Two years ago today – or so Facebook informs me – I had begun the physical preparations for leaving the country. I sat on the living room floor and guiltily sorted through piles of unopened issues of The Economist, Elle Magazine and Investment Times, wondering how on earth it had all piled up. How time had got away from me.
Because that is the problem you have when your life slips into a rut. Somewhere in the routine of sliding back and forth between work and home, and a clutch of favourite restaurants, your good intentions fall away from you. The deadlines you set for yourself double and triple in length, and the dreams you left on the shelf gather dust and grow mould – until they become so hideous you can’t bear to look at them.
I knew I had been wasting my twenties – that I had been too scared and too comfortable to act on any of the niggling doubts I had: That I wasn’t where I was supposed to be; that I had spent too long compromising on the few things that were actually important to me; that maybe this wasn’t as good as it could get.
And when I look at all the change I’ve experienced since then, I know I was right.
Because here’s the thing about patience, folks. It’s the passive apologist’s term for time-wasting. That’s all it is. Hopeful waiting. And good things aren’t guaranteed to those who wait – but disappointment stalks its heels pretty closely. As with everything in this dance we call life, timing is key.
So here’s my handy guide for working out how long is long enough.
Acceptable waiting times for:
1) Restaurants and bars: 20 minutes
Because a) no-where is EVER as delicious or as fabulous as it’s been hyped up to be and b) can you honestly tell me that after waiting, what will be at least, 40 minutes to sit down with food you’re going to be sober enough or rational enough to pass objective judgement?
Chances are this isn’t the only food joint in town. And if it is, you’re an idiot for not booking. Go home now and sort your life out. The hunger will focus your mind!
2) New jobs: 2 months
After two months, anyone that was on holiday when you started work will have been back for at least two weeks. You’ll most likely have experienced at least one work deadline, one team meeting, one “casual catch up” with your new manager and, if it’s the sort of workplace you should be fleeing from, you’ll have heard at least one colleague crying in the bathroom. As with any relationship, if they’re not making you feel good at the shiny start, what the hell makes you think it’s going to get better?!
Too many people make the mistake of thinking that money will make up for unhappiness (a delusion I can only assume Paul McCartney’s recent wives share). Don’t be one of them.
3) New romantic relationships: 3- 6 months…
I compared work to relationships a minute ago, so you’ll have to forgive me for comparing relationships to work now: Most people need to see progress to feel like they’re on the right path.
As a thirty year old white, middle class, straight, cis-female – or whatever overinflated labels we’re supposed to be caveating our personal opinions with now, to avoid offending the easily offendable – I bring a certain type of perspective to what that path is. I want kids and I have neither the energy or the resources to deny the biological reality of what that means for me as a woman. Having a good education or being a feminist does not give my body more breeding years. But what I don’t want is to be stuck staring into a face that reminds me even slightly of someone I can’t bear to be in the same room as anymore. I’m also too bone-bastard idle to want to deal with the little rugrats by myself. So I want marriage, and I want a good one. And when what you want is dependant on someone else wanting the same thing, that makes knowing when to quit the biggest challenge of all.
I suggested that two months was long enough to see if a job was worth sticking with. Two minutes is probably more than adequate if any part of you is urgently whispering “Run!” whilst on a date. But assuming all has been going well enough, by when should you know if it’s love? Everyone is different of course – and things like age, experience and how much time you’ve spent in the same room, with your clothes on, will have a bearing on this – but my guess is three to six months. Sooner is rebound territory, much later is guilt and obligation. If you’re dreading hearing those three words from your partner, cut them loose and waste someone else’s time instead.
So great, you’ve mutually decided you’re in love, maybe you’ve even moved in together and started separating his laundry, now what? How long does it take to decide if you want to gamble on doing this forever? And how long is too long to wait for the person you love to give you something they know you want?
I can’t really pretend to have the answer to that. But what I do have is regret.
Because when you find the person that you somehow, inexplicably know you want to fold laundry for forever, you will regret every morning that you woke up without their face breathing morning breath on yours. You will miss every memory you weren’t there to share in, every hurt you weren’t there to heal and every in-joke you didn’t get to make.
And here’s the thing to remember about people. You can’t make them give you something they don’t want to give. But if you’ve been waiting what to you feels like long enough, and this person who supposedly loves you isn’t ready to give you what you want, maybe it’s time to start asking if they love you enough.
Don’t let your life pass by waiting for someone else to find theirs.
Walk. Don’t wait.