Musing: Three Reasons Why Romantic + Professional Success Strategies Are Incompatible

As twenty-something women with feet in both the dating and corporate world, Kinsey and I have heard it more times than we’d care to remember: when your career is flourishing, your romantic life is likely to be suffering (and vice versa). This seems disheartening, if not downright unfair. As competent, dedicated, ambitious, and engaged (not in the marital sense, phew!) young women, we refuse to believe the formula is that simple and unforgiving.

That being said, what constitutes success in work is entirely different than what constitutes success romantically. It’s no wonder that the strategies that bring us academic and professional success can be complete and utter failures when applied to our relationships. Here’s a few examples, coupled with our extensive personal interpretations and analyses pulled from a recent phone conversation we shared about our current romantic challenges.

Vulnerability

When it comes to business, vulnerability is considered a weakness.  If you’re going to negotiate a deal or contract that meets your wants and needs, or if you’re unveiling a new business proposal to investors, you need to prepare yourself to the point of perfection. There can be no flaws in your logic. You must approach the situation with an impenetrable shield of thoroughly researched evidence. You can’t allow for a chink in this shield; doing so could be the difference between success and failure. Furthermore, emotional vulnerability needs to be taken out of the equation entirely. If your boss or potential investor doesn’t like your idea and unleashes a load of criticism, reacting emotionally is the last thing you want to do. Stoicism, complete objectivity, and emotional detachment are key.

Conversely, when it comes to personal relationships, a partner who refuses to be vulnerable is a partner whom you will never really know. As our favorite psychologist Brené Brown so eloquently states, “We cultivate love when we allow our most vulnerable and powerful selves to be deeply seen and known.” Vulnerability and the willingness to invest emotionally in a relationship, and consequently, to accept the potential of failure and inevitable hurt, is the only way to find intimacy. When you’re too afraid of getting hurt, you are emotionally unavailable and consequently, perpetually lonely.

Think Mr. Big for the majority of the Sex and the City series. Nobody wants that, except Carrie whose fascination with him in the first place shows her own unique form of emotional unavailability, but I digress. My 14-year-old self spent way too much time analyzing that dynamic.

Compromise

In these aforementioned hypothetical business situations, the goal is winning. While negotiations are essential, compromising can be seen as weakness. Yielding to an alternative arrangement can be considered an act of desperation, or even a reduction of your value.

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In happy relationships, compromise is an essential ingredient. Relationships should be viewed as a partnership between two autonomous individuals, not a blindly held together conglomeration. Consequently, conflict is inevitable. It is in the (hopefully loving and thoughtful way) that you address and negotiate through that conflict, aka the compromising, that you grow not only as a couple, but as individuals. As the saying goes, “Compromising doesn’t mean that you are wrong and someone is right, it only means that you value your relationship much more than your ego.”  There is always going to be another way to do things, and there are always going to be disagreements. It is the ability to find an acceptable compromise that determines the viability of a partnership, because that is how you lovingly nurture and learn from one another. If you’ve made up your mind that you alllllllways have to call the shots, get used to being alone.

Case in point, if I consistently refused to compromise with my boyfriend about what we were going to have for dinner every night, we would have Mexican food 9.5 times out of 10, no contest. This would lead to unnecessary and unwanted weight gain and potentially permanent tastebud damage due to an overdose on the flavor mouth-explosion that is Mexican food. Plus, I’d never be able to brag about the fact that I once willingly (okay, after a long drawn-out debate) indulged in stir-fried chicken hearts for dinner, and actually enjoyed it. Lesson learned.

Learning Curves

In the constantly challenging, high-pressure environment that is the corporate world, sometimes you just have to fake it ’til you make it, hoping that you won’t draw attention to your perceived inadequacies and consequently get booted from your job. Eventually, you get the hang of it by watching your coworkers succeed or through trial and error. Ironically, although the dreaded trial and error (particularly, the error part) tends to be embarrassing, it is usually the most effective when it comes to learning quickly and clearly. All in all, corporate culture doesn’t really allow for an appropriate learning curve, even though we are constantly told “mistakes are the stepping stones to learning!”

In relationships, there’s often not much room for a learning curve either, although we argue that it is very important that you do. If each partner in a new relationship approached everything like a new employee trying to avoid making a mistake at work, well, not only would they eventually make a mistake anyways, but it would be incredibly boring. If we as partners really want to find someone who can fulfill our personal needs, we need to be able to ask for them. And a lot of times, we aren’t sure what we really need until we are shown the opposite. Allowing for an early relationship learning curve allows us to stop and ask for what we need without immediately feeling like we need to abort the entire mission. In other words, you’re giving your partner the opportunity to become a better person, or at least to become more attuned to your needs and the way you respond to things by not “catastrophizing” every mistake (yes, I made that word up and it is intended for use specifically in regard to the development of new relationships). This is the voice of experience.

For example, if you don’t consider a string of emojis to constitute a valid, thoughtful response (which is a pretty fair assessment), you should say so, and hopefully you’ll get an appropriate response back composed of the correct order of verbs, adjectives, conjunctions, and nouns, and that mistake won’t be made again. If not, now you know that your partner is illiterate and/or lazy and/or too disinterested to compose a meaningful response, all of which are important bits of information to know before committing completely. Most likely though, your partner probably just thought the emojis were funny and thought nothing more of it. In all seriousness though, sometimes a little forgiveness and clear communication following a “mistake” is all you need to make huge leaps when it comes to knowing your partner better and building a stronger relationship.

+ WHAT TACTICS DO YOU USE WHEN BUILDING A STRONG RELATIONSHIP? WHAT WAS THE GREATEST LESSON YOUR PARTNER TAUGHT YOU? SHARE YOUR EXPERIENCES WITH US!

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