Sexless in the City

Sometimes reading romance novels doesn’t quite prepare you for a love life...

For this 30-year-old urbanite, love is always a misadventure: The Harvard Lickwit, Hippie the Groper, the 5% Man, and the Ad Weasel. These and many other men wander in and out of her life — but never her bed.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

In the thick of a pickle, pt. 1

Back when I was in grad school, about ... oh ... five years ago (!!!), one professor had a simple but basic mantra: “Finish. Just finish.” At the time, I didn’t quite get what all the fuss was about — didn’t most folks who started graduate programs complete them? Then I had to defend my thesis proposal and for the first time as a student had my intellectual clock cleaned. I came out of that session shocked and battered, suddenly daunted by the task that lay before me — and how closely my committee planned to scrutinize. This was, of course, a good thing. But it also tested my mettle and follow-through in ways I didn’t expect.

Though the actual thesis defense months later was less painful, the changes asked for were substantial enough I had to delay graduation by three month. At first I felt like I had failed. But that, perhaps, was where the real test occurred: would I overcome this fear and self-pity so as to persevere to the finish line, or would I succomb to doubt and procrastination?

By God’s grace I made through, but in the years since facing that setback, I’ve realized how apt my professor’s words were. Long-term endurance is hard, and possibly nothing tests that exactly the same way writing, marriage and parenting do. I grieve for friends who have gotten stuck on their thesis or dissertation then quietly drifted away to other things. Not that forsaking a project run amok is always bad, but I don’t think it’s knowing when to give up that plagues this culture, it’s knowing how to persist to the end. If you’ve ever been stuck in a quandary like that, here’s how I suggest you might think it through.

Which question is the right one?
Whenever things get rough, our first thought is probably whether or not we should quit or go on. But that depends on the reason things have gotten rough. In the first mile of running, your body is usually grumpy at moving — but once you get past that initial hump things even out. If, however, you haven’t run in a while and you choose the steeper of two possible routes to travel, if might be advised to turn back and take the more level path, depending on how poor or good your health is. In the one case, the roughness is just a part of life, a part of how your body operates. In the other it’s more a case of particular circumstances — your present health, and the incline of the course.

My first job in the city grew fairly miserable after a few weeks of gloating that work didn’t start till 10 or later, and how I could make endless espressos on-site. Circumstance or part of life? In that case it was both. The workplace was notorious for a fairly high rate of turnover, and the boss had quirks including a tacit discouragement of lunching outside the office. There also was no health insurance, smoking in the office and other things clearly not the norm, much less the law, for a job of that sort. Exiting such a workplace made good sense.

Departing, however, could not address the underlying restlessness that had more to do with trying to find my place in the city, figuring out my vocational “calling” and where I could use my talents. As I’ve written previously, there’s a season of paying your dues that almost nobody gets around. And if you do, it catches up to you later when you face challenges you don’t quite have the wisdom or experience to face. Writing first my thesis and now my book are projects that challenge me not because I should abandon them but just because perseverance is hard work. My “office” is littered with knitting projects and papers right now because I’m good at starting things, much worse at getting them done.

So since I will complete this mini-series next week, think about the relationship, struggle or project that’s currently bugging you. To what part is your frustration due to the cause itself, and to what degree is it you or just how life goes? Is this a chance to learn character and discipline, or a signal it’s time for a change?

Coming next Monday, my thoughts on when to bail and when to persevere. Don’t forget to respond to my poll, please, please, please!!! :)