Today, a friend of mine posed the following question on Facebook:
I thought back on my years of dating and relationships, wondering what I might tell the 21-year-old me that would be most invaluable for my adult dating life that lie ahead. Immediately, it became clear:
Don’t make any major life decisions based solely on a man or a relationship that might not be there tomorrow.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m all for committing to love. I’ve made multiple decisions in my life, both big and small, that were influenced by love or by whether I thought they would have a positive or negative impact on the committed relationship I was in at the time.
I have made the conscious decision to not follow certain career paths that I felt would compromise the stability of having a healthy relationship and home life. For instance, I am not an anthropologist who runs off to study cultures in ultra-remote locales for years at time. Nor did I decide to become a spy—don’t laugh, one of my former college classmates actually is.
I have cooled off certain friendships with the opposite sex that I felt would detract from my commitment to a boyfriend. This of course inevitably had personal advantages, but it ultimately came down to respect for my partner and our relationship.
And because I’m not overly committed to a specific style or look, I’ve even worn my hair hippie curly when one boyfriend loved that or dressed a little sexier than I normally would when another boyfriend buttered me up for that. It didn’t ultimately change who I was, and it pleased them, so I didn’t see the harm of playing dress up, if you will.
I was thrilled to do the exciting cross-country moves with one of my former boyfriends. He had an exciting and daunting new career opportunity, and I felt like I would be even more of an important support to him. I wasn’t established working full-time at the time, so I was mobile. I was happy to be living in a new part of the country again, and I loved my boyfriend, so it was a no brainer to accept when he invited me along on that crazy journey.
However, sometimes I have sacrificed or compromised more than I should have. What’s worse is that I had gut realizations of this at the time. And these moments I can’t ever get back. These are the times that occasionally call up the “what-ifs” that I try not to dwell on, but they rise up unbidden anyway.
My college boyfriend and I were together for two-and-a-half years before I graduated. I was older than he, and I finished up school a little earlier than he did, so I was looking at job opportunities before he was even finishing up his senior year. We had been living together for a long time, and I felt like I couldn’t abandon him before his graduation, but that didn’t stop me from being tempted by jobs of every flavor literally all over the globe. While we lived in California, I applied to jobs in Washington, D.C., New York City and even considered teaching jobs in Asian countries.
My boyfriend supported my dream journalism jobs, so he knew about my interview for a big magazine in Manhattan, but I might have left some of the other opportunities out of our conversations. Because really, how could I take those? How could I leave him behind out here by himself? He had few friends besides me in the area—co-dependence was a term we were uncomfortably familiar with. And I was sadly far too used to giving up the little things to keep things comfortable and safe.
Yet this was my future! And I had a sneaking suspicion that my dear loved one wouldn’t have so easily given up opportunities for me. Still, when a great job—great title, great benefits and salary, within my field and straddling a few of my interests—opened up within biking distance from where we lived, I took it. It wasn’t my dream, but I convinced myself it was close enough for now.
A dream job did eventually open up a couple months later. It didn’t pay as well, and it was further away. By then my boyfriend had graduated, but his job was further south. Together we couldn’t afford a place up north on my salary in the kind of housing he would be able to stand living in, so I decided to try to balance two jobs, while making a ridiculous commute and dealing with worsening health conditions. Needless to say, that didn’t work out, and I was left with neither.
I had to suck it up with an even worse job, closer to our new home, but still a murderous commute by car. And my health continued to decline. Eventually, it got so bad that my doctor told me that I had to go on medical leave, and my boyfriend and I had to acknowledge that we were clueless how to proceed from there. We were still kids, and I needed parents who could nurse their daughter through a recovery.
I traveled 3000 miles back home. A few months later, my boyfriend joined me on the same coast for an internship, so we saw each other infrequently. But by the end of that year, he ended our relationship because I had no answer for when I was going to recover. After all the sacrifices I had made for him and for our relationship, when I needed him to be there for me the most, he just wanted to know, why wasn’t I getting any better faster enough?
After four years of our life together, that commitment I had centered life decisions around, crumbled into a million pieces. And I was without the different undergraduate degree and honor’s thesis that I would have continued to pursue if the boyfriend hadn’t pushed me to change when he bailed out of it. Would have finished the international study program that was left unfinished when the boyfriend again bailed out less than midway. I was without the co-terminal master’s degree I would have pursued if, quite frankly, the boyfriend hadn’t been in the picture. And I was without the life in a big city, quite possibly in another country, living the life I’d dreamed about since I was 11.
I know I can’t honestly blame it on him. I blame it on me for not listening to my heart and my dreams, for allowing myself to be so influenced by his, which he didn’t even know himself because they literally changed every other month. Sometimes I wonder if part of growing ill so mysteriously after such an innocuous accident after such an innocuous case of mono was triggered by years of swallowing missed chances and bitter regrets.
After coming out of almost a year’s cloud of depression over that relationship’s demise, I swore I’d never allow that to happen to myself again.
When I was recruited to launch and be editor for an online news publication two years ago, I was initially drawn in by the promise of reporting for my own hometown. Yet as the hiring process furthered, I was told there was also an opening in the town in which my boyfriend at the time lived. The opportunity came up at a very telling point in our relationship.
After an intense five months together and an abbreviated period living together while his kids were vacationing from their full-time home overseas, we had been having very serious discussions about our future. When the possibility of a position being open in his town arose, my boyfriend quickly warmed to the idea, thinking this would endear me to the idea of moving in with him almost immediately. Yet there were multiple reasons why I was hesitant.
Logistically, being unable to drive, I would be without wheels living in my boyfriend’s town while he was at work a half-hour away all day, in addition to the hours he put into his private practice at night. As a reporter who had to make it to town hall meetings at night, library and school events during the day and head to people’s homes for interviews, I couldn’t imagine everywhere in town was as reasonable a walking distance as the schools and playgrounds we’d visited over the summer. And walking alone terrified me when I was still too often falling with the reassurance at least that people I trusted were right by my side to catch me. In my hometown, living at home, my parents would be available to chauffer me as needed.
This, in addition to the fact that I was guaranteed the position in my hometown while I’d have one or two others also vying for the position in his town, of course made the decision seem easy. Yet the truth was, there was another big reason why I knew I couldn’t take a position that would leave me “stuck” in his hometown. We’d had a tumultuous relationship in the relatively brief time we’d been together. We’d broken up, dated others, gotten back together, dealt with major jealousy issues and I’d nursed him over his lingering heartbreak over another woman. Quite frankly, I wasn’t feeling too secure that our relationship would even last a full year, as much as we could talk about it and get caught up in our passion and romantic idealism.
Trusting my gut, I pursued the position in my hometown. It was the best career move I could ever have made. I succeeded in ways I never imagined, having experiences and opportunities I never would have experienced living anywhere else. I was also comfortable and secure, knowing I had the full support of my parents to rely on. And not surprisingly, less than a month after I fully jumped up to my neck into the new job, my relationship was over. It turned out my boyfriend was not only threatened by other men having my attention, he was also threatened by my job and career having so much of my time, energy and focus as well.
There will be a time when I know that a relationship is for keeps. I will know that my partner is as willing to make sacrifices for us as I am, and that there are compromises we make to keep our relationship healthy and balanced. Yet compromising the very core of my spirit and being is something I’ve learned I cannot and will no longer do for the “sake of a relationship.” Anyone who truly loves me would never ask that of me, and loving myself means that I would never allow me to lose myself so entirely again.
I do believe things happen for a reason, and there are roads I needed to take to get me right here and lessons I’ve needed to learn to become the person I am today. Yet to spare myself at least some of the unnecessary heartbreak and time lost from the young SingleInMy30s, I would lovingly tell myself to live my life with love and kindness for those I care about, but in the end, the only person I can please is myself, so live my life for me!