I'm inspired to post about this in response to New Kid's recent post about her own tendency to isolate herself in her current location and how that relates to conducting a long-distance marriage with her husband. When I read the post yesterday, I immediately related to everything that she was saying about how isolating oneself can be an easy thing to do, and in reading the comment thread to her post today, what struck me is the range of people who identified with what NK wrote, whether married or unmarried, gay or straight, whatever.
As you all know, one of the reasons that I have decided to go on the market this year is in part because of this very issue - because of the fact that I don't feel like my "life" is here, or like I have a life here. As many (both on the blog and in my real life) have noted, moving may not be the answer to this, but the decision to try, to look and see what's out there, is very much connected to the fact that I have tried very hard to do things to make a life in this location and all of those efforts haven't resulted in me feeling rooted here. I've connected this failure to feel rooted at least in part to being single, to the fact that I'm not even close to dating/being in a relationship with anybody, but in reading New Kid's post it occurs to me that a relationship alone doesn't necessarily make a person feel rooted - particularly when one can't live in the same place with his/her partner.
See, this is the thing: this profession is pretty universally isolating. In part, we have to isolate ourselves in order to do our jobs. Grading is not social. Research is not social. Service commitments infringe on our weekends and evenings. In choosing this profession, we choose a lifestyle. But whereas making this choice may not seem very dangerous to us in graduate school, when we have a cohort of people to hang out with and who understand our experiences, or when we begin to think about joining this profession, when we probably still live in or near our hometowns, and have strong networks of family and/or friends who are geographically convenient to us, the reality is that most of us don't get jobs in our hometowns or in our grad school cities. We get jobs in places where we probably won't know more than one or two people if we're lucky, and we need to start from scratch. (And even if you did get a job in your grad school city, you're still weirdly isolated because your friends leave, or those who stay are still in a different life place from the one you're in, or whatever.)
The problem is, the vast majority of grown-up people don't start from scratch with making friends. They just don't. At a certain point, as Oso Raro noted in the comments over at New Kid's, friendships happen more organically. It's not like being 14 on the first day of school and having an expectation of making new friends. For grown-ups, the expectation is that you've got the friends you've got, and while you may meet new people, you most likely will not become "best friends forever" with most of them. But as an academic, uprooted from the social networks one builds over a lifetime when people ARE making their best friends forever - from ages 0-25 or so - what is a person supposed to do? Because when you move to a place, you NEED to make BFFs, whether you're married or single or somewhere in between. Because people need friends.
And the thing is, it's embarassing to say that as a 30+ year old person. It is embarassing not to have friends. It is embarassing not to know how to make friends.
What's funny about this is that I had a conversation with my best friend here about this very thing a while back. And it was like we were revealing a dirty secret to one another just in admitting that it sucks not to have friends here. (This is also ironic, I suppose, because we do have each other, but at the same time, having one friend is almost as pathetic as having none, you know?) At the time, I remember thinking that it was so good that we'd finally admitted this to each other, that we'd finally talked about it and stopped acting like the fact that neither one of us has been able to get it together to make friends is not a huge problem. And I had that same feeling when I read New Kid's post. It's important to shine a light on this. It's important to recognize that no matter how many friends a person has all over the country (and even the world) that a person still needs friends who are just down the street.
5 years ago