This week's installment of "Dear Prudence: Advice on manners and morals" at slate.com 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.
8 years ago