Monday, June 09, 2008

Friends

You know I'm in a productive spot when I'm doing three posts in a day. Weirdly, I find more time for the blogging when I'm rocking it with the work. This is why this blog is probably not a good representation of normal faculty life for normal faculty members. When I'm on, my friends, I'm ON - with blogging, with working, with everything. And I'm wicked productive in all areas. And thus, I do a lot more than many might in my position, and thus, you should not hold me up as any sort of a role model as truly, I'm most awesome when I'm most busy. Which is probably why I'm a perfect fit for my current job, though it is in no way representational of how all people operate, or operate best.

What does this have to do with friends, you say? Well. I am a good fit for this kind of job, but I've often questioned that because this particular environment has had me stymied. You see, in previous situations in my life, whatever the location, I've easily and handily assembled a posse of friends. Easily and handily, I say. Without really making an effort. Here? Well, I've loved my job, but no posse has materialized. And that has made me wonder whether I really love my job, if that makes sense.

Over the 5 years I've been here, I've wondered whether taking my ability to make friends for granted was a mistake on my part, as here.... well, it just didn't really happen. Sure, I've got BFF. And I've got Naomi, the high school friend that's in a grad program nearby (though she's often unavailable because, well, she's in grad school and was studying for comps and now starting her dissertation and we know how all-consuming that can be). There was the brief interlude when I had that Stupid Freud (old readers will know the backstory on this, new readers, well, it's all in the name and there's really no need to give the full description of that retarded moment in the universe.)

But so, the whole "friend" thing, from first arriving here, was weird. First, I think that I had unrealistic expectations. I assumed, wrongly, that when I was hired someplace that the people there would invite me places and want to befriend me. Not so here.

Now, you might think that this means people at my university suck. Actually, that's not really true. What it is more is that the culture of this place is that people here have families and/or are tied to the place and so have their own crew of peeps. And thus, they didn't really need more friends. To make matters more complicated, the year that I was hired in my department so were a handful of others, so with there being so many of us, I think people felt overwhelmed by the crop of newbies. I also think they figured we'd just befriend each other, so they didn't have to bother.

What this meant was that the social opportunities in the opening of my time on the tenure track tended to be very work-related. It's not that I didn't get invited places, but it was always with other colleagues. (Example: that department party I went to recently? It was probably 95% faculty. People don't even bring their spouses to such events, and the person hosting doesn't invite friends outside the department. This, here, is the norm.) If the only people that you see socially are also the same people you see in the department copy room, well, there's not much room to develop a crew. You already know the people, and they know you, and well, all you do is talk about work.

Now, the way I've happened upon friendships in other locations was that I made a friend, and then through that friend I made another, and then I got invited a place where one of those friends invited all of their circle of friends, and then, all of a sudden, I had a crew. Here, well, the invitations always were only to people whom I already knew. And whom I worked with, or who were the spouses of the people with whom I worked. There was never any widening of the circle.

And when you're new on the tenure-track, such a situation is made even more fraught by the fact that many of the people with whom you are socializing will also be evaluating you for tenure. If there are no outside invitees, then you feel kind of like you're on an extended job interview and like you've got to be cautious and not really strike up friendships.

So, yes, thank god for BFF. But the whole situation really made me doubt my ability to make friends as a grown-up person. I began to think that the problem was me - or my age - and that I was doomed. And so then I checked out of this place, and went on the market for the past two years, thinking that the problem was location, location, location, and so I barely tried. And I then thought that this made sense as a thing to do, as I'd never had to try before, so if I had to work so hard to find peeps, maybe this place wasn't for me.

I mean, when I go to a conference I can make a lifelong friend in a heartbeat. I've done that in my time here. And I've made friends through this here blog without trying. Dude, I've found romantic attachments through this here blog. So why was I in the social wasteland where I lived? It must mean that the location sucked and that my job sucked. Even though I loved my job. Even though I'm getting paid a decent salary and even though I'm relatively close to family.

Here's the thing. My job doesn't suck. Yes, it's a 4/4 load, but I teach a maximum of 80-90 students a semester only. And I've had course releases since forever ago (although I will not have one next semester - alas) and so with those it's been more around 60 - and this semester only about 30. I like the people with whom I work. I don't have to worry about speaking up in a faculty meeting - my colleagues welcome it. Any research I do is awesome, as nobody expects me to do all of what I've done. I can teach anything I want, without the worry that it will hurt me. I have about 25 advisees, which from talking to my friends at other institutions seems positively like a small amount. Especially since they aren't required to meet with me. I'm thriving here. And yet, I've felt like I should try not to be here, in large part because of the social situation, with a bit of feeling like I was disrespected because I am here.

See, the thing is, I've had a lot of people in my time here tell me that I could "do better" and that it was ridiculous to "settle" for this place. Dude, my diss adviser indicated that when I got the offer for this job. And even my colleagues here have assumed I'd want to leave. And when you don't have peeps, it's easy to believe that sort of thing. So, on the market I went.

In the interim, I tried online dating, I started a blog, I went to lame-ass singles events, I did all of this shit to try to find some connections. I tried - and really hard, too.

Now, the blog has been nothing but good, though it's not made me any more connected to this place. It's merely (merely!) meant that I've not been miserable and without a friend in the world. But that's not done much to foster a life and a community where I live. And the things I've tried to do to make a life where I live? Well, they've failed miserably.

And yet, weirdly, in the past six months, all of a sudden, well, there is hope on the horizon. It's like now that I've accepted I'm here, people are all of a sudden ... well, the only way that I can put it is normal. People are treating me like I'm not just a colleague, but a person - a person whom they'd like to get to know. Even though I'm not married - which, yes, is an issue here, as the culture is very couple-oriented.

And so I think to myself, maybe this place is ok. Maybe I'm ok here. Even if it wasn't how I'd thought it would be when I got hired.

I'm not going on the market next year, barring a job that's made for me in Hometown, and I'd only apply for that because it would be such an easy move and such an easy transition. No, I'm in it here, at least for now. And I'm committed to settling here - not settling for here. I'm great. This place doesn't make me less great - in fact, it's really made me more great. I could live out my career here, if certain things fall into place. I could also leave here if something totally awesome (and not necessarily a job) came along that warranted it.

In other words, I'm in a good place. It's weird to think that the reason that I'm in this good place is that I hung out with a colleague and that I got invited to a social gathering that might include people with whom I don't work. But it's a start.

4 comments:

David said...

Cool!

Here isn't so bad. I've (we've) gotten real lucky on the current academic stop, but I'm (we're) starting another one next year and hoping to get lucky again. To catch a crew is key.

For me, it a return to a place half-way between Home near Here and Hometown. So we'll be close but hang out-able.

But first I must finish the diss.

gwinne said...

I really appreciated this post. I left a job I liked, where I had great friends, to accept a "better" job (an R1) closer to family. The thing I most struggle with is not having real friends here. Despite being incredibly introverted I have gone out of my way to strike up set up friendships--with other parents in my neighborhood, with colleagues, with people in other departments--by inviting them to lunch, having them over for dinner, meeting at parks with kids, etc. And honestly...not much has worked out. We get along fine. But we're just not kindred spirits or our schedules are so out of sync that it's nearly impossible to see each other. The result? My closest friends are grad students. I'm not sure that's bad. But it does strike me as unusual...

Jonathan said...

Did most of the people in your cohort end up with tenure-track jobs of the sort that your adviser thought more suitable? I'd assume not. So, how are these expectations maintained?

Comet Jo said...

really interesting to see another person's take on this stuff, since it is on my mind too--I've been at the present job a year & have great nice colleagues & enjoy the teaching, but a crew has not settled out, and the family nature of the place is part of it. Going to give it some time of course, since in my experience year two is better than year one for that sort of thing.

Btw, is someone playing with the word verification software? Right now it is asking me to type in "gdamm" and I read yesterday of someone being confronted with "fucku"?