Saturday, October 23, 2010

Balance and Boundaries

I was talking to a friend this afternoon about how many of the online dating profiles we see say something like "I don't need a partner to complete me..." or "I don't need a relationship but would like to have one if it came along." This message is present in magazine articles and self help books that purport to give advice to those looking for love and is also common in the conversations I have with friends about dating, especially with married or partnered friends.

I understand where the "you must be a complete person on your own" trope comes from though I've certainly seen very needy people end up in good relationships. I feel that I am a "complete person," (whatever that means) but I really do want and even perhaps need to have an intimate partnership with someone. I know that I function better when I have a partner, someone else who is invested in the day-to-day world with me. I think this is partly due to the fact that I'm a very social person. I am happiest when I'm around other people and fun times with family and friends are actually re-charging for me.

If I have a partner, some of that need is met in the course of everyday activities. We have interesting conversations while we do the dishes or we can chat about that interesting show we just saw on TV, and I know that I'll have plans on Saturday night without having to put much effort into planning them out ahead of time. When I'm single, I have to spend more time and energy making sure that my social needs get met. Energy that could otherwise be put into work or other activities. There's also the energy that gets expended in the quest for partnership, the management of the online dating process and the emotional energy invested in meeting new people and trying to figure out new dynamics. When that is a settled area in my life, I am more productive at work and just plain happier.

My most recent dating adventures have involved a man who was lacking some important boundaries. He too recognized his need for a partner, but he wanted someone who could help him with his overwhelming work as much, if not more, than he wanted a romantic partner. He runs a charity organization that is trying to help people in Africa. He is incredibly passionate about this work and has given up much in his own life to try to help the people there. He gave up a high powered job, a large income, and all of his personal savings as well as almost all of his free time for the past few years. He said that he had recently realized that he needed to re-balance his life and decided that finding partnership might be the way to do it. We had two very nice dates where we shared interesting stories and discovered that we had much in common. My instincts were telling me though that he was so invested in this charity as to have little room left for a life for himself. My instincts were right. At the end of our third date he began to tell me a story about a certain child who needed medical care. It was a heart wrenching story and unfortunately it is something that is happening every day. This story was different though because it was in the village he has agreed to help and as such he was giving everything he had to help this child. He had already spent over $5,000 and needed more, more which he did not have.

He asked me to help, to donate myself and to reach out to my friends and family to help as well. It was a very difficult situation. My heart was of course touched by the story but I felt as if this had violated the social contract implicit in an early date between two virtual (no pun intended) strangers. I just wasn't ready to ask for money from those I know based solely on a story he told. I told him I needed time to think about it and that seemed to upset him. He said that when people said they needed time it usually meant that they were going to say no (which he may have been right about) and that this was a life and death situation for this child. Though I do not doubt that he is doing the work he said and that this was a real story of a child in need, I began to doubt why this man was dating me, why he was saying the flattering things he said. I began to think that there might be part of him who saw a successful single woman and thought perhaps I could be a financial help to him and his cause. It was not a pleasant feeling.

These two conversations have me thinking about balance and boundaries. The balance between needing and wanting a partner and creating a life that is fulfilling without that partnership and the boundaries between work and personal life, including dating. How do you maintain those boundaries when your work is something that is integral to who you are? How about when your being or not being in a partnership affects how much you have to give to your work?