The Thing About Dating & Social Work

“How many social workers does it take to change a light bulb? Only one, but the light bulb has to want to change.”

A short while ago I met a fella for drinks. He intrigued me so much that I agreed to see him for lunch the very next day. A few days after lunch we had dinner. A few days after dinner we went to a movie. As our potential romance progressed I could not help but notice some funny things. Unsure of their significance, I placed these observations in what my former therapist calls an “emotional tickler file” to revisit when needed. By the time our final date ended, these curiosities stitched together enough red flags to satisfy Soviet Russia. I decided the time had come to move on.

When I informed my date of this decision he responded with, “As a social worker, I’m very surprised how quickly you give up on people.” His dig stung. But it did not sting for long, because here’s the thing about dating and social work.

Dating is dating. Social work is social work. Dating and social work need not overlap. Just because we social workers can use our perceptiveness to build meaningful relationships with almost anybody does not mean that we should. We must not settle for romantic partners that do not suit our personal needs. We cannot allow our compassion, our understanding, our keen ability to identify the strengths in others or our eternal hope for the best possible outcome to influence with whom we rendezvous.

Although any healthy relationship requires active listening and the provision of emotional support at times, social workers should be cautious to assume their professional roles when off the clock. Social workers spend their days empowering vulnerable, self-doubting, anxious individuals to realize their self-worth, their strengths and their inherent value. Social workers should not do this on dates. Social workers spend their days prioritizing the needs of others at the expense of their own while shouldering profound pain and suffering. Social workers should not do this on dates.

Social workers need stable, secure, self-actualized, confident, respectful and ambitious partners. We need partners that understand when we do not want to talk about our work, and that we most certainly do not want to continue it by providing clinical guidance into the evening.

The values of social work are ingrained into my very existence and I refuse to let its principles guide my romantic life. In social work we must always be cautious of dual relationships. We cannot provide care or emotional support to clients in multiple settings or roles. As daters, we must exercise this same caution towards dual (romantic) relationships. We cannot provide our dates or our partners with the same emotional support that we provide our clients. In the famous words of Tessie Hutchinson, “it isn’t fair, it isn’t right.”

Despite my date’s opinion, I am not a social worker giving up on him. I am just a lady who no longer wanted to date a man who made me feel like I never left work.

And that is about all I have to say about dating and social work.

7 thoughts on “The Thing About Dating & Social Work

  1. There will always be dates with their own baggage regardless of your job as a SW. You just need to find the one who kind of matches your own baggage and that you feel (as me and my peeps say) “do you want to look across and pass the salt to that dude for rest of your life” kind of thing.

  2. So much truth in this post! I also have a social work background and have had to work hard to avoid dating people who were “client material” rather than “Mr. Right material.” My most recent one spent most of our first date telling me about how his psycho ex wife came back to his house just before their divorce was final and OD’d in his house. Enough red flags (mentions of physical violence, tons of swearing, and more) in that one lengthy tale of woe that I knew I wasn’t up for a second date. I think your social work background is a huge asset in assessing character and behavior – use it to your advantage!

  3. I am a 70-year old retired Social Worker, spent nearly 50 years in “the business”, and I love reading every word you write. It’s all so familiar, including dating experiences. Thank you for taking me back in time those early days and experiences in our crazy, passionate profession. Hang in there, Banshee.
    Peace and All Good.

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