Love and other practical considerations

I was talking to a friend the other night about a recent breakup and she admitted that while she genuinely cared about her ex, she felt the breakup was for the best because they differed so much practical issues like managing time and money. I know it can be really hard to take those differences seriously when you are deeply in love with someone, but I also know that I married someone who is on the same page as me in terms of values and life goals and it’s been an easier and happier relationship than any one that came before. Loving someone isn’t the same as being able to live with that person. I wouldn’t tell you that you necessarily have to choose, but if you don’t have both the loving and the grooving, then moving on might be the smartest move.  
Free poster from Anton Darcy

I was a serial monogamist (now I’m just a married monogamist), so I’ve had my share of “close calls” [=almost engagements and an unrequited desire to be married] and difficult breakups. And historically, I’ve been confused about what I wanted in life, though I’ve had a pretty good sense of what I didn’t want. In sum, I’ve loved men who wouldn’t have made me happy in the long run, but through fortune, fate, or sheer force of will those relationships ended before I met my husband. J is smart, handsome, funny, shares my disdain for conventional lifestyles, brings out the best in me, is excessively strong and thus very useful around the house, wants to go to a museum in every city we visit, has a CD binder from the late 90s that contains all my favorite CDs from the late 90s, and says things like “my 401k did really well this  past quarter” and “once we [x,y,z], you should take classes at UVA just for fun”.

My goodness. Just thinking about this makes me want to marry him all over again. But this post is about past mistakes and narrow escapes, so on to the exes:

  • College boyfriend
    • Length of relationship: Five years (off and on)
    • Practical issues: He dropped out of our private college and had himself tens of thousands of dollars in debt, got evicted from his pricey apartment, and got his car repossessed before I even graduated. 
    • Where is he now: Selling real estate in Maryland
    • Where I would be if I were still with him: Working as his receptionist and looking forward to strip mall franchise restaurant dinners and new episodes of House
  • Antepenultimate boyfriend
    • Length of relationship: One year
    • Practical issues: He believed that being in debt was part of being an adult, and that reason he needed to find a good job was to be able to afford nice things (that he could presumably enjoy on the weekends and two weeks a year). At the time, I wanted to join the Peace Corps and do two years of service in sub-Saharan Africa, but I figured I could skip that for him and we could start a family.
    • Where he is now: Globetrotting as a trailing husband
    • Where I would be if I were still with him: Tied up in a cubicle with a corporate teat lodged in my throat, getting milked for mortgage payments on a townhouse in the Northern Virginia suburbs and waiting for my Williams-Sonoma potato-washing gloves to arrive in the mail 
Too much stuff can weigh you down. Picture from Mihnea™
  • Penultimate boyfriend
    • Length of relationship: Four years (off and on) 
    • Practical issues: He dedicated a lot of his expendable income to purchasing video games and computer equipment. He all but stuck his fingers in his ears whenever I brought up savings or retirement and we both lived paycheck to paycheck without saving a dime. I told myself that it didn’t matter if we didn’t have the same goals, priorities, values, or dreams because we were in love. When I realized that being in love was costing me the kind of life I really wanted, I had to make the difficult decision to leave.
    • Where he is now: Last spotted two years ago at a bar in Shanghai. 
    • Where I would be if I were still with him: Teaching English, making dinner, doing the dishes, drinking, and daydreaming about having health insurance

From DACPhoto
One by one, I did care a great deal for each of those men. I told myself that love was obviously more important than money and other practical concerns–“Love is all you need!” But when I look back and I think, “Shit, I might have married this one or that one had circumstances been a little different,” I feel relieved that life got in the way of my plans. Now I realize that loving someone doesn’t necessarily mean you can find happiness with that person. Love is more important than money–you had better be prepared to see your partner through thick and thin and love him whether his 401k is growing or she just lost a job– but being in love with someone who doesn’t share your goals and values can make you miserable. You can’t tell yourself forever that love is more important than happiness: you will wake up one day and you will want to be happy, and if you’re lucky, you’ll know you deserve to be. And then you might have to choose between yourself and your relationship. 

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