I’m married now, so this doesn’t look like something I gave up. But I married Sir John when I was 40. That gave me time for a number of long-term relationships, all but one of which foundered, for assorted reasons.
I won’t even go into anything pre-grad-school, except to say that my focus and ambition in college seemed off-putting to many of the young men I knew then, and that I was myself ambivalent about marriage at that time. I wanted a close relationship, but I feared falling in love with someone who would want a capital-W Wife, not a partner, someone who with good and loving intentions would protect me from risks, change, travel, and growth.
In graduate school, for five or six years I was in love with a man who wound up leaving with an M.A. and getting a high school teaching credential. That could have been perfect for us as a couple, and I had high hopes as I entered the job market that I’d get a position in a region he’d consider desirable. But I didn’t. In hindsight, it wouldn’t have mattered. If I’d got a job in the city where he settled, he would have come up with some other reason not to commit. My focus and ambition put him off, too. He wanted more play time, and a wife whose job could be left at work. Having him around did loosen me up a bit and meant I had more fun in grad school than I might otherwise have done, while he probably got more work done with me around than he would have without me. At any rate, when I started my first job, I certainly felt that I had sacrificed love to career. But I could do no other. My work was very important to me—more a vocation than a job.
I made that quite clear to the next boyfriend, someone who had had a crush on me for awhile. Given the timing, it was clear that we would have either a fling or, after two months, a long-distance relationship. I would have been fine with fling, but he wanted relationship. Well, okay. I guess. Here’s what you should know about the academic job market and the tenure process, to understand why I am going to have to concentrate on work about the way I concentrated on the dissertation. . . . Somewhere between Thanksgiving and Christmas, he told me I was cold, hard-hearted, selfish and obsessed with my work. I was baffled. “But I told you all that six months ago,” I said, and broke up with him.
My job is in a smallish town where there is not much social life for anyone over 22. One of my friends, in a similar position, went to EVERY campus event and met her husband at a reception for professors who had recently published a book. That approach didn’t work for me. I was probably ambivalent about getting involved with another academic. Certainly I see a lot of advantages in having “married out,” as it were. But for awhile, anyone else I met was put off by the Ph.D. When I moved to the suburbs of the nearest city, I dated some men with medical degrees, and a photographer who thought of my work as a creative job comparable to his. At that point, I stopped feeling that I’d never find anyone, because clearly there were presentable candidates.
It’s all in when you stop telling the story. I had a few bad years in there. This does not compare to people who are tenured in tiny remote towns where moving to the nearest city would require driving three hours or more one-way. But it’s not like I’m a Smug-Married-at-22, either. I have a colleague who started graduate work in her 40’s, after another career. She treats the long-distance relationship that entailed as no big deal—she’d been married for 20 years, her children were nearly grown, it revitalized the marriage. I’m the other way around. Long-distance? Been there, done that, epic fail. Now I want to be with Sir John.