The overlooked demographic

Jun 18 2010 Published by under Uncategorized

With all the recent chatter in the blogosphere about the need to highlight the ways in which guys in academia deal with home, parenting and family issues, there has been little no discussion about how single people deal with the whole academic lifestyle. I guess the general feeling is that us single peeps have it good all the time and that the apparent lack of responsibilities or family duties make it that much easier to get both work and home stuff done.

Well, think again.

As a single chicky living alone in a country where I have no family, believe me when I say that life isn’t all that easy. Examples ...

1. There’s nobody with whom you can hug and cry when you’ve had a grant annihilated by reviewers. Or when you’ve had a frustrating day at work and need to vent with someone who has an understanding and non-judgemental ear.

2. When you live alone, you never come home to a cooked meal unless you’ve miraculously remembered to turn on the slow cooker before you left for work at dark o’clock. It’s either cook it yourself or eat cereal. Or forget about even considering the cooking thing and just eat cereal for dinner. For weeks. Until you forget to buy more milk. And lunch often becomes a granola bar when you just don’t have time to prepare anything and can’t even spare 10 minutes to go out and buy anything at lunchtime.

3. Being consumed and overwhelmed by work can often lead to forgetting basic household chores such as laundry. Nothing like going to work in your running clothes when you’ve got nothing even remotely decent left in the closet. And eventually you come to the realization that the floors aren’t going to clean themselves and the lawn needs to be mowed more than once a month in the summer (am seriously considering getting a sheep or two). And don’t even get me started on discovering there are no clean plates in the house because you keep forgetting to start the dishwasher.

4. And who do you ask for help when you need a ride home from the hospital after surgery? Who holds your hair when you’re vomiting uncontrollably in the middle of the night from the post-op narcotics? Who drives you to work on the days after surgery when you’re not actually supposed to be operating a vehicle? Ummm, usually a colleague for the first one and nobody for the rest.

5. And then there are the countless nights spent on the phone with family in the land far, far away. When they go to the physician and have questions about their test results, they call the only person they know who could possibly be able to explain it to them in a way in which they’ll understand.

People with partners and/or children aren’t the only ones who find it difficult to juggle the home/work balance.

Just wanted to point that out.

32 responses so far

  • GMP says:

    This is a beautiful post, PiT. Very sad, too. I have a hub and kids, but I also don't have anyone else in this country. I can understand how you feel about your family far, far away.

  • Arlenna says:

    PIT, that is so true. It sucks to be far away from your family and close ones (I went to grad school abroad) and it sucks to have to do everything yourself. I'm sorry we always forget about it.

  • human says:

    For real.My favorite was when the person who had agreed to give me a ride home after surgery acted like I was a ginormous inconvenience and a waste of space, after I had said to him weeks before, "If this is not convenient for you, please let me know and I will find someone else."

  • Sarah says:

    Excellent post. Very true.

  • Miss Outlier says:

    I agree. It's nice not to have to plan my life around anyone else's, but it's hard having nobody to come home to. A couple weeks ago I had a terrible nightmare that my family had all died and I was going to be alone forever (dramatic, I know, but it's a dream). I woke up crying and I really WAS alone with nobody I could call at 3am. Harsh.

  • Hope says:

    So true. Great post – thanks for writing it! As someone who was single until quite recently, I can definitely sympathize. However, I think you left one important angle out. Remember that saying, “Behind every great man lies a great woman”? It’s sexist, of course, but having two people equally invested in the success of one is a very powerful advantage that I myself did not fully appreciate before. It goes beyond having a shoulder to cry on or getting advice from friends/family. It’s about having another human being pulling for me and my success on a daily basis, understanding my life and my troubles in a way that only someone that has lived them with me could. I find this incredibly comforting and empowering as I try to navigate the treacherous waters of a demanding career. It also makes me look back, with a mixture of surprise and pride, and appreciate how well I did when I was going at it alone.

  • Dr.Girlfriend says:

    Children force balance into your life, but that does not mean that childless couples and single people do not need balance! I have an obsessive personality and a tendency towards self-absorbance. The problem with the workaholic tendency is that failures leaves you with nothing but a feeling of fruitlessness in your life. A bad week in the lab is not so bad when you have taken time to do other stuff that fulfill you. If I had children I would either have to either quit my career or stop taking my classes and doing art. I do not really want that.

  • Nina says:

    Great post! Although I'm not technically single, I have lived alone the last 4 years without family close. The cereal dinners are really familiar to me ... Same for hardly being able to walk, but yet walking to see a doctor. Still I feel guilty when I see people with kids and partner struggle because I feel as if I should have soooo much spare time compared to them.

  • JaneB says:

    All very, very true.And things like cooking or yardwork or even taking classes feel more pointless with noone to share them.Being a long way from friends, which is typical as most of us move to start a new faculty position or post-doc, as well as family just makes any natural tendency to introversion/being a workaholic that much worse... and that much harder to counterbalance.Thank heavens for you lot in the academic bloggy world!

  • Ardent Biostudent says:

    I am a mid-way PhD student and I am single. My friends and family is 12 hours' flight away, and I am hoping to finish grad school ASAP. Like, now!I wake up preparing my own breakfast and lunch -- mostly sandwich. After 12 hours of work or so, I come home, and realized there is nothing to cook. So I proceed to the cereal meal.After dinner and shower, I log onto Skype and talk to friends and family for 2 hours. I might work a little too before I fall asleep.And the next morning, ... well, the vicious cycle continues...

  • skepticalem says:

    Don't forget Friday nights, when your colleagues all head home to their partners and you are left sitting alone in the office thinking, "Ah well, no point going home. I might as well get some more work done..."On the upside, no one is calling you on a Friday night, demanding to know when you'll be home.

  • pika says:

    Totally agree! Especially on surgery/feeling unwell, getting groceries for you post-surgery, doing cleaning/laundry when sick, having noone to take care of you when you are sick, etc. Or having noone to get me a warm water bottle or warm up the gel baggie in the microwave and bring that to me when I am writhing with pain in my bed, unable to stand up. And noone who would even consider listening to my complaints, as anything related to illnesses seems to be TMI for everyone.I solve the food problem by cooking larger meals on weekends and freezing individual portions for weekly consumption and that works for me. But that is only because I love cooking - it is my hobby and a way to decompress.

  • Anonymous says:

    This is all 100% true. The worst is coming home from a long trip on a Sunday evening. The fridge is empty and the clothes are all dirty. But there's no time to deal with it because of all the work that piled up in the meantime!

  • Alyssa says:

    Thanks for sharing this - it's nice to gain perspective from everyone in academia.

  • Observant Academic says:

    So true. I'm also single, female, and far away from my family and friends back home. And most of the time that's fine and I'm happy with what I *do* have. But at times it can be annoying too. Like when people forget that even foreign single females may have other things to do and assume I'm available to come in *every* Saturday.And yes, doctor's appointments. What about not being able to tell anyone you'll have to have surgery? You can't really tell your family and friends back home, because they will freak out (and start talking about how it's so hard for them that you live so far away). You can't really tell your colleagues, because, well, they're colleagues. You could tell your friends here, but you'd feel bad about it because due to the lack of support around you, you're already over-sharing everything else.

  • chall says:

    PiT> very good post. This was my experience through some hard post doc years... and so true. it's so nice to be able to share feelings, wheater good or bad, after a long week of science. Luckily, I found a pub close by home where there were some people in the same situaiton... And the thing that you can't really complain about/mention it to family and friends on the other side of the world since they go "well, you moved by your free will" and then there's that... and no hugs even for just a little time.I must say, especially after talking to a friend who's in CA facing shut downs of the lab, that being a single immigrant and facing pay cuts and lay offs makes for a bumpy road. It's not like "someone else" can help out with food/hugs/place to stay while things get sorted. It's very clear that you are alone. And that gets to you. Some of these things are not as appriciated by non-singles, simply because they are just there. Although, I guess in the long run, the grass is greener on either side depending on where you are?

  • Joseph says:

    I agree. I have bene a single immigrant in the United States and far from home. I remember having a gastroscopy without sedation because I had no reasonable way to get a ride home. Unpleasant, is I think the correct adjective for the procedure. :-(Thank you for bringing some balance to the topic!

  • Becca says:

    This was one of the most depressing things I've read in a long time. Mostly because I'm in pretty much exactly the same situation, except I'm "supposed" to have someone to hug (on the weekends) and I have dirty diapers to deal with too...(moment of self-indulgent my relationship sucks/my life sucks/I suck pout. *smacks self* ok, moving on...)

  • FrauTech says:

    Sad, but when you get married it's not like all those things magically fall into place either. Not like your spouse starts cooking for you (i made myself a sandwich, so you're on your own) or laundry gets done. However, I think Hope hit the nail on the head talking about having someone who is equally invested in your success. But then, I am close to my family as well and they provide a lot of the same functions (hospital drives, shoulders to cry on) as my spouse. So I don't think it's so much being single as being both single and far from family. It's nice seeing it from a new perspective.Reminds me of some of my family and coworkers who tell me when I am done with school I will have to "find a new hobby" or how I'll suddenly have all this free time. I have to ask them, well you don't go to school right, and it's not like YOU have a whole lot of free time. I think we all fill our space with what we have. I don't know anyone who feels like they have the whole work/life balance under control, even unemployed people with no kids seem to be struggling these days.

  • Fia says:

    I have deep respect for you, and in general for people who move abroad without anybody coming along. It is a tough experience as a couple or a family, - and I can only dare to imagine how hard and lonely it must be for a single person. Opposite to all the balance-family talking, - for me, having children brougth balance into my life, - forcing me to take a break from work every day to take care of somebody made me a much relaxter person - I don't know if I could cope with all this being single anymore.

  • ScientistMother says:

    You're totally right PiT. Alot of these work/life issues get framed as if kids are the only things that require balance. they're not. Samia had a good post up about the hetero-normative framing of this issue. I think you need work/life balance as much as I do. I think the challenges I face are different than you face. Doesn't mean mine challenges are harder or easier, just different. Or that mine are more or less important.

  • Anonymous says:

    PiT,Thank you so much for this post. It captures the experience of the single foreigner so perfectly. With all the madness of the academic life, being single and foreign can be so hard.AB

  • Micro Dr. O says:

    Wonderful post, PiT. One of my best friends in science is single and running her own lab, also away from her family. I'm constantly in awe of her ability to balance health, work and family issues (which single people still have to deal with) on her own. I also have to reiterate Hope and DG's comments. I find that my husband helps me to balance my life with work more easily than when I was single. And I'm sure adding children into the mix, while difficult, will force some needed balance into the picture. They may add complications, but we need to remember all the good things they also bring to our lives.

  • Zen says:

    I'll go one step further and say that there's even a certain degree of discrimination against single people.An instructor in our department once told me how she overhear someone saying, "Ask Kathy to do that thing in the evening. She's single." As though that automatically meant that she had absolutely no other plans or commitments.

  • Ambivalent Academic says:

    Excellent post PiT. If I lived closer I'd totally drive your ass to/from the hospital. Any time.

  • Psycgirl says:

    THANK YOU! (so true!) I am surrounded by filth as I type this.

  • Isis the Scientist says:

    Lovely, lovely post, PiT. I'm sorry I sometimes make it sound like I forget all the single ladies. I would happily hold your hair anytime you asked.XOXOXOX,Isis the Scientist

  • Anonymous says:

    Sheep?I know some good sheep jokes.-antipodean

  • tideliar says:

    That sounds like my life living with my now-ex GF to be honest...

  • PaulN says:

    As a single foreigner myself, I found similar problems during my Post Doc. Got round it though. Made some friends.

  • BrightStar (B*) says:

    This post is brilliantly written. So much of it resonated with me, as I am in a long distance relationship and live alone for the majority of the year. Thank you for writing this.

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