A view from the middle

In less than three weeks, Sydney will be home, after 8 weeks of being in England. I will be very glad to see him. I will also be glad that only three weeks of real class time will have to happen between his arrival and the beginning of Cornell’s week-long spring break. Ahh, I love perfect timing! This year you won’t catch me doing taxes on my spring break–no sir! I’ll be at home, reading for my exams, making good food, and hugging Sydney every chance I get! Hmm, that does mean I have to get the taxes done before then, though . . . guess my to-do list for things-that-must-happen-before-Sydney-returns is getting longer!

But just for the record, I can’t make any claim to having “made it” through our 8-week trial. Making it would mean that Sydney had gotten to do massive amounts of research and I had held up at home and gotten a lot of work done for my impending pre-dissertation exams. Oh yes, and I might even make some claim that “making it” would involve something along the lines of achieving emotional stability and developing appropriate coping mechanisms for missing someone. Perhaps I set too high of a bar, but that’s certainly the “making it” I had in mind when we began this endeavor. Instead, trying to keep me from despair has consumed massive amounts of time and energy: mine, Sydney’s, my parents’, my friends’, and that of anyone else within reach. Not to mention the inability to get work done. Oops.

I’d talked with a fair number of couples who have spent time apart before Sydney left. I’m not sure how they do it, but I just know (and know very painfully) that I didn’t. Unfortunately, the whole England experience will be tainted by the strong smell of failure.

I do, however, have a strong suspicion that the next three weeks will be much better. Both Sydney and I want to get a lot done before we see each other again, and we don’t want this to be a total failure! But I guess, for me, the having had such a rough time at all, no matter how it “ends,” is a kind of failure–one that I shouldn’t write off because of later improvement. I don’t think it’s worth getting into a position to feel that bad. If your spouse develops a terrible illness or has a serious accident, then you deal. But academia doesn’t to me seem a strong enough reason to invite such unhappiness (Warning: I am speaking only for myself, and not making any judgments about others who have chosen to be apart and are dealing. My best wishes and prayers for you as you fight it out). But maybe I’ve just been reading too many modernist novels in which the end is soooooo not the point, and that force you to pay attention to all of that stuff in the middle of the story that we often forget once we get to the end.

Why am I telling you all of this? In case you’re embarrassed (some of you don’t know me very well, I realize), I thought I would put this out there because a) I have finally achieved enough equilibrium to think clearly again, for which I am grateful, and to which I would like to testify by this post and b) I thought it might be useful to have someone say flat-out that being apart didn’t work. Not for this couple, in this particular situation, and at this time, anyway. In academia, being apart from one’s spouse is a commonplace. It’s assumed that you will do it and that it won’t bother you too much–you have a job to do, after all. Will this keep me from ever trying this again? Not necessarily. I realize situations and sentiments change, and the academic life has much that is alluring. But this experience will certainly make me think twice about anything that might conjure up a second round of such a mess.


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5 Responses to A view from the middle

  1. Heidi says:

    I do have to say… I don’t think you failed if you are still together.

    That doesn’t mean this is an endorsement to try it again… just that it wasn’t a complete failure.

  2. Lisa says:

    I will second Heidi’s sentiments, and add that if it were easy to be apart for so long, I would question your relationship with Sydney. Distance sucks. No one likes it.

    If anything, this should reaffirm that your marriage was a good move – that you’re happier for being together.

    Being “in academia” shouldn’t ever have to mean long periods apart. Sure, there will be conferences that you can’t attend together, but you can choose not to wander abroad for long stretches if you want (or you can take sabbaticals together!).

    And now, to be completely hypocritical, back to writing lectures in my lonely apt…


  3. fustianist says:

    Don’t worry: I didn’t mean to imply that the entire venture had been a failure. For example, I came back from England with great new tea and two lovely mugs! But there was some break, some failure in there that hurt, and, being me, I want to hold onto it enough to get a good look at it and make sure I know what to do with it.

    Like I said, I’m doing much better and, by the rate at which “Suarez” and “mediaeval” are cropping up again in Sydney’s email, he is, too. And no, being in academia need not mean time apart. But you wouldn’t know it by the way most faculty talk, and being unwilling to move or be apart from one’s spouse will certainly limit your options. Sydney and I are in the humanities: we may not get a lot of options! And, had not a number of kind people given us a hand, we would have had to be married OR go to grad school–not both.

    I am rather haunted by one academic biography in which the professor noted that he had moved 30-something times in his career. His wife, who stayed home with their children, moved the family and readjusted to a new environment 30-something times. If I am so fortunate as to get an academic job, I will not be able to pick up and move like that. Not that I would want to. Sydney, the name is failing me–can you remind me who that was?


  4. fustianist says:

    Are you referring to Alvin Plantinga? I’ve actually seen a good many CVs that look like that.
    – Sydney

  5. fustianist says:

    Thanks for coming up with the name, but no thanks for confirming that it’s a common phenomenon!


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