Singers: it's time to expand your dating poolEditorial
Readers, how many of you know an “industry couple”? A pair of singers who are dating, or maybe some romantic combination of singer and pianist/stage manager/director/conductor? If you’ve been nosing around opera folk for any time at all, it’s not hard to see that intra-industry dating is really, really common. It also makes a lot of sense, considering the huge amounts of time these people spend together during their school years and in their professional circles. They also share a powerful passion, one that can be a bit niche when you venture out into the broader world of people and their interests.
Just like with any other couple on earth, there are opera-industry romances that are successful, and ones that aren’t. There are fiery affairs that make for gossip-laden rehearsal rooms, and there are long-term partnerships that are fruitful not only for the people in them, but sometimes for the industry itself; more than a few opera companies have been founded, at least in part, out of a desire for two people to work together on something substantial.
So, with all this fiery passion and these fruitful partnerships, why would singers want to seek romance from anyone but fellow industry folk?
Fair question, especially if you’re one of those people whose intra-industry dating has never - not even once - made your life hell. For us mere mortals, our opera-centric dating/canoodling has made for some offstage drama that frankly gets old really quickly: rehearsals that are so awkward you want to pull your own teeth out, intimate spats getting accidental air time among the natural heirarchy between conductor and singer/pianist/concertmaster, and the good old-fashioned joy of two competitive people vying for limited work in the same circles. How fun.
More importantly, dating within one’s industry - any industry at all - can be an isolating experience. Two singers may find comfort in their shared vocabularies and social circles and inside jokes, but part of dating is about looking up from all things “You” and getting to know all things “Unfamiliar” (OK, maybe not all things).
“Why don’t you try dating, like, not a musician?” you may have been advised. It’s sage advice, if a little vague. Understandably, there are some common retorts to the suggestion of extra-industry romance:
“Non-musicians won’t really ‘get’ me.”
What an unsubstantiated assumption! First of all, classical musicians (and singers in particular) tend to have this funny idea that their work, their worlds, are unique to the point that they’re almost impossible to describe to the layperson. There’s no way an outsider would understand a heavy workload, a volatile schedule, and a competitive industry, right? Maybe we’re being a bit glib, but what’s important to remember is that a singer’s life is certainly interesting, but it’s not as special as we may imagine it to be.
That means there’s an easy solution to the problem of “they won’t get me”: explain it to them. If your date doesn’t understand the passion you have for your work, or why you’re willing to dedicate such long, thankless hours to it, then the problem isn’t that they’re not a musician; it’s that they just don’t get it. Hell, you may share drinks with a brain surgeon who’s been through more school and more practical hours than you have, and they still might not give two flying farts about singing. That’s not personal, that’s dating.
Being in search of someone who “gets” you isn’t a bad thing; it’s a big part of what we’re all after on the hunt for love. Along that road, be brutally honest with yourself about the difference between finding someone who “gets” you and what you do, and finding someone who will be a cheerleader to you through your professional ups and downs. When you’re asking yourself, does this person really understand what I do and what I’m about?, be sure that you’re not instead asking, will this person tell me I’m doing amazing work every day?
One question isn’t inherently more worthy than the other, but knowing the difference will help you to understand what you need and want out of a relationship. Singers are subject to a lot of rejection and criticism in their professional lives, and having a cheerleader is important. Be open to the idea that your professional cheerleader and your romantic partner may not end up being the same person. There’s enormous value in having a partner who, without the same blind loyalty to the music/opera industry as you have, will ask you a frank question like, “Is this all truly worth it?” Singers, when you hear a question like this, it’s your responsibility to discern between what’s a challenge, and what’s a query.
“Who else am I ever going to meet?”
A fair question, uttered from the mouths of singers whose schedules are basically on-call and unpredictable, and whose colleagues and friends are a huge overlap of the same people.
Thankfully, it’s 2017, and online dating is long-past its days of seediness and slim pickings - so that means the answer to this question is, “PEOPLE ON THE INTERNET”. Dating apps are actually pretty perfect for singers and anyone else with a nomadic lifestyle, since even before going to the trouble of meeting for a date, you can tell prospective picks where you are and for how long. It means you can be both upfront and casual, and you can meet people who aren’t going to give you a hard time about the fact that you may not be back in town for a few weeks or even months.
On top of having more choices and less wasted time, here’s the real beauty of embracing online dating apps: you can have your date, and not have to bring any of it to work with you the next day. If you’re going to pursue something short-term, why not do it with someone who isn’t your director or your chorus director or your - shudder - wardrobe fitter?
“What will we have in common?”
This one is likely the fear about dating “outsiders” that is most deeply rooted. Musicians who whittle their lives down to their careers realize it at some point or another, and so when they’re faced with the idea of conversing with someone who doesn’t know their da capo from their elbow, it can feel as though they’ve been painted into a corner. Without the shorthand of your musical colleauges to rely on, your social skills might indeed be a bit stunted - but there’s no way to strengthen a weak muscle except by exercising it.
It’s healthy and head-clearing to remind yourself that you really do have other things to talk about besides your work. And if you find that you don’t - that you can’t open up about yourself without mentioning your Fach - that’s an even more valuable lesson to learn about yourself. If you’re at a literal loss for words on a date, the it never fails to keep asking the other person questions about themselves. And remember this: the kind of people you want to welcome into your life are the kinds who won’t be turned off by what you haven’t done (geocaching, whisky tasting, roller derby); just like you’ll be eager to share your world with others, the keepers in life are the ones who want to be there with you as you try new things.
Having a partner who isn’t a musician will also be a great way of making sure you don’t lose your friends in the process of gaining a romantic relationship; you’ll always need to have those cathartic, industry-specific conversations with people who get your shorthand, and it’s a beautiful thing to have a few things that remain specially reserved for you and your singer friends.
A word on all of this: even if you find true, everlasting love in a fellow singer, you still need to address all of these same things. Life is bigger than one’s work, and it’s certainly bigger than music and opera.