an angsty post

03Oct08

So I have a question. Why is it that so many people in graduate school are in relationships, particularly women? I know this isn’t the most popular point of discussion and I only notice it because I’m single and have been single my entire adult life. But I know at least one of my readers gets where I’m coming from because with my friends, I vent about this a lot.

There’s something particularly miserable about being single and a graduate student and, had I known exactly what I would be giving up to get a PhD, i.e. any opportunity to date, I probably wouldn’t have done it. Or at least, I might have thought twice about getting a PhD at this institution.

Let me start with archival research. I’m not stupid. If I were in a relationship at the moment, dragging somebody across the world would be a pain in the ass. It probably wouldn’t have happened. It’s funny how wives/girlfriends get dragged to archives but rarely husbands. So that would have been a problem. I’m in my mid-20s and I’m pretty headstrong and when I was younger I was denied the opportunities I desperately wanted to travel abroad so I decided that graduate school was going to be my chance. I wouldn’t have given that up for a man, I know that. I think the people in my year are doing several things (mind you, in my cohort, I’m the only girl who’s been single the past three years and, last I heard, I’m one of two girls currently single. Funny how both of us are out of the country for extended periods of time.) I think the majority of the girls in my cohort in relationships chose projects that wouldn’t require much international travel (this includes of course those working on American history, which I realize is a completely different kettle of fish). So there are sacrifices to be made, obviously.

But I’m wondering if maybe graduate school is not something you’re supposed to do as a single woman. Careerwise, it makes it much easier to move around and I have much more flexibility because I don’t have to worry about somebody else’s life. I get that. But damn it if I’m not miserable.

I know being in relationships doesn’t solve all (or any) problems. But being this lonely cannot be good. My older sister asks me why I’m not meeting people in the archives. It’s difficult to strike up a conversation in a place where talking is not exactly permitted or encouraged. Straining your eyes in a microfilm cubicle isn’t a good look for anybody nor is it a social event. And that’s not even addressing the fact that most of the archives here are populated with people over 50 and fellow graduate students who, as a general rule, I’ve never found attractive. My sister also suggested the theatre or coffee shops. But that’s dependent on being a certain kind of person, one that loves talking to people they don’t know, something the English just don’t do. But even if they did, choosing to go to graduate school in general often means you’re not the kind of person who is so social that they strike up conversations with people they don’t know. I would think someone that social would find it really difficult to deal with the utter isolation and unsociability of graduate school, let alone the damn archives. And if those kind of men truly went to graduate school in large numbers, I wouldn’t have the problem I have because I’m almost always attracted to the guys that  generate that kind of social buzz out of nothing. I’m not saying I’m antisocial, although here I’ve become antisocial out of preservation. If you don’t expect anything, you can’t be disappointed. I’m good talking to people I know or just generally chatting in premade social settings. But I’m not good at creating a social scene where none exists. This is why the theatre/coffee shops don’t work for me. I’m not in fact going to start talking to somebody that I don’t know just because they’re at the same coffee shop I’m at. I’m also not going to start chatting with some guy at intermission because the second I do is the second his girlfriend’s going to walk out of the bathroom. That’s usually my luck.

So I look around at my colleagues and I have to think: so that’s why they all found relationships. They don’t have to deal with themselves day in and day out, wondering how much more bored they can get. And let me tell you, I was already the introspective type. I have a blog, for goodness sake, and I write in a journal. Being that introspective isn’t good when you’re also as isolated as I am. It’s too much time with some unpleasant thoughts that have nowhere to go because the situation’s not fixed and so they just keep spinning around in your head, day in, night out. In fact, my current situation only exacerbates my problems. I have a friend who told me that academia was the wrong place for me because I have too many issues. I hate to admit it but I think that friend was right. Maybe being an historian wouldn’t seem so hard if being isolated wasn’t such a problem for me. But it is a problem. It’s not that I can’t do it; I can, I have, and I am. But it is simply not good for me to be this isolated and maybe this is why so few female graduate students are single, at least in my experience. Academia is simply too isolating to go it alone. You have to have a support system that has more than just your fellow isolated and frustrated graduate students. And that’s what I actually don’t really have: a support system of people outside academia (or other stressful occupations). Most of my non-graduate-school friends are in finance. I think we’re all clear on the stress there.

I’ve decided to finish the PhD if only because I need to know I can do it before I quit. I haven’t even necessarily decided to quit. But I think what’s probably going to happen is that my requirements for a job are so restrictive (high enough pay, no adjuncting, location where, as a minority woman, I’m likely to find men who would be predisposed to date somebody with my skin color, a location where I would have a social life, etc.) that the market will force me out. They all say don’t place those kinds of restrictions on your job prospects but I can categorically say that I’ve given up my twenties for this. I’ve made sacrifices that I in particular should not have made. Given my history and given my personal circumstances, the last thing I should have done was make an already bad personal situation worse by moving to a place where my options for dating were so limited and moving careerwise into a field that was going to require so much drastic isolation. I’ve done it, there’s no going back, and I have to reap the benefits of these disastrous choices: namely, the letters PhD behind my name. But I’ll be damned if I continue making these particular sacrifices into my thirties.

[BTW, I totally had a breakdown in the archives and wrote this instead of poring over microfilm newspapers and being all angsty about the price of copies, the amount of time I have left, my eyesight, and the headache that straining to read was causing. These are the choices graduate students are making, people. Write a depressing blog post or panic about research.]

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8 Responses to “an angsty post”

  1. Uggh…I am so sorry that you are feeling this way!

    I am also single, and have been for most (80-90%) of grad school. I totally understand how isolating it can be. I rely a lot on my mom and on my fellow grad students, but almost all of them are married and/or in a committed relationship, so often when I hang out with them I am the third wheel.

    I am an Americanist so I don’t have to travel out of the country, but I am comforted by the fact that I don’t have the “two body” problem when it comes to finding a job. At least, I’m hoping that I eventually find someone after I get a *real* job, though by that point I’ll be in my late 20s and the prospects get slimmer each year.

    I was thinking that we can become Facebook friends. Just email me and let me know…maybe that will help you feel less lonely!

  2. aww, I’m so sorry.

    Aside from believing in Jesus, these are all the reasons I like to go to church. Although, even that can be tricky. I’ve been terribly lonely since we moved here and that doesn’t even compare to what you’re facing. So I really am sorry.

    Anyway, what I really wanted to say is that I totally hear you on the job restrictions and I say, lay down whatever restrictions you feel like you need. The academy isn’t running your life. You are. And if it doesn’t fit with your plans, you can get up to something else. You know?

  3. 3 thefrogprincess

    History Enthusiast, it’s a weird bind we’re in. For me, being single sucks but I’m completely with you about the “two body” problem. I don’t want it and I’m glad I don’t have it. Today was a weak moment but I think, when I’m not pissed off at the archives, I’ve generally written off graduate school, I’m getting the PhD, and hoping for the best once I have a job, whether in academia or out.

    Which leads me to the whole restrictions issue. I’m with you, Anastasia. I think I’ve always known that I couldn’t apply to every job that came up but this past summer it became crystal clear to me that I have to stop making everything else in my life a top priority except my personal happiness. I guess the difficulty there is how people see you. I’m not that worried about my friends/colleagues. My close friends both in graduate school and not in graduate school know me well enough to understand. And I’m not really all that concerned about colleagues who don’t understand. But I guess I’m worried about what my various professors will think. It won’t matter at all if I don’t go on the job market at all but if I actually go on the market and only apply to a select group of schools, leaving out options that are good on paper (particularly flagship state schools in states I’d be hesitant to live in and SLACs in the middle of nowhere), that decision could damage my professors’ opinion about my seriousness. I know it shouldn’t matter and I think at the end of the day I have to go with my heart on this one but I do have a few reservations.

  4. I’m in grad school and married, but I’ve moved out of the town where my husband lives to do my research. I’m finishing the first year of a phd, and plan to move where he is in the spring to study for comps and write my dissertation. It’s lonely without him here and I sometimes think of quitting grad school too. Either way, I’ll be long-distance relationship, or long-distance from my colleagues and supervisors, so it’s not easy. Grad school’s a real trip, eh? I’m glad to see by your comment that you’re already feeling a little better.

  5. 5 whitheramp

    this is sort of in response to this post and the most recent one about still being glad you’re in london — i totally feel the same way. it’s not easy finding people to date in ny, and i find that, at the day to day level, i sometimes feel pretty lonely and isolated. i find myself talking and singing out loud when i walk down the street and think maybe i’m slowing becoming an urban schizophrenic! BUT — despite impending insanity, i’m still glad i’m no longer in the bubble! at least here i can have hope!

    i’ve been working on the diss proposal lately. ugh. it’s all so much clearer in my head!!!!!

  6. 6 Anonymous

    I came into my own MRU program as one of the only single women. A year into my program, I met a fellow grad student from another department. We liked each other, made compromises for each other, and then we married. Some friends continue to struggle romantically and point to a shortage of high quality partners in the vicinity of the U. But, they won’t take risks. They won’t try Internet dating just to see what happens, go to non-university events, or join community clubs. I think the secret to finding someone is to make people a priority, and to seek out social situations even if it is beyond the comfort zone initially. I’ve realized that 4-5 really good hours of work per day (sans random internet browsing, elaborate email writing and totally pointless episodes of self-flagellation about not measuring up) is really enough to make good progress. Anything else is fake working. This leaves a lot of time to get involved in different things. Getting involved helps with my own sense of isolation, as does completing non-essential writing and admin tasks in a coffee shop with wireless.

  7. I’m in a field that’s not nearly as isolating, but it’s not any better here. Like 8:14 suggests, I get out and “take risks.” Yet that doesn’t guarantee any kind of payoff. Men who are willing to be serious about a woman who is guaranteed to move upon graduation (to say nothing of following her) are few and far between. I too look forward to being settled in a permanent position so I can really date again. My (male, married, mostly to stay-at-home wives) professors don’t seem to grasp why I’m not keen on taking a mediocre job that I can move out of in a year or two – their support system follows them around.

  8. 8 thefrogprincess

    I feel you, turducken. It’s difficult to find those kind of men but it’s also been difficult for me to make dating a priority when I know I’m not going to be in the same area for long. Again, being a budding historian is part of this. I knew I was going to be doing archival research outside the country for a year-plus and so dating couldn’t be a priority because I knew I was leaving. And yes I’m going to be back to write up next fall but even then, if I’m lucky, I’ll only be there another year. So I myself have been a bit more reticent than I probably would have liked because I’m constantly moving around. I have come to grips with the fact that I likely won’t meet somebody decent in graduate school but sometimes, like last Friday, I suddenly realize that my twenties are rushing by me and I really don’t want to enter my thirties without any changes, which can happen so easily in this career.


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