Three years ago I dated an ambitious young train wreck who, along with whispering creepy nothings into my ear into the wee hours of the morning, told me something unsettling that would keep me up at night long after the relationship had terminated: Either everything is going great with your career, or everything is going great with love; you can’t have both. (Given that he was crushing it in the career department at the time, I had to make the grim deduction that I was representative of a depressing love life. Guy really knew how to charm a girl.) Having immediately dismissed the comment as being the drunken musings of a sad and lonely man, I believed him to be wrong. And, with the optimism only a 26-year-old fresh off the boat to New York City after an LA-breakup could be capable of, I rebuked him. Nay, cynic! I argued. You can have it all! Dream it all! Be it all! Of course, I kept this naïve proclamation to myself, since his shifty eyes and chain-smoking proclivities scared me a little bit.
Now, older and deeper into a real career that appears to be on the up, I understand fully what the bitter realist meant. Because right now all I have is career. There is no love life to speak of, unless you consider collapsing into the pile of dirty laundry tucked in my closet during a sobbing fit over someone who won’t matter in five years – or five weeks, really — a “love life.” In fact, I should just go ahead and rename the two entities. On the one hand, there is my Career. On the other, there’s The Trauma Formally Known as Love.
Crazier still, I’m not even talking about the real grownup version of “having it all,” which is to ask if women can manage children, a marriage, and a career – that post-feminist juggle that, in watching my friends begin to have babies, seems completely outrageous, a superhuman feat. There is only so much time in a day, so much space in your brain, so much of YOU you can give to the world. By comparison, me and my baggy-eyed junkie of an ex-boyfriend’s complaints about the sacrifice of love for work or vice versa seems like the bratty howls of a stupid, selfish infant. Because rest assured, once you lock the love in, there are infinite sacrifices to be made, least of which might end up being your career.
And so, even through my tears, my bereft confusion, my intense longing for someone to share my days with, I recognize the complicated paradox. I see myself working at 11 p.m., knowing full well that I wouldn’t be able to do this were I in a functional, loving relationship (or, for that matter, married with a kid). Because when you’re in love, who wants to be scouring the Internet for blog fodder instead of cuddling on a sofa? When you’ve got the emotional safety of another human being, where does the fear that life’s opportunities are slipping you by go? Love is like a wonderful sedative. The panic dissipates, the prioritize change. And all of that is well and good for a happy, normal life, but it’s cyanide for a career. I know this because I’ve been in love, and while I had beautiful time with this person, little else happened. No career, no movement, nothing. And it was my deep-seeded craving for the otherness, the missing half of that whole, that ended the relationship, that would send me, some months later, into a bed with that depressed New York junkie to learn a valuable life lesson, one that I had apparently secretly known all along.
Maybe we’re only put on this earth to have something. Maybe that illusive “everything” is a ruse some feminist hopped up on denial and lithium concocted to torture future generations of overachievers. And maybe my something isn’t love or marriage or children. My something might just be my writing, which has been the most beautiful, complicated, satisfying lover I have ever had.
So there’s that.