Last Thursday, “Lisa Douglas” published a Chronicle first-person narrative on “The Trailing Ex-Spouse”: The plight of the trailing spouse whose marriage subsequently dissolves and the former spouse (whom the dept. had hired first) moves on. It’s usually difficult when a marriage ends; here, that difficulty is amplified by the fact that many colleagues assume that she’s privy to her ex-spouse’s new life.
A recurring theme in the essay is the problem of gossip: If you’re the trailing spouse, then it’s hard to get people to focus on you exclusively as a professional. She reports that this can be claustrophobic, especially in times of marital discord.
I don’t have too much to add to that narrative. Obviously, A & I are both in the same department, and so face some of the same challenges of individuation, of separating out family life from the college, &c. (There’s a reason this blog is so . . . circumspect about some key issues.) Equally obviously, I am sympathetic to “Lisa Douglas’s” plight.
But I did have 2 funny stories about gossip & the 2-body problem. While universities can be little rumor mills, information always spreads imperfectly and somewhat inaccurately. (Dean Dad writes about this a lot.) Without further ado:
- The year that A was hired, after I’d been here 2 years, we both felt (naturally) a bit under the microscope. Though people were pretty good about it, it was hard to avoid thinking that people were attending to our status, how we navigated the department, etc. It was thus a welcome check to my ego when, less than a month after the key vote, two senior colleagues dropped by my office and asked, “Jason . . . what do you teach?”
- Another senior colleague knew that I’d moved to CT with a wife and an infant, and knew that my wife taught part-time in the department. But he didn’t realize that A was in fact my wife. So, when, the year after her hire, it became clear that we were a couple, he thought we were just being scandalous, considering that, from his point of view, my wife would surely find out. Another colleague straightened it all out.
So, even when you think someone *must* know a key fact about your life . . . . frequently, they don’t.