Tonight, as I am surrounded by my cat and a pile of stats handouts that attempt to explain the homework I’m finding impossible, I feel this unique kind of loneliness set upon me. I am lonely, and I think it would be adequate to call it grad school lonely. I am constantly surrounded by people, but yet no one gets it. Maybe this is why my cohort is so strong. Maybe that’s why we are all friends and want to spend time with each other. We make the grad school lonely dissipate, if only for a short time.
Grad school lonely is where you have things you want to say like “I just got assigned to three new political psychology projects with these super amazing professors I’ve wanted to work with for so stinking long” but no one gets it. I want to talk about this stats homework that is driving me nuts – 3-way factorial designs. No one gets it. I call my best friend from back home and my mom nearly every day, yet when I tell them about the things going on in my life, I hear crickets on the line. When friends want to spend time with me and have girls’ night outs, they don’t understand that I work 7 days a week. A night out cannot be what they want it to be. Sleep is precious, time is limited, and I always feel like I have an avalanche coming strait toward me. I try to outrun that avalanche, but it will inevitably consume me. I will dig my way out only for another wave to bury me again. I want to scream every time someone asks me “what are you up to?” WHAT AM I ALWAYS UP TO?!?! I’m working.
Grad school lonely is the kind of lonely where you have this really amazing idea for a research project (or even two or three) and yet, you have no one to tell. You try to explain it to your mom or best friend, but you stop yourself about 3 sentences in because you realize that you’ve already lost her. No one understands what the hell you’re talking about, and those that would are the people you want to insulate your ideas from. Don’t get me wrong, I love my department and my fellow grad students, but I don’t know whether or not I can trust some of them yet. I don’t know whether or not they will steal my idea or if they will invite themselves onto my research. So no – no one at all understands this, and it is lonely.
Grad school lonely is also the kind of lonely where your best friend or significant other feels like you are leaving them behind. The feeling of being left behind is a terrible one. I experienced it when my husband was in school and I had yet to finish my degree that I had so desperately wanted. I felt like I wasn’t as smart as he was. He was learning and growing every day, and I was stagnant. I was jealous. I know that feeling all too well. Now that the shoe is on the other foot, I can feel his anger, resentment, jealousy. We cannot talk about politics or about my work without having a major fight. We cannot discuss feminism, racism, immigration, gender issues, the wage gap, sexual assault, activism, science, news (because there’s inevitably something political in there), or anything related to school. He feels left behind. When I try to talk to him about my research, he tries to show off how smart he is, which then makes me mad because he’s telling me what to do or what to consider. I’m already 10 steps ahead at this point, so I get frustrated. The silence is deafening, and the gap between us is widening.
Grad school lonely is the kind of lonely where you want to go out and be social, but you feel like wearing real pants can’t possibly be a thing. I would live in yoga pants if I could. I want to be able to go out and do things, but the opportunity cost is too high. I need that time to sleep, to actually do some laundry, or to work on class work or research. I have 100 things to do at any given time, and it is more comfortable to do them bra-less and in yoga pants and pink flamingo slippers.
Grad school lonely means giving up time with those you love. I remember those moments when I wanted a break from my 5 kids. Now, all I want to do is see them and tuck them in at night (which happens far less than I would like). I used to have my kids constantly around me, touching me, sitting on my lap, offering me sticky kisses. Now…I spend my evenings in an office that smells like asian leftovers – alone. When I’m not at the office, I have to retreat to my room because I can’t work out in the common areas of the house. My children now know that they shouldn’t disturb me. So here I sit – alone.
I know in the end, it is worth every sacrifice. I keep telling myself this. Sometimes it is just a lonely road to walk. You simply cannot understand it until you’ve walked that road. I remember when my best guy friend was in grad school and his voicemail message was “…I am either in class or in a meeting at this particular juncture. To that end, my phone is either off or your call has been terminated without bias…” The classes never end, the research never ends, the meetings never end. I just added a new rotation of 3 new project meetings to my life. That’s a total of 5 different types of meetings that I must regularly attend. Others have made it through before me. I will make it through. The loneliness will fade, I hope.