Chiara Atik is a writer for The Date Report, Glamour, Gawker, and other venues. Her first book, Modern Dating: A Field Guide, will be published in the spring. Melissa Wall is HowAboutWe’s director of content.
Chiara: So I read this. Or rather, I read half of it until I started to feel panicky, then had to stop.
Melissa: Why panic?
C: It just puts the pressure on! Am I dating enough?? Am I doing it wrong??
M: Stop the panic. What already distinguishes you from twentysomethings she’s talking about, who spend their twenties never considering or prioritizing relationships, is that you’re paying attention. You’re noticing what’s going on with you emotionally, and identifying what you do and don’t want when it comes to relationships.
C: The article seems to say that it’s really important to spend your twenties learning how to be in a serious relationship — the implication being that if you DON’T, then you won’t know what you’re doing in your thirties.
M: I think the key is THINKING about these issues in your twenties. Whether or not that means racking up a couple relationships by your 29th birthday, you’re focusing energy and attention on this inquiry: what does it mean to have a good relationship, what will it take from me, and what will I get out of it? When you do meet someone and are ready to settle down (assuming that’s what you want), having answers to those questions is what will make the difference — are you in this to get yours (your big rock and your social validation and your nice dude to rely on for companionship) or are you in it to create a real partnership, be a contribution to someone else, and have your life be about more than yourself as an individual? The former describes some women, the latter describes people in happy relationships.
C: I feel like there’s a huge panic in my generation (it’s come up again and again and again, with friends) in which we feel like we have to choose between one and the ohter. You hear stories about it happening all the time — in order to have a successful career, you have to put all your energy and time into it and so you don’t have time to date, or you don’t have time to make the relationship work. And then you find yourself in your late thirties and single. Which, as any rational person will say, is not at all too old to find love, or even to have kids. But it’s scary — no one wants to feel like they have to sacrifice a good relationship in order to have a good career.
M: It’s interesting that you guys would think you have to choose between relationship and career. My view was always “It’s better to find a partner because it’s way too damn expensive to live on your own forever.” Also, the idea that “it takes so much time to have a relationship” isn’t always true. Not that it’s not work — I’d be a hypocrite if I said that.
It takes a lot of time to START a relationship, and your work quality may suffer for a month or so during the initial “we spend all our time together” phase. But after that, it can be good for your career — you have another person to support you in your efforts (emotionally, that is) and be a sounding board or a shoulder to cry on. You have an advocate. My husband is a huge support system (also i know that it’s unlikely we’d both be out of work at the same time, which alleviates stress). Yes, if you work ALL THE TIME then your relationship will suffer. Everything in your life that’s not work will suffer. There’s no way around that, other than not working so damn much.