Every year, Match Day determines the fates of thousands of medical students across the country for where they’ll end up doing their residency for the next three years to seven years. Match Day is now behind us, and it’s a huge relief that my boyfriend has ended up at his first choice – in New York City.
It was uneasy having that cloud looming over the excitement of a new relationship. Imagining a future of fun, warm-weather activities (as a coping mechanism in the face of this never-ending winter) had to be bridled, knowing that the tables may turn when match arrives. Realistically, it’s not like our connection would dissipate the instant he matched in a different city. But it would have marked the demise of our oxytocin-induced excitement and hope, bringing a graver reality to our honeymoon state. Having to address deeper commitment issues such as a long distance relationship is weighty enough for established couples, not to mention a fledgling one.
Entering the relationship, I knew that my boyfriend may have to leave the city, but yet I took a chance. Although whether I truly took a chance or not is debatable – being with him almost felt like something that had to be done.
There’s a promotion guideline that has really stuck with me: in order to get promoted at your job, you have to prove that you can perform at the next level for six months before you actually get promoted to the next level. This may mean doing work above your pay grade before you get the recognition you deserve. How I read this guideline is as such: the only way to progress is to exceed expectations. How can one expect to get promoted to the next level if they’re only meeting expectations for their current level? Doing a good job at a lower level gives no indication to doing a good job at the next level. Overextending yourself is necessary for growth.
Similarly, the person you’re dating should not earn the title of boyfriend unless they behave like one prior to exclusivity. He shouldn’t be given something he hasn’t earned. While my boyfriend continued to overdeliver on the boyfriend experience prior to exclusivity, I remained cautious. I kept my options open. I was seeing someone who may very well not be in the city after six months – why should I overextend myself for a company that may file for bankruptcy, so to speak?*
But it got to a point where I simply didn’t even enjoy dating other people (and we’re talking about me here, the dating sociologist, the person who finds first dates inherently interesting.) I was driven to exclusivity not so much by feelings of jealousy and possessiveness, but my own distractedness when I went on dates with other people. I strive for being focused on my dates, but all I could mostly think about was how I didn’t want to be there and how I’d rather be spending time with him. Casually dating felt like an obligation to rationality and it wasn’t fun anymore. You could say that I endured a rigorous process of elimination that made me feel certain that I wanted to be with him. The choices in front of me were clear. Either I had to see him only, or not see him anymore. Anything in between would be half-assing it to all parties involved and that’s not my style.
How did I reconcile the divide between how my heart felt and what my rational mind thought? I didn’t try to emotionally invest commensurate to the odds that he’ll be in NYC vs. not being in NYC. Neither did I try to coerce an action plan that made him promise our relationship will become X, or Y, or Z, if his path was A, B, or C.
How I did it was by trying to be mindful and present. By acknowledging that things are going great now and that is I what I want to savor. That my time would not have been for nought even if it had to end because I made the most of it. That worrying about the future especially when it is beyond my control would not improve my quality of life, so why worry? All these things come naturally to some people, going with the flow and living in the moment, but it isn’t for me, and jumping into a relationship when there’s a clear date when our paths may diverge, i.e. match day, was a blessing because it was a hardcoded date, but a curse because it was like knowing when we were going to die.
I’m glad that the horizon is a little less murky. I don’t have any delusions that him being in the city for the next few years means there will no longer be bends in the road. We’re only a handful of months in – our relationship isn’t immune to the ravages of probability. Intern year isn’t a cakewalk either. Every budding relationship has an uncertain future, but we have one obstacle down, among the many challenges I am eager to accept.
*I sound like such an ass but no, it was never a one-sided contest to win my affections and we were always on the same page about our status. I don’t think I was half-bad at proving my girlfriend-worth prior to exclusivity either.
(Credits to Zach for the idea for this post.)