Recently, I was talking to a friend who told me about her plans to attend law school soon. Of COURSE, I suggested that she apply to USC here in Los Angeles. To paraphrase her response, she said, “I know it sounds bad, but I want to stay in DC, close to my boyfriend.” Even after I assured her that there was nothing wrong with that, she continued to explain her decision, as if anticipating pushback. People, particularly women, are often told from the time they can pick up a Ken Barbie to:
“Never make important decisions based on a man.”
A similar mantra taught to both men and women is:
“Never choose your man/woman over your friend. Relationships come and go; friends are for life.”
It sounds good. And it’s relatively true; for most people, our strongest friendships tend to be more static than our romantic relationships, particularly when we’re younger and unmarried. But lately, I’ve come to question these alleged nuggets of “wisdom.” And here’s why:
1. As we get older, it becomes more practical to consider our ambitions and long-term goals comprehensively versus in a linear fashion. This means that instead of tossing out a relationship for a promotion overseas, or choosing your long time homegirl over your potential life partner, consider how each decision fits into your overall plan for your life.
Let’s consider Rachel and Walter, a hypothetical case study. Rachel and Walter have been seriously dating for 2 years. Rachel is 28 and Walter is 32 and while they certainly agree that they eventually want to have a family and settle down, they haven’t made a formal commitment to each other just yet. Rachel is offered a promotion within her company that would require her to move across the country. It isn’t necessarily a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and there will be probably be other promotion opportunities in the area, but it is a great one and it’s significantly closer to her family. Rachel and Walter both have had negative experiences with long-distance relationships and aren't interested in going down that road. I believe the decision to take a new career with relocation should be based on a variety of things including the proximity to her family, the impact of the salary/new role in her quality of life. Furthermore, I would argue that Rachel should also consider her desire to have a family. She should consider if she wants to continue developing a relationship with Walter that has promise to lead to the family they both want. It’s a fair consideration and she shouldn’t be judged harshly for including her plans with him in her decision.
Interestingly enough, a hard lesson many Type A’s and voracious planners grudgingly learn is: our lives don’t proceed steadily along in a straight line, like moving walkways in an airport. Sure, there are outliers. Beyoncé was able to achieve immense success, then love, and then the adorable Blue Ivy. Michelle Obama even did what many of us aspire to do; she completed her extensive education, landed a great job, and then found love as well, culminating with a not too shabby title as First Lady of the United States. While Beyoncé and Michelle are certainly admirable, for most people, life doesn’t occur in a Point A, then B, then C fashion. Many of us complete our education in parts, in between jobs and career changes, and many of us find love all throughout the process; the beginning, the middle, or the end. There’s nothing wrong with that. Instead of trying to create a divine order in which you focus primarily on one goal at a time, consider how each of the pieces can fit together. My friend sheepishly crossed schools in California off her list so she could be close to the man who makes her smile in Washington, DC. Is Georgetown such a bad alternative to USC? I don’t think so.
2. When you are in a committed relationship with a sane person who legitimately has your best interest at heart, that person will only ask you to choose if he or she has good reason. One of my good friends used to lament that whenever her boyfriend was with one of his close female friends, he tended to drink more, smoke weed, and stay out later. When he’d stumble home, it wasn’t his homegirl that had to deal with his sour breath, the illegal army green flakes on his jacket, and the lingering hangover; it was his girlfriend. When she told him that she’d had enough and that he’d need to regulate his behavior around said homegirl or just not hang with her at all, her boyfriend blew up at her for making her “choose.” I won’t tell you what happened in the end, but to me, it seems as though that was good reason.
The caveat is that of course, there are people out there who are jealous, suspicious, and irrational. They don’t like you spending time with your friends; they don’t like that something or someone else is making you happy. These zany folks don’t represent everyone and should be avoided anyway. Your true friends know that your household is peaceful when you alternate the Thursday night pick-up basketball games with date night every other week. They understand.
In conclusion, I’m not suggesting that a relationship should take precedence over every other consideration in your life. I do however, think it is an important consideration and that there is absolutely nothing wrong in putting it on equal bearing, and in many cases, higher bearing than other considerations. In the end, it’s YOUR life. You decide what matters to you most, and if being close to your girlfriend is more important than attending a school miles away, then act on that! It's perfectly ok.
Thoughts? Have you ever felt compelled to choose between a career or a significant other? Have your friends ever accused you of unfairly choosing the significant other over them? Do you think these old adages have more value than I’m giving them credit for? Let me know!