Finding New Love, Leaving Behind the Old
November 13, 2006 7:56 PM   Subscribe

I am working on trying to get my romantic life in order, but I seem to get tripped on one issue - how do I handle the "gaps in my resume"?

I am working hard on getting my romantic life back in order and I seem to put up a red flag whenever I am asked about my romantic history.

First I haven't been in a relationship in about three years, this was owed to various things. I hoped to work things out with my ex, got my first grown-up job, and became a home owner in that period - it was a very busy time and part of me wanted to make sure my house was in good order. I am properly motivated now and there is nothing in past or present holding me back.

In my past attempts to re-enter the romantic world. I've explained this in more general terms "well I was very busy with my career, etc" it always gets me sideways looks. How do I handle this issue?
posted by Deep Dish to Human Relations (29 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Ermm... tell the truth?

"I was concentrating on getting my life together" or "...on building a firm foundation for myself" or such.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 8:04 PM on November 13, 2006

you needed time for yourself ... anyone who questions that or thinks it's strange is probably not someone you need to be with anyway

another way of putting it is, when things get to a certain point with another person, you may want to explain previous relationships, etc., but being by yourself for awhile doesn't need an explanation ... a lot of people go through that and it's good for them
posted by pyramid termite at 8:05 PM on November 13, 2006

Some people actually chose to be alone for periods of time. I've never known periods of ones life spent alone to be a liability on ones life resume.
posted by DieHipsterDie at 8:06 PM on November 13, 2006

I'd be more suspicious of somebody who lined up their SOs with no gaps then of someone with normal breaks in their dating life. Don't explain that single time away with your career, house, blah blah blah- plenty of people do those things AND have relationships, so I'm always suspicious if someone appears to be using them as an excuse to hideaway (maybe that means they'll use them as an excuse to be a jerk during our relationship?). You "hadn't met the right person". Leave it at that. If someone pushes the topic of conversation, be very, very wary.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 8:06 PM on November 13, 2006 [2 favorites]

I'm pretty much in the same boat (Just in case you were wondering if you were the only person in this situation).
posted by special-k at 8:08 PM on November 13, 2006

Meanwhile, can you describe the "red flags" and "sideways looks" a little further? I'm inclined to believe it's more your delivery than your 3 year single status that's bringing this up.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 8:11 PM on November 13, 2006 [1 favorite]

Make sure you have at least three good references lined up and use good, heavy-weight bond paper... wait, why are you worried about gaps in your relationship resume?

Seriously, asking anything more than very general questions about someone's relationship history on the first few dates is not generally done. If someone does ask and you feel self conscious about not having dated recently, say "I haven't met anyone lately that I really clicked with enough to go on more than a few dates."

If they press for more details they are either a) weird or b) insecure and worried about how they stack up.
posted by justkevin at 8:21 PM on November 13, 2006

I think that having these gaps between relationships is perfectly normal -- I've certainly done it before and have had many friends in similar situations. I think that thepinksuperhero might be right in that it's the delivery -- if you act like it's a bad thing, then people will react that way. If you act like it's a perfectly normal thing, then I'm sure people won't have a strange reaction to it. Happens all the time.
posted by echo0720 at 8:23 PM on November 13, 2006

There is no such thing as a gap in ones dating resume as far as I am concerned. Some people are always dating someone and some people, myself included, are not. I would not worry about it, I'd just concentrate on saying that you were working on things that were important to you, as you have stated, and that required enough effort that you were too busy and focussed to also want to be dating or what have you. I'd use this as an opportunity to talk a little bit more about yourself in a good way. The way you phrase it "focussing on career" makes it seem like you might be doing that while you were IN a relationship; I'd spell it out more like you did above.
posted by jessamyn at 8:25 PM on November 13, 2006

How about,

1)"I didn't have much time to date."


2)"I was waiting for you."

Just kidding on the second one, seriously though I think that normal people have at least some gaps and many for several years. Just explain that nothing really created a spark. If they interrogate you extremely on this issue then just redirect the subject to an area where you are more comfortable or to a more distant relationship. Usually people are not asking to make sure you have had a recent girlfriend and more to gain insight into how your other relationships went or ended. Remember if they are out on a date with you at all or asking about this stuff then they are interested in learning about you as a person and what is important in your life, not cataloging resume 'gaps.'
posted by occidental at 8:26 PM on November 13, 2006

You sound like a normal motivated young person. If your absence from the dating scene bothers someone it is likely their problem. You are what you are. And you sound fine, just nervous. Every question asked does not demand a full chapter of explanation.
posted by JayRwv at 8:29 PM on November 13, 2006

I suspect "I was very busy with my career" may be coming across as "I am a total workaholic who will never have any time to spend with you, and women have left me over this issue in the past." At least, it certainly has the potential to do so.

I might lean toward an explanation that makes it sound more like you chose not to pursue relationships, rather than one that might be ambiguously interpreted to mean that you drove women off (because it sounds like that's the truth?). Any of the suggestions above, along the lines of "I was focusing on other things, and wanted to wait until I had more time and energy to really focus on someone," would certainly not set off any red flags for me. (Of course, I also tend to be a bit suspicious of people who jump from relationship to relationship, so I can't say the three-year gap would bother me at all.)
posted by occhiblu at 8:35 PM on November 13, 2006

I agree with ThePinkSuperhero: It does seem like your delivery might be the problem here.

Lets take your example: "Well I was very busy with my career" Perhaps the woman in question thinks that you won't have any time for her if you get into a serious relationship, that you'll be too "career-driven" in the future.

Maybe a more detailed conversation would help. Instead of the general "I was getting my life together," you could discuss the career and the house (but probably not the ex). It would give her the chance to know you better, and it would help steer the conversation away from a perceived "failure" (although time spent alone is no such thing) towards something you're more successful at, putting yourself in a more positive light.
posted by JDHarper at 8:45 PM on November 13, 2006

Not sure where you're from, but my friends and I would never consider a "gap" in one's "dating resume" to be a bad thing -- or a good thing. It's just life, and everyone's differs. Some people (like me) have never dug the whole dating scene, and prefer, instead, to meet prospective mates by cultivating friendships, first. Other people just want to be single for awhile. I did. I've been with my guy four years, but was flying solo for about the same amount of time before him, simply because I WANTED to.

So, really, any potential love interest worth his or her salt, won't give a damn whether or not there's a gap in your dating history. Relationships might be work, but they're not jobs -- at least, they shouldn't be!
posted by Teevee's Bella at 8:51 PM on November 13, 2006

I agree with TPS. Nothing wrong with some downtime between relationships. Sure, it's one thing to wish there wasn't so much downtime in your own dating history, but it doesn't sound like that's the case here. You were busy, you had to get your shit in order, and that next woman just around the corner is going to benefit from the work you've been doing on yourself. That's the way I'd like to think about it, anyway.

Those people who make sure they always land on their feet (in someone else's bed) every time one of their relationships ends are people I can't relate to very well.
posted by emelenjr at 9:06 PM on November 13, 2006

Is is possible that you're making a problem out of something that isn't? I'm 26 and have a group of friends that of similar age, and about 4 of them have not been in serious relationships since (mid)college. If I were looking to start a relationship with someone and they were like "so let's touch on why you were single for 3 years again, it just doesn't make sense" I would stare at them blankly and say "what exactly is the problem?"

Honestly, the problem isn't with you. You seem to have your shit together and people who get hung up on this issue are likely not worth your time. What people said above - focus on the delivery of this message. However, even if the delivery comes out ass backwards, this shouldn't trip anyone up who is worth the effort.
posted by littlelebowskiurbanachiever at 9:07 PM on November 13, 2006

Ditto on the concept that there's no such thing as an inappropriate gap in your dating, and ditto on the idea that it may be the way you're presenting that fact that's getting you into trouble.

There's nothing wrong whatsoever with having been out of the dating game, for any amount of time. First thing to do is convince yourself of that. Hopefully, reinforcement from all of these fine people will help. :)

After that, just be yourself with the question. You had other priorities. You pursued them. You're a self-determined, self-motivated person. That's a good thing. Present it as such, and any right-thinking potential date is going to see those things as assets, not liabilities. If not, it probably wouldn't work out with that person anyway.
posted by Brak at 9:27 PM on November 13, 2006

This reminds me very much of the guy who didn't talk to his family and didn't know how to "explain" it to people on dates. So, the answer's the same. Your dates almost certainly don't care, and if you're just out on a casual date, early in the relationship, they don't even have a right to know.

This is only an issue for you, and as everyone's saying above, it's probably the fact that you bring it up at all, or the way you talk about it when you do, that's the problem. If there even is one.

Think about it this way.

You're on a date and she says "so, have you always lived in Wisconsin?" and you say cheerfully and with a smile, "No, actually for a while I lived in Canada".

Now replay it like this:

You're on a date and she says "so, have you always lived in Wisconsin?" and you look embarrassed, cast your eyes down and mumble, "No, er, actually, er, no for a while I lived in ... Canada" and change the subject. Now she's freaked out and she thinks you were in jail or something.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 10:09 PM on November 13, 2006

@AmbroseChapel: I think you nailed it.

The reason you're getting odd reactions to your "gaps" is because you're acting so shifty about responding to questions. If you gave a potential date the same explanation that you gave in the question here, you probably wouldn't get any sidelong glances. Heck, it could probably be a lead-in to a very nice, emotional conversation -- if you wanted it to be.

It's all in how you answer the question. If you act like there is something suspicious or odd in your history -- and "I was very busy with my career" is pretty shifty (prison? workaholic?) -- then people are going to sense that.

It's all about the appearance. You can make something totally innocent seem untoward, if you describe it in a certain way (you can likewise do the opposite, though it's arguably unethical).
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:13 AM on November 14, 2006

I think the problem is that it's hard for your dates to believe, given your rationale. "I hoped to work things out with my ex, got my first grown-up job, and became a home owner in that period" are all common situations in which many other people manage to have a romantic/sexual life at the same time. So, it sounds like there's something to your story that you're not telling, which is to say, it sounds like you're lying. And lying in response to a question about your past relationships is going to put up a red flag, because it suggests that you have something to hide.

Don't lie. What do you mean, you hoped to work things out with your ex? Do you mean that she wouldn't answer your calls and you stood outside her window with flowers every night for three years? Or do you mean that you and she had a troubled, off-and-on relationship that neither of you could bring yourselves to end? And if that's what the story is, just say that. It sounds like the real answer is in there, and has little or nothing to do with you becoming a homeowner. And if starting your career really is part of the reason, you need to explain that further, e.g. 'My career is really important to me, and I was really nervous coming out of college, and I could see a lot of my friends messing up their own chances for quick advancement by partying every night, and I resolved that wasn't going to happen to me, and I just decided not to get involved with anything that wasn't work-related until I felt completely comfortable in the new job, maybe it was a bit obsessive, but it's worked for me...." etc.
posted by bingo at 5:37 AM on November 14, 2006

who the hell asks for dates and years? are all the chicks youre dating working in Human Resources in some big company?
posted by yeahyeahyeahwhoo at 6:16 AM on November 14, 2006

I can think of a few fears that might be behind the sideways looks you're getting. Could they be worried you're clumsy or inexperienced? Could they be afraid you're still hung up on your ex? (Sure, you know you won't dump a new girlfriend to go back to her, but your new girlfriend doesn't know that. Nobody in their right mind starts a relationship with someone who's still pining for the last one.) Could they be wondering if you're gay? (A surprising number of otherwise sane and progressive women seem to worry about this.)

Frankly, some women trust their friends' opinions more than their own. Some of them might just be worried that other women don't like you — and therefore that their friends won't like you and you'll wind up being a social liability.

You could give up on dating and start meeting women through your friends, who can presumably vouch for you as a worldly, stable, straight and likeable guy. Or you could figure out ways to project that image yourself. In my experience, that's what the first few dates are about anyway: establishing some sort of chemistry, sure, but also reassuring the other one that you're sane enough, nice enough and all around promising enough to be worth knowing better.
posted by nebulawindphone at 7:17 AM on November 14, 2006

Check out this similar question from not too long ago for additional comments. In this case it was a woman doing the asking, if not necessarily for exactly the same reasons. I believe the consensus was "be honest about it if it comes up, don't obsess on it, and don't worry - it's not a big deal"
posted by kookoobirdz at 7:19 AM on November 14, 2006

You sound a lot healthier than someone who does the Tarzan thing with relationships: never letting go of one vine unless another is visibly within reach. Tell the truth and most people who aren't "serial monogamists" won't skip a beat.
posted by availablelight at 8:09 AM on November 14, 2006

First off, don't let it be "OH MY GOD I WAS SINGLE FOR YEARS!"Just as Ambrose Chapel said you can end up looking as if you were in prison, you can also look like you were the unwilling model for a chastity belt. Neither of these is an attractive situation. Be honest, but be comfortable with what you choose to say about your history. You are not in any way obligated to give a total stranger the complete 411 on the first date, so don't (unless you want to). If you come off as comfortable in your own skin and station in life, then most people are going to accept that you are, in fact, comfortable with yourself. "I was dating a girl for a while and it was on-again/off-again, and by the time we got around to actually breaking up, I was really busy with my job and buying my house. And then just being a home owner took up a lot of my time! But now things have settled down a lot." Fair enough, particularly if you can show her the months-long landscaping projects or whatever.

Secondly, there is nothing wrong with choosing to remain single or with being a serial monogamist, or anything in between. You need to believe that you're not in some way damaged goods, and give yourself a clean slate, and then do the girl the same courtesy and give HER a clean slate. Your history has shaped who you are but it doesn't have to own you.
posted by Medieval Maven at 9:20 AM on November 14, 2006

How about "I just never met anyone in that time that appealed to me"?
posted by mr_silver at 9:38 AM on November 14, 2006

I scrolled all the way to the bottom to say the exact same thing as Mr_Silver.

The punk.
posted by klangklangston at 11:05 AM on November 14, 2006

Oh, for chrissake. If "gaps in my relationship resume" is something that's considered a problem, shoot me now. It's not like that's 100% under your control anyway when other people have to consent to dating your ass :P

Besides, some people go without a date for 8 whopping years before they break the streak and manage to marry the streak-breaker. (Not that I have so far, but I sure am working on that 8 years, I suspect.)
posted by jenfullmoon at 1:17 PM on November 14, 2006

I just want to say -- your situation strikes me as 100% normal and believable. My two friends that just bought houses barely have time for a real phone conversation, much less the energy to go out and find dates.
posted by salvia at 2:05 AM on November 16, 2006

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