Love, Self

Work Vs Love: A Man's Case For Putting Work First

Work Vs Love: A Man's Case For Putting Work First

When I was 8 years old, I decided to be a writer. Like most people, somewhere around high school I inherited the notion that at some point, I would get married and have kids.

I'm 45 now. I've written for the New Yorker, the New York Times magazine, GQ, and lots of others. I've written extensively about social justice issues and won big journalism and human rights prizes, and have a slowly filling shelf of books—and one movie—with my name on them. But I'm not married. 

Recently, I undertook to edit a book called US: Americans Talk About Love. I had intellectual and emotional reasons for doing the project. I had just written a book about modern slavery in America called Nobodies, and it was depressing and gloomy. I wanted to be reminded of humanity's good side, the things we do when we're trying to be our best. Emotionally, however, I was reacting to the fact that I had fallen in love with someone for the first time in 15 years. The relationship was beset with logistical difficulties, including a 9000 mile distance between me and my partner, but nevertheless, it made me curious: how does this work for most people? Because you see, I had kind of forgotten. Turn Dating Rules Into Career Success

When I got serious about relationships, in my twenties, I realized that dating—for me—wasn't just a pleasant way to pass the time; it was a dress rehearsal for mating and child-rearing. After two to three failed relationships, I was forced to admit that the whole road to mating (with me, anyway) felt like a dead end. I began to feel like it was bad faith or false advertising to have fun with someone, get to know them, sleep with them, and get them addicted to my boundless charms (kidding!) only to reveal the deeper reality that unlike most men in most careers, I had chosen one that might not EVER pay a living wage. 

Perhaps I could have found someone wealthy, or someone happy to wait for years while I figured out the writing thing, but that never happened, nor did it occur to me to seek that out. I didn't want a partner who would, over time, pressure me to change my career goals, nor did I trust myself not to eventually pressure myself every day to change course in order to have kids with someone, thereby feeling bad for sticking with a dream I'd worked towards lo so many years. And so I stepped out of the dating queue. New Marriage Trend: Men Marrying Wealthy Women

At least half the friends I've ever had, male or female, have aspired to be artists, writers, filmmakers, and musicians. Of those who have married and had kids, I can't think of any who achieved their goal without family money funding the endeavor. Of the ones who got married and had kids and surrendered their artistic ambitions, most are happy, some are not. The ones who are happy are well-adjusted to the fact that there's life outside of the arts, and maybe they weren't suited to the creative life in the first place.

But I always knew I couldn't do that. If I'd tried, I'd end up being the heavy-drinking bummer, trying to mask his sourness, subtly, or not-so-subtly, blaming the wife and kids because he could've would've should've been the next Hemingway. I've certainly seen that among my acquaintances, and I think it's weak. 

But for years, I paid a price for my decision. Some close friends nagged at me forever. "What's your problem? You're afraid of intimacy!" What could I say? Yeah, I guess I am! Because intimacy is what you do in a relationship, and relationships are what you have when you want to have a family, and families cost money. It certainly wasn't fun to spend an extra decade or more watching couples I know bundling up their cars and kids and heading off for long weekends together, while generally, I'd be alone, or hanging out with other single people, worriedly growing older. 

But now? I'm fine. The wait is over. I'm solvent, ready, and as mate-able as I'll ever be—provided my partner lives a little closer than 9000 miles away. My life is really fun now. I get to do work I love, that is always changing, never stale, and I work with people I adore, who continually spark my creativity. How much more fun will it be to come home to who I am than the person I would have been had I heeded society's advice, and given up my dream to join the herd? How To Be A Workaholic And Have A Relationship

The main thing I learned about love while editing US: Americans Talk About Love is that love is devoutly, rabidly, radically personal. Each couple's love is unique and almost inexplicable. There is no form to it, no bespoke template for society to simply hand you. You have to find it, nurture it, and maintain it on your own terms. If I'd listened to the people who told me I need to live their way, I'd be making someone awfully unhappy right about now. As it is, I can't wait to entertain the future Ms Bowe—while helping to support our family.

There's no doubt in my mind that my life would have been vastly more comfortable if I'd been able to do it all. But isn't that what maturity is all about—accepting the fact that very few of us get it all? Career And Family: Can We Really Have Both?

Women don't have as much flexibility about waiting as men do. It's a fact, and I won't deny it. I have several female friends who held off having children until forty, but I don't know of many who successfully waited longer. It's not fair, but until science offers some other way, it's the way we're designed. Science also seems to indicate lately that men (okay, their sperm) can also suffer if they wait too long. But emotionally, at least, people who settle down later bring several palpable benefits to their relationships. Yes, they'll be playing with their kids in their late forties, for example, instead of their late twenties. But at the same time, they won't be out every night with their friends, or networking, building their career or feeling like they're missing a party—or that they needed to rack up a few more conquests. Unless they're pathologically immature, they're cooked, they're ready, they're done: they're able to focus, stay home, and be present to enjoy what they've spent a lifetime preparing for.

Perhaps, some day, with the global population approaching seven billion people, we'll realize that creating more bodies for this planet isn't necessarily the highest priority. There are a lot of ways to be happy in this world. Wouldn't it be great if we all had the self-confidence and support of our friends and families to find our own?

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