I don’t remember exactly when I first saw you.
I guess it must have been at school. There was lots to catch my eye back then – literature, classics, mathematics, history – but you were the one that stood out. They tried to entice me with battles, with witticisms, with the dry echoes of ancient deeds or the abstract beauty of algebra, but you didn’t seem to feel the need to shout. Cooly, you cut through it all. Come with me, you said, and I will unlock the world for you. I will show you the secret cogs and wheels and orbits that govern matter itself. I will show you the secret of life. I will show you reality’s hidden truths. I will gift you sights that none have glimpsed. That was it. I was smitten. You kindled a flame I didn’t suspect I had, and I never looked at anything else again.
I worked hard to be worthy of you. After that first awakening of my affection, ours was a slow-burning romance. You kept your distance a bit, and there were still other calls on my time. I yearned for you. I was dazzled with your accomplishments, and the more I found out about you, the more I doubted I would ever be worthy of you. I still doubt it.
And then came the PhD, and at last I had you all to myself. It was a trembling start to our relationship – I had so much to learn, and a part of me couldn’t fully believe that this was really happening. But for all those nerves, I was more smitten than ever by the end. You were seductive. Sometimes you showed me favour, sometimes you were hard with me. Maybe I went a little crazy. I worked long hours, neglected other things in my life. Obsession and infatuation. I bashfully brought my offerings to your altar. They never seemed enough, or good enough, or to last long enough. You were demanding, seemingly always unimpressed with me, always fixed on what came next. But I persisted. I believed. I felt you still loved me too. I felt I just had to find something, something to make you bless me.
The postdoc was hard. Now that you knew you had me, you seemed no longer to want me. You became cruel. With me, with all of us. I watched my peers fall out of love with you, saw your ugly side. I kept believing in you, told myself that the goddess I’d worshipped was your true face, not this capricious and cold-hearted siren. I hoped it was just a phase.
I saw you grow rich, and I saw money go to your head. Surrounded by so many admirers, wooed by politicians and industrialists and capitalists, with the presence of all those beaus meaning you could treat them with indifference. You gave your favour to some who merited it, but seeing some of your other paramours made me question your taste. I saw you hanging out with a rough crowd – gamblers, showmen, salesmen – people grown rich on the system. I saw students being exploited, I saw sober heads made delirious by impact factors and prestige journals, I saw hypercompetition reap misery and depression and despair. I felt you were deliberately trying to hurt me. You seemed in thrall yourself…to what? The bling of money, power, prestige. And I saw the corruption that this fast living brought you – retractions, irreproducible data, burnout, madness and depression. I saw some of the best minds of my generation decide that they didn’t belong with you any more. I hated you then. I felt you were leading people on and then destroying their lives, while your well-fed eunuchs shrugged and simply hired new bodies to replace the carcasses that had left.
I’ve come through that phase. Maybe I was wrong. Maybe my own fear and terror at losing you made me bitter, clouded my judgement. Maybe some of the things I said about you were true. But we’re back together now, we’ve found our own equilibrium. I’ve come to terms with our relationship. I don’t think I can change the way you are, but maybe you will change yourself, of your own volition.
Either way, I’m all yours.
Originally published on Total Internal Reflection - here.