Are You Drawn To High-Risk Dates?
If you think the sense of danger surrounding military personnel, police officers and EMTs makes them sexy, your thrills could turn to worry in a hurry. Learn how to handle high-risk dating here.
or Jennifer Worick, it was the call from Quantico that did it: "I interviewed this FBI agent for a story, and the first time I talked to him, he called me from Quantico," says the coauthor of such books as My Fabulous Life and The Action Heroine's Handbook. "Obviously, that's pretty hot."
We've all had fantasies about hooking up with the police officers, detectives and firefighters who appear on our favorite TV shows night after night. And why wouldn't we? They're brave, they're forceful, and they're able to put the
kibosh on a serial killer or save a toddler from a burning building without even mussing their hair. "Anyone who's in law enforcement, firefighting, rock climbing or race car driving has a personality that's not risk-adverse," says Worick, who — seduced by the glamour and intrigue of an FBI job — briefly dated the aforementioned special agent. "For those of us who value our lives a bit more, this can be really alluring."
|My heart would skip a beat if I heard a knock at the door and wasn't expecting company.|
When excitement turns to worry
But dating someone in a high-risk job isn't just about receiving exciting phone calls from top-security government locations or donning bits of your date's uniform during foreplay. Dating someone who works in a dangerous profession can also mean plenty of anxious hours spent on your own, wondering if your sweetie has been injured — or worse.
"Deployment was tough on me," says Kristal B., 31, of Vancouver, WA, whose boyfriend of five years has seen action twice with the U.S. Army. "I had lost a friend to combat in Iraq less than six months before Jason left [the first time]. To say I was nervous would be an understatement." Kristal also says that while Jason was away, she couldn't even listen to the nightly news without flinching whenever they mentioned a soldier who'd been killed in action. Even unexpected visitors caused her grief. "My heart would skip a beat if I heard a knock at the door and wasn't expecting company," she explains. "I hoped there wouldn't be bad news on the other side."
Christine W., a 42-year-old counselor from Seattle, WA, says she's only had a couple of anxious moments regarding her firefighter boyfriend Brad's well-being… but she acknowledges there are definitely sacrifices that must be made due to his job. "One time we stayed up really late and he only got a couple of hours of sleep, and then I didn't have time to get him any breakfast the next day," she recalls. "And he had to fight a fire that day — and then had fire after fire [to deal with]. I felt guilty and realized that I can't be a bad influence [on him]; I can't be selfish. He has to get his sleep before his shift because if he's not awake and alert, other people could be in danger."
Other downsides to high-risk dating are more about frustration than fear. "For me, the biggest issue — by a mile — was scheduling," says Kelly M., a writer and yoga teacher from New York, NY who says that she can't remember dating someone who "didn't know how to use a weapon or drop a bomb." Kelly says that "it's more or less impossible to plan anything because their jobs are not normal 9-to-5 jobs. They're jobs that are tied to cases they're working on or a deployment they're preparing for. You have to be prepared for last-minute cancellations or time away [from each other]. It's a lot of upheaval, and it can be exhausting to deal with."
Scheduling has also been an issue for Jess F., a 35-year-old grocery store manager from Woodinville, WA who dated (and then married) a police officer. "I don't worry about her being safe — she's been trained and she's careful — but it's not a 9-to-5 job, and we have a baby," he says. "It's definitely something to get used to."
Why compartmentalizing job-related stress is crucial
According to Dr. Stephen Treat, director and CEO of the Council for Relationships in Philadelphia, PA, "dangerous dating" isn't
for everybody. "If you're a highly anxious or obsessive person and you hear about some danger your partner was in, and you can't get it out of your mind and go over and over it again and again, you may want to rethink things," he says. "You might be better off dating an accountant or a school teacher. The worst possibility there is that somebody would throw an eraser at him or her."
|Other downsides to high-risk dating are more about frustration than fear.|
For couples who want to carry on despite these issues, though, Treat says that it's important to recognize some of the hallmarks of these risk-laden jobs. "One of the difficulties if you're working in a very dangerous profession is [learning how] to compartmentalize — to separate your emotions from your intellect," he says. "We can't have our policemen and firemen being reactive and emotional. They have to make split-second decisions, and to do that, they have to compartmentalize at a big level, but when you separate your emotion and your intellect, it's hard to become intimate and close with a partner." As a result, firefighters, police officers, soldiers and others in similar professions may be hesitant to share their feelings or vulnerabilities, even though talking about their fears can be beneficial. "If you talk about things, they don't get so large," explains Treat.
Make an effort to play up the positives
Dangerous dating isn't all bad, though. Kristal is proud of her boyfriend's military service — and, despite all the anxiety she experienced regarding his two deployments overseas (he made it home safe both times), she says that she wouldn't have it any other way. "Spending time with my best friend is worth it," says Kristal. Christine says that she likes her firefighter boyfriend's regular schedule (he works 24 hours on the clock, and then has 48 hours off) and she especially appreciates the fact that he's not overly dramatic about it. "In previous relationships, I got used to drama and weirdness and miscommunication," Christine says. "But with him, the drama all happens at work. Plus, he's doing something meaningful. It makes me happy that he helps people for a living. I wasn't one of those firefighter aficionados before, but now I am!"
Remember that fantasy doesn't always equal reality
Those thinking about seeking out a firefighter, soldier, special agent or paramedic simply for the glamour (or bragging rights) that come along with the territory may want to heed Worick's words when she says that, for her, the reality didn't match up with the fantasy of her high-risk romance. "On the first date, the FBI guy showed up 45 minutes late because he'd been looking for free parking, which wasn't a quality I had associated with a special agent," Worick says. "The real guy couldn't compete with the image I had in my head. Needless to say, things fizzled fast."
Diane Mapes is a freelance writer based in Seattle and the author of How to Date in a Post-Dating World. She can be reached via her Web site, dianemapes.net.