Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Conan the Grammarian on Leaving Misery.

People are always in one of two states with respect to each other: arriving or leaving. The two stages can be roughly the same size, or the arrival can be short and the departure be long or vice versa. People can also leave and arrive multiple times. But eventually they will always leave.

College taught me this early on. People that I thought were still arriving turned out to have been leaving for the past two years. My friends went different ways as the scenery changed. One by one, the people I knew and loved, some of which had just arrived, left. And... I was alone.

New people arrived in my life in college as I made new friends. Some people who had left before even arrived again. But I'm afraid. Won't the same thing just happen on a larger scale when I graduate? I guess, in a generation that embraces change and has trouble standing still, I just want some things to stay the same. I'm fine being aboard a fast moving ship, but I always want to be able to count on a sturdy lighthouse.

The name of this site is College Misery and this is truly the greatest misery I've suffered in college. The misery of people leaving. Does it get better after college? Or worse? And am I crazy for feeling this way?


  1. Conan, this is such a sweet and sad post. I also struggle with leaving and with other people leaving. The wonderful thing is that you always have friends you can visit. After college it happens less often, but it kind of depends on your profession and where you end up living. I try to think about my relationships as long commitments that sometimes take epistolary form rather than brief encounters that must always be in person.

  2. I hope you will find, as I have, that sometimes your friendships pick up right where they left off when you meet friends again. People I haven't seen in 20 years can remain friends in a type of suspended animation. It is a relief and comfort to me knowing that.

    Change can be more difficult after college. People you know now must leave because they have things to do with their life. How do we handle change when it's entirely voluntary, like leaving one job or relationship for another, better one? That's really tough.

    I think this is one part of life that draws certain people to academia. Faculty, or at least those with stable employment, feel as though they will always be where they are. The students change from year to year but, really, they are all the same. A new building might pop up or a Dean is replaced but generally the academic year rolls on in its own rhythm.

  3. At my age, they're starting to die. :-(

  4. You sound like me when I was in college. What you find is that some people who matter a lot to you in college fade away (I seriously cannot remember some of their names anymore), while others stick around. In general, it's a very small percentage of friends who stick with you, but that's okay. You don't need many.

    I'm guessing that you're planning on going into academia. There is a certain amount of that lack of permanence when you do get a job; not all your friends get tenure. Not all of them stay who do. But it's a bit better, and it helps when you have a spouse.

  5. I didn't expect people in college to stick around (at least the students); the nature of college is that people are in transition and that it is just a stopping place to learn some stuff before moving on... So no, it's not the same after you get out of college. People still move on, but not at the same rate, and you figure out who is worth staying in touch with and who isn't.

  6. Almost all the people I still count as friends I met when I was in graduate school, or as a postdoc, in my mid 20s to early 30s. And none of them live in this part of the country. When I first got here as a young TT person, there were a few older colleagues who gradually became friends. Then one by one they left: the dept head went elsewhere, the bright and quirky "token minority" was hounded out by overt racism, a third got a nice result and the idiots here denied him promotion a year early (so he moved to a stronger dept), a fourth (our strongest researcher) was not allowed to go on commuting between countries, so he picked the other one. So now it's the fucking desert (except for my sweetie, who is equally isolated).

    Based on my experience, college and grad school is when you make lifelong friends. It's harder when you get older: becoming established professionally, getting kids (if you want them) and raising them, getting a spouse or two or three (sequentially!) if that's your thing. It gets harder to make time to go out and make friends.

    Ideally, try to live in a major metro area, where there's enough variety that you can hope to meet people who make sense to you. And avoid the New Republican Confederacy at all costs if you're liberal, the Not Yet Norway coasts if you're conservative.

  7. Now you know one reason that academia can be such a family-unfriendly profession. It's especially so in the sciences: postdoctoral researchers moving between jobs every 2-3 years put their families through all the moving around of the military, with none of the job security.

  8. First of all, Conan, I really enjoy your posts and wish MY students would write as well as you do. It's not just that you've mastered the conventions (though that would be enough); it's not just that you also have insights and turns of phrase beyond your years. Holy Moly: you write beautifully when you don't have to, despite the workload of your classes!

    You wrote, "I'm fine being aboard a fast moving ship, but I always want to be able to count on a sturdy lighthouse."

    Yes. I hope you have some family members in your lighthouse for now. If your life turns out to be like mine, others will join them through the years. You'll make many casual friendships along the way, and maybe one or two at any particular time will turn out to be lifelong friends. I have one from high school, one from college, a few from grad school, some who are current colleagues, some who are in my husband's family and circle of friends (I feel like I married a smart, quirky neighborhood), and some who have kids the same age as mine. That doesn't count the older brother and sisters I didn't really know well when I was in college, and who have turned out to be great friends too.

    Don't let the perception of high turnover prevent you from caring about your current and future acquaintances. It may surprise you in 30 years to realize how crowded your lighthouse has become.