It’s Saturday night, and like the last several Saturday nights, I’m at home, alone, working. This week, like most weeks, Saturday night has become the night to get writing done. Homework is one of the several significant changes wrought on my life by my decision to go back to school. Turns out that being in school while teaching while not wanting to compromise my own personal projects has dealt a pretty serious blow to the notion of having a personal life.
So my dating profile is turned back off, and it’s just me and my to do list.
This week, my new therapist suggested that the route to solving my anxiety problems might be paved by investing a bit more in my social life, in finding that relationship I want. And while he may be right, that is not a choice I want to make.
One of the drawbacks to feminism is that women can now have it all. Because being able to have it all means we feel we are supposed to have it all. However, trying to have it all is insane, despite social pressure to do so. So something has to go.
“Feminism,” Deborah Spar, president of Barnard College argues, “was meant to remove a fixed set of expectations; instead, we now interpret it as a route to personal perfection. Because we feel we can do anything, we feel we have to do everything.”
But doing everything is impossible. We are supposed to have successful and rewarding careers (where are those jobs?), while having successful and rewarding relationships, while also managing to wear the right clothes and perfect makeup. Women have to accomplish it all and look good trying.
But how can you invest in your career while building a rewarding and fruitful personal life? How can you move your career forward while also raising children and building personal relationships? The answer is, you can’t. Or at least I can’t. Something has to give.
So for me, it means giving up on that social life. On that relationship. Because I have too much work I need to get done.
For many women, the most practical choice, however unpleasant, however unorthodox, when one is having a career moment, may be to say good-bye to socializing. The logic is that professional opportunities are often once-in-a-lifetime opportunities, whereas friendships can be initiated or resumed at any point, and recreational dating is merely that—recreational.
“Unlike 30 years ago, Millennial women [those born between 1980 and 2000] grow up with an assumption that they will work and look after themselves financially. The workplace is more competitive than ever, so they are more calculating about their relationships,” says Hanna Rosin, the author of The End of Men. “Entering into the wrong kind of relationship is seen as the equivalent of a bad financial decision: it won’t pay off.”
When I moved to Los Angeles, my priority was a relationship, and hopefully a relationship that would lead to marriage and a family and everything women are supposed to have nailed down by the time they turn forty. But then that relationship didn’t happen, and online dating took on the commitment of a part-time job with the psychic ramifications of purgatory.
So I decided to take the time I was spending on dating and chasing after empty people and focus it, instead, on my career. For some people (including my mother), this decision was incomprehensible and bizarre, a sign of some social malfunction, but for me, I viewed it as a response not only to my current situation (I’m in LA, for one) but also to the professional pressures that many women face.
I understand that to find a boyfriend I need to put myself out there. I understand that in order to have more friends I have to invest, but I have examined the pros and cons of both, and I’ve decided that I don’t have the time or the energy at the moment. My priority now is my career (four books published this year, one book published next year), completing my PhD, all while continuing to teach (so that I can pay my rent) and write (so that I can further my career).
Is this cold and calculating and inhuman? Or is this a necessary and pragmatic response to social realities?
Yes, I’m almost forty, but it is precisely because I am almost forty that I feel like this is the time I must invest in my career. I sank three years into a relationship (as well as months in various inconsequential ones) when I first moved to Los Angeles, and now I have nothing to show for it. That time and energy is gone. However, when I turn that same time and energy towards my laptop and my books and my mind, I produce product.
As Rosin says, “Yes, women have more opportunities now but we still have to work twice as hard to make as much money as men.”
And in order to work twice as hard, some things must be sacrificed. Spar explains that, for twenty years, she had little time for friends: “What’s important and uncomfortable to point out is that at the end of the day there are only so many hours in the day.”
I’m not saying that anyone should make the choices I do. The repercussions are lonely. But what I am saying is that trying to have it all may be a double-edged sword. Something must be sacrificed for self-preservation. As Spar says, “There’s a problem if we think women [can ‘have it all’] by not sleeping. That’s a real problem because then you’re not happy. If you’re not taking care of yourself at a very basic level, that’s not a good thing.”
Or as Adi Tatarko, Co-Founder and CEO of Houzz says, “You can’t have it all, and you have to live peacefully with that knowledge.”
I have to remind myself of that, because I desperately want to have it all, but I’ve never been very good at compromising. So I’ve had to define what is important to me and then do that as best I can. And I choose to do what will best entail taking care of me. And hopefully the other stuff will find its place and time later.
That’s the kind of freedom women have now.