By Anonymous |
You keep hearing about this Phil. He’s in that book you took out of the library six months ago and just started reading, he was mentioned twice in lecture last week, even your favourite journal just published an article about him. Pretty soon it seems like Phil is everywhere. You can’t stop thinking about him. You start scholastically stalking him, checking out the library catalogue, ILL, JSTOR, and even searching for some of his ex’s on academia.edu. Sure you’ve been with research topics before, some of them quite seriously, but it never seemed to work out. (That summer fling with economic history? Dear God what were you thinking?) But Phil’s different. He’s intellectual, intersectional, interdisciplinary, and he has a strong sense of identity construction. Most importantly, you see a future with Phil. He’s the one.
At first everything’s great, that honeymoon period when it’s all new and exciting, before the disagreements, disappointments and pain. Right now, you see nothing but potential. You talk about Phil to anyone who asks and probably for much longer than they would really like you to. You’ve met all of his friends. You like them, for the most part; except that Foucault guy – you always feel like he’s watching you, it’s creepy. Still, you want to maintain your own life outside of Phil. You go to the pub on the weekend, keep up with your hobbies and friends. Why do people say this is so hard? They clearly don’t have what you and Phil have.
Gradually, almost imperceptibly, the honeymoon period ends. You realize you haven’t been to the pub in months, your running shoes lie forgotten in the hall, and your inbox is flooded with messages from friends that you’ve been too busy to reply to. But that’s ok, you’re just comfortable, right? You enjoy spending all of your time with Phil; he’s all you need. But sitting at your desk late at night, trying to work through the same chapter in the same way you did last night and will again tomorrow night (unless you’re too tired which let’s be honest is happening more and more) you realize, you’re not comfortable, you’re in a rut, a deep one, with no idea how you got there or how to begin to get out. You start comparing your research relationship with the others around you. Carly seems to know her Phil so well, they seem so in sync. Kyle just got part of his Phil published and won an essay prize! His Phil isn’t even that attractive, ‘Corn Production and Conquest in the Incan Empire’ who’s going to read that? Sarah gets to take her Phil to France every year. ‘Why don’t we get to go to France Phil? You could be transnational, right? No, I’m not trying to change you. I’m sorry.’
Despite the rut, you still like Phil, he’s interesting, challenging, and you have fun together. But is that enough? You decide that it is time to introduce Phil to your friends and colleagues, see what they have to say about your relationship. You attend what can best be described as an Academics Anonymous meeting with below average catering during which you stand at the front of a sparsely populated room and say ‘Hi, I’m Karen, and I’ve been working on subjectivity for 18 months now.’ [Hi Karen]. And, to your relief, they like Phil, they ask questions, give feedback (some more welcomed than others), and reignite that spark you worried was out forever.
Things are looking up. You feel like you’ve connected with Phil on a deeper level, you know him better than anyone. You’ve planned your future together and it’s just as exciting as those first few months. And then, you find it. Tucked away in a dark, dusty corner of the library, Phil doing chapter 3 with some historian named James McConnary. What the hell? Who is this? Phil never mentioned him. You’ve never done chapter 3 with anyone before but you were going to do it with Phil and you thought it would be the first time for him too. Now you know you have two options. You can do chapter 3, better than James, or chapter 3 becomes like that shadowy place in the Lion King, ‘you must never go there, Simba’.
This discovery hits your confidence in more ways than you would have expected. All the worries and doubts about your time together come bubbling up to the surface and you pick fights with Phil over every little detail ‘why would you even mention post-structuralism? . . . .I thought we agreed after the last existential crisis never to talk about that again? Because nobody actually knows what it is and people who say they do are either insane or lying.’ That’s it, you decide, you and Phil need a break, possibly a permanent one.
At first there’s this great sense of freedom. You go out, into the real world, with friends you haven’t seen in months. It’s nice, relaxing with a pint, watching a movie in the actual theatre, reading in the park, is this what the sun actually feels like? It’s been so long you’d almost forgotten. You start thinking about all of the other ‘Phils’ you could have been with. The research topics that caught your eye but you let pass you by. You begin a series of academic one-night stands but none of them satisfy you completely. Waking up for the umpteenth time with half-read articles scattered around your room your thoughts turn back to Phil. You just aren’t connecting with anything else the way you connected with him. You miss him.
Sheepishly you sit down in front of your computer again. ‘Hi Phil. No, I’m sorry. I just wasn’t ready. But I am now. Let’s Viva!’ Maybe you’ll stay together, maybe you won’t. Divorce rates are high in academia. But you’re willing to take that risk. After all, maybe Phil is the one and maybe you really do know him better than anyone else.