An interesting discussion is currently going on in my favourite PhD forum . . . .
It started with a general discussion about online dating and match making websites but quickly became an exchange of views on the pros and cons of admitting to having a higher degree/being a doctoral candidate.
The majority vote seems to be that one should be upfront about these things as it’s the type of thing that is going to come up fairly soon – let’s face it, not many grad students can go for very long without talking about ‘their research’ – it takes up so much of our time and is often a large part of our identity that I see maybe one date tops before the beans are spilled. Let’s face it – it only takes one reference to Foucault and the game is up.
Most people seemed to think it was important that a potential partner was able to deal with the fact that you are probably quite smart and inclined to used your mind a lot, as in carefully researched spreadsheets comparing local Chinese takeout – apparently some people find this annoying, go figure.
On the other side of the fence, there are those who argue that this information is only relevant if it looks like the other person may become more than a one
night stand date. I fall into this camp of thinking. If the person is only going to be around for a finite amount of time for whatever reason, they don’t need to know everything about you. If, on the other hand, you get to date 3 or 4 then it’s probably a good idea to let them know that you are a bit of a brainiac and have a tendency to over-evaluate – it only seems fair after all., I mean wouldn’t you want to know if they were very successful or accomplished in some way?
I have never dated an academic or anyone with higher degrees than me. My ex-long-term-partner-slash-father-of-my-kids left school at 14. After him my two serious relationships were about the same education-wise.
My original partner was with me when I originally went to university, right up until my Honours year and my first foray onto PhD-territory. We were together for about 15 years and had two children together, it was and still is the most serious relationship of my life.
He was initially thrilled when I was accepted into university and he championed my (part-time) studies for a couple of years unconditionally. The problems arose when I began to get ‘good’ at studying – when I began to discuss theories and theorists; ideas that were new and I guess, threatening in some ways to the status quo of our relationship.
I would love to tell you that it all worked out fine and that we overcame our differences but the truth is that I was doing a lot of growing and by the end of my undergrad degree, I was a different person. After starting grad school there was no comparison between who I had been when we met.
In a way, our story is a little bit different because my ex used to come to classes and workshops with me and he knew my professors as well as I did. I went out of my way to engage him in discussions and debates and to seek his advice (often when I didn’t require it) at home so that he felt part of the experience and not left out or worse, behind. But no matter how much you include someone in your experience, unless they are experiencing for themselves, and not vicariously through you, they are only being educated by proxy — and it’s not the same thing.
I did get tired of pretending to be less smart than I was, of being less successful, less capable. But I blame myself for these things, not him – I was so worried about coming off as ‘superior’ or intellectually snobby that I over-compensated on his behalf. I didn’t really give him the opportunity to be ok with my studies and the fault for that lies with me. Who knows, he may have been fine, we will never know now.
My next (and only) two serious relationships were a sad replay of this dynamic whereby I found myself down-playing my abilities and accomplishments to spare the feelings of my partner – so they didn’t feel threatened. These two relationships were as doomed as the first and it was self-evident that much of the blame lay at my doorstep – it was my prejudices, my issues that caused the problems, not theirs (there was more to these stories, but they never stood a chance because I ‘held back’ from the beginning). I have been single for some years now and until I am sure that I am able to enter a relationship firmly believing that I can be myself in a far more fundamental way, I am choosing to abstain.
I guess the bottom line is that being a grad student and then a Dr affects you, no matter how much you may like it to be otherwise. You need to be ok with that & you need a partner who is also ok with that. That may mean dating other grad students or academics but I tend to think that this isn’t the only option. It is possible to have only one academic in the household – plenty of couples are testament to that. It’s when you meet immediately before or during grad school that it can be tricky as there is so much change going on and no matter how empathetic or interested a partner is, they can only look on as you go through those changes.
My advice is really simple.
- Don’t pretend to be less intelligent than you are in order to make the other person feel better – it’s actually insulting to them if you think about it.
- Do share your experiences and ideas – you may find a valuable dissertation partner who you can bounce ideas off.
- Don’t expect your partner to be as invested in your research as you are – it’s your life, not theirs.
- Do expect changes within yourself and your relationship – be open and honest about these, chances are the other person is feeling them as well.
- Don’t EVER think that you are becoming ‘smarter’ than your partner – you are gaining knowledge and expertise in a particular subject yes, but that doesn’t automatically make you better or smarter.
- Do be open to the idea of having a partner that doesn’t value formal education as much as you do – it’s ok for one partner to be more invested in academia than the other, as long as you are both ok with it.