Wednesday, December 08, 2004


Romance (?) after Graduate Education

Ok, so in the comments to my break-up post, some commenters seemed interested in hearing what I have to say about how grad school and/or the profession affects the whole dating/fucking/liking/loving lives of academic people. For example, Blurt asks:
"Freud is a grad student, yes? As a grad student and a dater of grad
students, I wonder: do features of the profession turn certain intelligent men
into slick distancers? Is "sincerity" more an issue for academics, making
everything including dating more dicey? In my dept, single women outnumber
single men 4:1, I think: is this the case elsewhere? Does this have anything to
do with it?"
Now, I am in no way an expert on these matters, and in some ways I feel like a fraud posting about this stuff because - really - wouldn't people with partners have more of a clue than I have? But, I've never let feeling like a fraud stop me from talking about things on which I am not expert, so I won't start now.

First things first, though. In order for this to be in any way legitimate, I'm going to need to give some background about my dating history because, unlike so many people, I really didn't date other graduate students while in graduate school. Sure, there was a hooking-up thing with my now-dear-friend Ahab when I first began my Ph.D. program, and yes, a couple of guys in my program tried to smooch me, but I did not have any sort of romantic relationships with other graduate students while in graduate school. In some ways this was accidental - maybe if I had met the man of my dreams in graduate school and he happened to be a grad student, too, I would have? - but I also had a very clear sense that I did not want to be in a relationship with a person who was doing what I was doing (whether within my field or even in another field, though that was less taboo for me). I didn't want to be in a position where I would be a "trailing spouse" or where I would have a "trailing spouse" someday; I didn't want to be in a position where either I or my partner/boyfriend would feel competitive with one another professionally/intellectually; I didn't want to end up in a relationship like some of the academic relationships I've seen where the couple are creepy intellectuals who talk about Smart Things all of the time and teach their three-year-olds Wallace Stevens poems instead of nursery rhymes.

So, generally, I stuck to guys in grad school who a. played in bands (while working crap jobs to pay the bills) b. worked in IT sorts of jobs (it was the late 90s, there were a lot of those) or c. bartended. Oh, and there was the one oddball architect whom I dated. Oh, and that guy who worked at a Major Cable Network that shall remain nameless. (Only one long-term "real" relationship resulted from all of this - Jerk - and the others were usually a series of 1-3-month-long things. This is when I learned how to break up with people I wasn't technically going out with. But I digress, and that is a story for another time.)

Now, I was naive. By avoiding grad students I didn't really avoid the things that I thought I would avoid. Still there is the issue, if one is an academic, that one partner's career will have to take a backseat to the other's even if one partner is not an academic; still there can be weird intellectual competitiveness - almost more of it if one is with a non-academic; still one could end up in a creepy intellectual relationship, too, I suppose, although that one is easier to avoid I think with the non-academics. Nevertheless, I stayed away from academics. The only exception to that was an interlude with a now-dear-friend whom I met at a conference and with whom I had an epistolary romance for a few months, but as he lives in Europe I'm not sure that counts.

So, really it's only been in the past year that I've gotten any experience with men who are currently in graduate school or who have just completed it in any sort of romantic context.

I will focus my comments through my experiences with three subjects, Dr. E (my colleague, who is now dating another colleague in our department), Chuck (Freud's friend and my ex-neighbor, who, one night before anything had happened with me and Freud, well, let's just say I have intimate knowledge of Chuck but I did not make the beast with two backs with him), and, obviously, Freud. Dr. E's in the humanities, Chuck and Freud are in psychology (experimental, not clinical). I note this because I think that there may be disciplinary differences in the effects of graduate school on people's relationship styles, though I'm not sure what they are. Also, I think it's important to note that with the exception of Dr. E there is a fucked up power dynamic because I'm Dr. Crazy and the others - well, I guess Chuck is Dr. Chuck now but he's gotten a job in industry so isn't technically an academic... fuck it - anyway, at least for these purposes the others hadn't done with grad school when shit happened with them.

Now, to (finally) respond to Blurt's comment:

1. Do features of the profession turn certain intelligent men into slick distancers?
Well, I think that there are a lot of slick distancers all over the place from what I've experienced, but I think the style of the distancing is definitely determined or influenced by academic culture. For example, the distancing that I witness with Freud is often related to "I can't be in a relationship because I'm all fucked up from graduate school" which of course misses the point that he and I are in a relationship whether he calls it that or not. In other words, the work becomes a way of excusing one's resistance to intimacy - a legitimate excuse. The thing is, though, I don't think this is a guy-only thing. I see this so clearly with Freud because I do exactly the same thing myself. But I think the profession does contribute to the tendency - in men and women - because we're supposed to put our work first before everything. That's what Ph.D. programs insist that you do. And so academic expectations are such that if you're not putting everything into your work and letting your personal life die, then you are a bad scholar and a bad academic. As a grad student, you already think you're worthless, and so the only thing you have is fitting into that "harried grad student/academic who's constantly working" identity, but of course then you go out and get drunk and hook up or you meet somebody and you really enjoy hanging out with them but you can't actually acknowledge that this is happening or has happened because if you do you will be nobody. (Sorry for the rambling, but stream of consciousness seems to be the only way I can do this post.)

The thing is, though, with Dr. E there was an opposite response. Dr. E is not at all a slick distancer and in fact, after we'd been fucking for like a month, he forced me to have The Talk about What We Are Doing (in my fucking office because his sense of appropriate setting/timing is nothing if not wildly off kilter) and basically said that he was looking for a life partner. (My response, incidentally, was to ask him if he felt better for having said that and to ask him why he had to bust out with that before summer was over.... I ended it with him the next day.) So now, Dr. E is dating the New Girl in the department and they've been together pretty much since she moved here and started the job. And before me Dr. E had been with another colleague in the department and she blew him off. And before that he had been in a 5-year-long relationship with another graduate student. So what I'm saying is, I think that while many become slick distancers, many others become Creepy Self-Aware Lovers of Intimacy with Any and All Intelligent People Who Want Life Partners Even When One Has Only Banged Them for Like a Month. I think both extremes are probably a bad thing.

Is "sincerity" more an issue for academics, making everything including dating more dicey?
Hmmm... this one is more difficult. I think this might be more of an issue for people in the humanities and/or soft sciences than for people in the hard sciences? At least the sense that I've gotten from dealing with Freud is that I am a lot more likely to question his sincerity than he is to question mine, and, in truth, he is a really sincere guy. In contrast, though, Chuck is not at all sincere in his dealings with women, but I think that's just because he's a pig and has nothing to do with his academic training. (By the way, I actually like Chuck and find him entertaining, but I've since found out some things about him through Freud that are utterly disgusting - think taking pictures of a drunk girl he brought home while she was passed out.) Dr. E is super-sincere, but then, how can one be earnest without being sincere? I think perhaps the problem with sincerity for me is theory - that theory has made me suspicious of anything so simple as "sincerity."

In my dept, single women outnumber single men 4:1, I think: is this the case elsewhere? Does this have anything to do with it?
Hmmm. I think this is often true in grad school - especially if one is in a feminized field like English. Why do you think I ventured out to find dirty rocker boys and bartenders? In my department now... hmmm.... almost everybody's married. There are more single women than single men. (Dr. E is the only one of the T-T faculty who is single and not-gay, and even our gay male faculty members are all partnered - this department is all about the stable steady lasting relationships.) This could have something to do with it - men can have their pick.

Ultimately, though, I think that guys in more feminized fields are distancing or assholic because they can't deal with women - as peers and as supervisors - having more power or receiving more recognition than they receive. Around the graduate seminar table they might not be the one wearing the pants, so to speak, and so when they get involved in relationships (whether straight or gay? I don't really know whether the generalizations I'm making hold true for male/male relations... interesting) they need to wear the pants. Similarly, even in more male-dominated fields, more and more women are pursuing advanced degrees. I know I've had conversations with both Chuck and Freud in which they talk about female peers getting better opportunities than they got, having better chances at getting jobs, whatever. Fucking misogynistic sexist piggish idiots. Anyway, the thing is, I think that male academics tend to have a lot of issues about women who challenge their authority, and if you are as educated as they are your very existence challenges that authority. Now, with Freud and me it's actually not that terrible because we do completely unrelated things. But, and I think I wrote this someplace else on this blog, my Ph.D. is the biggest dick in the room regardless of that.

So, whose fault is all of this? Is it graduate school that fucks them up (fucks us up, too) or do people who go to grad school or who go into this profession come in fucked up and then learn new tricks for putting that fucked-up-ness into practice? Honestly? I have no idea.

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