“I have so much going on right now that honestly, I don’t really have time for a relationship.” Strangely enough, these were the exact words I said to a guy last year that I actually wanted to date seriously. But his beautiful mess of commitment issues and inability to fit me into his schedule left me so insecure that I wondered if I was the one with the problem for wanting a healthy relationship to be as much a part of my life as my job, schoolwork, and other responsibilities.
I became addicted to a sense of busyness, probably to push out the negative emotions gnawing at my brain—you know, the ones that told me this “cool” guy was not the one for me. My schedule overflowed with so many commitments that when this guy finally ended our arrangement by throwing my own words back at me—“You said yourself you don’t have time for a relationship”—I came crashing down hard from a whirlwind of energy that left me both exhausted and relieved.
I took comfort in that old saying that love should be easy, because being with him was the complete opposite of that. But what if it had been easy? Would I still have considered myself too busy for a relationship?
This concern is by no means isolated to Penn, but our extreme focus on doing everything we can to get our dream jobs after graduation probably makes it a little more prevalent here. While love tends to be easy when it’s right, relationships are always hard work. Unlike schoolwork or job applications, there’s an emotional commitment that comes with a relationship that takes up time. Especially for those who come to Penn never having been in a serious or even semi–serious relationship before, the prospect of acquiring one feels intimidating.
But I wasn’t one of those people. I dated someone for a long time in high school, and, for better or for worse, that relationship made me have faith that others were possible. But you have to embrace the scary vulnerability that intimacy requires. I put myself out there freshman year, in terms of the dating and hookup scene at Penn, and I got hurt. A lot.
When I took a break from casual hookups for a while my sophomore year, all other aspects of my life started to improve. I got better grades, I formed deeper friendships, and I started to write again. I often correlated the two trends, figuring that the time I used to spend navigating the complexities of my freshman year sex life was now time I used to work on myself and my friendships.
Even though I refer to those days as my “dry year” to friends, I actually went on several dates, making time for a few guys who also wanted to make time for me. None of them were perfect, and no one really swept me off me feet or anything, but I felt so respected—and it made me want to respect them back. No stand–ups, no ghosting, no last–minute cancellations.
At the bottom line of all of this is a piece of advice that I often remind myself to follow, especially when I get so wrapped up in the romanticism of a potential relationship that I start ignoring all of the red flags: if someone is into you, they’ll make time for you.
This is a two–way street. If a date starts to feel like another appointment instead of a break from your busyness, that’s usually an indicator that something’s a bit off in the relationship. I knew all along when I told that one guy last year I didn’t have time for a relationship that I didn’t really mean it. I knew that if he wanted to make some last–minute plans to hang out, I would’ve done my best to finish all of my work beforehand.
But that was the difference between him and me. We all have time for relationships when we want them. The hard part isn’t about trying to find room in your schedule for another person, but about finding the vulnerability within yourself that relationships require.
Relationships are risky investments—that’ll never change—but like everything, they get easier with practice. You can’t fall in love if you don’t open your heart to it, and the only way to do that is to find a little time.