Saturday, September 13, 2014

the dress

I've been planning my wedding for about five months.  Everyone I talk to is interested in it - where is it?  when?  can they see my engagement ring?  And, most prominently, what is my dress like?

If I had my feminist hat on right now, I would go into detail about how the outsized importance assigned to the wedding dress - the thousands of dollars many brides spend (even brides whose wedding is, overall, not particularly pricey), the substantial fraction of wedding magazine advertising real estate devoted to them, and of course the sense that selecting the dress not only sets the tone of the wedding (this is what my mother, a typically very reasonable person not particularly interested in fashion, told me) but also says something fundamental about the bride.  

But - yes, that was me being brief - instead, I am going to focus on my own experience.

I knew pretty early on that I wanted something with a mermaid or trumpet cut.  I'd looked at some pictures online and those dresses seemed sleek and attractive and less fussy.  I started with a trip to David's with an old friend, where I tried on seven dresses in that silhouette.  I liked most of them - partly because it was pretty awesome to be trying on wedding dresses in the first place - and one in particular stood out (see it here).  The tight bodice flattered my curves, the tiered organza skirt felt appropriate for my beach ceremony, and I felt beautiful and bridal in it.  But I had other stores on my list, and I'd agreed with my mother that I'd wait until she came to town, a month later, to make the decision.

My next stop was Kleinfeld's, with two very opinionated friends.  I tried on many dresses - six?  eight?  - all with mermaid silhouettes.  I quickly found out that I wasn't particularly drawn to lacey bodices and in fact found them unflattering.  I loved what a corset back did for my figure.  A couple of the dresses, Monique Lhuillier styles with sculptural skirts, were promising - but none of them won the unanimous approval of my friends, who liked me in sophisticated, unfussy cuts, and myself, who liked me in something with a little bit of pizzazz.

Third, I went to Lovely Bride, a boutique in Tribeca, with my brother's girlfriend.  I tried on only two dresses there - because on the second dress we hit the jackpot.  It was a Hayley Paige mermaid with a very simple silk satin bodice, a sweetheart neckline and a low back with a tulle strap held together with a jeweled clip, and a puffy organza skirt (I don't remember the style name, but I on this page it - or a dress a lot like it - is the leftmost one on the second row).  The dress was a work of art, everything I had looking for, special and beautiful, and I almost bought it right then.

And then I went home.  I talked to my mother.  I thought about it a bit.  The dress was pricey, and it would need a lot of alterations since the chest and hips were the same size and no human woman is shaped like that.  I'd have to have a bra sewn into it, and it wasn't very forgiving so I'd have to lose some tummy pudge to look good in it.  Also, I could only barely sit in it - maybe losing weight would help? - and, because it was a mermaid, I couldn't walk fast.  The sales associate and many of my friends assured me that it wasn't an issue: on my wedding day, I wouldn't be sitting, or eating, or walking much, or moving in any way.  Apparently I'd be in a body cast, looking beautiful.

Still, I loved the dress.

And then I started looking at photographers.  This entailed looking at a lot of pictures, in particular of beach weddings.  Lots of women seem to get married on the beach in very sophisticated dresses, and some of them look silly and some of them don't.  Others wear unstructured, vintagey, hippie styles - something I liked in theory, but that hadn't seemed to work on me at David's.  One picture in particular stuck with me - a bride and groom running along the waterline together, holding hands.  The groom's shirt was untucked and the bride held her skirt up with her free hand.  

It wasn't the bride's dress that stuck with me, or the groom's outfit, and I didn't end up hiring that photographer.  But I remembered the look on the bride's face - she was happy, and in love, and she was wearing her wedding dress, and she was running.  There was no way I could run, much less along the water, in the Hayley Paige dress.  I could walk in little, mincing steps; I could dance, a little bit; I could move my arms.  In that dress, I would have been beautiful - it's impossible to wear a garment that amazing and not be - but I would have been trapped.  I would have spent the day thinking about my dress, negotiating stairs and sand, checking the state of my tummy pooch in every mirror, worrying that sitting down too fast would split the seam.  That's not the way I live - I won't buy a garment if I can't walk briskly for half an hour while wearing it - and it's not the way I want to get married.

So, the hunt was still on.  I decided I should try shopping on my own - maybe fewer cooks would help me zero in on the dress that was right for me.  I took the bus to New Jersey and went to Nordstrom, where I found some nice dresses - more Monique Lhuillier - but nothing inspiring.  I went to the Nicole Miller boutique, where I tried on many very pretty silky dresses, all reasonably priced and reasonably flattering, that did absolutely nothing for me.  They just didn't feel wedding-y enough.  

And then, one day after work, I went to Macy's.  Right away I liked the consultant - she was stylish, of course, but also down-to-earth.  She wasn't a size two and didn't seem to think I should spend five thousand dollars on a dress.  After listening to my description of what I wanted, which hadn't changed very much, she pulled some dresses and I tried them on.  Eh, eh, eh.  I had tried on so many dresses at that point - I may have actually forgotten some stores in this telling - that none of them made an impression.  The consultant let me go out on the floor - the salon was pretty empty at that point - and choose some more dresses.  It was hard to tell what a dress would look like when it was on the hanger, and I ended up with some pretty weird styles.  I was having fun, but I was no closer to finding my dress.

The consultant was the one who pulled the dress I fell in love with.  It was from their Destination Romance collection, and it had a low-key ballroom silhouette.  It was strapless with a sweetheart neckline - I figured out early on that this works best for me - and a skirt with cascading layers of organza.  It was lightweight, simple, and very bridal.  It looked like me, like something I would pick and wear even if it didn't have a "wedding dress" label on it, and it was so easy to wear and made me so happy to have on that I could - and did - pick up my skirts and run.










Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Revision

One of the problems of writing things down is that, to the extent anyone actually reads what you've written, it keeps you accountable.  From a conventional viewpoint that's probably a benefit, and it's one of the reasons people (including but not entirely limited to myself) make schedules and lists.  However, being accountable to one's later self is typically not why people write blog posts, and now I find myself feeling the need to answer for my many, varied, and highly certain statements about how I would never really grow to love New York.

Some of my reluctance to embrace New York is attributable to the simple matter of its being an acquired taste, and to the fact that when you come to the city alone, with not much money and nowhere to live, and with no real desire for an adventure, it's not an easy place to love.  It's not really an easy place to survive.  It took me weeks to stop being scared of the subway (some people might contend that I am still warier of certain lines and stops than is warranted, and it's true I have a suspicion of any train that does not run at least every ten minutes or that does not pass through my home borough).  It took months to feel really comfortable in the city, to lose (or, if I'm being honest, much of the time to mask) the wide-eyed looking-around quality of tourists.  And while I might have been more of a country mouse than most, I think there are others to whom embracing city life has been as intentional, gradual, and ambivalent.

But the other problem with New York is nothing to do with its inconvenience or its cost, its smells or its insects or its insane freakish thunderstorms that come out of nowhere.  The other problem is, for lack of a better term, its personality.

 I am not the first, or the dozenth, or the hundredth person to write - to think - about New York City as if it is a person.  To be more specific, I am not the first or the dozenth or the hundredth woman to think of New York City as her boyfriend.  Carrie Bradshaw popularized the idea long before I came to the city, and I'm sure her creators were mimicking Holly Golightly, whom I just realized she is an awful lot like.  But probably half the single women from here to the Brooklyn Bridge think of the city as their great love.  New York is a passion, a muse, a pounding pulse that will swallow you up.

And, like most of the passionate lovers of literature, New York City is a very bad boyfriend.  It is not reliable.  The subway frequently does not run on time.  It does not care for you the way you care for it.  Your rent can rise twenty percent in one year.  New York does not make sacrifices to help you realize your dreams.  It does not make a place for you in its life.  It does not introduce you to its friends.  Sometimes it seems not to know you exist.


It is not an accident that these sentences apply also to the types of men women in New York often find themselves dating.

But New York is fun!  Sure, it may be gritty, and crowded, and scary.  There may be piles of trash accumulating on the street and people shouting curses at you on the corner.  But behind the piles of trash you can find an Afghan restaurant - Afghan food!  There's such a thing! - where you can eat pumpkin fritters and lamb and rice and leek dumplings on a table with a carpet as a tablecloth.  Along the block are other restaurants: Indonesian, Hipster (also a cuisine, it appears), and Thai; and around the corner Alan Cumming is starring in Cabaret.  A few blocks in every direction are fashionable clothing stores, farmer's markets, museums, a giant park where people train for marathons year-round.  There's a new adventure on every block, and you can do a different interesting thing every day for probably your entire life.

What changed, for me, was being able to appreciate that fun.  What changed was that I found a stable job, an apartment of my own that I felt comfortable in, a few good friends, and enough comfort in the city to not be worried about losing my way.  What changed was that I found - in a figurative sense - a boyfriend.  I stopped needing New York to be my great love, my best friend, my caretaker.  Now, when the trains aren't running on time, I know another way to get where I'm going.  I don't need the city to be a stabilizer, a comfort, a home, which is good, because it's no good for that.  What it's good at is providing fun and adventure and novelty, in its own way and on its own schedule, often at what seems to be the exact wrong time.

New York is a very bad boyfriend.  Generation after generation of starry-eyed lovers have realized that, and left it.  But New York is a truly incredible wing-man.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Registry

It has become de rigueur for couples to insist, on their wedding website, that the best gift invitees can give them is their presence at the wedding and that no material gift is necessary, and then to list one or more stores at which the couple has compiled a list of desirable material gifts.  So of course this is exactly what we will do.

It took us a bit of angst to get here.  We really don't need anything and we really would never want our guests to feel obliged to spend money on us.  We are inviting them because we want them to be present on the day and we want to celebrate with them, and we know that most of them will have to spend money and time to attend in the first place, so it seems almost unfair to suggest that they should spend even more of either resource on a gift.  But I have been informed by a number of people and resources (some of them members of the Wedding Insanity Complex and therefore hardly disinterested) that not registering is actually rude, because then guests not only feel impelled to buy you a gift, but must spend additional energy trying to figure out what you would like.

So, we are registering.  We compiled a list of things to register for, which basically fall into three categories:

1) Things we should probably already have.  For example, a blender or a food processor.  We don't have either, somehow, and we have survived, but it's an inconvenience.  Also, a proper mixing bowl or bowls.  In fact we have one mixing bowl, given to me by a former roommate on the occasion of her marriage (I think it was a wedding gift to her that she didn't want?).  This was in about 2003.  And there were originally three bowls, but only one has survived the five moves since it entered my possession, and while it is nice enough, it is not what I would have picked out for myself, and why at the age of almost 35 am I using a mixing bowl that was a graduate student's castoff?
 
2) Things we have, but that we should have better (or matching) of.  Both of us have long been in the habit of acquiring 2 or 4 of things, which means we have 6 or 8 of most things, but not 6 or 8 matching things.  Fortunately we have not-too-dissimilar and fairly simple tastes; it isn't really that weird to serve Thanksgiving on two white plates and four blue ones with wine glasses of two different sizes, particularly when all parties are impressed that the turkey didn't explode and that the hosts have actually managed to rustle up six chairs.  But it would be good to have six identical plates, and cups, and wineglasses, and forks, and so on.  This presents the problem of what we will do with our bachelor and bachelorette dishes, which there are not room for in our big-for-NYC-but-not-actually-big kitchen, and some of which we are attached to (I am particularly fond of some bowls given to me a decade ago by possibly the same marrying friend, and my intended loves his discontinued cereal bowls; there are two of each so maybe we can just agree to be a household of mismatched bowls).  

Also in this category: towels.  When we moved in together a year ago we decided to store our towels separately.  This was not a completely insane decision because we have separate bathrooms, so there's no real reason our towels need to match.  But it doesn't really make sense to maintain two towel repositories indefinitely, although I can't actually think what efficiency is derived from combining them.  I have the vague sense, however, that being married will entail becoming more integrated over time, and towels seem like a harmless way to start that.  Anyway, both of our towel situations are moderately bleak, so maybe marriage is a time to scrap them all and start over.

In fact, most of our stuff is in this category: pots and pans, steak knives, sheets.  We have survived for many years with the stuff we have, purchased at Walmart and Canadian Walmart and gifted by friends and parents when they moved or married, but at some point we should give it all to Goodwill and commit to an actual kitchen of our own.

3) Things that seem like they will be fun to have.  I have convinced my intended that we should register for salt and pepper grinders, even though neither of us likes pepper and we don't know where to buy the rocks for the salt grinder.  But, so cool.  Also, we registered for a casserole, on the assumption that sometime in our marriage one of us will learn to cook.  There are some other things we think would be great to have (a bread maker, a griddle) but that we wouldn't use all that much and aren't practical to store.

So, today we started the process.  I say "started the process" because, after two hours of wandering around Crate and Barrel with our Registry Gun, it seems that - and this will surprise nobody who has ever met me, or him, or any other human being who manages to remain single past the age of thirty - getting two people to agree on how they want their kitchen table to look, even if they are very devoted to each other, is completely impossible.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Colors

There are a lot of decisions to make when planning a wedding.  Like, a lot.  That's probably the thing I understood least before starting.  And the decisions are of all sizes, from the truly monumental (should you get married at all?  to whom?) to the fairly big (should you invite friends and family to witness your ceremony and attend a reception afterwards, or get married on your own at City Hall?) to the medium-small (what should you do about food? music? a rehearsal dinner?) to the truly trivial (centerpieces, flowers, and everything to do with clothing).

Of course - and this is probably obvious to anyone who has ever been in any kind of proximity to a wedding - the importance of all these decisions is not only exaggerated by the Wedding Girlification Industry, the relative importance of each decision is completely blown askew from anything a reasonable person might believe.  I was actually asked, when I purchased my dress - which is a reasonably-priced (on the scale of wedding dresses, which means that it is possible but not likely that I may someday own another garment as expensive), fairly traditional, thoroughly innocuous selection - if I was certain it was The One.  Yes, really.  Now, to the extent that I believe in a The One, I believe my fiance is it, but nobody has asked me if I was really one hundred percent certain about him.  Because he's just the man I'm marrying; there's no reason I need to be certain of him.  A few yards of organza and lace, on the other hand - that's what's really important to get right about my wedding.

Other elements of my wedding that have been blown way out of proportion have included - so far, and keep in mind we're still months and months out from the actual day - the photographer (which I think is actually a semi-important decision, in that we certainly want to have one, but you would not believe the amount of time I have spent looking at pictures of strangers' weddings on the internet in an attempt to determine which set of photos-not-of-my-wedding best represents how I want my wedding to look in photos); the save-the-dates (you would think, if you had never planned a wedding, that there would not be many conversations you could have about a postcard.  You would be wrong.); and - most recently - colors.

Of course, I knew wedding colors were a thing.  But I figured they weren't particularly important for us, since we're not having a wedding party (the bridesmaids' dresses being typically the main sample of the wedding colors), and our venue has some pretty spectacular natural decorations, which means our flowers and centerpieces and whatever other aesthetic bits are mandatory for a wedding but about which I've forgotten will be pretty minimal.  I figured when we got around to planning this stuff - in the distant future, when important stuff like food and the ceremony itself are nailed down - we'd see what sort of decorations - flowers, table linens, centerpiece-y stuff - were available, and pick a couple colors which look good together and are easy to get.

Of course I was wrong.  We've been having very preliminary conversations with florists, and apparently it isn't even possible to get an idea of what is available without specifying two or three colors.  I have tried asking what is typically in season in May, what looks good together, and what most brides do (all of which is an invitation for them to present me some very expensive ideas as a starting point, so you'd think they'd love it) but mostly I get reactions of shock and horror.  Apparently, in order to make a deep and lifelong commitment to my significant other, I need to also have deep-commitment-level feelings about a couple of very particular wavelengths of visible light.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Act Two ... Three? Four?

When we last left left our heroine - that's me! - she was poised on the brink of a transition, and emphatically ambivalent about it.  Having met a man whom she could not find any problems with, and who - for some reason probably having to do with an ill-advised vow to laugh at all of his jokes for the remainder of their relationship (yes, he reminds of that at least once a week) - had tolerated her company for the past two years, she was about to move in with him, and she was worried.  What if she became boring and settled?  What if she didn't like having another person around all the time?  What if - horror of horrors - she had to learn to cook?

Now it is sixteen months later, and none of my worst fears have come to pass.  We chose to devote our rental budget to size rather than amenities, which means we have enough space to close a door between us when one of us wants solitude or quiet.  We learned to spend time in the same room without talking, and we got used to talking every day.  And - while I have lately taken to mixing spiralized zucchini with angel hair - I have not, so far, learned to cook.

Also, I am getting married.

This will come as no surprise to most of the remaining readers of this blog, who consist of approximately two people with whom I am friends in real life and who have already heard the news.  But it - still, months after the bestowal of a pretty topaz, well into the photographers-and-florists stage of wedding planning - surprises me.  I found him!  My lobster!  My other shoe!  The elusive Prince Pocket Protector!  And - this will come as absolutely no surprise to anyone except me - he was exactly where, and who, everyone expected all along.  It turns out that the guy for me is not a stoner, criminal, or dropout; he does not live in Australia or Siberia; he has never been married and has no scandalous backstory; he is not cruel or inconsiderate or distasteful in a way that can only be excused by vast depths of perfection imperceptible to everyone but me.  No, he is exactly whom everyone who has ever met me would expect: a mild-mannered ex-physicist, taciturn but funny, dependable and highly intelligent, with a large reservoir of patience and, at this moment, a book about machine learning on his nightstand.

So, that's actually pretty awesome.  I mean, it is awesome in a sarcastic way that my mother and everyone else was right and that all that time I spent looking under metaphorical dating-world rocks and dating the metaphorical slugs I found there in the hopes that one of them would magically metamorphose into PPP was more or less wasted, except that maybe I got some good blog posts out of it.  But also, it is actually really awesome to find someone you're excited about seeing every morning and night for the next - hopefully - fifty years.  You people probably mostly already know that.

Anyway, after that long preamble - which as always, takes up the entire blog post - I will explain why I am (possibly) back: like I said before, I am getting married.  Now, getting married is a very serious thing to do, and most of the issues it raises are too personal to be aired here.  But I am not just getting married, I am having a wedding.  More to the point, I am planning a wedding.  A planning a wedding is... well, it's a lot.  It's exciting and a lot of fun, but it's also occasionally emotional or stressful.  And it's definitely hilarious.  

So - assuming anybody's stuck around this long, and assuming I stick around to write more posts - my little Thesis Blog, which I started eight years ago to chronicle the writing of my thesis and has since then recorded - with varying intensity - the earning of my PhD, new cities and three new jobs, one thousand dates and a handful of relationships, two marathons, and any number of sarcastic remarks, is now, for a few months, going to be a wedding-planning blog.  

Amazingly, the ceiling did not fall in when I typed that.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Is this thing on?

I'm back.  You're gone, dear reader - any readers I still had when I last posted 18 months ago - but I'm back.  I realized, just today, that I needed this outlet again, at least at this moment.  Something has happened, something good but something that threatens pretty much everything about who I am, and I don't know where to turn.  So I'm turning where I have, historically, always turned in my moments of confusion: to semi-anonymous writings on the internet, the comfort of an empty room where I can shout as loud as I want.  If you're out there, go easy on me.  It's been a while and I'm probably rusty.

What happened to me - what had already started to happen when I stopped posting here - is that I met someone.  A man.  I met him almost two years ago, on - of course - the internet, and we started dating, and we haven't stopped.  This man - I'll call him B for the purposes of this post - turns out to be perfect for me.  He's smart and funny and calm and kind, and I love him more than I thought I could love someone I hadn't invented myself.  Being adults in our thirties, we're both wary of commitment, but after two years of Wednesday and Saturday nights we've decided to move in together.  This summer.  We started looking at apartments yesterday.

If you're out there, reading this - I am imagining two erstwhile readers in particular, among the most sane people I've ever known (although one of them, I've never actually met), nodding their heads and smiling, because they are happy for me, because they hoped that someday this would happen - you are wondering what the problem is.  I haven't been able to explain what the problem is even halfway convincingly to anyone except B, and while it's great that we understand each other, he's not really the person I want to talk to about it.  The problem isn't anything concrete about him or about our relationship; the problem is all about me.  What it boils down to is - impressive dating resume aside - I had not ever really imagined myself ever finding the elusive One.  When I was very young I thought, vaguely, that this guy or that might sort of morph into being him - or, more precisely, that I might magically morph into the sort of woman who had a - apparently, this is what B says we are becoming - a life partner.  A Life Partner?  Really? Do you people know me?  If not, let me tell you - I am not the kind of girl who has a Life Partner.  I am Comic Relief Girl, Epic Screwup Girl, the Sassy Spinster.  In the movie of my life, I am played by Lizzie Caplan.

So in addition to being excited and happy, I'm confused and alarmed and afraid.  I never expected something like this to happen, not really.  While it seems like something I want - B makes me happy, our relationship is a strong one, and we've talked through pretty much every major issue - what if it isn't?  What if I'm on autopilot?  What if I only think I want to be in a relationship because it's what everyone else wants, what movies and novels teach me to want, what my parents and friends want me to want?  It's not that I'm worried B isn't the guy for me.  I'm worried there is no guy for me.  Maybe I'm someone who is better off alone.  Do you ever see Lizzie Caplan characters trotting off into the sunset with normal, stable, decent guys?  Maybe you do, I couldn't get to the end of Bachelorette because it annoyed me so much, but I can't imagine it.  I worry that if it happened, her character would stop being wise-cracking and weird and start being someone who knew how to crochet, which seems to be what happens to women when they meet men they can count on.  Am I going to magically going to learn to crochet if I move in with B?  Is it, like, a requirement?

Yes, I'm being silly.  But actually I have significant worries - worries that start to sound silly as soon as I type them - on these sorts of mundane lines.  Like, will I have to start eating proper meals with meat in them instead of yogurt and breakfast cereal?  Will I have to eat them at a table, on a plate, instead of on the couch while reading a book?  And what about these books - will I be able, when I am near the end of one, or 100 pages from the end of one, and it is almost bedtime, to stay up late to finish?  Or will I have to go to bed at a normal hour like a proper adult?  Which is what this all boils down to: the realization that, to some extent, moving in with B will force me to become an adult.  Of course he's not a dictator and I'm sure I'll stay up late reading plenty of nights, probably while eating popcorn for dinner on the sofa, but also probably living together will shift my default.  I'll actually have a dining room table, for the first time ever.  And a bedroom, for the first time in years.  Maybe it shouldn't be that settling down with another person pushes along the transition to sensible adulthood, but maybe I am one of those people for whom it is.  And maybe if that happens it isn't such a bad thing?

But still.  I don't want to be... nailed down.  Not in the sense of "I want to have date around" or even in the sense of "I want to move to Paris".  One benefit of my extended bachelorettehood was that I did date around, and I did move to Paris, if only for a month.  While there are still plenty of things I want to do, I've done a lot; of the obviously exciting, you-have-to-be-single stuff, I've done - at least, almost - enough.  

It's not about what I want to do, it's about who I want to be, and as always I don't know.  In my mid-twenties, I felt that my single status made me an outcast, not because of the actual lack of a man, but because it made me confusing.  When I had a boyfriend, people could see who I was: me-and-this-one, me-and-that-one.  It seemed to me like people could make sense of a couple, they could measure each partner against the other and size them up, but a person alone - she could be anyone.  She could be anyone.  Later on, my understanding of this shifted.  It was not that being in a couple helped other people understand your intrinsic self.  Being in a couple made you the person you were going to be.  Before you met the person who would be your mate, you were just a bunch of aspirations and confusions floating around.  After, you were crystallized, decided.  Immobile.  That was who you were, and while you could be shattered you could no longer flow.  

This understanding scares me.  I don't want to be frozen.  While I like who I am now, it's a recent development.  I haven't been this person for terribly long, and I'm not sure I want to be her forever.  In fact, I'm pretty sure I don't.  She's cool and all, but is she really me?  Is this look going to work in twenty years?  In two?  What if I want to change my metaphorical hair color, or scrap the whole thing - the city, the job, the hobbies - and start from scratch?  B is, of course, supportive and understanding, but still, with him in tow - with anyone in tow - the possibilities are limited.  We might move, I might change jobs.  But still, people will look at me and see me-and-B, me-and-B, me-and-B.  They will finally know me.  Who I am now is the person I will, it turns out, have been all along.  And maybe that's true, anyway, and maybe my reasonably low level of angst these days has been why this relationship has been able to work.  But, still.  Am I ready to be all figured out?

Friday, November 18, 2011

Nearly eighteen months after leaving academia, I'm still sorting out my feelings about it.  That will sound odd to you, maybe, because didn't I spend years trying to leave?  And wasn't leaving the breakout from nearly a decade of allowing inertia and other people to run my life?  And isn't everything so much better now?

Yes, absolutely, to all of them.  I don't wish I hadn't done it.  But academia is not like a regular job; it's like a relationship.  An abusive, miserable relationship in my case, but still a relationship.  And if you end a decade-long relationship, even if for very good reasons, you're going to experience some fallout.  I know that leaving was the right decision because I didn't experience any of the fallout right away; I was relieved and happy.  Really, I was thrilled.  It was like I'd gotten my life back - except more so, because actually I had gotten my life, period, for the very first time.

But I have flashes.  I talk to friends who are professors and grad students and postdocs.  Many of them are miserable, but still, they talk about their work, their grants, their conferences, and it feels bittersweet.  That life was home for me for so many years, and it's gone.  I helped a friend compose a letter to a professor I know well, asking for a postdoc, and the professor was interested, and the friend got excited, and I felt jealous that I don't have a promising scientific career ahead of me.  And just tonight, I was Facebook surfing and saw a not-really-a-friend's new photos of the dog he and his girlfriend just got, and I was a little bit jealous of the clearly-now-permanent girlfriend because I had a flirtation with the guy that I was more interested in than he was, and then I was a lot more jealous, of the guy, because I saw that he has recently become an assistant professor at a fairly prestigious school.

It's unclear whether I left academia or whether it left me.  There are at least two stories.  The first is that I wanted to get out for years but never had the guts, that my faculty applications were halfhearted and I turned down two semipermanent between-faculty-and-postdoc gigs because I wasn't willing to do what it took to get a permanent position, that everyone I worked with and for thought I would be a great professor one day but I couldn't be bothered.  The second story is that I sweated blood for nine years as a grad student and then a postdoc, that I gave up relationships and hobbies, that I thought about my work day and night, and it wasn't enough.  I applied for every faculty position in any department that resembled my field, even if the school was in Idaho.  I went to interviews where I was treated like dirt and nobody had the courtesy to email me and say they weren't going to hire me.

Usually the truth is between the two sides of the story, but in this case both sides were true.  I was a very good scientist, and I worked very hard, and it wasn't enough to succeed.  Perhaps if I'd been more persistent and less prideful, willing to take another temporary position, I'd have wormed my way into something.  Perhaps if I'd been smarter, if I'd made different choices about advisors, if I'd picked hotter research topics.  Maybe if government funding didn't keep getting cut, or if I could blend in with other scientists by being male.  Whatever it was, it was something I couldn't, or wouldn't do.  Looking at other people's interesting research and prestigious faculty positions and exciting conferences and being jealous is like looking at your ex-boyfriend with his new girlfriend and feeling that way: completely natural, but not a feeling that should necessarily be acted on.  My relationship with academia was messed up, and it needed to end.  Would it have been nice if the relationship could have been healthy and happy and successful? Sure.  But it wasn't, and whether that was because of our fundamental incompatibilities or particular mistakes, the relationship has been ruined.

I'm better off without it.  I haven't found a replacement, exactly.  I like my current job but don't love it the way some people love scientific research or even the way I sometimes loved scientific research.  But I'm a much better and happier person now.  My life has opened up in ways I never would have thought possible even two years ago.  I feel younger and freer; my days match better with how I imagine myself.  And best of all, I feel a sense of agency.  If I don't like something - my work, my apartment, my city, my hobbies, my friends - I have the ability to improve it.  It's easy to scoff at that, say that everyone controls their lives, but for years I didn't.  I ceded control of everything to the dysfunctional relationship that was my career, and I didn't understand that it was not going to voluntarily return my agency to me.

I'm still a work in progress, of course.  I haven't found my One True Career, and I don't know if I ever will.  I'm prone to occasional bitterness, as tonight, about the way my past career ended.  I feel jaded, used up, and a way behind.  Other people much younger than me have progressed much further in my current line of work.  But I don't think I came away from it empty-handed, and when I do find my True Career Love, I'll be a better worker because of what I learned from my first, horrible, marriage to academia.