All the Single Academics
I’m glad that Antenna is starting a work-life column series, and I’m excited about what this series can do to help us understand the personal and professional joys and struggles that academics who inhabit different identities and have different lifestyles face. I’m especially hopeful that these columns can help demolish some stereotypes and assumptions we hold about how easy or hard other academics have it. I’ve already learned from Jason Mittell more about what my colleagues with children face as they navigate academic life.
This piece attempts to synthesize my own personal experiences with stories from colleagues who will remain anonymous. It is not meant to be, nor should it be taken, as an autobiographical account of my experience, but rather as a set of anecdotes that challenge the stereotypes that single academics can write all the time (or any time we want), are free from family responsibility, and somehow have it “easier” than other academics.
When you’re on the job market, you worry a lot about where you’ll end up. You don’t want to be the only single person in the village, and you’re afraid that even if you end up loving your job in a small town that you’ll feel personally trapped (or at the least that you chose your professional life over your personal life). And if you’re single and LGBT, you worry about being the only “gay in the village.”
When you move to a job in a new town, you move alone. Sure, you have friends that will help you put items in your ABF Relocube or moving van and hopefully someone to help you move things into your new place of residence, but when all is said and done, you are alone. If you live alone, and chances are you will at least for your first year in a new town, you’ll come home to an empty apartment, which can be sometimes be really eerie, haunting, and depressing after a really long day at your university.
Achieving a work-life balance is hard. It’s easy to become a workaholic if there’s no one to force you not to be one.
I know that married couples, partners, and roommates frequently divide chores, but there’s just you, so you are responsible for cleaning, cooking, doing the dishes, boxing lunch, finishing that lesson plan, answering those student emails, and polishing up that journal article that you’ve been meaning to send out. Maybe that’s why there are dust bunnies in the corner of my living room that are starting to look like life-size rabbits.
Single academics have to create support systems from scratch every time they relocate. Establishing a new community of friends and a social network in your town becomes a full-time job, especially if you are lucky enough to be in a tenure track or tenured position. You are in the process of making a life and a home, and while you know you’ll be happiest if you adjust to your new surroundings quickly, making your new town home can seem an arduous process. You may feel that you have to accept every invitation to dinner, drinks, parties, picnics, and the movies in your first year in a new town. It’s okay to say no because you’re too busy. It’s also okay to say no because you’ve crafted a night in the week where you don’t work and you don’t worry; you just sit in front of the television watching Netflix while eating pizza.
Your personal life may be largely invisible to your colleagues. I know single academics who are the primary caregivers for parents, siblings, or close relatives who live hundreds of miles away, or who have deep ties, duties, and commitments to people who are not visible like partners and children when teaching schedules, committee assignments, and other departmental duties are divided up. It can be harder to speak up for yourself when the reasons behind particular schedule requests or needs are not visible on the left ring finger or pictures on your office desk.
There are other scenarios I could share, but I’d like Antenna’s readers to chime in with their stories. I don’t think anyone has it “easy,” and I think this series can show us how we have it “hard” in different ways so that we can be more savvy and sympathetic colleagues.