Should you hold out for Mr. Perfect?
Q: I am well-educated, and spent much of my twenties teaching in a foreign country. I fell in love with a much older, married dignitary and was his mistress for several years; eventually, the adventure lost its allure and I returned to the U.S. so I could finish growing up, meet my true love, and raise a family. Since then, I’ve had some wonderful infatuations, but have not met anyone who felt right for the long term. Now, in my mid-thirties, I want children with a committed partner, but am unable to find that special someone—or even a compromise to that special someone. Should I stop looking to be swept off my feet?
A: Your letter raises several issues: past love influences, access to eligible partners, and lifestyle choices.
I suspect that at least part of the swept-off-your-feet feeling you’re seeking is associated with the thrill of forbidden love. I suggest you look at why your “wonderful infatuations” did not lead to anything more serious. If your non-risky relationships can’t quite measure up, then you need to work out why that is before you will ever be able to recognize Mr. Right.
There are two major challenges to meeting eligible, compatible partners in your thirties. First, access to new men becomes more limited without obvious outlets like school. Second, as we age we often become more set in our ways, which makes it more difficult to make accommodations for a new partner. I suggest you get involved in new endeavors—for example, take some classes or volunteer for some community activity. Make it easy on yourself by only choosing pursuits you feel especially enthusiastic about. The idea is to enhance your life while meeting men who share your values and interests.
You ask about lowering the bar. After the initial infatuation phase, it’s natural for desire to ebb and flow. A smart couple, rather than being discouraged by a lull, can find ways to reignite the flame through care and creativity. Perhaps your previous infatuations could have deepened if you had known that long-term relationships require work and compromise. In the future, do not lower the bar; instead, raise reasonable expectations.
Your letter suggests that in your book, there are only two lifestyle choices available: single and lonely, or married with children. In fact, there are many other options. You can have children without a partner, you can have a partner without children, you can have several partners, or you can have no partner. Whatever turns your life takes, it is important to seek personal fulfillment—and avoid the attitude that you are always waiting for something better.