Dating Don’ts: Why It’s Okay To Choose Your Career Over Dating

Here is a confession — though I write a dating column, and have for quite some time, I’m not currently dating anyone right now. The last relationship I was in was about two years ago, and in the time between then and now, there have been plenty of dates, but nothing has stuck. Dating in general isn’t hard, but it takes work, energy, time that could be used doing hundreds of other things, like learning how to weave or baking all the bread you eat yourself, or creating a rooftop garden out of two sad planters and a handful of seeds. The way we choose to spend our time is our choice alone, not something to be judged, and not something that we should feel ashamed of. I know this. As a person who willfully chooses to spend many nights trawling beauty blogs on the internet and conducting deep, vast research on the best pink lipstick for my exact skin tone and coloring, I know that the way I spend my time could be spent better, but I know that the choice to spend time on really anything is mine alone. That’s why I’m perfectly comfortable coming out and saying it — right now, I’m choosing to focus on my career instead of finding a partner.

Honestly, to lots of people, this sounds like an excuse. When a well-intentioned person asks me if I’m dating anyone, I tell them that I’m focusing on work right now, and will deal with that portion of my life later. The look of confusion and then what I intuit to be a weird sort of sympathy that flickers over their face used to give me pause. I know how it sounds. “I’m focusing on my career,” sounds like a neat way to shut somebody up, an answer so pat that it has to be an excuse, but trust me, it’s not.

Being a writer comes with a lot of the same stresses that actively, wholeheartedly dating does. There’s rejection, constant self-doubt, and an occasional churning doom in the pit of your stomach, a voice that whispers, “Maybe, just give this up and resign yourself to doing something else.” First dates are like job interviews. They expend the same type of energy, motivate you to wear uncomfortable clothing, and to make the same kind of small talk. At the end, if nothing comes of it, you’re left with the same sort of quiet disappointment.  I didn’t really want that, anyway, you tell yourself. I’ll just move on to the next.

The fact is, both these things take massive amounts of energy. Looking for a new job, or guiding the little boat that you’re on towards fairer job shores and career goals takes energy. Sending out cover letters day after day, after you’ve already worked eight hours at your current job takes energy. Scanning through job listings on your lunch break takes discipline and a deft ability to hide your screen from your employer at a moment’s notice.

Dating, while for a different goal, takes the same kind of energy. I’ve had friends who are actively dating tell me that it’s really just a numbers game. Cast the net wide, be as general as you truly can, and just throw shit on the wall to see what sticks. Go on as many bad dates as you can, and hopefully, one of them will be good. This is a lot easier said than done, and while it is silly to think to myself, Hey, instead of spending an hour before bed swiping right on Tinder, I could be drafting a pitch, sometimes that’s how my brain works. Really, what I want to be doing after work is sitting down on the couch and watching “America’s Next Top Model” until I fall asleep on the couch, but you and I both know that that is a tremendous waste of time, best reserved for hungover Saturdays and the first day of your period. I force myself to look for new jobs instead of managing an overflowing Match.com inbox because that’s just where my head is at.

I know a lot of people who are dating and also excelling in their careers. I don’t think that the two need to be mutually exclusive. It is perfectly possible to try for career success while locking down a healthy relationship. A friend of mine is holding down two part-time jobs, and dating at least three dudes via a sort of magic that I certainly do not possess. Some might even argue that the support of a partner is extremely valuable in fostering career growth, or just growth as a human being. I do not discount any of this, but I’m independent, stubborn, and honestly, like to do things myself. If I’m embarking upon some sort of weird personal journey, it’s something that I have to do alone. Creating a career path for myself that looks and feels right is something that no one else can do for me, and so I’d really rather take it on alone.

I truly believe that there is somebody out there for everybody, as silly and as fairytale delusional as that may sound. I also would like to believe that there is a job out there for everyone, a perfect fit that suits my talents and challenges me to grow. The work that is required to achieve both these goals isn’t necessarily taxing, or trying, but it is work. We only have so much energy as human beings, and it’s important to make choices that are the right choices for you, not the right choices for someone else. I’m choosing to focus on getting my career on a track that I’m happy with, because I know that it will imbue me with the extra boost of confidence necessary to slog through an OkCupid inbox in order to find what could be a diamond in the rough. Putting my love life on the back burner so I can focus on my career is perhaps a risky move, one that could leave me alone with my cats in 10 years, but I sincerely doubt that will happen. I have enough faith in myself that I can at least try to have it all, just in my own time.