DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I’m a mid-40’s woman who’s been single for almost 3 years now, working full-time and going to school part-time for a master’s degree in a challenging program, because I want to change fields with my career.
I was going to school full-time, but I burnt out and will be going part-time now. I’ll now be done in Spring 2025. The classes are on a quarterly schedule, with two 7-week classes per semester- I’ll now only be taking one class per semester. I barely have time to breathe when school is in session because the coursework is like having a part-time job and my regular job is also demanding. My friends get on my case that I’m never around and my family (whom I love) are supportive but pointedly ask when I’m visiting. I’m hoping having some time off will allow me to do fun things and remind people I care about that I exist.��I’m lonely and I’d like a partner and hopefully some sex (hook-ups don’t really work for me) but I also know that you have to have time in order to date. With my new part-time schedule, I’d like to try dating on the weeks I have off, but how do I explain to someone I like that I’m on a rotation where for 7 weeks I have time, but then for the next 7 I’m severely limited in any time I can give them? Should I bother trying to date until I’m done with this program? Or should I just not bother, try to get some no-strings-attached situation (again, not really ideal for me) going on and leave dealing with dating until I’ve got the degree and have time to devote to it?��Best,�Time Crunch
DEAR TIME CRUNCH: First and foremost, TC: you want to prioritize your mental and emotional well-being above and beyond everything. You’ve got a limited number of spell slots and if you start burning other resources to try to refresh them, you’re gonna and up with nothing but a severe deficit that will take a damn long time to recover from. Grad school in particular can be a meat grinder that will chew up and spit out every ounce of energy and bandwidth you have; trying to push past your resources is a great way to fall back into burnout – especially if you’re still recovering from the last time you hit burnout.
This is why I would recommend that, if you want to date, you want to be mindful of what you’re actually capable of and what you have to offer. Right now, you’ve got limited capacity and you should guard it carefully. If you try to do too much, you’re going to end up losing it all and just making yourself feel worse. So consider how much you can invest in someone else, how much of a priority you can afford to make them and recognize that if you’re going to use those spell slots in one place, you’re not going to have as many in others.
That doesn’t mean that you can’t date. It just means that you may want to date casually, without the expectation of a serious investment in the relationship until such a time as you actually have the capacity to do so. That means that you’re going to want to date folks who are going to understand that a lot of the time, they’re just not going to be your highest priority.
Now that, in turn, means that you’re likely going to need to be ok with non-exclusivity and/or a string of short term relationships. Those will be a lot easier for you to maintain and keep your sanity in the process than trying to fit one more responsibility into a container that’s already past capacity.
And honestly, there’s a lot to appreciate about short-term relationships. Culturally, we tend to treat relationships as though longevity is the marker of success; the longer you’re together, the more successful and meaningful the relationship. But short-term relationships – ones that are only meant to last so long – can be just as valuable, just as meaningful and just as impactful as long-term ones. Not every love story is meant to be an epic poem. Some are best appreciated as a short story – compact but no less significant for it. Some are just meant to be dirty limericks.
If and when you do decide to date, be up front about things. Let folks know in advance that you only have so much time, and there will be long stretches where they may only know you’re still alive because the dot on your WhatsApp profile turned green again. While you can’t eliminate the strain this can put on your relationships �– familial, romantic or platonic – you can at least mitigate it by helping folks understand in advance. You want to date folks who actually get this, not people who say that they’re cool with it and then start to complain that the relationship is playing out exactly as you said it would. Telling them up front will, at the very least, set expectations and filter out the folks who are the least compatible with you for now.
One thing I will say is that there’s only so much “getting on your case” and “pointed comments about never seeing you” that you should be willing to accept. It’s great that folks will want to see more of you, but they should understand that trying to be the level of available they’d prefer isn’t on the table. This is a time when you need to be willing to enforce some boundaries. Tell them flat out that you miss them and you’d love to see more of them but work and school need to be your number one priority right now. If you want to soften the impact of that, you can point out that seeing them now would mean that you’d be half-assing it at best, possibly even quarter-assing it, and you care enough about them that they deserve the whole ass.
It’s also worth saying “yeah, I want to see you all too, so let’s just grit our teeth and white-knuckle through to the end of this and think of how awesome it’ll be to see each other when I don’t have all this looming over my head.” Giving them – and yourself – things to look forward to can be a great way to power through those periods when you aren’t going to be available for love nor money nor familial disappointment.
Now, maybe you’ll have friends (or potential partners) who can be cool with doing parallel play – that is, hang-outs where you both work separately, together – or errand visits (where they accompany you on necessary trips to the laundromat and the grocery store, etc). But full-on hang-outs, visits, dates and more? Those’ll have to wait until your seven-week cycle rolls back around to the seven weeks off phase.
But if any of those relationships start to impinge on your mental and emotional health? That’s when you should start putting them lower down on the priority list – if not putting them on pause for a while. You’ve got to be your own top priority. Otherwise, you’re going to be like the candle burning at both ends. The light may be lovely, but the candle’s gonna be gone before long, with nothing to show for it but puddles of leftover wax. And you deserve more than that.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, email@example.com