Making friends as a professor or as an adult

One of the problems with being a young untenured sort of person is that, outside of your department, the majority of people you meet your age are graduate students.  Graduate students have this unfortunate tendency to graduate and LEAVE.

You can be friends with colleagues, but you can’t tell them too much before tenure.  And sometimes if you get too close you realize they’re not only crazy but you have to work with them for potentially the next SIXTY YEARS.  So a little distance with most of them can be nice.

If you have kids, you will end up socializing a lot with parents of other kids, but a lot of times even though your kids may be able to discuss Minecraft for hours, you actually have little to nothing in common with them.  Of course, if you’re not extroverted, then having kids and kids having activities uses up all your people time and you’re just kind of stuck not really wanting to talk to anybody else.  (Hopefully you enjoy spending time with your family!)

If you live in a thriving metropolis, you can meet people with your interests online or through meet-ups.  Even in smaller towns you can be active in interest groups.  Maybe politics.  Maybe school board.  Maybe board-games.  If your hobbies and interests go more in the direction of watching bad tv and reading novels, that’s not going to work so well.  (Recall that book clubs seem like *work* to many academics.)

In the end, after my new friends left and graduated, and I found the right amount of closeness/distance with colleagues, and I split children’s activities with DH, most of my new friends are conference buddies.  I see and socialize with people I like and enjoy talking with (small-talk even!) a few times a year.  Sometimes we email in between, sometimes we don’t.  Sometimes we miss each other for a year or two or three, sometimes we see each other several months in a row.  Sometimes we make time to have meals, sometimes we just chat at 10 min breaks.  It’s odd having closer friends that I travel and see than I have in my own home town, but I bet I’m not alone in this.

Have you made friends as an adult?  How have you gone about it?  Do you wish you had more or are you happy with what you have?

Why my internet searching is no good for conversations in polite company

I was having a little pillow talk with DH about how I suck these days at making polite small-talk (this may or may not have been related to spending time with his extended family).

He was all, you’d think with that blog and all that time you spend on the internets you’d have plenty of topics of conversation.

And I was all, we-lllll, not really.

I mean, what do we talk about on the blog?

Feminism.  Nope.  Not in polite company.

Racism.  Nope.  Ditto.

Bragging about kids.  Not with his family (who have their own kids), not at toddler birthday parties, no siree.  Not a chance.

Money.  I wish.  I do get to talk about this with DH’s father, but for the most part this is not a topic of conversation to bring up with DH’s family because we’re doing really well and they don’t want any suggestions.  They really don’t.  Similarly taboo at toddler parties.  Back when we did parties in cities people would ask me about personal finance, investing, and/or the economy once they found out I was an economist, but that hasn’t happened in years.  Maybe because they know they’ll see me again and don’t want to talk about their own finances?  Or maybe because nobody wants to go near talking about politics in polite company (for good reason) in a polarized red-purple state.

There’s still food.  I can totally talk about food.  That’s like the one conversation I was able to participate in over break at DH’s (though I had several opportunities to discuss toddler poop, but chose not to– that’s all on me).  Food is what I talk about when I have to make conversation with a job candidate whose area of research I have no knowledge of.  I like food.  Food is awesome.

Books… I don’t normally talk about books because I sort of only read Spec Fic (and recently I’ve added regency romance).  It’s always exciting when I find out someone else is a Spec Fic reader, but I’ve had work colleagues I’ve known for years and it’s only recently that one of us has come out as a science fiction/fantasy reader.  That’s always exciting, but it’s something one doesn’t talk about.  I recently found out that my RA also comfort reads Georgette Heyer.  But romance reading is something one talks about even less than fantasy!  Most people seem to discuss book club books in polite company and I really don’t read or enjoy them.

In truly nerdy company I used to be able to discuss anime, but nobody watches it and what with the kids and all I don’t really have time to either.  (Though DH and I have been slowly making our way through the third season of Natsume Yujincho.  Apparently if you stop watching anime for a while new seasons come out!)

Interestingly, with the exception of anime, these are all topics I can and do discuss with my family on a regular basis, with politics added as an additional topic when my extended family gets together.  Families are all so very different.

Once the topic of weather has been completely exhausted, I’m a pretty dull person in polite company.  That’s why we have the blog.

What do you talk about when you make small-talk?  Is it anything at all like what you talk about on the internets?  Where do you get topics of IRL conversation?

More thoughts on class

We love being upper-middle class.  Upper middle class is a wonderful world.  #1 never ever wants to go back.

Visiting DH’s family for the holidays provides perspective in many ways.  They have a lot of money pressures that we don’t have because given our current economic class, we don’t have anything to prove.

One of the weird things about our current social/educational/economic class is that … for example… I don’t throw away a sock just because there’s a small hole in it.  I don’t really care if there’s a hole in it or not.  The hole doesn’t say anything about me or my needs.  I don’t wear thick socks often enough to need a bunch of extras, so some of the socks with holes end up getting packed when we visit the in-laws over break.  I don’t really think it’s a big deal, but my SIL comments.  My MIL got me thick socks for Christmas this year.

And we don’t have car payments because we never bought an SUV.  Two kids in carseats fit into a 10 year old Hyundai Accent.  (And we never did get the cosmetic work done when DH’s Civic got hit while parked.  I wonder if they think we’re misers.  Though my SIL must not have noticed, or she would have said something.)

Another example– we’ve talked about the crazy gift-giving before.  We only get that from DH’s side of the family.  So Santa just does stockings and we get a small gift for each DC (this year it was a winter coat for DC1, nothing for DC2 because ze is too young to notice who gives each gift).  My parents mainly get us books.  (My parents are kind of weird class-wise.)  This insane amount of gift-buying is standard for DH’s family– even when they didn’t have money when DH was little, they still scrimped and saved to spoil their kids at Christmas.  DH’s extended relatives who are even less well-off go into deeper debt each year to provide presents– spending more money on each kid (and on their worse-off extended relatives) than we would spend even if DH’s parents didn’t provide presents.  It’s a way of proving that they’re not poor that keeps them from ever getting ahead of their debt.

We also haven’t had to buy much clothing for our children other than shoes and the occasional set of underpants or socks because of the generosity of DH’s parents and hand-me-downs we’ve gotten from friends, colleagues, students, etc.  Families we know making hundreds of thousands of dollars/year in Northern CA have extensive hand-me-down chains.

DH’s brother’s (SAH) wife was talking about how they get that huge amount of gifts and clothing new from both sets of grandparents, and now that they’re having a third child (whose gender will presumably match the gender of one of the first two children), they are buying more things on top of that.  Why do they buy clothing when the children already have more clothing than they could ever wear?  Because children shouldn’t wear hand-me-downs.

We are totally on board with hand-me-downs.  But many of the hand-me-downs we get are very nice quality (because they were presents to our likewise-affluent friends).  Of course, we also don’t mind putting our toddlers in heavily stained (but otherwise clean) clothing either– they have both been very good at adding additional stains.  Nobody that we work or socialize with is going to think that we can’t afford nice clothing or that we don’t take care of our children if they wear a shirt with stain marks across the front.  We’ve got the luxury and privilege of people not making negative assumptions about our income or net worth based on what our children wear.  (Also, DC1 wears uniforms to school.  And I don’t have to go to SAHM playgroups.)  We also have the luxury of handing the clothing down again and being able to feel affluent about that, rather than needing to sell it.

Being able to buy high quality clothing that lasts a long time also means that it’s easier to buy classics that don’t really go out of style, which means they can be worn longer.  I have a lot of basics in classic styles.  When you live an H&M lifestyle, you have to keep changing out your clothing because it’s easy to tell when something goes out of fashion, and the quality isn’t good enough to keep it for 30+ years even if it weren’t fashionable.  Current fashion changes mean I can mix and match sweater sets rather than wearing matched sets, but I can still wear the same pieces, just in different combinations.  And again, nobody is going to think I’m poor because I’m wearing a (thrift-store purchased) 10-15 year old Ann Taylor or Brooks Brothers business casual outfit because nobody is going to know.  The same isn’t necessarily true of Walmart’s finest (though I do have some t-shirts from Walmart that I got in high school that are just now wearing out…).

As a (mostly lower middle class, occasionally genteel poor, always worried about lack of money) kid there were definitely more pressures to spend for appearances’ sake.  But people didn’t just tease me about the rusty VW bug my mom drove (that I loved) or my lack of an Express bag (I eventually got one)… my material possessions were pretty low on the list of things I was bullied about (and the only thing that was external to me).  It was easier for me to just reject their views of fashion and go completely into my own funky style (which involved a lot of thrift-store hats), at least until grunge came into fashion (a style I completely embraced).  But those pressures are gone among the people we associate with and we only see them in action when we visit DH’s family.

Feelings and privilege are complex.

Now, we’re in the educated liberal crunchy upper-middle-class.  Not the wealthy (lower) upper-class.  We don’t rub shoulders with movie stars or even corporate lawyers or financiers.  We’d love to be making that kind of money, but still living our crunchy upper middle class lives.  We hear from people who do rub shoulders with lawyers and financiers that there’s lots of stupid money stresses there too.  Cars and diamonds and so on are back to being status symbols.  Items are expensive not because they’re quality but because they’re in fashion.  It all sounds very nouveau riche.  Crass.  Obviously I must come from old money… or my parents are Northern Californians instead of Southern.  We probably have something we compete on or use as a class marker that we’re too blind to see, but it isn’t $tuff, and that saves us a lot of money.

Update:  This NYMag article is really interesting.  (It definitely does show that my family growing up is very weird class-wise.)

Do people judge you by how you spend your money or what kind of clothing you wear?  Do you have to spend money for status reasons or can you save money because you don’t have anything to prove?  How do you deal with the pressure of trying not to seem poor?

When to replace a car?

Just got a $1000 repair estimate for my $3000 blue-book value car.  ($500 in absolutely necessary to turn the check engine light off repairs, $500 to replace a couple of axles that cause vibration.)  The car is 10 years old with 36,000 miles on it.  (It’s also all shiny and clean because DH had it detailed for me as a Christmas present.)  To get a newer model of our current car would be about $15,000.

Since we’re only taking one car with us to paradise next year (this is one of those sacrifices people make in paradise if they want to continue saving for their kids’ college, but there’s public transportation so it’s not so bad), if we do decide to get rid of the car, this summer would be a good time to do that so we don’t have to find a place to store it.

In the past, my rule had been to replace a car when the cost of repairs was greater than the value of the car, but that was easy when we had a single major repair cost.  When they start coming in in drips and drabs like this it’s harder to make that comparison.  At the same time, the drips and drabs are annoying when each one means we’re down to one car for a week (I end up having to do all pick-ups and drop-offs and don’t have as much work flexibility, unless DH plays chauffer which means extra driving).  Time is money!

It’s still a good little fuel efficient car.  And it looks all shiny and new on the inside right now.  I’m a bit attached to it.

So we’re paying the $1000 now, and we’ll rethink this after the next repair bill or it’s time to go to paradise, whichever comes first.

How do you decide when it’s time to replace a car?

Do you re-review papers you’ve rejected?

Sometimes I’ll review a paper for a journal and reject it.

A few months later, another editor will ask me to review the paper again for a different (usually worse) journal.

Initially my stand was to only review it if I thought I was going to accept it at that new journal.  (Say I’d suggested it wasn’t of general interest for Glam, but would be a good fit for Top Field, and then I got it to review for Top Field.)  I would politely decline otherwise.

Then an editor emailed me back to ask if I wouldn’t please reconsider my decline.  And another asked if I could send my previous referee report even though it wouldn’t be official.  Even though the paper might have changed!

So my new policy for something I rejected but didn’t think would fit without changes was to email the editor to say I’d already reviewed it, didn’t like it at the time, and might be biased given I’d already rejected it.  Would they like me to review it again?

So far 100% of editors have either asked me to re-review or to send my previous rejection.  So they can see if the author took my advice, they say.  I suspect they don’t check that carefully depending on what the other reviewers say.

This makes me uncomfortable.  I don’t really think it’s fair.  I wouldn’t want reviewers who didn’t like my work the first time to review it again without me having the ability to explain to them why their comments weren’t right for whatever reason or to see that I’d clarified the thing they thought was wrong but really was only written unclearly… or what have you.

But it’s what the editors want, and I’m still in a position where I want to keep editors happy.  So I think I’ll continue asking them what they want.  But I won’t feel good about it.

What do you do?  Do you ever get articles to review that you’ve reviewed before?  What do you do if you’re an editor and you send it out to someone who has already reviewed it?

How can I tell if my problem is really a problem?

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but the patriarchy likes to force problems on people where none actually exist.  (By people, of course, I mean women and minorities mainly.  That’s kind of patriarchy’s thing.  White guys get fewer “damned if you do/don’t” manufactured problems.)

The internet is full of this kind of thing.  So we thought we’d give a tutorial with some examples.

“How can I tell if my parenting problem is really a problem?”

An excellent question.  Because sometimes your problem is a real problem that needs a solution, and sometimes your problem only seems like a problem because that’s what the patriarchy wants you to think, because if you’re busy worrying about something that’s not actually important, you’ll have less time to say, fight the patriarchy.  Bonus points if you get other people worried too. Answering that question is really simple in theory, though perhaps not as simple in practice– try it out and say what you think.

Step 1:  Notice that you think there might be a problem but (important!) realize that there may not actually be a problem… it’s possible that that’s just what they *want* you to think.  (“They” being the patriarchy, of course.)  This is probably the hardest step, and it might be one that you want to go through each time you’re irritated or worried, just in case it’s just the patriarchy messing with you and you can then attack the patriarchy rather than the perceived problem.

Step 2.  Ask yourself,  Is this really a problem? What makes it a problem? Why do I think it’s a problem? Here’s where you go… what are the consequences, is this actually hurting anything, do I just think it’s a problem because of culture or because someone told me it’s a problem even though nothing is actually being hurt?  Or are there real consequences?

Step 3.  Ask again, if this is actually a problem, is there a different underlying root problem.  (Crucial Conversations suggests something similar.)  Sometimes the problem you see is really just a symptom of an underlying deeper problem, and fixing the symptom is just a band-aid solution to a larger issue that needs addressing.
Here are some examples:

Biting at daycare is a problem because 1. If a kid does it too much they get kicked out and 2. Biting hurts people and we have an underlying belief that we shouldn’t hurt people that we would like to impart to our kids.  3.  Why is DC2 biting?  Is the actual problem that the kids are not being taught conflict resolution and ze’s constantly getting stuff grabbed from hir?

Sleep “issues” are a problem if A. the kid is grumpy from not getting enough sleep or  B. Mom and dad would like more quiet time (or more sleep). They are not a problem because C. Everybody else’s kid seems to sleep more or go to bed earlier so I must be doing something wrong or there’s something wrong with my kid. But many people complain about C without A being an issue at all and while simultaneously complaining that dad never gets to see the kid because the kid goes to sleep too early. If C is the only reason, then it is a non-issue. But it’s a non-issue that a lot of parents have (because most kids aren’t exactly average), so they commiserate in the comments and it builds as something that seems like it should be an issue. Complaining about sleep problems that aren’t real problems becomes the normal. Being anxious is the normal.  It doesn’t have to be.

So that’s our quick guide.  Do you have any examples you’d like to share?  What kinds of problems have you discovered were actually not problems at all?  When have you found that the superficial problem is actually masking a deeper issue?

How do you handle the mental load of partnered life?

For those of you with partners, of course.  Unless you have a personal assistant!

In married life, especially when you have kids, there are often things that you have to do or get done.  Appointments to manage.  Places to be.  Things to sign up for.  If it were just you, you’d take care of all of those things (assuming you’re not in the “personal assistant” bracket).

Once you’re married you have to coordinate things and someone has to remember things.  But it doesn’t have to be you.  In “traditional” marriages, the wife takes care of these things.  She even takes care of the husband’s social engagements.  She keeps track of everything, makes all appointments, and is responsible if something is forgotten or missed.

That type of arrangement makes economic sense on the whole.  It makes sense to have one person taking care of everything so the other person is free to think about other stuff.  It’s a division of labor and one person specializes in appointments and filing paperwork and so on.  There’s no accidental double-booking unless the person in charge does that double-booking, and presumably that person will notice.  It doesn’t have to be the wife, but it makes sense to have one person in charge.  That person doesn’t have to be in charge of everything– it might make sense for one parent to take care of all the adult stuff and another all the kid’s stuff, or one person the house stuff and another the school stuff.  There’s lots of different ways to arrange it that are both egalitarian and efficient.

We don’t do that.  We are both in charge of almost everything.  We have little black books that we coordinate.  We have a list on the refrigerator for groceries.  I do take care of all the bills (even DH’s credit cards, though he is responsible for reviewing it each month for fraudulent charges) and DH is mostly in charge of the cars (even mine, though since I’m the one driving it I’m more likely to notice when the sticker says I should get another oil change), but for the most part, and especially for the kids part, we both take care of everything.

I noticed this lately when I emailed one of my colleagues about a play-date.  Our kids go to the same school and are friends and I know him but I don’t know his wife.  He forwarded to his wife and she emailed back.  Similarly, we got a birthday party invitation for another child who is DC2’s age from another colleague’s wife, not from him.  Usually the invitations for things go to me via email or to our joint junk mail account, but to DH by text because I never have my phone with me.  With DC1’s best friend whose mother is super-mom, and often on-call, we’re equally likely to get a text playdate from the dad or the mom (and occasionally the college-age uncle who babysits for them)!  Generally we email the dad, but just because that’s the email address that pops up first (alphabetical order).

There’s drawbacks to our non-method.  We have to consult each other.  We have to make sure our books are synched.  (Yes, we could have a calendar in the kitchen near the grocery list like my family did growing up, but that would be an additional thing to update!  Once DC1 is old enough do start doing hir own social calendar, we may switch to that.)  It’s extra effort, extra time, and extra mental load that only one person could have.

But there’s also benefits.  The biggest benefit is that when we forget to do something or forget to go somewhere, it’s both of our faults.  It’s hard to be mad at someone for forgetting when you forgot too!  Also with both of us needing to remember and both of us checking our planners and our shared junk email account, there’s a bit of overlap and perhaps a greater possibility that one of us will remember or notice even if the other doesn’t.  I’m not sure if that works, but we’re both so busy I bet either one of us would forget just as much if it was just on us all the time.

#2 doesn’t have kids, so this is much easier.  We delegate, and we talk.  For example, we just moved to another state.  This requires SO MUCH COMMUNICATION, folks.  I mostly coordinated that, since I have the time, but he has most of the money.  Every day we would say, what do you need me to do for this move?  Did you hear back from the movers?  Did you pay the security deposit or shall I?  We have a joint savings account, and we need to talk to each other about planned transactions because of Regulation D.  We share spreadsheets and lists in Google Docs (drive).  Sometimes we IM each other during the day, and then we each have a chatlog of what we talked about.  It can certainly get tedious having this conversation every day — there was a point during the moving process where I lost my shiz because he asked me about tasks one too many times — but mostly it’s been working for us.  We’ve also found in other areas (e.g., kitchen) that it’s helpful to put one person explicitly in charge– doesn’t matter who– and that person directs and delegates to the other.

 

For those of you with partners, how do you divvy up the mental load of planning and deciding and answering and filing?  For those of you without, what methods do you use to keep track of everything that needs to be done?

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