“I’ll give him six more months to pop the question, or it’s over.”
She’s approaching her 30th birthday, she has more than three years invested in the relationship and she’s giving her guy a deadline. She’s raised the issue before — commit or she’s gone — and now she’s doing it in earnest.
He has half a year to make up his mind. Period.
As I watch this scenario play out on a reality TV show, and my recounting of the circumstances is more or less what I recall, I know this to be a common situation. American women are (still) conditioned to see marriage as the brass ring, while many men remain reluctant to go “all in.”
Pushing Others for Decisions: Good or Bad?
Doling out of a deadline for a decision?
No doubt it is hard to do on so personal an issue as marriage. No doubt this young woman runs the risk of pushing her man away. No doubt her action also makes some sense. But what must it be like on the receiving end of what amounts to an ultimatum? To be pressured to make a decision that affects the rest of your life?
Deadlines are useful concept. For those who otherwise struggle to finish a task, to start a task, or to make a choice. A deadline may be a necessity, especially if there are consequences if you don’t meet it. As the powers of the carrot and the stick are concerned, deadlines are the sticks waiting to strike — only if a deadline really is a deadline.
Then again, a deadline could promise a prize upon timely completion. For example, meeting an aggressive deadline on a project may land you a bonus; at the very least, you may get a nod and a “well done.”
Deadlines Are Useful Teachers
As a parent, I’ve been on the Deadline Detail with my kids, setting goals and guidelines and timeframes for them when they were much younger. I imagine most parents could say the same. We impose those deadlines in some instances because there is a very real hard stop (end of year exams in school, SATs or other testing, applications to get into special programs and eventually, college). We also impose them so they will learn the importance of planning and time management, and something else.
Keeping their word.
In the business world in particular, if I don’t meet a deadline, I feel as if it reflects badly on my reputation. After all, when we work on projects with others, they rely on our commitments, don’t they? Don’t you want to work with someone — whatever the task — who keeps his or her word when he agrees to deliver by a certain time or date?
Deadlines Are Recognition of Dependencies
Deadlines remind us of dependencies. In the business world, if I give someone a deadline it is generally because other activities must flow from input I am provided, or completion of some task that must occur before I — or others — can begin, work on, or finish ours.
Thinking back to the woman who handed out the six month proposal deadline to her boyfriend, we can see the dependencies there as well. Her clock is ticking. She wants a home and children. She imagines a few years of marriage before having kids, so working back from the biological clock not to mention cultural expectations of three or four year relationship, she needs to know if she should move on. And she needs to know now. At least, she thinks so.
Her “moving on” timeframe would also involve healing from the hurt of this relationship ending, and then time and activities to date and potentially establish a committed relationship again.
Ugh… Due Dates!
As I was working toward a variety of gnarly deadlines in the past month — some for clients and one other for myself — I was trying to discern if these aggressive due dates were absolutely necessary. I also wondered if they were really imposed by others (or market forces), or by me, for me.
In one instance, the deadline was entirely arbitrary — a matter of pushing myself to complete something I’d been working on for a year. Because there was no compensation involved, the task at hand kept dropping to the bottom of my list. But the lower it fell and the more distant its completion became, the more I was irritated with myself. Setting a date by which it would be finished no matter what motivated me to tackle it and get it done.
I’ve used this method before, and it works.
Too Many Movable Deadlines = No Deadlines at All
A recent New York Times column asks us to consider why deadlines must be met, suggesting that we misuse the term and overuse the concept. After all, when we constantly allow target dates to fly by with little or no penalty — we’re talking about adults now — aren’t we contradicting the very notion and purpose of a deadline?
Writer Carl Honoré describes his view of deadlines in the article:
The truth is that deadlines are useful. They signal that something is important enough to deserve our immediate attention; they can also focus minds and spur us to action…
True that! For some of us, anyway.
Naturally, some deadlines cannot be met and in fact, it behooves us not to rush when the stakes are high. This is especially true when progress has been made although not as much as we may have hoped for. This is precisely the point in The Times piece when it comes to world leaders and diplomats who routinely miss target dates when dealing in critical diplomatic matters.
Toss the Deadlines! Slow Down!
I find it interesting that Mr. Honoré is a proponent of The Slow Down Movement. I like that. I’m a Type A… make that AAA… As a proponent of the principle that the more you do, the more you can do, with all its benefits, I’m also well aware of the serious problems inherent in living on the hamster wheel that is in perpetual motion. We should not spend our lives on Deadline Detail; we miss the proverbial “smelling of the roses.” Somehow, we need to exercise judgment as to when we should slow down — perhaps take a self-imposed time-out — and when we need to press on.
Still, I like deadlines and I don’t want to toss them. They help me plan, manage to plan, and visualize what I’m trying to accomplish. Deadlines help me be productive. Then again, I don’t like being on the receiving end of a deadline in which I have little or no say, or where I believe the time allowed for a decision or activity is unrealistic or unwarranted. And I dare say I wouldn’t like to be on the receiving end of “marry me by such-and-such a date or else…”
Just Another Pressure Tactic?
I certainly wonder if deadlines are imposed — both in business and our personal lives — as yet one more culturally accepted pressure tactic that some will respond to and others, ignore. I also wonder about the element of control on the part of the one who hands down the dated dictum, and the acquiescence or rebellion of the one who does or doesn’t fall in line.
Some deadlines are reasonable; we should do our best to abide by them. Some deadlines are unreasonable and we should say so. We can deliver, make an appearance, or offer a decision — but at a later time. Some deadlines can only be met if we turn ourselves inside out and sacrifice sleep, family time or other necessities to deliver. We need to know the difference among these situations, and also if the real issue is one of keeping our word.
In an unreliable (and too frequently irresponsible) world, that’s no small thing.
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