• August 30, 2015

Double Lives

Two Career Couples Illustration Careers

Brian Taylor

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Brian Taylor

We all know the type. We've seen them at conferences. They lead double lives, and academic conferences facilitate their deception. While their partner is elsewhere, these scholars have a fling. Things get more complicated, however, when the betrayed partner is also an academic.

I know just how messy it gets because my partner cheated on me with someone in our field. A federal grant financed their first contact, conferences enabled their affair to flourish, and colleagues, friends, and even the other woman's dissertation adviser were dragged into the deception. And because what goes around does, it seems, really come around, it was thanks to a conference that my partner's double life was finally exposed.

My partner and I were involved for many years in a long-distance relationship, as is routinely the case in academe. We had gotten together in midcareer and middle age. He was a full professor at a college in a midsized city; I was an associate (later full) professor at a university in a major metropolis. As commuting relationships go, we were fortunate; our two cities are linked by a seven-hour drive, or a short flight.

We worked around the constraints of campus obligations and our respective families: his children (who were moving toward independence) and my aging felines (on an opposite trajectory toward assisted living and hospice care). I was accustomed to living alone by the time I met my partner, so the commuting relationship wasn't a hardship for me. I relished both my independence and the time I spent with my partner.

Our professional lives were as happily intertwined as our personal lives. We co-authored a book with two other colleagues. I wrote a book for a series he edits. We even planned to write a book together and had already taken two research trips to gather material. I looked forward to spending the rest of my life with him.

He had other plans. I will never understand why he didn't end our relationship last year when he decided he preferred another woman, but, unfortunately, he chose to have an affair instead. They met in 2009 at a summer institute at which she was a participant and he was a teacher. By December 1, they had answered a call for papers with a conference proposal, and by early March, he and his new friend made their conference debut. Conferences were at the center of my partner's duplicity, and our long-distance relationship provided the cover he needed to carry on his affair.

Conferences had been important for my partner and me because of our commuting relationship. If one of us needed to attend a conference, the other one would often go along so that we wouldn't miss a weekend together. This past year, I had managed to get papers accepted at meetings in locations my partner had specifically mentioned he was eager to visit, and at meetings he regularly attends.

But seven conferences between October and June came and went, and he declined all invitations to join me. He was too tired; he was too busy; he was too broke. I offered free accommodation and frequent-flyer miles, to no avail. And, in turn, he invited me to none of his conferences, not even one in Charleston, a city we loved to visit. Instead, he asked his new friend to join him.

Conferences turned out to be useful for them, too, because she lives in the same city as me, and they were also commuting. Unlike those more circumspect philanderers we all speculate about at conferences, my partner and his new friend openly shared hotel rooms and were inseparable at panels and receptions. Their affair was so public that her dissertation adviser, an old friend and colleague of mine, learned of their relationship at our field's national meeting. When people asked, my partner concocted a lie that our relationship was over. Friends and colleagues he was likely to see at forthcoming meetings received well-timed e-mails, several weeks ahead of the event, with a fabricated tale of our break-up.

As the logistics of his double life became more complicated, he began inventing or exaggerating problems with our long-distance relationship as a diversion from his infidelity. In May, he called with the cheerful news that he would be joining me in nine days to celebrate my birthday and to stay for a week. Four days later, the manufactured crisis began.

It centered on two themes familiar to any long-distance couple and perfectly designed to maximize my feelings of guilt and stress. First, he berated me for visits that were too short or too infrequent—although I had visited him twice as often in the past year as he had visited me and stayed for three times as long.

Then he launched into a systematic attack on my reluctance to leave my job, which I happen to like so much that, in the past six years, I have turned down job offers from two universities more highly ranked than my own to stay put. My partner, in contrast, disliked both his job and where he lived. His position was that I should be willing to take any job, anywhere, for us to be together. I knew from personal experience what it was like to have a job I didn't like in a place I didn't want to live. Moreover, I didn't understand his urgency. The only jobs he had been a serious contender for in recent years were even farther from my home town than his current position.

But in May, he declared that the most important thing in life was for us to live together, and that I had to make compromises in my work situation to achieve that goal. He was so busy criticizing me that we never talked about the compromises he was willing to make: Perhaps he was planning to give up his promiscuity. Nor did I understand why he was reluctant to move to my city, where hundreds of colleges lie within a three-hour train ride.

He spurned my suggestions for ways to be together. He would not apply for fellowships. I could not spend my forthcoming sabbatical with him because he would not allow me to bring my 18-year-old cat into his house. When I said I would consider job applications on a case-by-case basis, he was enraged and insulted. When I observed that it would not be healthy to build a future together on a job I didn't like, he memorably e-mailed that he would resent me if I refused to take a job I disliked. He was so hostile, hurt, sarcastic, and irrational that I worried he was suffering from clinical depression or some more serious malady.

On the day he was supposed to arrive to celebrate my birthday, he e-mailed that he was too upset to see me. So he drove to my city, dropped his child off two miles from my house for a summer internship, and then, rather than talk to me in person about all of the important issues he had raised about our future, he turned around and drove 300 miles home. So, at least, he claimed at the time. He may well have driven a few more miles down the road to be with his new friend.

I was shattered. I scoured The Chronicle's forum on the "two-body problem" in search of insight, since I thought we were having a crisis around the challenges of a long-distance relationship. I begged him to go to counseling with me, but he refused unless I agreed to leave my job. Our more cynical colleagues have suggested that he wanted to take advantage of my success at getting job offers to find a better position for himself.

Our relationship limped on through July, while he professed his love, lamented his loneliness for me, demanded I look for a new job, stood me up (again by e-mail) for yet another visit, and told me not to come on my own scheduled trip. He "needed time," a phrase I have since learned is the classic evasion of the philanderer. He especially needed time to go to conferences with his new friend, with whom he carried on publicly throughout the entire period he was berating me for my inadequate commitment to him.

But conferences give, and conferences take away. They provide opportunities to cheat, but they also contain scores of people well-positioned to disentangle the cheater's web of deceit, even if the grapevine turns out, from my perspective, to have been painfully inefficient, especially compared with the rapid transmission of gossip about job offers and tenure battles.

The lies he told our colleagues finally found their way back to me, thanks to one colleague who was shocked to see my partner with another woman at a July conference. My partner told that flabbergasted friend that our relationship had ended a full year earlier, and that we had both moved on.

I was stunned to learn of his betrayal. I traced the dismaying longevity of his affair through the accounts flowing in from many horrified colleagues, the deadlines of the calls for papers they answered, and the conference programs they are on, all very helpful evidence to have on hand when he denied the affair.

Disentangling our personal lives has been relatively straightforward, if emotionally exhausting. The professional connections, unfortunately, will endure for years. Our publisher wants a new edition of our co-authored book. We pursued an unusual model for that book in which each author wrote in every chapter. At the time, it was intellectually stimulating and fun to work in that cooperative fashion. Now the revisions loom as a dreadful ordeal. If my book in his edited series ever requires a second edition, the publisher will have to handle all communication. I'm sure editors are accustomed to dealing with estranged co-authors, but it seems a shame to pile more work on such busy people, all because my partner preferred sneaking around to telling the truth.

As for my former partner and his new friend, they are still together. Informed of his deception and of his denial that she exists, his new friend apparently does not care about his double life and her public role in it. Despite my partner's insistence this summer that the most important thing was being together and that I had to quit my job to make that possible, the commuting life seems to suit him just fine. And their conference regimen continues, even if his double life has finally come to an end, at least for now.

Their next scheduled stop on the conference circuit is Britain, where they will be greeted by several colleagues who know all about his cheating. Maybe I'll show up, too. After all, what better place could there be than the home of the Beatles to sing a few songs of betrayal and revenge?

C.P. Williams is the pseudonym of a professor in the humanities at a major research university.


1. deadchildstar - September 29, 2010 at 12:33 am

Your story rings so true - not just for academics, but other types of research-based professions. I'm an artist, and my ex, a writer. His infidelity followed the same patterns. We each spent time travelling for readings, exhibitions, residencies, so there were lots of excuses and lies, and eventually the lies caught up to him. Unfortunately, the betrayal doesn't go away easily. I wish you all the strength to deal with the lasting fallout.

2. 11242283 - September 29, 2010 at 06:52 am

Honestly, I hope this was therapeutic for you -- because for me this was unseemly in all its details and in the behavior of all participants (the author included). And yet I read it, fascinated like a lookey-loo at a car accident. Major TMI and still not sure what the "take-away" is. I'm sorry this happened to you, I hope writing this helps --- but WHY? The human heart is complicated and by the time we are at midlife (or after), it's usually been broken a few times.

3. snwiedmann - September 29, 2010 at 08:12 am

Dear 11242283, does the well-thought-out and well-practiced deception not offend you? Would you really have no problem working with a colleague you discovered to be such an adept liar? Does character really not matter? You are, of course, quite right when you point out that all of us have our hearts broken in life. But there is a difference between being dumped and being made a fool of -- between being told "so long" and being made to feel that you are the problem. Are you more sanguine because such things don't bother you so much or because you are/were "the other woman?"

4. 2011phdstudent - September 29, 2010 at 08:56 am

Dear 11242283, I echo the previous poster. I think this, while honest and direct, reflects a larger issue of fidelity in academic settings. If one is willing to brazenly cheat on their partner in such an open fashion, can that lead to other patterns of similar behaviors?

5. perneb32 - September 29, 2010 at 09:02 am

I'm glad this stuff only happens in higher education, and I'm happy to see that so much space was devoted to this very important subject.

6. iris411 - September 29, 2010 at 09:05 am

It's neither wise to involve in office romance nor wise to have any romantic relations with your collaborators. Business is business. But I have to admit that the guy is a crook.

7. 11242283 - September 29, 2010 at 09:17 am

Oh please! Of course the deception offends me -- it would offend me even more if it happened to me (and yes, dear reader, it has). When it happened to me, I was devastated and humiliated -- fair enough but while I don't think particularly highly any longer of my former husband, I also don't think he is/was an evil person or a person without character. And I certainly wouldn't steer colleagues away from working with him. He's a good guy in many ways --- I just don't think he's very romantically reliable and I feel sorry for the woman he is now with. He is/was merely human and our marriage ended badly, mostly I think (like the writer) because of him. But honestly, all I know from this story is from the point of view of the aggrieved party (just like my notion of why my own marriage ended has a lot of assumption about my partner's deviousness and -- at least at the beginning -- very little sense of how I contributed to the end of the marriage). I don't know the inside of this relationship and I can't imagine why not one of this woman's colleagues ever emailed or called her to offer sympathy on her break-up so that this humiliation stretched out over a year.

But there is no bigger lesson here as far as I am concerned, except the obvious one that there are lots of assholes out there and that people can be assholes in some arenas but not in others. This column was included under the section on "Advice" --- so what advice is being offered? None that I can see. Has CHE devolved into Dear Abby?

8. quidditas - September 29, 2010 at 10:06 am

Well, many of us would probably like to have people with whom to share our work and collaborate.

It can certainly be an advantage to do so, and we've all seen the very concrete ways that specifically romantic collaboration benefits the collaborators in a highly competitive environment--particularly the spousal hire. (There's also sleeping your way up the company ladder).

What does it mean to the field when participants are milking their romantic connections (and parents and extended family and personal friends) for opportunities to write "a book for a series he edits," for example?

Is this a field that is based on independently evaluated high quality work or is it a field that is based on various sorts of cronyism, a thing that seriously discredits it?

While it would be impossible to purify academic fields (as other career fields) of personal enabling, I find it interesting that the author assumes the only possible response to her personal plight is tea and sympathy.

In other words, why do we view "networking" as an unalloyed good? Is there *ever* a point where networking becomes just plain unprofessional?

Clearly, he's networking around for his career but it seems to me he's not the only one, despite the author's seeming urgency to assure us that she is the established intellect with no need to deploy her personal assets.

9. facultygovernance - September 29, 2010 at 10:21 am

I hope no one thinks this only happens to women!

And I hope no one thinks I'm blaming the victims of these kinds of relationships when I say there are well-researched "warning signs" that can help keep potential victims safe.

For example, see this website run by the National Center for Disease Control - http://www.cdc.gov/chooserespect/ (Click on "behaviors and risk factors commonly associated with dating violence.")

This website is an especially good resource for your students, obviously, but its lessons are universal. Many of the behaviors 'C.P. Williams' described here are on the list of warning signs.

10. quidditas - September 29, 2010 at 10:28 am

Hey, #9--what if neither one of them is "the victim," here? What if the relevant damage is collateral?

Also, she didn't say he whacked her.

11. 11121641 - September 29, 2010 at 10:35 am

??? "Desperate Housewives" comes to the CHE? As my mostly useless doctoral director would have said, "Oh, grow up!"

12. facultygovernance - September 29, 2010 at 10:54 am

Hey, #10 -

I'm interested in exploring your idea that neither is the victim here, but that's not something we can decide for them. (I personally lean towards thinking of both parties as victims, actually! Abusive relationships are bad for everyone.)

But it's generally not helpful to propagate the lie that physical violence is the only form of 'abuse.'

13. oioioi - September 29, 2010 at 12:41 pm

This piece is totally irrelevant, annoying, and gave me a creepy feeling. I completely agree with comment #2. It's one thing to write a column on the risks and heartaches of academic long-distance relationships, or workplace romances, or the struggles of maintaining perspective and professional motivation when the world or someone in particular takes a dump on you. But the inclusion of so much personal material here makes it evident that the author is using this space for revenge, which I now feel party to, against my will. The real victims here are all the people who have to read this depressing nonsense. C.P: you want everyone to feel sorry for you and hate your ex, but I come away from this thinking I'd like to get the hell away from you, too, and what the other sides of the story might be.

14. amener - September 29, 2010 at 12:54 pm

Well, I must say I sympathize with the author of the article. The real problem is not simply betrayal in itself, but the prolonged and coercive failure to communicate it-- it is coercive because it subjected the partner without her consent to public humiliation and mental suffering (privately, she had to earnestly puzzle and wonder why is he acting like this, etc etc.-- taking him seriously as a significant other who deserved her genuine puzzlement-- long after others knew the score!).

The 'philandering' partner's behavior might suggest narcissism at the very least, but also much darker things. Something I've puzzled over myself, but below is more of a 'secondary reading' approach.

"Some of the specific techniques passive aggressive employ to express anger covertly are: 1. Keep 'em guessing. ....2. Inflicting delayed pain. The wound inflicted by passive aggressives seems inspired by the mosquito bite-- initially painless, only later swelling and itching after it is too late to smack the perpetrator, wh has by now 'flown off.'" [this is from "Distancing, A Guide To Avoidance and Avoidant Personality Disorder," by Martin Kantor.]

15. jasonzimmerman - September 29, 2010 at 02:18 pm

"I could not spend my forthcoming sabbatical with him because he would not allow me to bring my 18-year-old cat into his house."

Two grown adults couldn't figure out a way to compromise on this? What a surprise that this relationship didn't last . . .

16. quidditas - September 29, 2010 at 02:39 pm

Hey, #12--I'm sure there are romantic betrayals all over the University, as there are elsewhere. I imagine one can profile such behavior in order to develop a "type" that is more inclined to engage in said abusive behavior.

But that's LIFE. What makes this topic relevant for a professional publication per se?

Consequently, what I find interesting is the writer's complete tone deafness with regard to the *not* unassailable nature of her collegial? sexual? relationship in the first place, given that both parties were engaged in exploiting institutional resources in order to further their careers.

Yes, it is hurtful for her personally that he betrayed that collaborative effort--but I am interested in the apparent legitimacy of that practice in the first place.

She herself objects to what she assumes is his attempt to ride her coattails in a spousal hire, but makes no comment on her writing a book for his series. Why are either of these practices legitimate in this highly competitive envrionment?

Maybe it says that cut throat competition is leading people to exploit each other. On the other hand, does the fact that it's competitive mean that using sex, emotional attachment, marriage, and familial connections to get ahead--whether these are harmful to the parties or perfectly mutually beneficial--is acceptable professional practice?

It may be widespread--we "know the type," as the article itself states in the first line-- but what does that say about academia?

17. fiona - September 29, 2010 at 03:59 pm

I'm enjoying the high-horsiness of a lot of the respondents here. You know you read the story with great interest, and now you're having remorse at having spent your time on that story instead of on a tedious academic article.

You read this piece avidly, instead of with a sense of duty. You are such a sinner.

And so I say: Get over your guilt! Academics have real lives, including messy ones, and hurray for the Chronicle for publishing pieces that are about our real lives and relationships. Hurray for the author for coming forward with a story that everyone knows is all too common.

And of course, you knew what kind of article it was from the beginning. You didn't have to keep reading. But you know you couldn't stop yourself. That's a tribute to the writer and to the Chronicle.

The Fiona

18. thomas34 - September 29, 2010 at 04:28 pm

#17 -- You're right that I read this article avidly, but I did so in the same way that I read lots of ill-conceived, unintentionally-funny articles avidly. Seriously, I would be willing to chip in $5 to pay Mr. Conference Philanderer to write a companion piece with his side of the story, because I have a feeling his would read very differently.

19. 11161452 - September 29, 2010 at 09:59 pm

Having "been there, done that", my Dear Abby advice to the author would be

1) resist the urge to exact revenge--it hurts only yourself

2) find an online support group--the one I used was about midlife crisis, as the guy took up with a 20 year old student--to reassure yourself you're not crazy, and there are lots of people going through this who have similar stories to tell

3) quickest way to heal is to make a clean break; in other words, don't go to that conference in Britain where you know you'll have contact

4) and yes, it stinks that he chose deception instead of just ending it; but it seems that's how it generally works in these situations--call it ego, keeping several irons in the fire, whatever.

20. bradleyhockey - September 30, 2010 at 12:22 pm

Sorry to hear of your problem. You have no responsibility here? Are you a teenager? You didn't push back or say get lost this doesn't work for me?? Why? Is this the 1940's where women are uneducated with no alternatives- come on now. So this open letter is the new way to handle your tantrum- I am surprised you haven't litigated isn't that the new way of handling relationships. Sorry I am just wondering who you know to get this dumb writing piece published here- the story is pathetic and it takes two to drag out this saga. Sounds like you both have too much time on your hands- and someone is paying too much to each of you to teach. What a joke can't say I am surprised.

21. mrbridgeii - September 30, 2010 at 05:24 pm

Assuming that any of the details are true, it must be irresistible to imagine one's ex reading the details here. It's an act of revenge on academic par with Fatal Attraction and countless other Hollywood movies, or at least with Alanis Morissette's song "You Oughta Know." I salute the author for the gesture.

This is not to say that it doesn't make the author look petty and mean-spirited--only that the motive is one we can all sympathize with. Of course, living well is always the best revenge indeed, and I hope that the author reaches a point where she can do just that. Indifference is a much more effective means of exacting revenge than fury. He's simply not worth this much ink.

22. ysr337 - October 01, 2010 at 03:46 am

I often find the Chronicle advice columns interesting, because usually they highlight something very personal about an experience in academia, and illustrate struggles and losses in a way that is thought provoking and sometimes inspiring. Or at the least the columns sometimes inspire more thought about the emotional and interpersonal experiences we have in a line of work that is frequently very emotionally charged to begin with, because for many of us our academic careers began, at least, as a labor of love. I don't necessarily agree with columns, and often the stories are cautionary and even sad, with little hint of a happy resolution for the story teller.
But for me at least I found this particular piece didn't really inspire much thinking about issues such as the wierd hothouse environment that conferences provide that seems to feed casual infidelity, the difficulties of remaining honest and negotiating a genuine emotional connection in a long distance relationship, the difficulties of balancing love for the work versus love for another and how people differ in their interpretations of that equation, or the difficulties of navigating collaboration with a former friend or former life partner.
Perhaps its because the author doesn't have sufficient distance on the events to reflect on her own role in a 3-dimensional way, and perhaps also the way the column simply reads like an account of the events (albeit an opinionated one) and not much more. I hope the Chronicle will encourage future columnists to try to bring something more to their columns was on display here.

23. xyzed - October 02, 2010 at 04:49 pm

I'm frankly astonished at the obnoxious trolling in these comments, not to mention the poor writing quality. You must not be academics yourselves.

You know what's really 1940's? Misogyny and victim-blaming. Find something better to do than criticize the one brave soul speaking for those who remain silent. They remain so precisely because they face this kind of judgmental, double-standard thinking if they do work up the courage to speak.

Personally, I say bravo to the Chronicle for giving space to a real and thorny problem in academe. For good or for ill, it's a world based on camaraderie. Let the industry that is without nepotism be the first to throw stones.

24. hmaria1609 - October 03, 2010 at 01:22 pm

Someday down the road, this guy's behavior will catch up and bite big time.

25. questor - October 03, 2010 at 04:24 pm

I'd give anything to see a photo of the guy. I know very few faculty who have found lasting romance or marriage at conferences, seems most people are into their work or families.

26. gpage - October 06, 2010 at 03:31 pm

I agree with #17 and #9 illustrates my interest in this. I try and learn or take away something interesting with each piece I read, and this one was traits and examples. For example, if I knew someone broke up, I'd probably be a little more inclined to contact the other party and wish my sympathy. If nothing else to help prevent this from staggering onward unknown.

So while it could have been structured slightly differently if geared toward insights I was interested in, it still served a purpose. Thank you to #9 for posting the link as well.

27. nandod - October 06, 2010 at 07:50 pm

Given the tenor of these responses, I would wager that most everyone has either been involved in or witnessed similar stories to the author's. I am sorry that she chose a distinguished publication like the Chronicle to air her dirty laundry. I, as others here have noted, also fail to find the cautionary in the tale?

Should one avoid a long distance relationship in academics? Should one systematically hunt down all the people involved in a perceived conspiracy of silence and chastise them for withholding information? Should one learn that it might be better for one's reputation to keep silent and figure out that it happens every day and all the time?

Revenge is a dish best served cold, sorry that she felt her need to portray herself as the victim in this scenario, I would be very interested to learn the ex husband's point of view.

The author indicates that her husband and his newer partner are still together, might this not be some indication of his having found a more satisfying relationship and not (as the author claims)further proof of his manipulative ways?

As for the dramatic title "double lives" there are far more interesting stories of people who really lead lives of quiet desperation and hide their true love, inclinations and predilections from otherwise outdated partners and partnerships. Sometimes they courageosuly out themselves, other times they are destined to be "outed" by others. This seems to be the latter instance.

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