On love in the time of medical school

Navigating love, relationships, and dating requires presence, honesty, time, and optimism– rare commodities for an MS1.

To date a peer in medical school is a dangerous game. Of course, no one else will understand the stresses and the struggles of lectures and eventually clinical rotations better than my peers. But, they will stay with me for the duration of medical school– meaning that a relationship gone sideways will have lasting consequences. A profoundly double-edged sword: the folks that I see everyday and understand me best are the ones that I see everyday.

It’s incredibly likely that I’ll meet my spouse in medical school or residency. This puts an odd, unstated pressure on the idea of dating within my class: a fast track to serious relationship, engagement, and eventual marriage.

Finding single folks has been quite a struggle, even ignoring the added grind of lectures and exams. And when I’ve found one, it feels like a game of charades trying to find out if we’re on the same page– a desire to date seriously? Something low-key and without frills? Does studying together count as a date? It’s hard enough to pass an exam with explicit learning objectives, but to successfully navigate the romantic landscape without clear mutual goals is practically impossible.

Many peers have entered MS1 with long-distance relationships. Some will go the distance, others will end by the first year. I find myself feeling jealous: they have the benefits of emotional intimacy that come with technology such as regular skype dates, phone calls, and text-based check-ins, without the commitment pressures of a burgeoning relationship such as feeling obligated to spend time with one another while you determine healthy boundaries.

As we adapt to the academic rigor, it’s easy to feel a bit lonely and wanting emotional intimacy and comfort. And this is where we enter the danger-zone. Dating for the sake of dating can start easily enough, but can spiral out to unforeseen consequences. Thus, the careful balancing act of wanting a partner and wanting to avoid a misstep with long-term ramifications.

Seeking a partner within the medical school is fraught with peril, but dating without the class is rife with misunderstanding. Communicating the lack of time and busy-ness is easy enough, but does not help maintain a connection. Dating a non-med student feels like starting a long-distance relationship, despite living a few blocks away.

Which brings us back to the med school class, because they understand the time restraints, the onslaught of assignments and required classes. Much like two American travelers meeting in a bar overseas, we have a common language, culture, and understanding of life that can make the rest of the world disappear. They relate and they feel just as alienated in a strange place.

Comfort can be mistaken for a true connection. Proximity can lead to attraction. Would I still want to date my peers, if outside of medical school? That’s a staggeringly difficult hypothetical situation to consider. Perhaps the travelers wouldn’t connect outside of that quiet dusty bar, but that’s where they are.

I’ve considered a possible work-around of this quagmire– pursuing MS2s. This would avoid the issue of long-term consequences and ramifications if things were to sour, but maintains the benefit of mutual understanding regarding lifestyle and time demands. But they endure a significantly more rigorous course load, and it is hard not to feel junior to them despite similar ages.

In short, there doesn’t seem an easy solution to this problem. I doubt there ever will be a clear-cut answer. Perhaps I am over-intellectualizing the problem, and that is the root of the issue– I need to think less and feel more. Life will not slow down for love; I must keep this forward momentum towards my future and so must my peers.

If I find my partner over the next few years, then I hope that I will be able to look up from my notebooks and recognize her, and that she can do the same.

3 thoughts on “On love in the time of medical school

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