Photo by the lovely Ken Yeung.
Yesterday, that adorable scamp I call my boyfriend pointed out this Hacker News thread on being married to, living with, or dating someone who works at a startup. [tweetmeme source=”jolieodell” only_single=false]
The bf and I both relate — I work at a startup of sorts, and he works at a startup by any definition. Our lives are a jumble of midnight coworking sessions, laptops at the dinner table, rushed and exhausted mornings, a constant stream of startup-related events to attend, laptops during “movie nights,” inside jokes about VCs, laptops on nightstands, holidays hijacked by work, laptops on airplanes — the whole shebang.
One commenter in that HN threadwrote, “If you love your wife/husband and want to keep that relationship happy, seems like you either have to marry a martyr or protect those bonds by not turning your no-doubt equally intelligent, equally valuable spouse into a go-fer.
“Support is beautiful and all, but there are limits.”
And so he and I have learned there are things you have to do to be a supportive startup S.O., and there are points where you must draw the line. I’m about to draw the line at laptops during dinner, and Eston just drew the line at temper tantrums over malfunctioning hardware.
When it comes to supporting your S.O. in startup life, there are so many tips and tricks I could relate. Life is a constant juggling act as you strain yourselves to make sure you’re both fed, well-rested, happy, productive, sane. Here are a few things I’ve picked up along the way.
(And yes, I’m using the male pronoun. And yes, I realize this all makes me sound like some kind of doting, 1950s version of an amphetamine-popping housewife. But these loose guidelines really do work; our relationship and our jobs are all better than they’ve ever been, and neither one of us feels neglected or put upon. If it makes you feel better, you can change the male pronouns to “she” and “her.”)
- Have unplugged time.
As I mentioned, I’m about to declare the dinner table No Man’s Land of technology and Internet connectivity. Everyone needs some time to stop reading/typing/staring/fretting and just exist in the moment. That time could be a meal shared together, or it could be a daily walk, a drive through the foothills, or a board game. As long as there are no glowing screens involved, it’s quality time together.
- Get out of town.
Every so often, Silicon Valley gets a bit stiffling. Look at your schedules together and figure out a way to take off for a small, overnight trip. Eston and I like Monterey and Napa. You can do it on the cheap, too. As long as you manage to stay offline for most of the trip, an overnight adventure can feel like a 2-week vacation.
- Tend to the mortal envelope.
Food and rest are vital — vital! — to his success and the success of your relationship. Dude will often be starving, exhausted, and completely ignorant of such or blocking it out until the problem at hand has been solved or the code checked in. Try to keep an eye out for signs of fatigue or malnourishment (hint: he’ll be crankier than usual), and try to offer decent substitutes when taking a nap or sitting down for a 5-course dinner isn’t an option. You’d be surprised what a cup of tea and a shoulder rub can do during an all-night coding session.
- Play nicely with others.
Forgive me if this sounds too Donna Reed, but you should be willing to hang out with your S.O.’s coworkers and their spouses, as well as any other startup folks your guy is networking with. Being a reclusive biotch won’t serve anyone too well and might hurt you more than him in the end, especially if he has the good sense to go out and network without you.
- Don’t ask how long he’ll be there.
Startup Boy will be done when he’s done. Resist the urge to call and text a dozen times; he probably wants to be home just as much as you want him to be, and reminding him of this fact slows him down and dampens his mood. So suck it up and find something worthwhile to do with your time (like writing personal blog posts… can you tell that isocket is heads-down this month or what?). If you really miss him that much, bring him and his team some sustenance and be prepared to hang out quietly while they finish up work for the night.
- Don’t whine.
Boo hoo, it’s 11 p.m. and he’s still at the office. Boo hoo, he’s been ignoring you and typing away all through the season finale of your favorite show. Boo hoo, he can’t come to your sister’s birthday party because they’re launching tomorrow. Again, suck it up and move on. If you’re dating or married to a startup guy, this is what you signed up for, and complaining ain’t gonna change a thing. It might only serve to worsen everyone’s mood and bring down family morale.
- Don’t get caught up in the drama.
Startups are microcosms of political spheres. There are dictators, megalomaniacs, madmen, savants, slackers, and all kinds of fascinating characters. Don’t gossip or play games, though — ESPECIALLY on the social web, don’t drop so much as a hint about what his company is doing. As much as it might sound like high school, his startup is also a business. Treat it as such, and encourage him to do the same if he doesn’t already. Say it with me: Loose lips sink ships.
- Sign a friggin’ prenup.
Listen, pumpkin, maybe you buttered his bread during “the lean years,” but you didn’t write a single line of code. You didn’t risk your own career. You didn’t design features and ship products. You didn’t sweat it out in board meetings or justify your existence to a row of investors. If marriage is on the table, put your John Hancock on a big, fat prenup and smile. If a divorce is in the cards, you don’t have much of a right to his startup, whether or not you happened to be around while it was being built, and it’s arrogant of you to think otherwise. If you want to make money at a startup, found one of your own or do a legit, 9-to-5 job at your S.O.’s company.
So yeah. That’s my learned-on-the-fly advice for those of you who are dating or married to startup folks. If you’ve got any helpful pointers for me, please do include them in the comments.
Love y’all and thanks for reading — and if you’re working at a startup or attached to someone who is, good luck!