How much time have you wasted over some person you went on two dates with?
I’ve probably wasted weeks of my life on guys I went on two dates with. I mean, I could’ve been smoking cholera-laced cigarettes and lost less of my limited time on earth. Sometimes those two dates are really good dates. Sometimes those two dates occur on the tail end of two dates with some other guy who didn’t work out as planned, and that’s four dates, and then there you are, wasting precious brain cells that could have been used to learn search engine optimization or digits of pi.
I was thinking about this when I was recently a guest speaker at a university (see Bullish: Using Your College Skills to Succeed After College) and had a chance to speak with a college student who had been drafted to drive me around.
She was a delight: super ambitious but also very nice. We chatted about college and careers and guys over twenty miles of freeway, when I said, “When I was in college, I skipped all kinds of classes to be with guys. I’d tell myself that it was okay because, in the end, relationships are what really matters.”
She said, “Oh my god, I thought I was the only one!”
She told me a story about a boyfriend who always tried to get her to skip class to go to the beach (“That’s a really time consuming hobby!” I said — going to the beach seriously takes at least four hours), and another boyfriend she sacrificed academics for back in high school: “I actually thought I was going to marry that guy or something.”
So, if you thought you were the only one: you’re in good company. I probably lost a good 0.5 from my GPA due to my collegiate dating and dating-analysis regimen (and the word “dating” does put a bit of a whitewash on what happens in college, doesn’t it?)
I have since effected a near-total recovery from obsessing over relationships, probably due to age and developing a better theory of mind than I had once had, although this is a highly individual experience. A friend’s mother once commented that life was much easier after menopause, as she “no longer felt the need to be loved.” That certainly would make life a lot easier, no?
I do love the word “gentlewoman” (see Bullish: How To Run Your Career Like A Gentlewoman and Bullish: How to Travel Like a Gentlewoman). So here are a few principles for running your love life like a gentlewoman.
Don’t spend more time thinking about a love interest than they are spending thinking about you
It really doesn’t matter what kind of thoughts you’re thinking. Whether they are loved-up musings that proceed from your cerebellum as fully-wrought villanelles or they are fantasies of vengeance, you’re giving up more mental real estate than they are. Nothing in life means much if your mental real estate isn’t your own.
If you think you can’t control your thoughts, then you are at a serious disadvantage in every area of life. Every one. From running your career to remembering to exercise to eating foods that make you feel bad to not letting an insult, a catcall, or some downright bullying derail your entire day. I’m sure you’ve read somewhere about the marshmallow test; there is nothing more important than mental discipline. It makes you more money (on good days, I can plan an article in my head, on the subway, and write it later with moderate faithfulness to my original plans) and gives you the ability not to do things you know will not be kind to your future self.
Know what your goal is going into a situation
Tony Robbins once said something I thought sounded crazy — that every encounter should have a goal. I mean, coffee with a friend? Seeing Boss Baby? Do we always have to have goals?
But how often have you had a day off during which you didn’t plan anything and consequently didn’t enjoy yourself very much? How often have you shown up to lunch with a friend preoccupied about something else? Robbins suggested that one possible goal of having lunch with a friend could be to make that friend feel good about something. Um … argue with that.
I’ve thought about this often since then. If I am reading a magazine on the subway right up to the point when I meet up with someone, then the first experience that person has with me is of my slightly disorienting mental shift from reading-mode to social-mode. A few minutes of preparation, and I could’ve been set with all the appropriate solicitous questions: “Have you figured out how your novel’s going to end yet?” Etc. These things are genuine, but it still takes a moment to get to that mental space.
For the happily committed, social goals might be of the “make so-and-so feel nice” variety, but for those in questionable romantic situations (Does some dude like me as much as I like him? Are we even monogamous?), don’t just let encounters “happen” to you, leaving you with the same questions you had before. Have a goal: to find out if we are actually in a monogamous relationship, for instance.
If it feels weird to have an agenda, well, you can adopt a version of a fine policy for talking about others: don’t say anything behind someone’s back that you wouldn’t say to his or her face. Similarly, don’t have a goal that you wouldn’t unashamedly admit to if asked. It is perfectly reasonable to go on a date with the intent of finding out whether your date is seeing other people, or how often you might expect to communicate with one another over the next week, such that you do not wait and wonder.
Don’t let the unknown distract you from the known
By which I mean that the probability that any particular romantic interest will be around for forty years is extremely low. The probability that you will have to go to work for the next forty years is extremely high.
So, it would be illogical to allow your romantic life to compromise your career and goals until those probabilities change in a way demonstrable other than by your intuition, which is often tremendously unreliable once sex is involved. If a romantic interest has not said that they intend to spend the next forty years with you, then they almost certainly do not intend to spend the next forty years with you. They may come around, but in the meantime, it would be good for you to cleverly make as much money as possible and open up your options for the future.
I wrote in Bullish: Picking a Boyfriend Who Doesn’t Hold Back Your Career or Bank Account about avoiding partners who are financial sinkholes. But the world is, of course, full of all kinds of perfectly decent prospects as well. Even in those cases, it is important to keep things in perspective. If a potential partner really is that great, they do not want you being distracted from being good at your job because you are wondering what they think about you.
Whether you are looking for a nice husband/wife or trying to booty call as many stone-cold hotties as you can before your twenty-fifth birthday hits, there is a law of diminishing returns for time spent contemplating romantic relationships when you are not actually with the person in question.
Once you’ve thought once about what this person has said and done most recently and made a decision about what you want to do, further speculation is an absolute waste of your time. You cannot read minds. Except you sort of can read the mind of your future self, who really wants you to set her up with a great career, place to live, and group of friends, all of which you have a lot more actual control over than anything for which other people’s romantic feelings are a necessary precondition.
originally published on The Gloss