I'm eligible for a sabbatical next year, which at RU means either a semester at full pay or a year at half. At some point over the summer, it became clear that this was a no-brainer: of course I'd be applying for the full year.
This is an option that--at least in my particular financial circumstances--is only possible because I have a partner with a full-time job who makes an equivalent salary. Even then it'll be a stretch, budget-wise. On the other hand, it's also the only way that I can both keep my job and live with my partner (albeit temporarily).
And I've gotta say, I'm not thrilled by the mildly resentful reactions I've gotten from a handful of male academics (not all at RU, but generally all with kids and/or spouses who don't work full time) when I've mentioned that I'm applying for the full year. "Must be nice!" They say. Or, "Boy, wish I could do that--but someone's gotta pay the bills!"
Look. I want to say. I'm lucky to be part of a couple with two solidly middle-class incomes, in an affordable part of the country, and no dependents. But you get to live with your spouse year-round, every year; you only have to pay for one household; and you get to choose whether to have kids. I don't live with my spouse full-time. We have two households, in two different cities, plus significant commuting expenses. And you have no idea whether we want kids, because they aren't an option as our lives are currently structured.
Are there perks to this arrangement, financial and otherwise? Sure. And you'd better believe I'm going to take advantage of them. But there are downsides, too, and it makes me wild when people make casually thoughtless remarks about how hard their own lives are without considering who they're talking to (like the older man telling his reluctantly single and childless female colleague, "Oh, I can't make it to that talk tonight--I'd like to actually see my family for a change").
But this post isn't about the thoughtlessness or unexamined privilege of men who benefit from traditional domestic structures, or at least I'd like for it not to be just about that. I'm sure I don't fully recognize the stressors that afflict such men--or indeed the stressors of any of my colleagues whose personal and domestic lives are notably unlike my own. I don't know what it's like to bear the burden of being the sole breadwinner, or of trying to juggle parenthood and a career. I can imagine, but have only the briefest of experiences, being unwillingly single in a place with a limited dating pool. I don't know what it's like to be a racial or sexual minority trying to find a partner in a culturally homogeneous area. I don't know how embittering it is to live or teach somewhere that I despise, or where I feel personally thwarted.
Not all hardships are equivalent, of course: some are ultimately unsustainable, and others come with compensatory advantages (having someone to lean on emotionally is tremendous, but having someone to split household chores with is also pretty tremendous). But most domestic and personal arrangements have some upsides along with their downsides.
So I'll tell you what: I'll try harder to imagine and sympathize with your hardships if you try harder to imagine mine.