Virgo rising, Capricorn moon


A friend of mine has been trying to date a particular guy for a few months now. They're both academics, but that's about where the resemblance stops. She is in a very applied field that requires her to be out and about quite a lot, including a considerable amount of driving for field work and to supervise student training. Of course she has publishing requirements for tenure, but they're not very burdensome. She's very energetic and outgoing, and rarely works on weekends. She craves an active social life, and isn't very happy to be living in a small town that's about an hour to a small city. (She's also unhappy to be in a place where there is an actual winter, since she grew up in Florida, but that detail is unrelated to this story.) We'll call this friend Dorothy.

On some dating site or other, Dorothy came across a profile she found appealing. She wrote to the guy, and he wrote back, and they went out for coffee or dinner or a concert or something. I forget. Anyway, although she describes him as looking like a Hummel figurine, which doesn't exactly sound like a compliment to my ears, she claims to really dig this fellow and want to date him. We'll call this guy James.

James, as I mentioned, is also an academic. He works at a prestigious land grant university about an hour from where Dorothy lives; Small City is more or less equidistant for them, but they're coming from opposite directions. James is in history, and has high research demands for tenure. Plus, he actually likes doing research, which Dorothy seems to find suspicious. (I mean, she has a PhD herself, so the idea isn't foreign to her or anything. She just sees it as a necessary evil in order to do her "real" job of teaching particular skills.)

Dorothy and James have seen each other a handful of times, in Small City. They've spoken on the phone and exchanged emails--not daily, or anything, but enough to maintain at some kind of relatively ongoing contact. Dorothy is frustrated that they don't get together more often, because she really enjoys his company. James has insinuated that he's not keen on the idea of starting a relationship with someone who lives an hour away; Dorothy waves off that idea as "a horseshit excuse." She says that James is just a workaholic mess, the product of academic parents who push him too hard and never think anything he does is good enough. She's sure that if he just spent more time around her, he'd come to appreciate that there's more to life than sticking one's nose in a book all the time.

Yesterday, we were chatting on Facebook, and she said, "You know, I have to say this. You don't look like a Hummel figurine, but other than that, you and James are exactly alike." I asked what she meant by that. "Well, he's smart and has a wicked sense of humor, and he's a terminal workaholic. I swear, the two of you work more than anyone else I know. Too bad you're so far away--I could introduce you, and you'd be very happy never doing anything together, ever after."

Um. I tried to protest. "I'm only an accidental workaholic! I want to have more fun, you know. Seriously. I just don't have time right now." (In truth, my first thought was, "I'm not that funny," but I didn't want to get sidetracked from the main point.)

"Sure," she wrote back. "He would say the exact same thing. And then he would start babbling excitedly about his next book." Even though we were online, I could practically see her rolling her eyes.

On the one hand, I guess I have to acknowledge that there's some truth to her accusation. (The work part, I mean. And, I'm fairly certain, also the part about not resembling a Hummel statue.) I do work a lot, although I don't know that I work as much as other people think I do. I also spend a fair amount of time staring dully into space, or reading a bunch of stuff online that has nothing to do with the work I should be doing.

So one reason I reject the "workaholic" label is that I instinctively feel that I'm way too lazy to deserve it. Also, when I think of someone as a workaholic, I tend to assume they like being that way. I like the work I do (most of the time), but I don't want it to be the only thing in my life. And yet... all too often, it's how things turn out. Work may not be the thing I would like to put at the top of my priority list, but it ends up there anyway. Over and over again. This is no new phenomenon: I missed out on many an evening or weekend with friends in Italy because I had to work. As an undergrad, the only reason I had anything remotely resembling a social life is because I lived in the dorms with a bunch of other people, so there was some forced contact, and because my friends used to congregate in my room. (The running joke was that I didn't actually know where their rooms were, since people always came to me. This is not strictly true, but I'd say it qualifies as truthy.) After a certain point, I suppose one eventually has to decide that I'm either completely incompetent, since I can't get my priorities straight, or that I am in fact a workaholic, and just loath to admit it.

I think I'll go with door number three: a little of both. I'm a tiny bit addicted, not always to the work itself (see: years of mind-numbing translations), but to the secondary benefits. I'm not talking about money, since I've sure as hell never been on the high end of the earning curve, but the sense of accomplishment, the chance to meet or exceed others' expectations, the gradual development of a (hopefully good) reputation.

Notice that many of these are external motivations. They go hand in hand with fear of disappointing others, fear of ruining one's reputation, and the Big Momma of all fears, fear of failure.

When you put together the addiction/fear aspect with a poor sense of how best to protect one's personal space, you get... me. As in, the accidental workaholic. I blame it on my natal chart, although I suppose that doesn't really relieve me of the responsibility to try to overcome these tendencies. Unfortunately, the overcoming is going to have to wait until I'm done with the dissertation. And probably the first year of my new job. You get the picture.

It has occurred to me that I met Dario during one of the few lulls in my overburdened life. The first few months I was in Italy for my junior year abroad I was, quite frankly, bored out of my skull. My classes were dull as dirt, and since attendance wasn't mandatory or even expected, I didn't bother going. This left me many hours to wander around town, or spend time with my housemates, with whom I had an uneven relationship. We were incredibly lucky to have met Dario and his friends soon after our arrival, so at least a few times a week we had people--"real Italians!"--to talk to and go out with. Dario and I didn't start dating until around Christmas, which gave me time to get over my initial lack of interest while still spending time with him in low-pressure group situations.

Shortly after we started dating, I got a job teaching English a few nights a week. In April I started a full-time day job as well, and shortly after that were my final exams, which involved lots and lots of cramming. So there were a couple of months that more closely resembled my usual chaotic workstyle. (Not to be confused with lifestyle, which requires one to have a life.) During the rest of that summer I just went to work and had my evenings and weekends free. I'm pretty sure Dario assumed that those crazy weeks of late spring were just a blip. It didn't take him long to discover otherwise.

Since I'm unlikely to ever again experience such a protracted period of sloth, I'm thinking that my future relationship prospects are pretty grim. Unless I can find a James of my own, with whom to spend evenings and weekends grading and working together, all the while saying that we wished we had more time to socialize.