Tonight, after a day full of learning a new artifact cataloguing system for my job, and a night of errands and playing bar trivia, a lot is running through my head. Most days I think about where I’m going and how I’ll make this career work for me; today I’m contemplating further about how my PhD journey has changed all the other aspects of my life. Especially my social life.
I have spent the past few months rebuilding my social life after neglecting it for both personal and professional reasons for the past year. Friends in PhD programs in my area have mostly moved on, save for a few who switched careers and a couple still working on their degrees like me. (I’m a 6th year student, not taking longer than typical, but our cohorts dwindle fast and hard.) I realize now that having spent 24 of my 27 years attending school all day with people roughly my age, I don’t really know how to make friends in the adult world. I work alone at my house most days and a couple days a week I assist a senior contract archaeologist. It’s so easy to work out whether you want to spend extra time with someone when you see them all the time in school anyway. In adult world, making friends is annoyingly similar to dating.
I’ve been making friends by trying trivia night, going to music shows, and befriending the staff at my favorite hangout. Each and every person who is kind to me could be a friend. So far none of my new friends have any connection to my field and it rarely comes up (what a treat for a public archaeologist!) Reliable, kind, emotionally honest interactions have been the norm and not the exception. To an extent that pushes the boundaries of what I am used to, and sometimes pushes my own social limits in a way that is discomforting but probably beneficial.
The reason this all came to mind lately is because I’ve taken accepting friends’ quirks a bit too far. Mainly when it comes to their behavior toward my choices. The scope of my social circle had become so narrow that people who judged me harshly when I wanted to wear flashy clothes, or act silly, or let loose, were always around and getting under my skin. It’s hard to move forward in academic work or otherwise when other peoples’ perceptions of you loom. Any person who believes I have to behave and dress a certain way or consort with certain kinds of people to show myself worthwhile of respect is not worth knowing. If I have need for perspective, trust me, I will ask for it. I am daily inundated with others’ judgments of my body, personality, and intellectual capacity. I’m growing tired of some of those voices.
There’s something exhilarating about expanding my horizons and increasing my socializing time. For one thing, my productive periods seem less grueling. I also find myself reflecting on how limited my perspective had been, how insular my social circle, how artificially I had chosen whose perspectives to listen to. I can’t help but wonder how I expected to advocate effectively for diversity in our discipline when I didn’t engage with people who didn’t go to college, who made choices so different from mine in their early adult years, who had kids at a young age, basically anyone unlikely to show up in my graduate social sciences classes. And how foolish it was. And how much I have still to learn.
I guess I’m doing pretty well for myself in this post-industrial, grey, affordable, growing, creative city full of misfits. So far. Now, back to work.