Work ... or Everything Else? The Ageless Question
For nearly a year, this column swallowed space on my phone. I couldn’t write an ending; I didn’t know what to say.
The goal was to quell my own fears. Visit after visit, I’d return home to a small mill town in Maine and be faced with the same questions.
"What do you do for work?"
"I’m, uh, a journalist for an online media company in Boston," I’d say hesitantly, well aware of how the conversation would unfold.
"Boston—wow," the opposing party would respond, wide-eyed, trailing off before suddenly shaking their head in disbelief. “‘The BIG city.’”
"It’s surprisingly small after you’ve been there for a bit."
Disregarding my last comment: “Do you have a boyfriend there in that BIG city?”
"No, but work keeps me plenty busy."
Shock and horror spreads across their face—like I just told them I came down with a terminal illness or a too-awkward-to-address STD.
"I’m so sorry," they would say, worry reflected in their eyes. "He’ll come soon. You’re so young anyway."
Then, I’d politely bow out of the conversation, muttering something about how I was late to meet my dad.
Feeling like I needed to constantly defend myself became exhausting. All these years of hard work later, no one seemed to care I had actually landed a job in my field, let alone within three months of graduation. They were too busy worrying whether or not I would ever settle down. After all, I had never much been the boyfriend type—their worry was warranted.
What they didn’t know is that I wanted to be, and their questions only perpetuated my own fear. Would wanting to work, and working as much as I already had, come back to haunt my—what I imagined to be—eternally single self years later? As young as I knew I was, and as foolish as I thought everyone’s harping sounded, their inquiries didn’t worry me any less.
Until I met someone who was wonderful for hundreds of reasons—one of the most meaningful to me being that he believed in me, my drive and ambitions. What some called “aggressive,” he saw as “determined.” When he told me he’d never make me choose between him and my career, I spent a week after arguing with myself over whether or not someone that perfect could even exist.
This column was meant to address the conundrum we all face: work or… everything else? You don’t need to be the COO of Facebook or a former aide to Hillary Clinton to be dealing with this issue. The reality is, you’ve been making small choices that will eventually lead up to the ultimate doozy of a decision in the decades to follow. The question knows no age.
I just never thought I would have to answer the question so soon.
Here’s what I had tried to start:
We should have known I’d become some disillusioned 20-something the day I pranced around my hometown house donning a first communion dress. My second grade self was convinced she’d be marrying her pre-pubescent flame, telling her mother it’d be “so cute” 15 years from now if they danced to Shania Twain’s “You’re Still the One” at their wedding.
An actual 15 years later, and rest assured I’m not still the one, despite the fact I could have hopefully saved him from the perma, high-as-a-kite stupor he’s now living stagnantly in. Admittedly, all these years, the only person I’ve been trying to save is myself.
The verdict is still out on what exactly I’ve been trying to save myself from. Humiliation. Maybe heartbreak. All I know is that I got a good head start professionally, but that nothing quiets the sound of my aunt’s voice in my head. “Are you dating anyone YET,” she always says. Clear emphasis on the “yet”—that three letter word that haunts my once peaceful, youthful, Jonathan-Taylor-Thomas-filled dreams.
Little does she know I already have a wedding gazebo picked out. That my bridesmaids will be wearing a muted, albeit brighter shade of purple, and that we’ll all be dancing underneath delicately strung twinkle lights.
Now, here’s where “the disillusioned 20-something” comes in. No, I haven’t found a boyfriend yet. I’m just still that twirling, hopeful, second grade girl with a skewed perception of reality. For all we know, I’m destined to become a crazy, crotchety cat lady.
A guy told me he loved me once. I pegged him a best friend, and romantically shooed him away. I wanted more of an adventure. College needed to be completed, a job needed to be secured within three months of graduation day and, at that point, no one could hold me back.
So, in the meantime, I shamelessly kissed a slew of fraternity brothers and oddly obsessed, gung-ho lacrosse players, all of whom served their purpose at the time. Every so often, there was this glimmer of hope one of them would become something more, but then they would reunite with an ex, or I’d realize they didn’t know what the word “tame” meant. (I know. I wish I could be kidding about that latter statement.)
Somewhere in there, I fell hard twice, and started making decisions through this hopelessly in lust fog. After all, it was never love washing over me—I had just convinced myself it was. Well, I had convinced myself it was almost as quickly as I had convinced myself now wasn’t the time to be distracted by some displaced displays of intimacy and what someone else imagined to be “love.”
Would I ever be ready?
I let the word get the best of me, and every time I said goodbye to someone suitable, I immediately regretted it. I loved love after all—at least the idea of it. And didn’t I want to make my aunt, and hometown, full of people bubbling over with questions, proud?
Who cared if I graduated summa cum laude and was able to snag a great job three months after graduation? Who cared if I was given the chance to live in this expansive, slightly suburban apartment full of New England-style charm?
No one. Or at least it felt like no one, because the questions kept coming—and the newborn baby photos and nuptial announcements kept popping up on Facebook. All around me, other disillusioned 20-somethings were starting to say, “I do.” They were buying houses and starting families. And I didn’t even have a boyfriend yet.
But I had picked out my wedding gazebo and the color of my bridesmaid dresses.
See, talk about disillusioned.
…But, see. That’s all I have ever wanted.