Relationships, Careers, Priorities and Abstractions

When I was deciding where to go to graduate school, about a year ago, I had lunch with a family friend who is in her 70s, exceptionally accomplished, and whose opinions I take as seriously as anyone’s.

At the time I was choosing between New Mexico and North Carolina, having begun to tell people that I’d ruled out Columbia “unless I tripped on a trust fund.” I didn’t.

I was also, at the time, dating my Missed Connection: the guy I met through Craiglist after a subway sighting, who is a labor lawyer and performed his younger sisters’ weddings, and who frequently gets mistaken for John Krasinski, the guy from The Office.

In other words, the one who–on paper–seemed like an absolutely ideal husband. And who, accordingly, I had concluded should probably be my ideal husband.

As I weighed my options, he was also weighing his–having been offered a job in Washington DC. A place, it was not lost on either of us, within reasonable driving distance from the school I was considering in North Carolina.

I should add that, despite my delusions about marriage, I actually managed to keep things rather casual between us. Or rather, allowed him to: we only saw one another a couple of times a week. We were both clearly smitten, but despite occasional teasings about who was going to leave whom, we refrained from indulging–to each other at least–in fantasies of our shared future.

Nonetheless, the idea of being within a reasonable proximity to him had pretty significant appeal. My gut was telling me go to New Mexico, but it was hard to fully remove him from the equation.

I told this family friend about my predicament. She was sympathetic, and immediately offered sage and straight-forward advice. As she does.

“If you really thought he was the right guy,” she said, “you’d do whatever you needed to be with him. You’d move to Washington if that’s where he was going, or stay in New York if he stayed here. You’d put off grad school if you had to.”

Part of me found this comment rational, and another part found it utterly shocking. Sure, I was tempted to consider him as a factor, but the thought of making a decision solely based on him had not entered my mind. I’d spent months applying to MFA programs, had left a perfectly good job for the purpose, and was not about to completely abandon my life plan just because of a guy–however amazing he might be.

Now, as I later realized and wrote about, deep down I did not really think Missed Connection was the right guy. He is an extroardinary person who, I hope, will someday make some very fortunate woman an incredible husband. I wish that I still thought that woman ought to be me. But I don’t.

I’m wondering, though: if I really, honestly did think he was “the one” (not that I really buy into that idea, but I’ll save that thought for another time), would I have been willing to sacrifice for the sake of the relationship?

I’m not sure that I would have. In fact, I’d like to think that I wouldn’t have. As important–and obviously, it’s pretty important–as it is for me to find love, it’s even more important for me to find fulfillment personally, in my own life and career. If I were to give up my own ambitions for a guy, I fear that I’d end up resenting him, and the relationship, and being unhappy later on.

I think.

A couple of friends of mine, who I’ve written about in reference to their Constant States of Panic, are long-distance dating people they’re into–people they’re pretty certain, some might say, are “the one.” And yet, as difficult as they know it is to sustain these relationships from far away, everyone involved is clear that they aren’t about to give up whatever personal and career tracks they’ve got going in order to be in the same place.

It’s tough, and it’s risky: they’ve accepted that the flipside of this seemingly healthy mindset is living with the constant possibility that something will change, that someone might meet someone else. They’d like to think that their connections are strong and durable enough to withstand such potential challenges.

But they know that, even if they don’t, the alternative–the prospect of giving up the dreams they’re pursuing in deference to the possibility of something else–isn’t a feasible option.

As I discussed with J–one of the friends, I think it’s okay to reveal, who is in this scenario–last night, this is probably a pretty contemporary phenomenon. If we were in our mid-twenties a couple decades ago–and, certainly, at the time when my family friend was that age–we’d likely be thinking differently.

Not just because women weren’t so career-focused. But because people’s idea of commitment was different. These days committing to someone doesn’t connote the kind of permanence that it once did. As powerfully as we might feel for another person, we don’t take for granted that such feelings will last forever–the way the results of whatever personal and career projects we undertake hopefully will.

I think. The older I get, the more I tend to think that relationships are the most important thing. But I still can’t shake the notion that I’ll only find happiness in relationships once I find it within myself.

Which is an attitude that is a lot easier to adopt, I imagine, in the abstract. If and when things become more concrete, I’m not sure how I’ll feel.

Stay tuned.

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4 Comments

Filed under Love Life

4 responses to “Relationships, Careers, Priorities and Abstractions

  1. It’s interesting when people think love/commitment and career are mutually exclusive or career is the higher priority for everyone. Let’s say you and Missed Connection did feel both of you were, in some way, “the one” and were thoroughly committed to each other. Couldn’t he turn down the DC job and move to where you were going to school? Then for your part you could have both love and career. And if you were still together when school ends, maybe a move could be prioritized based on his career.

    Much of it also depends on how important career is to both people. Not everyone looks to career for personal fulfillment or as a measure of personal success. If a person looks to family, friendships, love, community involvement, and so on, for fulfillment and not at all to career, that person may be quite willing to change plans for someone they love.

    -John

    • Well, all true. Part of the situation with me and Missed Connection was that we had only been dating a short time–three months–when these decisions came up. By the time I met him I was already hearing back from graduate programs. I’m sure if both of us were truly convinced we ought to be together we could have made it work, and in some way the fact that we didn’t try reflects that both of us knew otherwise. That said, I do think that, personally, I will not find a relationship fulfilling if it requires me to sacrifice something I’ve always considered a personal priority–like writing. Again, that said, there is always compromise…and ultimately I don’t know what I’ll be willing to sacrifice until a situation arises that calls on me to do so!

  2. Wilbur

    “These days committing to someone doesn’t connote the kind of permanence that it once did.”

    That is unfortunate, when and why did this change? If someone can’t make that type of commitment to another person, who then decides what the appropriate time frame it should be? A day, a month, a year, 2 years….? Commitment, like love and like marriage, means an ability and a WILLINGNESS to compromise. A short term commitment, by its very definition, means that compromise is not necessary. If there is conflict, you just end it….it was only a short term commitment anyway.

    • I don’t think, Wilbur, that commitment these days NEVER connotes permanence. I just think that there is less of an expectation now that people who are seriously dating in their 20s, or casually dating, are necessarily looking for lifelong companionship at that point in their lives. People get married later, and are generally more likely to prioritize personal fulfillment above a relationship further into life. I hope that makes us all the more ready, and able, to seriously commit later on.

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