My bloody valentine: romantic metaphors and the academic life

cowboy-heartGo read the Bittersweet Girl’s recent post called “A Valentine to my Book,” which reads more like a desperate note from a co-dependent than a love letter. 

I’ve long thought that there is a disturbing crossover between the language of romance, sex, and commitment, and the academic job market.  (Will he call?  Did they like me?  Am I worthy of love a job?  What if they’re just stringing me along until the one they really love their top candidate says yes?  What if they think I’m just flirting and trying to get a better offer from a rival department?)  And then it gets really complicated when you already have a spouse job and you’re on the market for something better–enter the language of romantic betrayal (What if I get caught?  I can’t resign until I know for sure there’s another job out there!  But surely there’s someone else who will understand me better, who will understand my needs…)  Contrary to the Bittersweet Girl, though, I have never, ever considered myself to be in an abusive or manipulative relationship with my scholarship.

How about you?

0 thoughts on “My bloody valentine: romantic metaphors and the academic life

  1. As my friend and I searched for postdocs, we referred to our potential advisors as possible boyfriends (regardless of gender) and had conversations like “Well that one definitely likes me and he’s stable but he just isn’t exciting but Mr. Exciting over there is totally sexy but he hasn’t called in a looong time so maybe he’s just not that into me.” Though sadly, in this economy all we really want is a boyfriend with money.


  2. Actually, I think the job market is more like a 7th grade dance, or at least my experience of those — where you sat waiting and waiting, and the cute guys all went for the popular girls, and the guys who were your friends did not want to dance…


  3. Mercifully, I was never in an abusive relationship with my scholarship. As for ‘spouses’, I had one which broke promises, lied, cheated, launched tirades, and was a poor provider to boot. I left that ‘spouse’ wallowing in its own disfunction. . .


  4. Susan–yeah, most academic jobs are hardly romantic leads. Not so much George Clooney as Napoleon Dynamite, right?

    And Profane–that’s another promising angle that I forgot to mention: the bad job as the abusive spouse. When I was in my bad job, that was a convenient langauge with which to describe my experiences. No matter what I did, I was always wrong and it was always my fault, and that I should wake up and realize how grateful I should be to be in that “relationship.”

    Lilian, please elaborate on your thoughts about publishing!


  5. If I were going to use a relationship metaphor for my research, I would compare to a brand new lover (considering how long I’ve been doing this, that is saying something). And if I had to compare teaching to a relationship, it would be an LDR – full of anxiety and promise, rushed and thrilling, and hard work. But there are other things about academe I have compared both to an abuser and to drowning in addiction. One friend and I always start our emails to each other about those aspects of the job w/ “My name is susurro/friend and I have been clean less than 20 minutes . . .”

    (PS. I hit you with the meme stick, get crackin’ 😀 )


  6. How about when your supervisor describes you as his “work wife”? I get the heeby-jeebies remembering that one!

    My writing is more like my kid: I may hate it, I may criticize it, I may be disgusted with it, I may neglect it; but, dammit, it’s still mine and I love it for that. (This is why it is better that I have no actual children.)


  7. Clio B.–I like that parental love relationship analogy of one’s scholarship to one’s child/ren. I think that suits my thinking, too.

    And, Susurro–I’ll get on it later this week! Thanks for the tag.


  8. A job that you find yourself describing with metaphors like “the 57th year of a 22 year marriage…” Abusive? I don’t know. You make the call. As for the scholarship part, my current (impending) project is beginning to behave a little bit like crack cocaine–not that I know about that, but I read about it somewhere–while my current (actual) project is languishing a bit. So I suppose there’s potential for abuse there too.


  9. With my scholarship? No. In fact, I’d say my relationship with my scholarship has often been the “good” relationship that makes others pale in comparison, which isn’t so good for real life relationships.

    Now, with my dissertation adviser? Well, that was a crazy oedipal sort of thing in which I tried to please please please him, and felt like I was never good enough, wash, rinse, repeat. So while my relationship with my *scholarship* has always been good, have I felt like abusive relationships were connected to scholarship? Kind of. Sometimes. BUT – and this is important – I think I needed to construct it that way in order to love the scholarship and to get the work done, at that time in my life. I don’t think that my diss adviser was doing this. He’s a lovely man. I think I needed him to be the dominant, mean partner who treated me badly. My scholarship then became the way for me on the one hand to escape him but on the other hand to show him that I was “worthy” of him. Which was much more about my crazy state at the time than it was about him, if that makes sense.

    But no, scholarship is the best boyfriend ever, in my world.


  10. I looked for a full time academic position for two years before I finished my dissertation and then six years after. During that time I had two children, a couple of adjunct teaching positions, taught prep courses for the LSAT, worked for the census bureau and had a business. I also delivered several papers. Eventually I decided if the academic job market had been a guy I would have given up a lot sooner. I went back to school and became a nurse. However since my problem was never with scholarship but with the job market I recently wrote a book and I am working on another. Being a historian is not the same thing as having a job as a history professor.


  11. What I’ve found interesting about the Valentine/Book post (if I may use your comments space for some self-reflection) is how incredibly accurate the “abusive relationship” metaphor felt to me as I was writing it. As if I had finally found the language with which to express my misery. In fact, over the past few days, I’ve been mentally expanding on the post as I think of more and more ways that the image captures how I feel about my book. I wish — truly I wish — that my book was a sexy new love affair or a much beloved child. My life would be in a far better state if that was the case. Alas, it’s not so …

    And, yes, I recognize the absurdity and insensitivity of the metaphor, even as it rings true.


  12. I can totally get Bitter Sweet Girl’s metaphor. For myself, it’s the way that a scholarly project can be an albatross around your neck – you can’t jettison it because you’ve sunk too much effort into it already; it’s not that you’re not willing to chuck it all and start something new, but that you need to get SOMETHING out and done, in a certain time, and what you already have done is much closer to getting out than any new project would be.

    I think the abusive relationship is really with the tenure clock, which makes you stick with the half-baked relationship you never intended to be in for that long. It’s like going out with the nice football player in high school, and waking up ten years later to find that he’s welded to your couch with a beer in one hand, and how the HELL are you going to get rid of him? You know every story and every joke he’s ever told and he has nothing to say that could ever possibly interest you any more but YOU CAN’T GET RID OF HIM.


  13. The courtship metaphor for the job market works only if you think of it as total sleaze. Multiple partners in multiple hotel rooms. Department chairs spread out on beds (the dept couldn’t get a suite). Room-service trays in the hall. They don’t call the next morning — or ever. In the strangest interview I ever had an associate dean asked me to meet her at a resort about 20 miles from the convention. She was the only one there, and even though we had the interview in the lobby, I still felt dirty afterward.

    The abusive relationship with a book project is an interesting personification. May I suggest that someone who calls herself Bittersweet Girl is a target for abusive books. Take back the night, girl, and kick the shit out of him.


  14. Love the comments by New Kid and Rad Readr (just before mine, at least as it looks now). “Take back the night,” that’s about right.

    Abusive relationship with scholarship, virtually all the time! That is: abuse around it that I finally quailed, internalized, projected.

    1. Family: you will never be able to take a PhD exam, do a dissertation, etc., etc.

    1a. More family: it is hurtful to us that you are doing well in school, because we are not / did not and we feel we should. Why are you always finding new ways to hurt us?

    2. Dissertation director: you will never finish if you also spend an hour swimming every day.

    3. Dissertation director and family: if you choose your own topic it will be wrong.

    4. Job 1: if you keep publishing so much we will not like you.

    5. Job 2: we know you cannot keep publishing so much.

    6. Therapist: you and your university are both deluded to imagine you should publish.

    7. Chorus: you had better take that book contract even though you don’t agree with the revisions or like the terms, because you are lucky to have any contract offer at all, and it is a fluke, and this is probably your only chance, so do as you are told or you will be on the streets without tenure.

    SO NOW: In my memory I hear people saying these things to me every time I sit down to work. Sometimes they drown out my thoughts. Sometimes it takes all my work energy just to fight them back. When these things happen I am ashamed that they are happening. This only compounds the problem.

    I have been known to do things like work between 1:30 and 4 AM solely because that was when I was sure that all the people listed above were asleep and would not know I was working. That is because my feeling was that if any of them realized I was working they would come out to interrupt and taunt me, and perhaps club me to death. (Not that I literally thought this – but it was my animal reaction, and I still concentrate much better if I am on a different continent from all these people.)

    I guess this means or can be summed up by saying that I abuse myself and my scholarship because of other abusive relationships … which is I guess different from having an abusive relationship with scholarship, although I don’t know. I *really* envy people who have never gotten beaten up as much as I have about having scholarly interests, or been as intimidated around their book as I have (and as BG apparently has).


  15. Yes, Rad has the best advice: “take back the night, girl!”

    Prof. Zero: The great thing about academic scholarship in my view is that just getting it published is a victory to your credit. It doesn’t have to even be all that good, but so long as it’s published it “counts.” (And most of your tormentors I’m sure don’t bother to read your work–that would take effort, when it sounds like they just liked to tear you down.)

    I also liked New Kid’s concept of the bad boyfriend you’ve outgrown and who drives you crazy–and who’s much better as a story about how your life used to be. Bittersweet Girl, thanks for stopping by, and good luck!


  16. I have also tended to work in abusive workplaces and I have experienced the profession in general to be abusive. This makes the whole thing unpleasant / have unpleasant associations. Seeing my name in print, especially on something I don’t like, is hardly a compensation.


  17. Pingback: Smart Woman, Foolish Interview: Associate Prof. Alice at Blunderland U. : Historiann : History and sexual politics, 1492 to the present

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