I’m really glad to hear you found your own path (away from academia) too, Graham! I love stories like that. :) Especially loved the way you describe yourself: “1000x happier.” I can imagine that as an ending to an alternative fairy tale:
“And he lived 1000x more happily ever after.”
Tbh, the realization that my single status was a blessing came after the fact. In grad school, being single wasn’t something I was thrilled about; I’ve always been a nurturer at heart. Yet while I was really unhappy in school, I wasn’t meeting anyone who felt “worth” the tradeoff I knew I’d face had I chosen to invest in a relationship either. Things were stressful enough that I didn’t care to risk falling behind on my academic obligations for the sake of carving “dating” time out of my schedule, given that the vast majority of people we meet don’t spark head-over-heels feelings anyway. I would’ve gladly found ways to prioritize love if it had come knocking… but instead, I just left the ivory tower before that opportunity presented itself. In other words, being single through grad school was partly circumstance and partly choice.
I see some irony in the fact that it was a one-night stand that helped me move toward a happier life. While my friends were thriving through the support of their romantic arrangements, I somehow managed to thrive (and find the courage to take a whole new direction) as a result of the inspiration I found in the total opposite sort of arrangement. But I remember this being a factor too: that encounter had also made me reflect deeply on the types of partners I wanted in my life, and I realized that the only (reliable) way I could hope to attract people who were truly right for me, was to be the kind of person I hoped to find. Staying in academia wasn’t going to allow me to become that kind of person… and therefore probably would’ve precluded me from finding (or from bonding more deeply with) that kind of person as well. So in that sense, my desire for connection was also, in some way, at the root of my decision to leave.
I guess we all have different ways of arriving at the same liberating life overhauls (if we’re lucky!); the important thing is just that we get there and find our way to the happiness on the other side of the shift.
Thanks for the prompt for reflection, Graham!