Monday, January 05, 2009

Dating a Student Leader - Is This You?

Student Leadership and Relationships
from THE APATHY MYTH: A Blog for America's Student Leaders

I have some news for you, Student Leader. Dating you sucks. Sure, you're cute and all. Sometimes you get good tickets for games. It's sometimes fun to be with you when you're the center of attention. But, let me tell you... it mostly sucks.

You're always at meetings, and you don't do a very good job of letting me know when you have them. They always go late, and it's impossible to make plans with you. Inevitably, some crisis happens. Sometimes you schedule these impromptu meetings or go to some meeting at the last minute, and I'm left hanging.

You know who I had a meeting with last night? Jay Leno. That was a blast.

When we do spend time together, all you talk about is the organization. So-and-so said this. So-and-so did this. Worry, stress, and other bullshit.


I hear that other people dating each other talk about music, movies, the news. Not us.Why is it that you have a ton of stuff planned for your student leadership position: retreats, parties, meetings, special events – but you and I don't have anything fun to look forward to. How about planning something fun with me?

Last week, we actually went out and had something to eat. It was going great until a bunch of your friends from the organization saw us and invited themselves to sit down. I tried to engage with it and be cool, but after 30 minutes, I felt hijacked. I wish you had told them to get lost.

By the way, who the hell gets six urgent text messages between midnight and 6 a.m.? What are you? The National Security Advisor? Turn the damn phone off if you want to spend the night.

You spend so much time working on leadership stuff that you're never on top of your tests, your papers, your reading for class. Jamming on a paper on my computer until 4 a.m. doesn't count as quality relationship time.

My birthday fell on a meeting night. Hey, I get it. I don't expect you to change the meeting of your organization on my account. But, a phone call would have been nice. A week later when you keep saying, "Sorry we still haven't done anything for your birthday," I just want to punch you.

I hate to complain, but you've given me a lot to complain about lately. I actually had a conversation with someone the other day, and he/she was really cool. Friendly, paid attention to me. Not involved in anything in a big way. Easy to hang out with. Listened to me. Made me want to change my Facebook status.You've been warned.

Part II

If you're a Student Leader lucky enough to have a really terrific person who wants to spend time with you, it's important that you find a way to strike a balance between the crushing weight of your responsibilities and the relationship maintenance that keeps that special person feeling valued. As I tried to illustrate humorously in the last posting, you can sometimes be a difficult person to date.

Trust me when I tell you that finding the balance between life at work (your leadership position) and life at home (your friendships, your relationships, your family) is one of the most common challenges young professionals face. Even old guys like me struggle with it on a pretty regular basis. Use this time in your life to force yourself to learn some of these critical skills.

Here are some random bits that might help:

- Your organization will not fall apart if you take a few hours, an evening, or an entire weekend away. You're not running NASA, and it's time for you to acknowledge that. If you have to be on 24/7, then you're running an unhealthy organization and you have an unhealthy, abusive relationship with it! Trust others to handle some stuff while you tend to the other important things in your life. Or, just let it go until Monday. The world won't stop turning.

- When you're with your special someone, don't seek to talk exclusively about your issues, your organization, your drama. Use that time as an escape. Force yourself to talk about other things. If you can't think of anything to talk about, then you need to spend more time with that person and identify some mutual interests. Make him/her feel important by taking a genuine interest in what's going on in their life. The other person might feel that they are the less interesting person in the relationship – show him/her that you don't think so! It might actually be a relief to be quiet and listen for a while.

- Turn off the cell phone. Don't look and respond to texts while you're spending time together. Demonstrate that the other person is a priority by staying away from your computer, too. When you're with someone, truly be WITH them. That says, "Nothing is more important to me than you right now."

- When you do talk about your student leadership life, ask his or her opinion. Don't just complain and vent (that gets really old). Share some funny stories. No one likes to be around someone who's negative all the time. Ask your special someone what he/she might do in a particular situation, and validate the ideas.

- When you're having time with your special someone, don't invite other people to invade that time. If people come up and start talking "business," tell them you'd love to chat another time. Let the person you're with SEE you defending your time together. Also, if your entire relationship revolves around the social events of your organization, it might be time to blow off that party and find something else to do Saturday night.

- When you make a commitment to your special someone, keep it. Some big meeting just cropped up? "Sorry guys. I'm going to a movie with my girl tonight. I'll call you in the morning and you can fill me in." You'll find that people respect your time more when they can't have it at a moment's notice.

- Make sure you and your special someone always have something you're looking forward to. A trip, a movie you're going to share, a concert, a birthday night out. Whatever. Having something you're both looking forward to gives you a "future."It is (is, is, is, is) possible to maintain a healthy relationship while taking on a big student leadership challenge. You just have to commit yourself to doing the work and drawing the healthy boundaries necessary.

I always say that we make time for the things we really want. If you really enjoy the other person and what he/she brings to your life, then you'll make the time. If not, then you might just be using the other person as a distraction or as some sort of release valve. But when the caring is there, then demonstrate it to that special someone. No one likes to come in second.