When I was considering getting a divorce, I had an endless list of arguments against this decision. I was in a new country, and it was terrifying to be alone in a very strange new reality. Financially, it would be ruinous. I had grown up in a relationship with this guy (I was 16 when we met) and I had no identity outside of our relationship. I’d learned to think of myself in terms of “we” and the idea of becoming simply an “I” was terrifying. I felt ashamed of becoming a divorcee at the age of 22. Emotionally, I knew that it would be devastating.

There was, however, one very strong argument in favor of getting divorced. Every person deserves to be in a relationship where they feel joyously, ecstatically, overpoweringly happy, I thought. You never know whether you will find that relationship after you get divorced, of course. But at the very least, we all deserve the right, the chance and the freedom to look for it.

Life without love or the possibility of looking for love is a sad life, indeed.

So I got divorced and it was even more painful, ruinous, traumatic and devastating than I’d thought. If you haven’t been through a divorce, then you are not likely to understand how difficult it is. Even if the relationship was completely dead, even if you couldn’t wait to be out of it, even if it was 100% your choice to get divorced, even if there are no children involved, a divorce is always tragic.

I never regretted it, however. Even at the lowest points when it seemed that I was scarred for life and would never get over it, I felt extremely grateful to myself for having found the strength and the courage to leave. As painful as a divorce is, it is always better than the realization that you are doomed to spend the rest of your life – your one and only life! – in a relationship that brings you no joy.

Dating Scripts: A Personal Story

Miriam, who keeps churning out brilliant posts, just wrote an article on whether it makes sense to follow traditional dating scripts:

Conventional dating scripts are being challenged all the time, but they still cling to life in the form of movies, TV shows, Cosmo, and many other bits of culture. They also continue to drive the actions and desires of many people, albeit not of me and the people I hang out with.

Part of the reason for this, I think, is that they make things so deceptively easy. Dating outside of the conventions seems riskier, scarier. But in reality, it’s not. There’s so much joy and freedom in writing your own rules, or forgetting rules altogether. It opens up the possibility of meeting someone who likes to play by the same rules, or lack thereof, as you do.

I agree with Miriam completely and I wanted to share a personal story demonstrating why what she says makes a lot of sense.

N. and I met when he came to New Haven for a summer job. I had been planning to move to Canada for my last year of grad school, so we knew from the start that I would be moving to another country within three weeks. N. couldn’t (and still can’t) leave the US because of his visa issues, which we also knew from the start.

From the moment we met, we were so much into each other that we start living together on our second date. Now what you have to know about me is that I prefer to initiate everything during the dating process. I like to be the one who invites the man on a first date, initiates the first kiss and the first sexual contact, etc. That’s just who I am. It makes me happy. I’m a total find for a shy guy who is afraid of rejection and doesn’t know how to go about such things. N. is the perfect partner for me because he is precisely such a guy.

So I got the chance to initiate everything and we were both happy as clams. Then, the moment came for me to move to Canada. Since the relationship was going so well, I really wanted to move my stuff to Montreal and then come back to New Haven and stay with N. while he kept working his summer job.

Here, however, I decided to adopt the traditional female role of sitting there like a patient little wallflower and waiting to be invited to come back to New Haven. I didn’t do it because I enjoy this role. I actually hate it. And I didn’t do it because N. had given me any indication that he wanted me to be this way. He obviously doesn’t, or we wouldn’t be together still. So I waited to be asked. And he was waiting for me to show that I wanted to come back.

And then we waited some more. And some more.

Finally, when all of my stuff had been packed into the mini-van and I was on the doorstep, resigned to leaving and never seeing him again, N. blurted out:

“But don’t you want to come back and continue being together??”

Of course, I did come back and we hope to remain together forever.

It really scares me to consider that I almost lost the opportunity to be with somebody who was very obviously made for me because at a ripe old age of 31 I suddenly decided to fake being all passive and traditionally feminine. I was afraid that I’d scare N. away by being all pushy, in spite of how clear it had become that he liked my pushiness, which is an integral part of my personality.

So I agree with Miriam: all of these traditional behaviors and dating scripts are bunk. It makes no sense to force oneself into a role that one doesn’t enjoy. And what’s the point of attracting a partner by acting fake? It isn’t like one’s true nature won’t come out eventually.

Things You Don’t Know About Me

(Unless you are my sister or N., of course.)

After 3,300 posts, you’d think you know all there is to know about me. Well, guess again. I’m full of surprises, folks. Here are some fun and weird things about me you still don’t know. I think. Because who can remember everything they have written in 3,300 posts?

1. When I was 20 years old, I made a solemn vow never to do any ironing ever again no matter what happened. N. almost destroyed our relationship in its very first week by mentioning ironing to me. I still bring up this huge gaffe of his to bug him about once a week. To retaliate, he recently bought an ironing board.

2. I’m terrified that an airplane will fall on my head.

3. I am completely mesmerized by the opening lines of Robert Penn Warren’s All the King’s Men:

To get there you follow Highway 58, going northeast out of the city, and it is a good highway and new. Or was new, that day we went up it. You look up the highway and it is straight for miles, coming at you, with the black line down the center coming at and at you, black and slick and tarry-shining against the white of the slab, and the heat dazzles up from the white slab so that only the black line is clear, coming at you with the whine of the tires. . .

I’ve been reading and re-reading this passage for over 20 years now and it is still magical.

4. I adore boiled eggs. Everything about them is hypnotic: their shape, their smell, their texture, their taste.

5. I was such a spoiled child that I would come from school at age 7, plop down on the couch, and raise my legs to let somebody remove my pants from me. The idea of changing my own clothes was alien to me. I also had no idea how to tie my shoe-laces because there was always somebody to do it. I actually started tying my own shoe-laces full-time at the age of 22, after I got divorced.

6. I almost never listen to music because I have such intense emotional response to it that I can’t function afterwards.

7. I have had mystical experiences. There were only two but they were very powerful. They were completely non-sexual in nature, in case there are annoying idiots who link mystical experiences to sex hanging around my blog. Also, if anybody wants to make an argument that they were induced by somebody’s propaganda, I will make you look like an idiot, so beware.

8. I used to write poetry in Russian, English, and Spanish. I think it was very bad but I once brought tears of appreciation to a reader’s eyes with a poem of mine. I wrote my last poem in 2006 and then destroyed them all as a personal tribute to good literature.

And there are many more.

Yes, I’m in a Crabby Mood

What I miss on this blog is the mood update option, like they reportedly have on Facebook.

The first day of classes did not go as planned. First, I discovered at the worst possible moment that somebody messed up and let me down in a very big way. Then, I had to spend the entire day redoing a shitload of work to correct their mess-up. I hate it when people mess with my plans. I’m extremely well-organized in everything that concerns my work, and it annoys me when anybody interferes.

And now my beautiful, perfectly planned syllabus is a flaming mess.

And there is a book that came out tonight that I’d been waiting for since 2010, but I couldn’t read it as planned because I had to correct somebody else’s huge mess-up.

And at this moment I can’t even enjoy the book because I’m still annoyed about how the day went.

And I couldn’t work on my midpoint tenure dossier because of redoing a shitload of work.

And the professorial bathroom has not been repaired since last semester, which annoys me.

So I made reservations for a Peruvian restaurant for Saturday. The really great restaurant in St. Louis I visited last time wasn’t featured on the blog because it was romantically dark and the pictures of food didn’t come out right. Instead, I’ll try to take photos of Peruvian food.

We’ve been to the only Peruvian restaurant of Chicago, and it wasn’t good at all. We have Peruvians in the family, so I know good Peruvian food from fake Peruvian food. Now let’s see how St. Louis stacks up in this area.

P.S. One good thing, though, is that I’m not teaching freshmen this semester. And what joy it is to have normal, alive, curious, engaged students for a change. They kept asking questions and even laughing at my jokes (in Spanish). After a semester in silent classroom filled with comatose freshmen, I feel transported to heaven.

OK, I feel less crabby now that I’ve shared. Blogging helps.

American Dream in Action

Today, I want to share with you the story of N., the man I love.

When N. was an undergrad in Russia, he learned from his prof about the fascinating field of quantitative finance that immediately attracted him. However, doing graduate studies in this field in Russia makes no sense. If you know anything about how the Russian economy works, you will realize why that is.

N. realized that what he needed to do was to apply to grad schools in the United States, the place where the world’s best quants were trained.

His English was pretty much non-existent at that time, though. Foreign language learning is in bizarrely bad shape in the FSU countries, which is why N. went to the UK to learn English. He is from a very modest family, so to finance his stay in the UK he had to work as:

– a seasonal worker in the fields;

– a busboy;

– cleaning offices at night;

– other low-paid menial jobs.

In the meanwhile, he worked hard on his English and eventually got it to a level that gained him acceptance to a very good PhD program in financial statistics in the US.

After N. successfully defended his doctoral dissertation, he found a great job as a quant in the financial sector. Everything was great for a few months, and then the global financial crisis hit. We all remember how fast companies in finance were closing down in those years. N.’s company was hit very heavily by the crisis, and since he was the last one to be hired, he was also the first one to be made redundant.

You have to remember, too, that N. is not a citizen of the US. In order to be employed, he needs a potential employer to demonstrate to the Department of Homeland Security that no employee with similar qualifications could be found among the US citizens and to sponsor him for a work visa. Many companies simply don’t have the right to hire foreign employees. Other companies don’t want the expense and the hassle, especially during a recession.

Of course, N. could have still found a job in a geographic area where companies that employ quants abound. At this point, however, another factor came into play. I got a tenure-track job in the St. Louis Metro area, and N. wanted to be with me.

As we all know, St. Louis is not a capital of finance. So N. set out to make himself attractive to this area’s employers. It took him two years of being unemployed, sending out resumes, and getting rejected.

In these two years, N. did the following things:

– published his research in a peer-reviewed journal in his field;

– received several certifications in SAS and C++;

– dramatically improved his programming skills;

– wrote a book for people in his field and self-published it. The book is selling and getting very positive reviews in a variety of countries;

– created a huge LinkedIn database of all potential employees in the area;

– created several projects that demonstrate how his quantitative skills can be applied to areas other than finance and placed them online;

– developed his own website, engaged in research projects, and placed them there;

– went over all of the courses he took in grad school to refresh his knowledge and put them on tape for future reference;

– recorded a video advertising his programming skills.

While he was unemployed, he worked more hours per week than I did at my full-time job. He had dozens of interviews and received hundreds of rejections. Whenever a potential employer got interested, N.’s lack of a work visa would come up and that interest would evaporate.

And then, one of the projects that N. had created and placed online attracted the attention of a company in St. Louis. They invited him to give a talk and were so impressed that they immediately offered him a contract with stunningly good terms of employment, a very high salary, and a great package of benefits. They also sponsored him for a work visa.

N. is starting his new job on Monday.

Today, he got news that his visa had been approved and he can start working. And you know what he is doing right now, at 9:30 pm on a Friday night? He is in the study, preparing himself for work. He asked his new employers for a list of readings he could do and is now going over them.

When I told N. I consider his story to be very inspirational and will post it on the blog, his response was, “But what’s so special about it? I just did what I had to do.”

Looking Good for Your Partner

Reader el writes:

Imho, paying *some* attention to one’s looks after finding a partner is necessary. I don’t mean surgeries. I mean may be the same hair creams to strengthen and make hair shinier one used before, watching one’s weight (not extreme, not working crash diets, but healthy food and some exercise), etc. Marriage is a sexual relationship too and trying to look attractive to one’s sexual partner should be a no-brainer. Especially in a marriage, where, unlike in one-night stand, you want the other side to be attracted tomorrow too.

I think we all know by now that I’m very much into makeup, pretty dresses, beautiful shoes, and cosmetics. However, my partner in life is the only person in the world who never even notices what I wear or how I look. He stares at me with the same adoring gaze whether I wear my best clothes and perfect makeup or lie in bed sneezing and coffing with my eye infected and gunk pouring out of it.

I remember how once we spent the entire day at the beach. I usually feel very content whenever I look at myself in the mirror. On that day, though, I saw my reflection and recoiled in horror. My hair was filled with sand and looked like a hornet’s nest. My face had acquired an unappealing red color. My eyes were piggishly small. Freckles had appeared out of nowhere and were covering my entire face. Even I had to recognize that I was no ornament to humanity on that day.

And then I saw N. staring at me. “God, you are beautiful!” he gasped. “You have this Biblical beauty that makes my heart stop.”

If you look at my photo on this blog, you will see that only a completely besotted individual would see anything Biblical in my appearance. This was when I knew that N. really loved me.

Since then, we have nursed each other through flus, stomach bugs, pericarditis, depression, very significant weight gain, etc. And in the midst of all that, each of us was always the most beautiful and desirable person the other had ever met. It is a great comfort in life to have somebody by your side with whom you are unafraid to be not pretty. We all have beautiful moments and ugly moments, both in terms of our appearance and our actions. The only partner in life worthy of the title is, in my opinion, a person who wants to be there by your side, and nowhere else, through beauty and ugliness alike.

My Intellectual Journey, Part V

Of course, I became the best student at my department and collected every possible award and distinction at the graduation ceremony. My Senior Essay got published as an article in Anales Galdosianos, a very prestigious journal in my field. I became a graduate student at McGill, and that was when I discovered what true happiness was.

Our department offered the kind of environment that every grad student in the world dreams of encountering. We stayed there every day after classes ended to grade papers, prepare classes, debate, order pizza, drink, listen to music, and dance.

Once, our Chair, a prim and proper British lady and also the first queer woman in Canada who addressed the Supreme Court to argue that gay couples should have the right to adopt children (she won her case and adopted several children with her partner), stopped by my office.

“Clarissa, you have to know that the faculty members of our department really appreciate you being in your office at all hours,” she said.

Appreciate it? The department was the most happening place to be. I wouldn’t go home if I were paid to do so.

In terms of money, I was doing very well when I was in that MA program. The tuition was very low, I was teaching, getting two research assistanship salaries, and receiving a very generous grant from the government of Canada for my MA dissertation research. Altogether, I was making about $50,000 per year, which is not bad for an MA student.

Every day, I was learning something new. I was reading like crazy, doing really good research, and life was incredibly, unbelievably, impossibly good.

And then something happened to bring this joyful intellectual journey to a screeching, crashing, horrible stop. (I’m so enjoying these cliff-hangers, people.)

(To be continued. . .)

My Intellectual Journey, Part II

As I looked at these developments, my teenage brain arrived at a conclusion that everything intellectual was useless crap and that one had to have money and material possessions to avoid feeling completely worthless.

So I worked and made money. It wasn’t easy for a female full-time university student in the mid-nineties to make enough money through intellectual pursuits (that’s the only thing I was good at, no matter what I believed) to feed herself and a dead-beat husband. I worked as a translator and gave language classes. There were no weekends or holidays for me. It was all work, work work.

And I did make good money. When my peers visited my huge apartment and saw my lifestyle, they sighed, “Oh, you are so fortunate! You have everything one can only hope to have by the age of forty, and you are just nineteen.”

I didn’t feel very fortunate, though. I wrote a lot even then. I had a diary where I recorded my feelings about my life that I didn’t share with anybody else. The image that was central to those diaries was that of emptiness. I felt that there was this gaping hole inside of me that no number of material goods I kept accumulating could ever fill.

“What’s wrong with me?” I wrote at the age of 20. (My diary was in English.) “Why do I feel so miserable when I have everything? I must be sick or very perverted.”

And then, one day, something happened that let me realize what had been missing from my life.

(To be continued. . .)

My Intellectual Journey, Part I

When I was 20 years old,  all I did was read CosmoElle and Marie Claire. I also believed that studying was useless and stooooopid and that the only worthy pursuit was to make lots of money to help one become a true Cosmo girl.

I didn’t arrive at this worldview by accident. It was a product of my experiences in the Ukraine of late eighties and early nineties. The years between 1986 and 1990 were a moment of a great intellectual awakening in the Soviet Union. This was the era when intellectuals had their long-awaited opportunity to read, think, debate, and feel very appreciated for doing so.

Every day brought new publications of authors that had been censored before perestroika. My parents subscribed to so many magazines and newspapers that it was weary work to drag them all out of the mailbox every day. Earth-shattering revelations about our history awaited us each morning. People gathered in the streets to discuss a new novel, film, or article. I remember many occasions on which I would be walking down the street with either of my parents only to have them stop and start delivering an impassioned speech on politics, literature, economy, etc. to admiring crowds. The Soviet intellectuals finally felt completely relevant and appreciated. They believed that now they would get an opportunity to have a say in where our country – or, hopefully, our many new independent republics – were heading.

And then all that came to an end. The nineties brought us bandit wars, organized crime, violence, fear, hunger, and insecurity. Most of the intellectuals never managed to find ways to inscribe themselves into the new economic reality. The hunger for material goods that everybody (except the Communist party leaders and their lackeys) had experienced during the Soviet era proved stronger than the need for intellectual nourishment. A veritable orgy of materialism overpowered the FSU countries. You either could inscribe yourself onto this really scary version of out-of-control, wild capitalism or you couldn’t.

For most of the intellectuals, this was a truly tragic moment. The new reality had arrived but there was no place for them in it. They had no tools that would enable them to deal with the demands of the free market. Looking for a job, starting a business, competing with others, being rejected when you apply for positions – these were skills that neither they nor their parents and grandparents ever had to develop. And it’s not an easy task to learn to adapt to this way of being from scratch.

(To be continued. . .)

Split Personality and Slacking

Fellow blogger Z published a charming story on her blog. Two grad students are talking:

Parisian: I have spent the whole afternoon reading Shakespeare, and I do not see that it has done me any good!

Londoner: Surely not. That is why I spent the afternoon asleep!

Z asks her readers to guess the gender of these students. I have no idea what their gender might be but I can say that they neatly symbolize 2 aspects of my personality: the obsessively hard-working Jewish persona and the happy-go-lucky, perennially snoozing Ukrainian persona.

I’ll let you guess which side of me wins more often.