If you have your own career, your own home and your own money, a romantic relationship can mean a big upheaval, especially if it gets serious. Sure, sex, cuddling and companionship are wonderful, but what do you do with him the rest of the time?
Here’s the scenario: you’re a busy woman with a full life, but you’re also single and want male companionship. Your job takes a lot of time, your social life is active and you don’t really have time to date. Plus, you’re accustomed to doing things alone or with your group of friends. If you get involved with someone, where will you put him? It’s like trying to put a new couch in a room already full of great furniture you don’t want to get rid of.
There’s a reason finding a partner seems harder than ever. A lot of things have changed in women’s lives in the last 50 years. The age of first marriage for women rose from 20 to 26. Women have been kicking ass in college: substantially more women than men earned Bachelor’s, Master’s and Doctoral degrees in 2010. We haven’t broken the glass ceiling yet, but we’re putting cracks in it (Hillary Clinton, Secretary of State; Jill Abramson, Executive Editor, New York Times Co.; Sheryl Sandberg, COO, Facebook). Gender roles are getting more flexible, with heterosexual partners sharing household and parenting tasks more evenly. These are good things, but they can also be unsettling. The fact is, developing a sense of autonomy tends to throw some other things out of whack. For instance, if you have your own career, your own home and your own money, a romantic relationship can mean a big upheaval, especially if it gets serious. Sure, sex, cuddling and companionship are wonderful, but what do you do with him the rest of the time?
It’s hard, but it can be done. There are two sorts of problems with integrating a new person into your life. The first is logistical: is he geographically undesirable? Does he hate cats and you have two? Do you have conflicting opinions on religion, politics, entertainment or socializing? Does one of you unwind with pot or wine while the other unwinds with a six-mile run? The second problem is internal: can you cope with the various awkwardnesses and discomforts involved in letting your guard down with someone?
That second problem can be a bitch. There are some wonderful things about having a good partner, but finding one usually requires a time-consuming, frustrating, sometimes uncomfortable or painful search. Sometimes you get lucky: you meet the guy naturally, at the party of a mutual friend or a work function, or standing in line at your favorite coffee place, or you get set up by a friend who had a good sense that you and he would like each other, and you do. Mostly it doesn’t work that way, and you meet someone who has some good points and some obvious flaws. (A word of caution: worry about the ones who don’t have obvious flaws—everyone’s got something.)
Dating is a sorting process for both of you. You like his smile and his sense of humor, but his hair looks stupid. He likes the way you look, but not your elastic sense of time (you usually run late). The biggest plus of dating is experience: “Good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment” (Barry LePatner). Yes, bad dates suck, but they allow you to appreciate the good ones, and help you determine what you really want and need in a relationship. It’s hard to figure that out on paper, without doing the field work. It also helps to be older: if you are over 30, even better. A lot of people who think they’ve found their soul mate at 15, 20 or 25 discover, a few years later, that they haven’t. One of the reasons for this is that people grow and develop throughout their lives, and for most of us, the years between 13-30 are pretty dynamic: our whole sense of self can change in that time, and the friends and lovers who fit us the way we were don’t always fit anymore when we evolve.
If you aren’t in a relationship but you want one, the best thing you can do for yourself is take it one step at a time. Don’t worry about how someone will fit into your life when you first meet. There’s time enough for that after you are sure that you actually want him in your life. Try to be Zen about the process: stay in the here and now. This doesn’t mean don’t look. And, by the way, ignore that bull about it will happen when you’re not looking. Sometimes it does, but mostly it doesn’t. However you meet someone you’re interested in (online, mutual friends, matchmaker, co-worker, meeting by accident), the best favor you can do for yourself and your future is to avoid jumping the gun. Keep your eyes open and do whatever you can to find a good one, but once you’ve met someone you’re interested in, try to enjoy getting to know him. I appreciate that this advice can be totally frustrating, especially if you’re older, but the other option is to start a relationship that’s half-baked and hope it works out okay when the heat is on.
The short answer is if you both want it to work, it will.