Choosing to Pursue Happiness
“Happiness to the Extreme,” photo by Karthick Makka via Flickr/Creative Commons
I could have had this blog entry completed and posted yesterday, but I chose to spend time I could have been writing to browse Match.com and go out on a date for the first time since September 2012. I chose Match over writing. This was not an easy choice, and I don’t think it’s a choice I’ve ever made before.
The decisions I made on Friday may seem trivial, but they were a microcosm of my life. Match represents the potential for long-lasting love, and though I’m not paid for this blog, writing is my career. Metaphorically, therefore, for one night, I chose to go after love rather than my career. I silenced the little voices that said, “You should be blogging or working on your memoir,” and I abandoned teaching instilled in me long ago by family, media and even churches that espoused that my academic and career ambitions always come first and that the love stuff can wait.
I thought about this teaching as I read Demetria Lucas’s recent article, “Bride’s Story a Cautionary Tale of the Mistakes Some Black Women Make.” In it, the relationship columnist relates her own story to that of Rachel Skiffer, a bride featured in the New York Times. Skiffer took her parents’ advice to pursue her education and career above all and ended up marrying her first love 20 years after she met him at age 19. Following the same wisdom, Lucas got back in touch with “that guy she was crazy about,” but when she did, he was having a baby with someone else.
I’ve faced the explicit choice between pursuing my career and marrying my then-boyfriend only once, and although I’ve questioned my decision, I don’t regret it at all. Also, I’m glad I don’t have a child to support on my salary, so I think my grandmother’s command when I went away to college to “keep your head in those books and away from those boys!” was sage advice.* However, I’ve since realized a few things. 1) Loneliness sucks. 2) “Pursuing your dreams” as a writer tends to leave you feeling pretty under-accomplished and shitty when an abundance of awards and over-achievement have been your measuring stick for more than 30 years. (I’m 33, and I could tie my shoes when I was 2, so that counts as over-achievement.) 3) Having a partner would make my goals as a writer more feasible.
I never considered any of these epiphanies a possibility, and I doubt anyone advising me did, either. But that last one especially has come as a surprise. As I wrote during my #BlogLikeCrazy month, “at this stage in my life, I recognize the importance of practicality in relationships, particularly in a long-term live-in partnership or marriage. Most people think of falling in passionate love; I think of dishes. I think of support. I think of life balance.” I also think of splitting the bills so that maybe a part-time job that allows for more time to write is doable.
And I think of happiness, of how happy I was the few months of my life I was in a good relationship, of how happy I am when I feel like someone is in this solitary profession with me, and how much more productive I am when I’m happy. I don’t believe in looking towards someone else to make yourself happy, but I’m not sure that I can achieve my writing goals without a partner (and because the search for a partner is so time-consuming, I’m not sure how I can achieve my partner goals without always taking time away from writing).
As someone pointed out in the comments section, and as I’ve all but said myself, this is a sexist situation. Men aren’t encouraged to pursue marriage, especially not when they’re young. As a feminist, I can’t imagine advising a daughter to aspire to be a wife, to settle down and have babies quickly or to make romantic love her number one priority, just as I wouldn’t tell a son to marry as early in his twenties as possible. We should be teaching girls and boys to pursue happiness—not pleasure, not material things we’ve been trained to think bring happiness, and not even necessarily romantic feelings that change and fade, but rather to pursue balance and achievement. They should know that the right partner will support their academic and career passions. They should learn that it’s okay to be emotionally invested in another human being, that it’s okay to follow your heart, and that it’s okay to be happy. If I had known any of that, I’m certain I wouldn’t be on Match.com at all.
*I did get some opposing viewpoints, and I’ll be writing about those in an upcoming column for National Catholic Reporter. UPDATE 1/14/2014: It’s published: “Looking for Love the Christian Way Doesn’t Always Lead to Happiness.”