Love, Work, and Friends: You Actually Can Have It All, With One Caveat

You can have it all, but not all at once.

Posted May 27, 2011

Back when I was a corporate lawyer working 70+ hours a week, I came across this poem:

You Want a Social Life, With Friends

You want a social life, with friends.

A passionate love life and as well

To work hard every day.

What's true Is of these three you may have two

And two can pay you dividends

But never may have three.

There isn't time enough, my friends--

Though dawn begins, yet midnight ends--

To find the time to have love, work, and friends.

Michelangelo had feeling

For Vittoria and the Ceiling

But did he go to parties at day's end?

Homer nightly went to banquets

Wrote all day but had no lockets

Bright with pictures of his Girl.

I know one who loves and parties

And has done so since his thirties

But writes hardly anything at all.

---by Kenneth Koch

Koch's poem struck such a chord that I taped it over my desk where I could read it every day. At that time, I had work, plenty of it, and a relationship, but what I really craved was a Social Life, With Friends. One of the first things I'd learned as a young law associate was to stop making evening plans, because 9 times out of 10 I had to cancel them for yet another late night at the office.

Then, after seven years of seventy-hour workweeks, I quit practicing law, ended the relationship I was in, and plunged into the New York City social swirl. For a few years, I went out every night, just like Homer with his banquets. (I look back on this period with amazement, but even then, I socialized introvert-style, at every party sticking to the edge of the room or curled up on a sofa with wine glass in hand, enjoying "real" conversations with kindred-looking spirits.)

I had work, too. I started my writing career and paid the bills with consulting gigs.

What I did not have was love. I dated a lot, but there were no Michelangelos to my Vittoria. Nor did I crave attachment (which is unusual for me, but there you are -- life unfolds in phases).

Then I fell in love with my husband-to-be, we had kids, and I entered today's phase, brimming with love and work (and love of work). What I don't have time for now is maintaining all the friendships I made during my Social Life phase. I try to keep them going virtually and with occasional visits, but it's not enough, and I feel badly about it. Too often I rely on friends' forbearance and understanding. Recently I gave a negotiation seminar, and a few friends attended. It was the first time I'd seen them in person in OVER FIVE YEARS.

But the balance will shift again, in time. One day our kids will decide that their parents are ancient and annoying, and then I expect I'll see my friends once more.

This is why I think Kenneth Koch was incredibly wise. The conventional wisdom is that you can't do it all. But he said you can. Just not all at once.

How about you? I'm curious whether any of this rings true.

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