It’s 3:00 a.m. and you bolt awake with one crystal-clear thought: You will be alone forever. You shake it off and force yourself back to sleep. It’s stress, you think. Or maybe that third margarita. Of course you’re worthy of love, you tell yourself. You just have to try harder, meet more people, make more time for friends where social possibilities start to open up. And yet, every evening that you settle into your couch with the dating apps open on your phone, you feel further and further away from that love you know you deserve.
The people you swipe past seem interchangeable, disposable even. The semi-sleazy come-ons are predictable by now. You’ve had the hookups. You’ve been on every coffee date/walk-and-talk/meditation meetup/happy hour/midnight rendezvous. Every once in a while, there’s a spark — a bit of sizzle with someone sexy who leans in and kisses your neck in a way that reminds you about the closeness you’re missing. And yet the heat always cools. Travel, work, family, schedules . . . something always gets in the way. You’re not even looking for commitment — you just want connection. And the harder you go after it, the quicker it seems to slip away.
And so you double down on work. Sound familiar? You tell yourself that this is your chance to focus on getting ahead. Block out the distractions of dating. Stay away from any emotional drama that steals energy from your real passion right now: career. And yet, that 3:00 a.m. wakeup call keeps coming. Why haven’t you met anyone? It must be your fault. You’re too picky. Too demanding. Too busy. And then you have this sad resigning thought: What if I never meet someone?
I’ve heard versions of this story again and again. “I’ve worked my ass off for the last 71⁄2 years. I know what I want to do with my career. I’ve created my own position. My company is paying me everything I want. Now, when am I going to meet the right person? When is that part of my life going to fall into place?”
If this sounds like the same old Sex and the City when-will-I-find-love anxiety, it’s not. You want more out of life and out of your relationship than just being loved. Sure, you want to date someone who is attractive, hardworking, smart, funny . . . check, check, check, check. But you also want a person who shares your dreams, respects your goals, and wants to help you reach them. Your partner will be your ultimate teammate — committed to being by your side as you figure out the next phase of your Big Life together. And you want your team to win.
So let’s talk about putting all this anxiety into perspective.
I, too, have felt that 3:00 a.m. panic. I have never told this story publicly before, but I was 34 and single when I was up for the editor-in-chief position at Seventeen. I’d had a relationship through most of my 20s, and I’d been having fun dating in my early 30s. I was finally making good money — as did most of the guys I went out with — so dinners, fancy cocktails, and fun getaways were now part of the picture. While it was great most of the time, I knew that ultimately I wanted to find a partner . . . and no one seemed to fit. And just as the opportunity to pitch for the Big Job came up, I panicked. What if I didn’t have time to date? Shouldn’t I spend less time at work and more time trying to meet a man? I seriously considered not throwing my hat in the ring for the job.
Surprisingly a lot of people around me sort of nodded and agreed when I told them my fears. Yes, they agreed, successful women are intimidating to most men. Yes, you will be too busy to go to all the parties and all the dinners where you might meet someone.
But it was my closest girlfriend who said the one thing that mattered most: “Well, dating isn’t working out so well for you right now. You may as well focus on your career and see what happens.”
She was right. It wasn’t until I had the Big Job that I really felt ready to share my life with someone. I needed my own domain for my sense of personal success. I needed to see what I was capable of achieving on my own before I started to make life decisions with someone else. And it’s true, a lot of guys I’d been dating were intimidated by my position at first. (Hell, I was probably intimidated by my position at first.) But the one who wasn’t was the one I wanted to be with. Turns out, the Big Job made me a more self-assured and more interesting person, and it was then that I was able to connect with a self-assured, fascinating guy who had his own ambitions but thought mine were pretty amazing too.
I’m not saying my path to finding a partner and starting a family is the one you should take. I was 35 when I met Richard at a random bar on a girls’ night out. We had an instant connection. I was 39 when we got married, 40 when my son was born, and almost 42 when my daughter arrived. That’s a long time to wait — emotionally and biologically. But I tell you my story now to show you the possibilities. Maybe you’ll get married and have children before you turn 30. Maybe you’ll decide to have children on your own at 38. Maybe you’ll swear off all dating until you’ve made executive vice-president. Maybe you’ll freeze your eggs. Maybe your high-school crush was the right one for you after all. Maybe you’ll have a series of emotionally involved relationships with people you travel to see a couple of times a year, or maybe you’ll scrap them all in one swoop for a partner who is waiting at home with a glass of wine at the end of a long day.
Excerpted from The Big Life: Embrace the Mess, Work Your Side Hustle, Find a Monumental Relationship, and Become the Badass Babe You Were Meant. Copyright © 2017 by Ann Shoket. Excerpted with permission by Rodale.
Originally published at medium.com