When both partners in a relationship work, it can be difficult to balance love with career. Modern romance often means no one is home to make dinner, and quality time can be hard to find. Over at US News and World Report today, I talk about the ten ways to still find success as a couple while pursuing a career. Read it here.
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Ever since we moved, I have been doing projects. A lot of them. Whereas other people will spend money on clothes and beer, I will spend money on molding, paint, and shelving. Part of my obsession is that I have a design background, but most of it is that I am an extreme nester. God help me when we decide to get pregnant.
Needless to say, it’s a problem.
Especially since I work from home. I can’t concentrate until everything is done and put in it’s place. Or mostly done. And then, without fail, with every project, there is a moment. A sense of dread. Total exasperation. Exhaustion.
This time around it was the paint. Well, it is always the paint. We didn’t paint our last place, thank God. It was already white. I like white walls. A lot. But we painted two places ago. Or rather I painted everything and twice. And we painted the place before that, and we painted this place.
Every time, it is a nuisance. You always forget how hard painting really is. How long it takes to put up the stupid blue tape, how annoying it is to do two coats, because you really thought it would take just one. Humans have evolved to intentionally forget such things.
I always look forward to painting, until I want to stab Ryan in the head with a brush and the color is completely off despite trying seven, eight, nine samples. I hate painting. Let this post allow me to never forget.
Ryan claims he never forgot, but he helps me anyway. And while I am freaking out that the white may be too white, Ryan is saying phrases like “Let’s let it dry,” and “We need to do a second coat,” and “Oh, I’m really starting to like it,” as fast as he can manage.
Then finally, we are done.
I don’t hate it, but I don’t love it. The next morning, it’s liveable. The next day, it’s growing on me. And in a few days, I’ve decided it’s the perfect color. How could I have ever thought otherwise? My heart swells I love it so much. (“Let’s paint the bedroom now,” I exclaim. Ryan hopes that I am kidding.)
Transition times are tough. When paint dries, you can literally see the color changing, your paint strokes disappearing, and your walls going from one state to another. In life, it’s not as cut and dry. Like when you get a promotion, and suddenly your slammed with more work than you can seemingly handle. Or when you start a side job, and you’re juggling multiple missions at once. Or when you get to know your boyfriend’s family and they drive you up the wall.
There will be that moment. The one where you have no idea what you were thinking. But give it time. Transitions need time. You have to settle in, find your new habits, define a different self. Your mental and physical memories, ingrained in your everyday, will push back. You’ll want things to stay the same. You’ll want to be the same person, do the same things. You’ll try to retreat. Change will seem much more of a nuisance than it’s worth.
But then the paint will dry. (I promise.) You’ll wake up the next day and life will be a little easier. And things will be a little easier the day after that. Until you couldn’t imagine anything different. And you’ll forget all the bad stuff until next time, thank God.
So if you’re in a transition, know that it will be difficult. Even when it’s not supposed to be. Even when it’s something good and exciting and amazing. It’s still going to be tough.
Just give it time. And maybe a second coat.
Airports are particularly filthy places, no matter who you are. No matter what seat you’re in on the plane, everyone has to sit on the same toilet seats in the airport. Or hover, if you’re smart.
I’m not a germaphobe by any means, at least not yet, but airports get to me in a way that other public transportation doesn’t. I’m always looking to count on the goodness of my fellow travelers; but it’s usually about a fifty-fifty split as to who surprises me, for better or for worse.
One of the ideas that I put out there at the beginning of the year was that I wanted to travel more, and indeed, I have taken more trips in the last year than I probably have in my life. And each time, I feel all that is more around me, all that is bigger than myself, and it makes me want.
I get that you can make any city work for you. I’ve been making Madison work for me for almost ten years (oh my lord). And when others would complain about Madison (which they did a lot), I was the one to persuade its virtues (which I did a lot).
So no, this was not my first choice. Or second. Or even third, really.
Following my boyfriend for the good of his career is not my dream. Countless friends have been picked off the career ladder for just this reason and I have always held fast to my ambition during the barrage.
I’ve never had any intention of leaving my career – or my home. But as months, and then years started to separate me from my idealism, I saw in ways that I didn’t understand before how easily people can settle. How it wouldn’t matter much what the next job was because the trappings of work would still be the same, so you settle. Really great positions and ideas and causes can supersede the trappings, but still you come to rest.
So in less than two weeks, Ryan and I have settled everything, but in a different manner entirely. In two weeks more, we will have moved and all the way to Washington, DC. I will work remotely – Alice.com is graciously letting me keep my position. I’ve rented out my condo. Ryan will open a new Brazen office. And we’ve found a great new place to call home. Ryan has lived in DC before, but it will all be new to me.
As I write this, I’m no longer in the airport, but on the plane. It is the time on the flight when everyone is curiously quiet – the babies are suckling, the old men are sleeping, and the young women are reading. Outside the window is a bit of how large the world is, and then, as the aerial views are covered with a blank slate of clouds, how large it could be.
We won’t be in DC long – I’m still holding out for my first choice, after all – but we will be there long enough. Long enough, I think, for an adventure.
Ryan is so very tall and my condo is so very small. So it was not without reservation that we recently moved in together. We talked about it a lot – the important things, the mundane, the humdrum. In talking about moving in together, we broke our record in effective communication. And then we talked some more. “If we could communicate like this for the rest of our lives,” Ryan said, “we’d be the best couple ever.” And so it went… until.
You know, moving is very stressful, and moving in with someone you intend to spend your life with is this gigantic life decision, and somehow all of the pressure and insanity of it all got put into one question – did we need to buy another dresser?
Perhaps the most romantic notion I had of combining our belongings and everyday lives was that we would be able to use my library card file (currently in use as my sock drawers) as our dresser. But, no. No, no, no. Ryan needed a place to store his t-shirts. All forty-six of them. And he didn’t find it at all romantic, never mind practical, to store a lone t-shirt per tiny drawer.
I won’t take this moment to comment on the romanticism or practicality of forty-six t-shirts, but I do recommend that you, my dear reader, come to your own conclusion on that point.
Besides his t-shirts, Ryan also likes to hang his towel on the closet door instead of the towel hook we bought specifically for the purpose. He takes out the trash and cleans if I cook. I don’t know when, but he watches ESPN because that’s the channel that appears when I turn on the TV. I am always on the computer and he is always on the phone. He leaves his eye glasses on the bathroom counter, but little else. His shoes are lined up across the top and bottom shelves of our closet, and underneath the bed. Waiting for Cribs, I guess.
He overtakes our small white couch like a dog. If Ryan could be animal, he has said that he would want to be a big, slow dog, so please don’t think I am insulting my incredibly sexy boyfriend publicly. Well, a dog or a lion, he said. There are a lot of similarities.
He has a repertoire of several particularly esteemed dishes that he can cook: pork chops, meat spaghetti – in which the spaghetti is actually egg noodles – and chicken and broccoli “stir-fry.”
He locks the door when he leaves in the morning and says to me when he’s home: “You know you don’t have to lock the door when I’m here, right? I will protect you.”
“It’s a habit,” I reply.
He opens the shower curtain from the wrong side, and never closes the blinds. If you touch him when he’s not expecting it, he will unreasonably flinch and exclaim “ow!” like he means it.
When we watch a movie, he will lie down and I will lie down, and we will spoon and watch the screen and out the sixth-story window. When I get too tired, I will turn around and settle into his chest, and he will kiss my forehead and I will go to sleep.
Ryan moved in on the anniversary of our first kiss.
This weekend, I think we’ll buy a dresser.
Quick, which is more difficult – work or life?
Up until a year ago, both competed for my attention, each piling weight onto the seesaw to rise towards the favored position. A year ago, however, I started working at Alice and Ryan and I started hitting our stride (both of which were not without challenges, however… many, many challenges).
While working for a start-up demands hours, it demands more in mental energy, in spikes of time about as predictable as a bingo game, where the only invariable is that you know work will be stop and go. This means it’s often difficult to separate work and life, especially in the statuesque pursuit of balance, but while I used to recognize and promote blur, I’m now mindful of the distinct delineation between the two.
Smart people don’t balance two sides of the same coin – your work and life are, after all, inseparable from the backbone of your binding. You can’t push one to one side and one to the other and hope equilibrium presents itself because the entities are glued to each other and to you.
What I mean, for example, is that I cannot see Ryan and refrain from discussing at length our work. I have long agreed that behind every good man is a good woman, and likewise, the same holds true for Ryan and I on both sides. While he is the one that shows up to Brazen headquarters each day, my ideas fill his head. While I’m the one who walks into Alice each morning, Ryan’s sense and advice follows me.
More to the point, I guess, is that there is a mutual respect for what we choose to do with the majority of our day and into the night, and sometimes into our sleep and into dreams. Although when we do relate to each other our dreams from the night before, it’s not very likely to include the mention of a spreadsheet.
Right now, Ryan is across the street from me working. His offices are located diagonal from my condo, but I have yet to see him this week except for when he dropped me off from our weekend in Philly together on Sunday. I was working on a Wall Street Journal exclusive early this week, and he’s working on big plans for Brazen later this week. We also have friends, family, a basketball league, dance classes, books, blogs, grocery shopping, the gym, bill-paying and other magnitudes and minutiae of daily life competing for our attention.
Oh, and the new season of Chuck just started.
When I walk into work, much of that has to go away. I imagine this is natural for most people who enjoy their jobs, but particularly at start-ups you have to be ready to do whatever is put in front of you that day. Everything planned for the day will get eaten up by new priorities, larger plans and whether or not the toucan (our CEO) monopolizes all the time with the dolphin (our President and my direct boss). This can be best described as acting as a pivot, keeping your center, but spinning to each new person and project that appears.
One of the best parts of working at a start-up is that an idea spun in the morning has the potential to be fully realized by the afternoon. It can be that quick and magical and exhilarating. Also, the customers. When I worked for a non-profit in a trailer across from the food pantry that I was raising money for, I thought I wouldn’t again experience the rewards of being in such direct contact with the people I helped. But Alice has that.
One of the more challenging things is that blurring my work and my blog and my life to such an extent can make me very unhappy. Sometimes I feel like I’m always working which is frustrating, so I’ve tried to have clearer boundaries. I don’t really believe in work/life balance as an ideal, but no longer do I trust in work/life blur so much either.
As a generation, we’re always on. Is it okay to tweet during your workday? How often? What about talk to your significant other? Send personal emails? Do you work with your partner at night? Accept calls from the boss? Check your iPhone during a movie? Where is the line drawn and what is acceptable?
For Ryan and I, we have chosen to spend the majority of our day, not with each other, but with two different start-up companies. Our lives and relationship are more difficult and more enriched because of it. What about you? Work/life balance: truth or myth? Does it stand a chance?
photo via WeHeartIt.
Marie McKinney argues:
Prenups at face value seem to fly in the face of pretty much everything a marriage stands for. Prenuptial agreements seem to say “I promise to love you forever… but when that doesn’t work out I want $500,000 for every year we were married”
… What I’m trying to say is that we don’t like the idea of prenups because they suggest a lack of faith in the marriage when the marriage contract itself seems to have little to no faith in the marriage either.
I actually think prenups suggest some maturity in communication. If you can communicate well-enough on the what ifs of your relationship, you’re probably in a good place, right? Because those what-ifs will come up – you will wonder and life is anything but predictable. Prenups also have to do with more than infidelity, so it’s easy to start the conversation in another area of the document, and then get down the gritty parts.
Also, it’s quite possible that I will out-earn my spouse over the course of my life, and no matter how much I love them, I want to be protected financially. And even if that’s not the case, your non-financial contributions are worth something too.
I mean, I guess I look at it like this. If you can’t imagine going through the worst with someone in amicable manner, than why are you with them? Too many of us just shut our eyes and hope for the best.
via Marriage Studio.
In some more research related to my post on feeling pressure to marry early, Pew Demographics reveals some fascinating statistics in their infographic on marriage and divorce. For starters, the numbers back up my assertion that Midwest women marry earlier; a Wisconsin’s woman median age of first marriage at 26 is a full two years earlier than a New York’s woman median age of first marriage at 28.
And in another intriguing twist, it seems that the rate of divorce seems to increase in States where couples marry sooner and is lower in States where couples hold off a couple years, with some interesting exceptions.
“What did you do today?”
I cried like a druggie in rehab pleading with God and my dead father to help me. Also, I slept. Tried to sleep. To ignore. To escape. Between sleeping and crying, I tried to be normal.
“Nothing much, I ran some errands,” I replied on a Saturday night out at the bar, trying to be normal. Going out with friends for the first time in a long time. Friends that were good enough to forget that I ignored them for the past eight months. Because that’s what happens when I’m in a relationship.
Everyone likes me better when I’m single. If you lined up the town and asked them to raise their hands when they saw a cool person, and then presented Me, In a Relationship and Me, Single, the hands would most assuredly go up the second round, and I would raise my hand in line with the rest. I’m not good in a relationship. Perhaps because I don’t think I am, and perhaps because it never really mattered before now. Because when you date assholes, you can be a bitch right back. So dating a good guy is a complete shock in terms of how to act and how to behave and how to live.
So of course you push this cool person down the same worn-in path as before, and as you go, you look around and know that the two of you don’t belong there.
And I am angry that the Universe could present me with such a being when I’m not primed. I’m not prepared.
It’s not that I don’t feel worthy, exactly. But that I never saw myself with someone so all-American, so normal, so right. Because my life was messed up the moment my father died, and surely God doesn’t think I’m ready for a life that isn’t messed up. Surely, I should keep punishing myself. I am not ready for such greatness. Surely, I am not ready to lead a normal life yet, with barbeques and endless cuddling and television. Life is jaded. Always and forever. This will never heal.
Being single, it doesn’t matter. But being in a relationship – the good kind, at least – brings all this other responsibility. And I don’t really care for all that. To care about someone so deeply and they just might up and leave, or want you, or die, or get sick, or let you down, or need you, or care about you back. I get anxious. So anxious I can’t breathe.
Okay, so I have issues. The kind that should be capitalized and underlined, and you should take note of it.
But I’m working on that, and back to Saturday night, I declared that it was the beginning of “New Rebecca!” exclamation point, let’s take another shot, done and done. I was fabulous. I smiled and was totally level-headed and ingratiated myself back to the good side of the Universe through two hipster bars, three slices of bacon, spinach and yellow-tomato pizza, and a pair of four-inch heels. Cue the soundtrack as the shot pans up and fades out. Walk out of the theater with a happy ending. It was fun and I laughed.
Sunday morning, I got up and cleaned the wine bottles from the counter, threw away someone else’s cigarettes, and vacuumed the dirt from the corner. And somewhere in between, I found a little bit of normal.
I just got off the phone with Zeus, and I’m angry. This isn’t a surprise because I’m quick to anger, quick to forgiveness and quick to just about every emotion, really. The emotional roller coaster of being a woman and all.
Zeus and I have been engaged in phone warfare. Which also isn’t all that surprising considering that he works for a start-up and now I work for a start-up and well, life is busy.
Many of you already know this about Zeus being Ryan, but I felt it was time to announce it beyond my About page because of some recent emails I received from my readers.
I feel I have every right to keep my private life private, but I also feel a strong relationship with my blogging community. My blog and the people who support it are the primary reasons I’m successful today, and so it’s important to me to be as transparent as possible.
I didn’t make my relationship with Ryan explicit before because we had just started dating (even now we’re early in the relationship game), and it’s hard enough to begin a relationship, let alone have the extra pressure of so many people watching you. I mean, Ryan and I are both “In a Relationship” on Facebook, but not even explicitly with each other because I’m so superstitious.
(Yeah, you try dating me.)
“People that exercise every day and work twelve hours a day have no life,” Ryan reminds me. So, okay. But maybe I could be the exception?
“No, you can’t have it all. Something has to give,” he goes on. Ryan is practical to my impractical. Rational to my emotional. The pea to my pod. He’s a Taurus and I’m a Virgo. He’s an INTJ and I’m an ENFP. By all personality tests and worldly measures we’re a good match.
But sometimes it’s hard to like someone so much and have so much else going on in your life. It’s hard to think that we might not always live in the same city or that I might not be able to change the way I want to.
It’s easy for me to ignore all these elephants cramping my view though, because in my heart, I see this working. And I know that because this is one of the hardest times in our lives, it’s also one of the best. If you’re playing it right, the best time in your life is filled with uncertainty and risk. There’s nothing balanced about that. It’s exciting and exhilarating, and to take full advantage, you need to:
1) Let go.
2) Give in.
I work for a company that will disrupt the traditional retail market and my boyfriend is someone that has disrupted everything I know about relationships. Nothing is stable now. That’s the thing about work/life balance. It’s more of a see-saw, kind of up and down, and is only ever balanced for the briefest moments in time.
Yes, this post was Ryan-approved before I hit publish. What are your thoughts on work/life balance? How do you achieve it? Do you want to have it all? Is it possible or are you content with just one or the other?
“I don’t know if I want to be with Zeus,” I say.
“If you don’t want to, then don’t,” my mother replies.
But it’s more complicated than that, and I tell her why. I tell her that I really do what to be with him – a lot - but I don’t know how. I tell her that I’ve been sabotaging the relationship, and I don’t know how to stop. I confess everything, and feel the weight dissipate.
“You do look for problems,” she says. “You push things too far. You test people too much. That’s not good. So now you need to figure out if you’re going to mature and grow up or not.”
I’m silent because normally my mother tells me how great I am, how I can do no wrong, and how all men suck. It is the Gen Y parenting creed. But tonight, I am not so lucky.
“Why do you think you’re picking fights?” my mother presses. “You must be doing it for a reason – a lack of confidence in yourself, or in him?”
I concede that I don’t feel like my life is together enough to be in a relationship. And that I’m worried Zeus will sell his company, get rich and dump me. Or we’ll get married, live happily and divorce at the age of 40. Or that he won’t remember to suggest we eat something when I’m moody. Because I get cranky when I’m hungry.
These are the things I worry about. I am a woman. And this is what we do.
Women need constant reassurance, and the only way we know how to get it is to fight, and push buttons, and push past the buttons all the way to the brink of breaking up, so we can see – will he be there then?
My mother argues men can deal with this at first, but it adds up and is like a brick falling from the sky each time. It builds and it is cumulative and eventually they have a wall, and they think I don’t need this. I don’t need to be unhappy, nothing I do ever works or helps, and I can’t make her happy. This isn’t the way I want to live, men think.
And there’s a limit to what a man can take, my mother says.
“And you – ” she continues, “you need to live for today and for you. You can’t know the future. And nothing about your past relationships is pertinent for today. You have to resist the urge to fight. Resist the urge to be angry in an instant over nothing, resist pushing to the breaking point constantly.”
Careers are like this. Maybe you have an idea, or you really want something, or all of your dreams are suddenly within reach. But you make up excuses of why you can’t get there. You prove every hypothesis on why it won’t work. You extrapolate the worst. You don’t call people when you should. You think less of yourself than you used to. You ask others to comfort your decisions. You trip over your own accomplishments just to see – are you on the right path?
“It is work,” my mother concludes. “It’s a lot of work. But if it’s truly in your heart, you have to do that. You have to work to make it happen.”