Everything is different now. An eerie calm has settled in. For the next few days, nothing much needs to be done. I can relax. Every facet of my life has a freshness to it and while I know well the insanity of the coming semester that is just around the corner, even that will take place in a much more peaceful mental space. This new peace, this heretofore absent lack of distraction, this freedom has not been present in my world for about two years. Coincidentally, two years ago marked the beginning of my most challenging and ambitious professional journey. While I knew the situation, both professionally and personally, that I placed myself in would not be exactly distraction-free, I did not know that these two facets of my world would become incompatible. They didn’t have to be, they should not have been, and others in my position have been able to “have it all,” but it takes more than I could give, and I gave it my all.
Love is a funny thing. It filters otherwise irrational decisions such that they become not only good ideas, but also, strangely, the only logical conclusion. It is only in retrospect that the abject insanity of decisions I made, important decisions that should not be taken without the most serious consideration, becomes crystal clear. I met and fell in love with a girl just months before I knew I would be going away to pursue a doctorate in communication studies. I did not yet know where I would be going, but I knew it would not be anywhere I could “commute” to and from. That place turned out to be Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, LA. My first year there I maintained my home, my “permanent” address and my residency in California. My girl and I were engaged in October of 2011 and in July of last year we were married. During my second year of Ph.D. work, my wife and her two boys stayed in my (then our) home as I essentially commuted back and forth between Baton Rouge and Sacramento. I came home every available opportunity and often when there was no opportunity. After doing the math, when including the long breaks in the school year along with frequent long-weekend reunifications, I spent about half my time in each state. As of this moment, I have not spoken with my future ex-wife in many days and our divorce is in its final stages. Without going into details, it is apparent that the sort of personal strife involved with any relationship breakup - divorce or otherwise - is not conducive to advanced study at a major university.
The “long-distance” nature of our relationship is not only nothing new, it is not even the most extreme case of such a relationship. Military couples and families endure far greater hardships. My own father was away on business frequently, sometimes for weeks at a time. If the commitment and the trust are there, these separations can be a source of strength and, although certainly not preferable, they do not have to be distracting to the point of forcing a choice between one’s personal and professional life. Indeed, that commitment I mentioned earlier includes that sort of support and I certainly do not have to second-guess whether my commitment was there or not. It has been suggested both subtly and directly that the geographic distance between my soon-to-be ex-wife and me created the problems that destroyed our short-lived marriage. However, had the level of mutual trust and commitment been there, the distance would have been nothing more than an inconvenience, perhaps a hardship, but that is all. The distance exasperated what came to light as an already toxic relationship; it allowed indiscretions to occur with greater ease. It did not create them.
These kinds of distractions came to a head last semester when it became clear that I could not spend the time I was “monitoring” what was going on back home and focus on what I needed to do to succeed at LSU. The incompatibility between my personal life and my professional world was at the tipping point. I had to decide on one or the other and that decision, considering the factors involved, the time frames and the various historic realities, was essentially a no-brainer. That does not mean it was easy. I made a commitment that only began with the marriage vows (perhaps the most important of which, forsaking all others, I still live by). And I was in love. If someone were to ask me if I am still in love today, my answer would be unsure; and that, in and of itself, speaks volumes. When asked as little as a month ago, my answer was an unhesitating “yes.” As I learn more and distance myself further and as I focus on the future instead of what could have been the past, I find greater and greater levels of peace. The other option was to abandon my professional pursuit and focus on my relationship. Thankfully certain irreversible events transpired along with massive and unrelenting support and encouragement from friends and family combined with enough of my own rational thought to come to the only decision that makes any sense.
Entering the third year of my doctoral studies at LSU, I have the sort of freedom I have not experienced in many, many years. While I wanted what I had (or thought I had) when I started my work at LSU, and if that relationship had the trust necessary for any relationship to succeed, I would not be writing this. It is, essentially, a reflection on the future. I am just north of 50 years old. There is a lot of future left.