Monday, September 17, 2007

Does dating depend on the job search?

One of the subjects in the debate about women in academia is that women come to tenure-track jobs just as they want to have children, which they've deferred until their 30's. Whether that's a good idea is another question --- babies are never easy, and from talking to women who have had babies in grad school, they really appreciated the flexibility which doesn't exist as much when you're working.

In my case, and the case of many women in my position, I'm coming to critical job points having not even met anyone that I want to marry. While the job search is easier without dual career needs, it is harder because I am still constrained to cities with lots of singles. A well-meaning professor who is well-respected by presidents of small colleges mentioned to the president of a top-10 small college three or four hours from the nearest liveable city that he should hire me, and then suggested that I email him. If only he could have recommended me to the president of Barnard! It's obvious that a young single person simply can't live in the middle of nowhere if they want to get married, and even moreso if they belong to a specific ethnic group and need access to a mosque or Armenian Orthodox church or whatever with a singles scene.

I'm in an awkward position of being not obviously partnered but claiming in the passive tense things like, "there are unfortunately lots of geographical constraints on my job search this year", as I said to a guy recruiting for a desirable position at a really top university in a small city who wanted to interview me. And then there are questions of the commute --- there are lots of universities within a 2 hour radius of desirable cities. Could I swing any of those? Could I, who has never had any kind of commute at all until this year, endure more than a 1 hour daily commute each way? Is it economically feasible to have an apartment near the university and one in the city?

Women who are married and want to have children can be open about their needs for a "family friendly" university and the difficulties of a dual career search, and I know that's difficult. I know many couples where one member has taken a suboptimal job (and in many cases, that's the husband, actually) because their spouse got an offer that they couldn't refuse. Women who want to have children, but don't even have the prerequisite life partner and so have more steps to go through before they can have children, cannot discuss their needs. So we're left to the passive voice, and all are pursuing jobs in the same cities.

Which comes to another issue: choice of partner. The stereotype is that women want to marry someone who is at least as accomplished as they are, and men are not as concerned with this as long as the women are smart; this stereotype seems to be true, but exactly how this works and why raises questions like how women choose careers and whether women who go into pink collar jobs are choosing not to be as ambitious, which is a huge can of Larry Summers worms. Regardless of whether or why it's true, the argument from the stereotype is that highly-educated straight women are in a difficult position for dating: their male peers are willing to date women who aren't as educated, so their counterpart pool is smaller than it could otherwise be.

If that's true, in choosing cities to concentrate their job search, women in academia have to think about which cities have the largest pool of comparable men. Off the top of my head, I can think of less than a dozen US cities with reasonably large pools of educated and intelligent men. If that weren't restrictive enough, there are differences even within these cities. A gay friend of mine who has a non-academic career with lots of smart people, has lived in several of the cities and told me that he felt that only one city had a gay dating pool where he felt like he had a good chance of meeting intelligent people with similar values; for instance, one city should have had lots of smart gay men, but not only did he not find them, but there was lots of casual hard drug use. I've also lived in several of the cities, and I've found dating to be easier in some cities than others. None of this is to say that dating is impossible in any of these cities; it may just require more searching to find the smaller number of potential partners. It does mean that I have clear preferences among this already small number of cities.

All this adds up to the inescapable conclusion that my dating life depends on my academic success: in order to have the best chance at a good job in a good city, I need to work to publish as much as possible as quickly as possible in time for next year's job market. I'm a strong believer in Boice and others who say that optimal working leaves sufficient free time to have a satisfying personal life, so I won't say that this is a paradoxical conclusion. It is strange, though, that we talk about women being less ambitious for their personal lives, but right now it seems that I have to be more ambitious for the sake of my personal life.

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