It seems that the moment February arrives so do advertisements with decorations of chocolate hearts, plump-faced cupids with arrows, and red-stemmed roses that precipitously sprout in store windows. Love is suddenly and rather unavoidably in the air like a cloying perfume being sprayed in your face at the mall. And although I am not against Valentine’s Day, it did get me thinking about how much love influences our actions.
I don’t think I’m surprising anyone when I say that ‘finding true love’ which results in a happily-ever-after scenario has dominated most little girls’ social narrative for as far back as I can recall. Fairy tales, princess movies, and costumes are heavily focused on the theme that young girls should find love and by extension be taken care of. This pattern also shows up in films directed at adult female audiences too. We’ve all seen the (tired) portrayal of a struggling woman who falls in love, and somehow all her problems (including her financial issues) are gone as the happy couple rides off into the proverbial sunset.
To emphasize my point, earlier this month, a young female contestant on the reality show The Bachelor was hit with a life-altering ultimatum to give up her PhD studies in New York so that she would have a ‘chance’ to start a married life with the prized bachelor. This bright 26-year-old suddenly saw the fork in the road, she could have love, marriage, and a baby in a carriage or an incredible education and career, but apparently, she could not have it all. One thing that’s problematic about these princess fairy tales, ‘chick flicks’ and reality dating shows is the implication that finding love is the only happy ending for women but men can have personal and professional happiness.
That said, there are alternative representations of girls having careers and relationships in stories and films that feature plots around careers, while also addressing love and marriage. However, last week, in part one of this blog, I commented on the popular story about Meghan Markel ‘giving up’ her acting career to marry Prince Harry (even though being a modern British Princess is a job in its own right, as noted in part one of this blog series) I wondered how many young girls still think that is the ultimate dream or something to aspire to? Markel’s situation is quite different than the average working woman or college student because Markel has already established her own education, fame, and wealth. She will have financial security even if her marriage doesn’t end with happy-ever-after, and so I maintain that comparing her decision to trade her career for love does not have the same unforeseen consequences as it would for someone less privileged.
I believe in a person’s ability to choose what they want to do with their lives, or what they want in order to be happy. But, as an Industrial and Organizational (I/O) Psychologist and Career Coach who has lots of experience with clients who are struggling to find stable and satisfying work … I feel it’s important to discuss some of the hurdles we can face when we decide pursuing love is more beneficial to our future than a decent education and meaningful career. In a perfect world, we can have love and education and meaningful work.
I’ve worked with clients who have revealed they had quit their job to relocate for love… others expressed regret in abandoning their education/or goals to get married. These are not bad or wrong decisions, but based on what happened afterward, these people were very unlucky. As one client revealed to me after her rather acrimonious divorce “How could I know the day I walked down that church aisle in my beautiful wedding gown 6 years later I’d be screaming for child and spousal support in a courtroom from the person I was supposed to grow old with…sometimes the love doesn’t last … but the bills certainly do!”
This isn’t about love vs. money
When we’re in love it’s even more difficult to see the negative consequences of prioritizing a relationship over our financial survival. We feel less jaded when we value a soul mate and our relationships over monetary aspects of life (and generally speaking, this is how I arrange my life). But, that can be a simplistic view on the reality of making such a crucial decision. What is more beneficial to all is to reframe the concept that we are choosing to protect and arm ourselves to be able to survive even if that love doesn’t. It should not be about the inherent value of the personal over the professional (or vice versa) since both are essential, but rather what we must do to make both aspects feasible.
A job isn’t always just a job
Having a career that sustains us financially, promotes healthy self-esteem, gives us a creative outlet and a place to use other skills, not to mention an identity outside of a romantic relationship is not something to shrug at. Entertaining the idea that romance outweighs any old job is not always an accurate experience. So much of what we do influences how we feel about ourselves and finding a career that you are passionate about can have comparable positive effects on a person that can be found in a caring relationship.
Have a sensitive career or HR-related concern? I invite you to contact me by email, phone, or via direct message on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn if you’d like to discuss any of these topics in more detail.
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