As Birch tells it, James and Lindsay met when they were 25-year-old med students. Pretty much right off the bat, they fell in love.
But when they started talking about more serious topics, Lindsay scared James by asking him where he saw himself in two years. It occurred to them both that they were, as Birch writes, "on totally different timelines."
Lindsay wanted to get married and start a family within the next two years; but James knew he would be caught up in the hardest part of his residency. With no resolution in sight, they broke up.
A month later, James couldn't stand how much he missed Lindsay. The two got back together for about a week, after which James experienced that same sense of things moving too fast and broke it off.
As of the publication of "The Love Gap," Lindsay was happily engaged to another man.
Reading (and re-reading) this story, I found myself wondering why Lindsay and James couldn't just work it out. Sure, their timelines differed, but they loved each other and loved being together — wasn't that enough?
Birch's answer: No. She encourages women (her target audience) to take timing and timelines seriously. Lindsay is a prime example: She may have still loved James, but ultimately she moved on with her life.
In fact, Birch documents a broader difference between the way men and women approach relationships, which comes down to timing. (Birch is careful to say that her findings don't apply to all men or all women.)
Many of the men Birch interviewed expressed that they wanted to feel settled professionally and financially before they pursued a relationship that could be "It."
One 24-year-old man, Isaac, told Birch explicitly: "Who I want to end up with is different from who I want to be with right now."
Isaac spelled it out: "The girl I want today likes to hang out, drink, is into music, binges on Game of Thrones. The girl I want to end up with has real interests and real hobbies — like running or something constructive. She has a real career. And the other girl, the one I want today, is still working towards a career."
Many of Birch's women friends and interviewees, on the other hand, were okay working on all areas of their life at the same time. And they were frustrated that the men they dated approached their lives more piecemeal.
Birch urges her women readers to take seriously what men are telling them.
She writes: "Sometimes, they just can't be in The Relationship at that very moment — or at least they can't give 100 percent to the gravity of dating and committing to an EG ["End Goal" woman, Birch's term for the women men ultimately want]. You should respect that, but know that you may need to make a hard decision accordingly."
It's worth noting here that women can also experience feelings of "too soon" in a relationship. On Mic, Kate Hakala writes about a man and woman who broke up twice before getting married — once when they were teenagers and once when the woman had just graduated and wasn't sure what she wanted to do with her life.
The woman told Hakala: ""I think I knew that if I got with him it'd be forever, and I just wasn't ready for that to start yet."
Regardless of whether a relationship ends with two people staying together or going their separate ways, the point is that each person should stay true to their values. Birch writes: "Lindsay ended up happily engaged to another man on her timeline, and I'd say that is a win, even though James was left wondering, What if?