This month, I turned 22. Young, I know, but for me the birthday served as another float in the parade of reality that my graduation day is marching closer with each passing moment. Instead of the usual array of fun and frivolous gifts wrapped in brightly colored paper, far too many people chose to get me “work clothes” for my birthday this year.
I am graduating from New York University in May. And it’s not just others who are preparing me for the life change that’s about to happen. Each morning, I wake up and remind myself that I need to get a job—and not of the smoothie shop variety. I’ve spent more time than I care to admit contemplating how to craft the perfect employer-alluring business card and website. And if all this worrying, wondering and work wardrobing wasn’t enough, almost every conversation I have had with someone 25+ over the past five months has turned into a mental probing of my potential to deal with “the future.”
It always starts with the same inquiries: “What are your plans for after school?” “Have you had any leads on jobs?” “Where have you been applying?”
That’s followed by the same generic and passive advice: “It’s a tough job market, so hang in there.” “Keep trying and you will get something.” “You should look into working online—that’s where the future of journalism is.”
While rather repetitive, this is not the part of these discussions that bothers me. I know this cyclical spill of questions and encouragement comes from a place of general affection and interest in seeing everything work out for me. It is the question that comes after this initial conversation that makes me wish I was a mime, so I would have a suitable reason not to answer and take off on an invisible bicycle.
Ninety-five percent of the time the next topic of these friendly interrogations is: “So, what are you and your boyfriend going to do?”
Ah yes, my boyfriend. It is a relationship story so unshockingly normal that it seems somewhat strange. Boy meets girls in freshman writing class. Boy buys girl dinner. Boy and girl both decide the other is pretty cool and have been dating and loving each other ever since. But my relationship’s past is not what matters in these conversations. It is all about the future, especially the future that has my boyfriend potentially moving to California for graduate school.
Based on how the question is usually phrased, and the drawn-out and serious “tough call” face that accompanies it, I suspect the asker is expecting one of two answers.
- I think we are going to call it quits after graduation, because both of us are going in different directions.
- The two of us are so terribly in love that I am willing to follow him wherever he goes to make sure we have a happily ever after.
Neither of these options is my answer. Instead it falls into a more complex middle realm that can also be narrowed down in a two point list.
- I want to do what I came to school in New York for; and that is to become a kick-butt entertainment journalist.
- I want to keep this caring, dedicated and fun love I have found, no matter what the distance.
There is rarely any subsequent encouragement, just an awkwardly worded reply that I decode as: “You can’t always get what you want.” While this Rolling Stones wisdom can often be right, that doesn’t mean I am going to decide solely on option 1 or 2 without attempting to get them both.
Our country is immersed in a self-congratulatory culture that cherishes pointing out how much we have all evolved over the past few centuries. So I wonder why I am constantly met with doubt and uneasiness when I tell people I am striving to get love and a fulfilling career after I graduate. Shouldn’t there be at least some kind of verbal pat on the back for not immediately assuming that I have to surrender to being either the working girl or the loyal girlfriend—not both? I am not trying to make myself into some kind of revolutionary saint by saying I want to get a job and keep my potentially long-distance boyfriend of three years. What I am trying to say is that a time of big change is daunting and confusing enough on its own—whether it is graduating, moving, or changing jobs. In any of those situations, constantly confronting skepticism can get pretty disheartening. This is a feeling, unfortunately, that many people can probably relate to.
I am positive that I want to take my first step towards my dream job and work to keep my relationship going after I graduate. I know that this is a harder route than choosing just one, but it is also a path that is available because of generations of people making more difficult decisions. And I’d love some support. It would make juggling these two goals seem a little easier.
It would be ideal if all of these adult conversations went as wonderfully as the “future” talk went with my 23-year-old boyfriend. He was the person I feared having the conversation with the most. I was worried it would turn into a mess of tears and doubts, but instead it was soothingly simple. Not to mention short. “It would really suck at times,” he told me responding to the issue of the potential distance between us next year. (Again, no duh.) “But we would be able to get through it just like we have everything else.”
And while the discussion was longer than that one line, all I needed to hear from him—from anyone—was that.
Everyone seems happy to tell me that I can easily keep my relationship or have a successful career, but what I want is just a one sentence of heartfelt reassurance that I can do both, even if it is going to “suck at times.” It would change this “I think I can” feeling into an “I know I can” one.
So to all those quasi-strangers out there that are curious enough to ask about my future, a little enthusiasm would be nice.