Thursday, July 26, 2007

Academic Ex

This week's installment of "Dear Prudence: Advice on manners and morals" at has the sad tale of an academic couple's relationship that ended acrimoniously. They are in the same field, so encounter each other at meetings and have many colleagues/friends in common. This particular difficult situation is an occupational hazard for academics, and the potential for it to occur is perhaps especially likely for women in science/math/engineering because it is so common for us to be in a relationship with someone in the same field. If a break-up is accompanied by hostility, immaturity, indiscretion, and/or a tendency to gossip, the result could possibly harm the career of one or both members of the ex-couple.

I have been somewhat fortunate that most of my pre-marriage relationships involved men who have subsequently either left academia or have a very low profile, so I seldom, if ever, encounter them. There is really only one I greatly dislike seeing at conferences. I could certainly do without that, but at this point, he is so irrelevant to my life that it is mostly just irritating to run into him at a conference.


Q. What does your husband, who is in the same field, think about all this?
A. In general, he doesn't have a problem with the fact of my academic ex-boyfriends, and in the particular case of the loathsome one, he feels sorry for the guy and is very polite to him when they run into each other at meetings.

Q. Does your husband have academic ex-girlfriends, thereby making conferences a minefield of ex-'es for the two of you?
A. He had accumulated a number of ex-girlfriends by the time we met, but none of them are academics.


Anonymous said...

Had to laugh. Nearly all of my significant relationships (a very small number, as I have been married, also to a scientist, for 14 years) have been with men in my field. Recently I was invited by a colleague to give a seminar at her department. When I was browsing her department web page, I noticed that one of my ex's was in the same department. That break-up clearly qualifies as "accompanied by hostility, immaturity, indiscretion, etc." I managed to politely decline the invite, but one of these days I'm sure it will come up.

Not two weeks after this incident, my department started looking into the possibility of hiring my only other scientist ex-boyfriend, as his wife was being recruited by another institution in my city. Fortunately for me, this never came to anything, as he and his wife got better offers elsewhere. Win-win.

What are the chances that in the space of two weeks, 100% of my scientist ex-boyfriends would come up in potentially embarassing, or atl least uncomfortable professional situations!

From other scenes I've witnessed at meetings and such, I feel rather lucky that my situations were easily avoided and not detremental.

Ianqui said...

My only ex in the field (considering that I met my future husband at the end of my first year in grad school) is someone I still kind of have a crush on. He would have made a terrible husband so I don't regret not staying with him, but I love seeing him at conferences. I don't know whether it's worse to run into people you don't really want to see or people you still have a crush on!

Anonymous said...

I've never had a problem with any of this simply because my wife and I have been together since I was an undergrad (and in a completely different field at the time). However, what disturbs me is the, albeit very rare, situation in which a student gets a crush on me. It's awkward trying to rebuff such things while simultaneously worrying that one's objectivity will be called into question.

Helen said...

Gosh - this is the reason I'm so afraid to date within my department. I'm in engineering so there are all these available men, but I don't want to be running into ex-boyfriends for the next 4 years (I'm a second year grad);