I tend to take nearly everything my mom says to heart — but one particular tale always sticks out in my mind. I have no idea when she first used it as a learning lesson or how the topic came up, but it goes a little something like this:
Before my mom met my father (in a totally adorable way), she dated a man off-and-on for seven years. (Yes, seven!) He was several years older than her, unfaithful, self-centered and manipulative. He was emotionally abusive, always thought he was right and she was wrong, and though she knew he wasn’t the right guy, she stayed around far longer than she should have. Once she finally ended the relationship on her own terms, she came out of it with bruised confidence, no desire to really jump into another relationship and with one regret that haunts her to this day: not getting her Bachelor’s degree. At 21, when that guy gave her the choice between finishing school or being with him, she picked him. She has an associate’s in business, is a well-known astrologer in our town and is now going back to school to be an esthetician, but she often wonders what life would have been like if she had become a teacher or a psychologist. Now (though I disagree), she thinks it’s too late and too expensive to go back and try again.
And so, since I was a little girl, she’s instilled this notion in me that no man would make you choose between what you love and loving him. She made me promise that I’d finish school before even considering getting married and that I would never let a guy control the dreams I decided to chase. I’ve stumbled across old notebook-paper books bounded by string, where I depicted my future life (in crayon) and it always read, “I’ll go to school, become a journalist and then get married.” Yes, this was me a few decades ago.
I’ve been lucky that I’ve yet to meet a guy who ever asked me to choose between my career and him. Instead, they just left before they could grow attached to me. When Mr. Fire and I ran into each other at a bar in my college town before I graduated and I asked why he left, he said that he knew nothing was keeping me from New York and that he couldn’t compete with that. He continued to say that his current girlfriend lets him be the star and that I would always outshine him. Mr. Idea doesn’t like the idea (pun intended) of relationship writing and thinks all things within a union should be private (probably because of his many hangups behind closed doors), so I knew he would instantly balk at this blog. Mr. Possibility was as supportive as he could be, though I don’t trust the opinion he probably shared with everyone else but me. None of these men asked me to stop going after the career I wanted, they just didn’t get themselves involved, or if they started to become part of it, they made their getaway or pushed me to the point of letting them go.
I get it, I really do. Dating a dating blogger can be a lot of pressure, though most men think they’re worthy of a feature before doing anything that really merits inclusion. I understand that a writer’s life is often public, especially if you’re someone like me, who enjoys honesty to its fullest degree, even if that means being vulnerable and descriptive in ways that don’t always shed the brightest light on everything. And while I see the risks I take in writing this blog or pursuing a career where, ultimately, I hope women read what I write and are inspired to accept and love themselves, I would never stop doing what I love to find love. I’d like to think that the person for me is strong enough to handle an ambitious, tenacious and hard-working woman who knew what she wanted and did all that she could to get there.
I’d like to think that most men aren’t intimidated by successful women these days, but that’s far from the truth. I’d also like to think that women don’t judge other women for following a career instead of following a man, but sadly, that’s not accurate either. When I broke up with Mr. Idea, one of my good friends (who is now married), told me that since I couldn’t make it work with him, I probably wouldn’t find the right guy until at least 28 (gasp!). My grandmother (bless her heart) is proud of all that I’ve accomplished, but still asks about guys and babies every time I see her. When something doesn’t work out with a dude or a date goes sour, all of my paired-up pals always reassure, “Don’t worry, the right guy’s out there, you’ll meet him soon.”
If you read this blog, you know that I want to eventually meet someone to share my life with. I’m candid about the fact that yes, I do want to get married and yes, I do want to have children – but I’m also in no rush at all. I’d rather be single for the next 20 years than to settle for someone just because I feel like I have to get married. I knew I wasn’t alone in these thoughts, but recently, this whole thought process was played out on my news feed.
A friend of mine posted this quote from Lady Gaga, “Some women choose to follow men, and some women choose to follow their dreams. If you’re wondering which way to go, remember that your career will never wake up and tell you that it doesn’t love you anymore.” The post received comments, one which was, “but… if you go home and throw a tantrum to your man about work he’ll stay around… if you go to work and throw a tantrum about your man… bye bye career.” And then later, “I hope you haven’t given up on men yet.”
So because she posted a quote that basically said, “Go after your dreams, be who you want to be, don’t follow around a man, don’t depend on a man for happiness” – she’s suddenly given up on love? Quite the contrary, I think. The thing is – if we chase our careers, if we go after those things, whatever they may be, that bring us joy and make us feel like we’re contributing something, then ultimately, the man will be there too. And he won’t ask you to not write about love, to not go to law school, to not make more money than he does, to not be more successful, to not be the star of the relationship. He’ll only ask you to come as you are and let him do the same.
And if you don’t meet a man like that? Luckily, you’ve surrounded yourself with the things you love, built an existence that’s fulfilling and beautiful, traveled to the places you’ve wanted to see, and above all, been brave enough to never settle for less than what you want – in anything.
Especially though, in terms of yourself.
Because men leave and stay, careers grow and they change, but the one constant through it all will always be you. These things aren’t mutually exclusive of one another, as so many believe, it’s just that they don’t depend on each other to make either work. You can have a career without love, love without a career, or a love and a career, but more than anything, you have to have yourself.
And if you can be satisfied that you chased what you wanted instead of following someone else’s direction, you’ll be able to handle the ups and downs of your career and of your relationships. The Great Chase isn’t about a dude or a degree – it’s about always chasing a better you.