I am a 32-year-old woman, and I have noticed that my life and especially my history of relations with men fall into a repetitive pattern. I meet a guy, fall in love, have great expectations, and then after one to three years they tell me I'm one of the nicest girls they have ever met but they are just not ready to commit. Or they are frightened. I get stressed. They leave. I'm still a good friend of some of them. It has happened five times in the past, two of them were older than me, so I thought they were ready to settle down. Sex was good, sometimes even great, we were good friends, and yet it always ended, leaving me with a broken heart until the next time.
I am cute, intelligent, very loving and considerate, and I don't know what else to do. Over the years it not only became more difficult to meet people, but I also have much less trust in them, me, my ability to be in a lasting relationship. I don't want to go on any more dates. I just want to be with the right man. I really loved my last boyfriend. I lived peacefully with the fact that he has a son living in another country and that he visits him frequently. I was there for him when things got tough with his son's mother. He said that if he could decide to get married it would be me. Other times I was too pushy, which made him afraid. The time came to choose. I graduated and had to decide what to do next. He just wanted things to stay the same. So, I decided.
Five months ago, I moved back to the States after growing up and going to graduate school in Israel (where all of the above happened). He stayed in Israel, and basically it is over, even though I still love him very much.
I am a postdoc here and excited about my work, but I am very lonely and besides work don't have much of a life here. For the first time, I was leaving first (but he knew that I'd stay if he wanted me too). I was hoping to meet new people, make new friends, date, maybe even start a new meaningful relationship, and here I am five months later with nothing. I feel like I'm living in a void here. My colleagues are nice, but none has made any attempt to befriend me outside the lab. I have joined Match.com, using the same profile that was successful in Israel, but in three months nobody has tried to contact me and none of the guys I e-mailed got back to me.
My old friends back home are all married. I am afraid that with time I will just grow angry and bitter. I go home every evening wishing there was someone there to hug me, go to sleep with me, and be there in the morning. I am beginning to wonder if there is something wrong with me. Am I destined to be my friends' children's favorite aunt? I will appreciate any words of wisdom.
Sad and Worried
Dear Sad and Worried,
I get many letters from graduate students and postdoctoral fellows. It is a great honor to hear from you. Many of you suffer from loneliness and difficult social lives. It's no wonder. You're working and thinking all the time, and in many cases you have been working and thinking all the time constantly since you were 16. For you that would be half your life. You are now 32 and it is a healthy thing that you have stopped and are asking yourself what is going on. You had to study hard in high school, right? Then you had to work hard in college, right? You maybe took some time off in between, but you're back at it again. It's no doubt deeply rewarding and I would be doing it myself, in fact my life right now sort of feels like graduate school, except that I am married and instead of meeting with an advisor, I meet with a psychotherapist, who charges more but is kinder about my deficiencies. But what I mean is that I am still sitting here at the computer and it's nearly 9 o'clock and my wife has been in and out of here and we had a late lunch at 4 and I'll maybe be done by 10 or so and she will be in bed.
But at least she's here. That's a good thing. I found my wife at 35. She walked down the street in front of my house and she was ready. We were both ready. That's all there was to it. I met her when I was ready and she was ready. That's all you have to do: find the man who is ready when you are. I know it's not easy. Perhaps there is something of the psychic or the spiritual to it, something of the irrational appeal to the universe: Universe, I am ready. I have had it with dates. You may also hear in this letter a bit of the exhausted delirium that afflicts one after a certain number of hours of mental labor ... but that too may serve as a reminder of your own schedule, your own delirium. We are together at least in that, you and I: the delirium of study.
What I have been thinking about since I started going to see the psychotherapist is how little time I have left, after all the mental labor, for the things that really matter, like love and friendship and carpentry. I am all in my head all the time.
What I am suggesting is that you are probably working so hard right now that you do not have the emotional or psychic energy to devote to finding a mate and having a fulfilling relationship and that's why it's not happening. If I were you I would carefully examine your life goals and ask yourself how much longer you are going to grind away at your studies. I would think once you got your postdoctoral work done perhaps you could make some dough and get a little breathing room and slow down the pace of your life and collapse into an overstuffed chair that has no papers scattered around it. And you could also perhaps indulge yourself in some private time with a therapist who could help you identify whatever blind spots you may have as regards your choice of mates. I figure where there's a pattern, there's a blind spot.
The blind spot may be in that area of utter surrender; it may be that you are, like me, a person who thinks and thinks and thinks and sometimes you have been thinking so hard you don't even notice that it's begun to rain outside and there's a man standing in your doorway trying to get out of the rain and maybe that's the man who's supposed to stay with you, if you can only look up from your studies long enough to see that he's wet and cold and needs to come in out of the rain.
- - - - - - - - - - - -
Want more advice from Cary? Read the Since You Asked directory.