In the meantime, she set a goal of making partner at her law firm, a blessing and a curse that she equated to “winning a pie-eating contest but the prize was more pie.” By 2011 she had bought a condo, had a flourishing (and lucrative) career and had been a good girl who took her parents’ advice, which, at its core, was, “You don’t need a man.” She was successful, self-sufficient and also unfulfilled.
“I didn’t feel as complete as I had been told I would,” she said in the Times. “My approach to love had been stupid and selfish.”
I knew this story had a “happy ending” because of the section it was published in and the big picture at the top of the page that showed a black bride and groom. And still, my heart went thump-thump in fear, because I’ve heard this story too often—and even lived it—and it rarely ends well.
I was one of those daughters like Skiffer, told by my father to “get your lesson,” his Mississippi way of telling me that I needed two degrees and six figures to be successful. For better or worse, there was no mention of marriage.
My mother, who married at 22, told me to “see some world” and live it up in New York as a single woman. She’d come to visit, we’d frequent quaint cafés (and bars) and she’d smile wistfully at the scene and say, “I wish I had a chance to do this.” By “this,” she meant live as an adult for just a while without the responsibility of a husband and child.
At 25, I took a guy home for Thanksgiving. We’d discussed marriage. My family thought he was “too old” (and admittedly, I hadn’t gotten all my partying out of my system). We broke up. For the next few years I returned for the holidays unaccompanied, and it was my father who expressed concern that I was “running out of time” to find a mate.
Hold up. Was I supposed to be working on that? Because I was grinding out 70-hour workweeks with a day job and two side hustles, trying to get to six figures and put those degrees to good use. I was focused. I didn’t even know I was supposed to balance.
There was actually someone I’d been madly in love with, but he’d moved to the Midwest. I would have given up everything to follow him if only he’d asked. He didn’t. He said I should stay in New York and focus on my career. Years later, I realized I’d given him the impression that was all that mattered to me. When he left, it was.
I threw myself into my jobs so much because I liked them—or, rather, the feeling of accomplishment—and because I was nursing a broken heart. I also figured I had more control over success at work than I did success in a relationship and I enjoyed the freedom of dating: no responsibilities but also no heartbreaks. My grass stayed green where it was watered.
I figured I’d work things out with that guy I was so crazy about someday when everything had taken off professionally for me and I had downtime to focus on “us.” Like the New York Times couple, my guy and I went in and out of each other’s life for years.