is the solid knowledge that neither of them is better than the other, allowing them to work together, rather than compete.
“We got really lucky, because you can love somebody who’s not as good as you professionally or who is better, and we are not like that,” she said. “We are different, but I don’t think it’s clear that either of us is better.”
In the work environment, their relationship is not just between them, but instead is between them and the whole Department of Economics in terms of how it affects their colleagues. At times, there is an external perception that when the couple shares a professional opinion, it’s due to strategy more than personal persuasion, but both Caetanos are very adamant about making it clear that if they agree, it’s because they agree as individuals, not because they think as a single unit out of deference for their marriage.
When asked if they ever get sick of each other — a natural thing to wonder of this type of couple — they each delivered the most succinct answer: a resounding and unified “No.”
“We get sick of other people,” Carolina Caetano joked.
So, how does a married couple that works in close proximity, every day of every week, keep their two worlds separate? Well, they don’t always.
“It’s not like if we go out on a Saturday night we have to talk about research, but… it happens sometimes,” Gregorio Caetano explained as he laughed.
While their arrangement may seem unusual or impossible to manage, how a couple functions is personal, and for this academic duo, what they have works. Literally.
Additional reporting by Melissa Goldin, class of 2013.
Sklar is a member of the class of 2014.