I am at a crossroads. Only a couple of years into my career I am faced with the very real, very scary decision of prioritizing professional or personal.
I’ve read many articles and blogs about this issue and unsurprisingly the discourse is centered on women and the choices we are forced to make between our professional and personal identities. So often this conversation is about if married women should change their last name or when women should have children in relation to the tenure process. While these conversations should undoubtedly be had at every institution, I am left wondering where single (i.e., not in a relationship) women fit in this conversation. I hear Carrie Bradshaw whispering in my ear…Single and Fabulous! Single and Fabulous?
I moved across the country to take what turned out to be my dream job. Everything people describe in their ideal employment situation is very true for me: I am able to design my own courses, prioritize teaching over research (this is a personal preference), get to know my students very well because of the small class (and College) size, form strong bonds with colleagues across departments, have my contributions be respected and valued, shape the trajectory of the department and College, have institutional support for attending conferences and funding research, be compensated fairly for my work. I get up every day and look forward to engaging with students, designing new courses, writing manuscripts. I feel excited, challenged and fulfilled.
Then I go home. To an empty house (my dog not withstanding).
I know at this juncture many people will say “you gotta get out there and meet people!” I agree. So I did.
In two years I’ve joined three meet-up groups with different foci. I’ve been a member of all the major online dating websites (the free and very much not free ones). I even hired a matchmaker. I go to movies, restaurants, bars, the mall, the library, coffee shops, the dog park all with hopes of having a casual conversation and making a new friend.
To no avail. This is not because people do not have conversations with me. They do. Then the conversation ends and I watch them leave the establishment hand in hand with their spouse/partner. The same is true for colleagues at work. I have wonderful colleagues with whom I laugh and have great conversations. The problem arises when I—a single woman with no children—want to hang out after 5pm. They can’t. They have children to pick up, spouses with whom to spend time, family visiting, chores to accomplish.
I am one of 173 faculty members at my institution. Of those 173, I would liberally guess that 25 have never been married (If I were to put money on it, I would lower that number to 12). But let’s say it’s 25. Of those 25, I am the only one under 40 years old.
It is quite the dilemma. The harsh reality is that I am in a different phase of life than a 40 year old/married/parent. While I enjoy spending time with them (and sometimes their spouses and children), the things I want to do, the conversations I want to have are hard to come by. You can only handle being a third wheel for so long.
So I find myself spending more time alone than I ever have in life. Even during the haze of graduate school I managed to make connections with people and have a social life. The sad reality is that no matter how much I love my job and my colleagues, this existence is not sustainable.
But do I sacrifice a ‘perfect’ professional situation and go on the job market with hopes of employment in a hipper city with more young professionals….OR do I count my blessings that I HAVE a job (as so many PhDs are outside of the tenure track circle) and keep the faith that I will eventually (seemingly magically) find a man who is unmarried, the appropriate age, wants to have children, is not intimidated by my degree/profession, is interested in me, and with whom I have a connection?
When do I say when? Is it worth the risk?
I guess I echo Carrie Bradshaw in asking can we have it all?