I debated whether I should even write this post because it's...honest. Honest in a way that might hurt someone's feelings, although I doubt the people involved would read this. Let me preface what I'm about to say with this - it's not my intention to hurt anyone's feelings, quite the contrary. I'm going ahead with this post because it exemplifies some of the unspoken social difficulties of being a PhD student who, as a matter of course, interacts with other graduate students/postdocs/academics in general.
One of the senior graduate students in my department successfully defended her thesis yesterday, so two of my former lab mates - I'll call them "T" and "P" - were coming back for her defense and the reception afterwards. I hadn't realized they were coming until the master's student - I'll call her "D" - in my lab said so when she came in this morning. I guess they all communicate via texts, which I'm not included on. I felt a knot twisting in the pit of my stomach - I was dreading this.
Let me back up a bit. Both of my former lab mates are more than 10 years my junior and, although we got along well, I knew they weren't "my people", you know? The people with whom you develop fast chemistry, an easy rapport; it's something you recognize when it happens. T was good friends with another graduate student in a different department, "B", who would visit our lab a lot and we would drink with him in the lounge. It was fun. Fast forward somewhat and B gets engaged to his long-time fiancee. After a period of time, it becomes clear that I am not invited to the wedding. I get it, I've planned a wedding before. No big deal, right? Well, it also became clear that everyone else in my lab at the time (T, P, and D) are not only invited, but are hanging out with the bride and groom after the wedding. Um, ouch. That hurts, but after a while of feeling butt-hurt and not being able to talk to anyone about it, the feeling fades a little.
Until yesterday. So the whole fucking lab has been reconstituted for the day and guess what they can't stop talking about? How much fun they had at the wedding I wasn't invited to. I almost said something about it to explain why I wasn't being very sociable, but I just went to the other side of the lab and did some work instead. I don't think anyone was terribly bothered that I didn't want to talk. P was cordial enough, T was his usual friendly self, and D was just really excited to see them. I have no idea if they knew I wasn't invited or if they thought I was and had declined, or if they just didn't give a flying fuck about it altogether. But wow, that really felt shitty all over again.
I didn't handle it very maturely. When the newly minted doctor arrived at the reception in the lounge, I wasn't there to congratulate her. No one texted me to tell me she had come down, but I did hear the loud cheer come from the other end of the corridor. Granted, I'm not a baby and I could've - and probably should've - just sucked up my hurt feelings and gone down there to wait along with my lab's in-crowd and everyone else. I eventually sulked my way down to the lounge, grabbed a champagne, slammed it, had an awkward conversation with my boss for about two minutes, and left. Didn't really say anything to anyone else, either.
I left the lounge, I left the lab, I left the building. I just left. I went and picked up Elliot half an hour early because I couldn't deal with how I was feeling. I can't even name the feeling, really. Kind of rejected and unwanted, but those terms seem too strong. Feeling sorta kinda less than everyone else; feeling like the past illusions I'd had about fitting in were just that - illusions. This was the reality. I don't fit in here, I never have, and I never will. It's too late now anyway - I mean, there's no one left to fit in with. Whatever. It'll be okay, but the social crap has been the hardest part of the whole PhD experience. It casts a pall over everything - even the things I thought I liked - like doing science. I used to love doing science! Now I just want out. I just want to be done and move the fuck on.
If there's anything I've learned, it's this: it's not enough to love what you do to make it gratifying. It's not even enough to like the people you work with - I did. Someone has to like you back. It's about cultivating satisfying relationships. I don't know if other people have the same requirements; I have come to accept that I am high-maintenance. When I was at Eastern, my emotional needs were met, and I feel like I was at my best. I was probably the best student I've ever been, the best teacher, I was funnier, happier, thinner (not that looks should be important, but hey, they are). I felt needed, and important, and at the top of my game.
I don't think I'll be looking back on my time here with such fondness. That's being honest.