grad school "friends"

A few days ago, What Now wrote about an old grad school friend who repeatedly diminished her accomplishments or boasted about his own. It resonated with me, and with many others, judging from her comments -- after all, who doesn't know someone like that from graduate school? I've been thinking about her post quite a bit since then, because I have an unanswered email sitting in my inbox from someone who's one of my own such friends.

I do still use the term "friend" when I think of this guy -- who I'll call Affable Joe, because he was (and is still) incredibly easygoing and sociable. We were in the same cohort, and probably had a couple of classes together, though we mostly knew each other socially. When we were writing our dissertations, we became closer friends, meeting for coffee once in a while to commiserate about the agony of dealing with our committees and our manuscripts. We both got jobs the same year, and kept in touch largely through seeing each other at conferences every year or two, plus email.

I do consider him a friend, and writing this makes me remember the strength of the experiences we've shared and of our deeper friendship. But in the last couple of years, there's been more friction in our conversations. By some measures, he's more successful than I am. By other measures, our jobs are at equivalently mediocre institutions. Our publishing records look very different -- we're in different sub-fields and have taken different paths in creating our scholarly profiles. I'm taking on a different role in my department and institution than he is.

Basically, our academic values are very different, and that seems to be causing some friction. I've certainly felt in our last few conversations that he's not supportive of my choices -- he flat out told me that I was heading for "failure" if I took an administrative post. That actually hasn't been true so far at least -- during the past year of admin work I presented at a major conference and won two research grants. Joe still seems to believe in the elitist model of solitary research above all else that our graduate program promoted, but which doesn't fit the institutions we're currently a part of. I don't believe that there is only one single path to success -- nor only one definition of professional or personal success. Perhaps I haven't been as clear in expressing that to him as I should. All I know is that I've felt judged and found lacking in our last few conversations, and it makes me reluctant to talk with him. It feels like it takes a lot of energy to protect myself from someone who used to be a buddy.