Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Coupling in the Academy. More Stories Post-Peaches.

My heart goes out to Petaluma Peaches. In my career I've seen:
  • A long-term couple break up because "she" got a slightly more prestigious post-doc than "he" did, and he literally flipped his sh*t.
  • I've seen the husband who emotionally *needed* (and academically deserved) to be the primary hire suffer while his wife (who hates research and would have been more content in the lower-pressure trailing position), got the job he wanted (ouch, but they're still together).
  • I know a man who adjuncted for almost 12 years while his wife moved up the ladder and only after she ended up in charge was he hired on tenure-track (a good plan if one spouse is ambitious and the other is patient enough to play the long game).
  • Lastly, I know one TT professor who quit because his department couldn't come up with a TT position for his wife -- the slight made her feel disrespected and miserable. She got hired TT at another U and he went along as the partner hire: he was perfectly okay with tagging along and she was simply not. They are now very happy.
I don't want to beat up Peaches - divorce is rough and she has my sympathy - but blaming her academic career for destroying her marriage is a cop-out. Their relationship failed to meet the challenge presented by her successful career and his lack of one. Peaches says there was no loss of love or attachment, and yet she couldn't stand to be in the same room with her depressed and self-loathing husband. If that's not a loss of love or attachment, it is a definite shift in priorities. Kevin chose self-loathing and depression over his love for Peaches. 
Her story is sad, but it isn't extraordinary, rare, pathetic, or even noteworthy. It is sad and I'm sorry for Peaches, but this far-fetched idea that marriage is somehow more challenging for professors than for the rest of the population is ridiculous.
I'd say Peaches is not alone. In my own adjunct/tenured relationship (guess which one I am), the pressure and tension has been very high. One of us basically has a career path firmly in place, a college job where one of us is valued highly, alongside a part-time teaching schedule that rarely tops 2 classes a semester and always includes a night or weekend class. 
One of us can't help but love the job; one hates everything about it. And as you probably know, your job can influence how you see the whole town, community, etc. One of us loves it here and wants to stay forever. One of us calls the place a "shithole" and scours out of town newspapers every weekend.
It's true that our marriage has taken some hits because of this. Like Peaches, no overt problems, but it's tough on the tenured one when the adjunct one feels taken advantage of, overlooked, etc. The tenured one has done what is reasonable to secure more and better employment. But those attempts have always been met by not so quiet skepticism by the rest. (Do they think one career is all a dual-career couple is really entitled to?)
So, I'm the adjunct. And I'd never leave my wife because of how her career has flourished and mine has stalled, but it's foolish to think we wouldn't be happier if I could ALSO feel like my career and work mattered.