In the pursuit of a PhD or Love?
Los mejores amantes son los libros
When I was 28, I quit my full time job and decided to go back to school to get a PhD. After taking AP Spanish literature in high school, I knew that someday I wanted to teach Neruda’s poems, the magical world of Macondo in One Hundred Years of Solitude, and Almodovar’s colorful and strange films, and in order to do that, I had to get a doctorate.
Love, however, was another story. I had spent most of my teens and early college years studying. I had a few crushes but love was never a priority in my life. If it were to happen (I told myself) it would happen when the timing was right. My view on love was shaped by books. I had read about it in the poems of the 19th century Spanish Romantics and in the short stories and novels of Angeles Mastretta, but I had never truly experienced it.
I met him the third summer of my doctoral program, right before my Qualifying Exams. I had decided that it was time I get out there, open up and try to have a social life (since most of my time was spent taking classes and teaching). I had joined a website in order to meet people outside of academia and in the community, and there, in a random group that I had recently joined, I saw his profile. I immediately clicked on the picture to get more information, but there was none. So I sent him a message. He immediately responded and we exchanged numbers. He called me a couple of days later, his voice was deep and masculine. We spoke that night for hours and decided to meet.
I remember the day we met in person for the first time. He picked me up and we went to this new brewery that had just opened in the hipster part of town. I thought he was so cool, with his boyish good looks, brown abuelo shoes, slightly wrinkled collared shirt and incredible smile. I was smitten and very nervous and probably changed my outfit five times before . As we sat in the brewery, he asked me a million questions about my dissertation topic and my life in general.
Since that day we became inseparable. We spent that summer taking long walks in nature, going to the movies, discovering new places to eat and sharing our past, hopes, and fears.
After a couple of months, I had to meet with my advisor to discuss my upcoming exams so we gathered at the local Starbucks on a blistering hot day. “You look different” she said as I approached her smiling. “You look happy.” I looked at her shyly: “I met someone.” I said nervously.
She asked me for details and I told her about him and she instantly warned me about the pitfalls of falling in love while pursuing a PhD. In my mind it was perfect timing. I was ready! I was halfway through my doctoral program and I had just met the most wonderful guy!
But soon enough I discovered that it was impossible to balance a PhD and love. My days were consumed by him. Instead of remembering Foucault’s definition of utopias and heterotopias, and what happened during the Napoleon invasion of Spain, I was too busy falling in love. I remember the exact moment I felt love for him, it was the day he bought Sigmund Freud’s “Civilizations and its Discontents”. I was taking a social theory course that fall, and it was the first book of the semester. I thought it was delightful and engaging that someone would want to accompanying me in my reading. I also remember the day I told him how I felt. We were sitting in his kitchen table and I said: “Te quiero”. “I love you.” He responded: “I know, te quiero también.” (Te quiero can mean so many things but it is definitely not an I love you).
The months passed as the leaves fell and winter came. I took my exams and that Spring I began writing my dissertation. Every waking moment was spent reading David Harvey’s articles on Capitalism, or analyzing the short stories and novels for my thesis.
Our “relationship” had quickly changed and we no longer spent as much time with each other. There were no more daily texts, late night talks, walks in the park. Things had simply changed…
It was hard to accept that altered state, I had become so accustomed to his daily presence in my life. But I knew that the only way I was going to finish this PhD was letting him go. I had to learn to be alone again, just me and my books.