Dear Auntie Sparknotes;
My boyfriend and I are both in college, and while things have been going swimmingly there's something that keeps looming up: The Future.
You see, we both have big dreams. His are to become some amazing businessman-tycoon-next-Walmart-success story and make lots of money and buy everything he's never had and all that grand stuff. My dreams are to become an eccentric-but-adored-by-all-her-students English high school teacher, and work for the government teaching American kids that live on Air Force Bases with their parents in Europe or Japan. But this also leaves a very big question, namely what will happen to us in two years when we graduate?
We've talked about this before and we both agreed that it would be cruel to expect one to drop everything to follow the other. It wouldn't be fair and we both know that. He hasn't asked me to drop what I want to do for him and I haven't done it either. But... I don't know if I would be happy going to live in Europe or Japan if that meant leaving him. We've been in a committed, amazing, loving relationship since high school, and have been friends since before that, and I know that we would keep in contact and still remain close friends, but I keep getting this feeling that if leaving him would mean leaving something that A: I might never find again in a person and B: could really be something amazing for the rest of my life. But at the same time I don't want to give up something I've wanted ever since I was a little kid either.
I feel like I'm stuck between two scenarios that could seriously affect my future, or that maybe what I want in life is changing... but at the same time I also don't know how I would even go about thinking about which path to pick.
Oh, of course! Because there are only two paths. Just two. With two definite outcomes! One, the wildly successful career overseas that you’ve dreamed of since childhood... and the other, professional disappointment for you, but a wildly successful career as a billionaire business tycoon for the man you’ve loved since tenth grade. Yep, that’s it. And since those are your only options, it’s no wonder you’re having trouble deciding.
...Okay. But seriously? I love how you think those are your only options, but darling, those are not your only options. Not even close. And that’s even before the part where—and you might want to sit down and grab onto something, because Reality is coming at you like a freight train right now—the future you’re counting on is not a sure thing, but rather the ghost of a shadow of an outcome that might not even happen.
Because sadly, that thing we’ve all been told at some point by parents and teachers and well-meaning mentors, that “You can do anything if you dream big and work hard!” thing, is—and I am really, really sorry about this—a giant load of horse excrement. Hard work and big dreams are great, but they mean less than nothing without talent, temperament, drive, connections, or just the plain stupid luck that actually makes them happen.
And the bigger the dream, the harsher this reality gets. (In this case, I’m looking less at your plan and more at your boyfriend's “I’m going to make my own Walmart!” scheme—which, let's be real, is a whopper of a goal to have.)
I know, I know: and this day will forever go down in history as That Time Auntie SparkNotes Took A Big Fat Dump On Everyone’s Dreams.
But please, before you do anything else, allow in your own mind that there are many more than two possible scenarios at play, here. For instance:
- You could leave your boyfriend, move to Europe or Japan, meet and marry a more suitable man, and spend the rest of your life blissfully teaching English to your adoring students.
- You could give up your dreams, stay with your boyfriend, support him in all his endeavors, and take comfort in your ability to travel to Europe or Japan whenever you want to—y’know, on that private jet you two will inevitably be able to afford when he becomes the next Donald Trump.
- You could leave your boyfriend, move to Europe, and spend a year teaching English only to discover that your adoring students are more like ungrateful horrible hosebeasts and your new boyfriend is a jerk and furthermore, you think the Romantic poets are a bunch of clueless sods.
- You could leave your boyfriend, move to Europe, miss him terribly, and come home to be with him... except that while you were gone, he’ll have changed his mind about the whole “tycoon” thing, and is now working retail at a Dollar Tree and shacking up with a cougar named LaVerne.
- You could break up next year for reasons having nothing to do with your respective life goals, and this entire debate will be rendered moot.
Which brings me to this: you both are too old to be this dead set on such singular, specific outcomes for your lives... and to not be thinking about how your happiness might be achievable in the likely event that you don’t get every single thing you’ve ever wanted.
And now, with that in mind, here’s what I recommend: that you use the next two years to open your eyes, expand your mind, examine your priorities, and see how your dreams have evolved with the benefit of age, experience, education, and perspective... all with the luxury of not having to make a decision just yet. Forget the plan you've had since childhood; what does the person you are want now? And make sure to picture your life without him in it, too: left entirely to your own devices, how would you make yourself happy?
And at the end of that time, since your boyfriend will have done all this work, too, have a long, deep conversation about what you both want out of life—and, if the answer to that includes being together, whether either or both of you want to mold, trim, defer, or compromise some of your individual dreams in order to make it work. Maybe you’d enjoy teaching English right here in the States, and traveling the world on your summer breaks. Maybe your boyfriend would be perfectly happy to channel his ambitions into a job overseas with good pay and lots of leadership opportunities. Or maybe you’ll both find that compromise is impossible, and that the only solution is to go your separate ways.
Basically, I can't tell you what to choose. But in the end, it matters less what you decide than that your decision comes from a place of maturity, perspective, and the greatest possible self-awareness. And as long as that’s the case, you’ll be able to look back on whatever you choose—even if you eventually change your mind and have to retrace your steps—with no regrets.
Do you have big dreams for your future? Do you have medium-sized dreams in case the big one doesn’t work out? Tell us in the comments! And to get advice from Auntie, email her at email@example.com.
Related post: Let's Analyze Your Dreams