Back in November, The Boyfriend became The Fiance, despite my best efforts to convince him that he’d be better suited as The Smart Guy Who Ran Screaming In The Opposite Direction, not because I think I’m hideous or abusive or anything, but because I know being married to a writer, designer, or ANY creative career-type person can be a real pain in the ass.
I’m not saying that people like us should avoid marriage or relationships altogether — quite the contrary, I think our creative nature and the unique way in which we see the world allow us to keep things dynamic and avoid the stagnation that plagues so many long-term couples. This isn’t a “STAY AWAY” to the non-writers who love us. It’s more of a disclaimer, a list of very unusual problems that can crop up in our relationships that most others don’t have to deal with, at least not in the same context. The challenges are there, but they’re definitely workable as long as both parties take the time to consider things from both sides, and that’s what I’m hoping to illustrate now.
1. Long-Winded, Boring Rants
You know how bored and frustrated you feel when the person you’re talking to just won’t freaking shut up about a subject you could care less about? Enjoy that experience every day for the rest of your life. When creative people, especially nerdy ones, get excited about something, we just can’t let it go. We have to share our joy with everyone around us. It doesn’t immediately cross our minds that the person sitting next to us on the bus might not care about the influence that Sylvia Plath had on our early work or the intricacies of the storyline in a really great game we just played (and especially not our proposed changes to make the overall gameplay experience better). Unless they’re creative in the exact same way that you are, there’s a pretty good chance they’re going to find themselves smiling and nodding to be polite, and they’re saints for doing so.
This isn’t even limited to writers. Artists, you do the same thing. The Fiance is absolutely brilliant in 3DS Max. I’ve seen him create things in a matter of hours that look so real, I’m convinced I could reach out and pluck them straight off of the screen. And whenever I tell him this, his eyes light up and he launches into a diatribe that lasts for a minimum of 20 minutes, the only words of which I understand are a few connectors here and there and “vertices.” He says vertices a lot. And something about maps.
In a relationship context, both parties have a responsibility here. For one, those doing the ranting — when you feel the verbal tl;dr coming on, stop and consider your audience. Try giving the annotated version instead. When you see their eyes start to glaze over, you’ve gone too far overboard. Those with the glazed expressions, don’t hold it against them. They’re not doing it to show off or to be annoying. They’re absolutely thrilled, and they want you to feel it, too.
2. The Challenges of Steady Employment
Nobody wants to go to work in the morning, but for creative types, having to get up and go to a decidedly non-creative job is the equivalent of being sucked into the Hellraiser box. Those of us who haven’t been fortunate enough to find a job that allows us to use our talents are going to have to struggle through each day, leading to high incidences of burnout, especially coupled with the propensity among us to suffer from mental health issues. Steady employment outside of our desired fields is going to be an almost insurmountable challenge for us. It isn’t because we’re lazy or “losers” even though the media loves to portray us all as drug-addled high school dropouts who spend all day watching TV to help, like, the creative process, man. Creative people also tend to be more sensitive and emotional, meaning that what’s a minor annoyance to other people is potentially agonizing to us.
And so a lot of us can’t really hold down a typical 9 to 5 for too long before we reach our breaking point. Finances are a huge sticking point in any relationship, meaning that it’s hard for most people to deal with a significant other who may not be able to keep the same job for more than a year. Even with the most understanding spouse in the world, don’t think that we’re ignorant to the repercussions of our actions. The guilt I felt after quitting my last 9 to 5 was indescribable. I felt like I was a screw-up, like I was a lesser person, or weak because I couldn’t suffer through it anymore. I was lucky that The Fiance understood and supported my decision to do what I needed to do for my own sanity. It’s a rare kind of patience that’s required.
If you find yourself sitting at the kitchen table across from your significant other who’s just come home with the news that they’ve quit their job, try to understand that they really did stick it out as long as they possibly could. They are aware that their choice has consequences and it was made only as a last resort. Console them. Encourage them to seek out a career that will actually make use of their talents, but don’t nag at them about it. I made this mistake once with The Fiance, inundating him with links to postings for 3D modelling jobs until he felt so overwhelmed that we had a five-day argument over it. At first I was offended and couldn’t figure out why he was being such a dick when I was just trying to help, but then I thought about how I’d feel if he kept shoving design jobs in my face. The constant pressuring would have driven me nuts, too. Casually mention a job opening if you see one, but leave it at that. Don’t insist that they send over their resume and portfolio right away. If the ball is placed in their court, I guarantee you they’ll spike it right back over the net.
I am a freelance writer. Even when I had a part-time retail job over the holidays (which admittedly wasn’t too bad since I got to sell tea, something I actually enjoy very much), I introduced myself as a writer trying to break into the game industry, never as a barista. I wasn’t ashamed of my job, but it just wasn’t me. I knew it’d only be a temporary fix until I could get hired for The Dream Job, so it never felt right to call myself anything but a writer.
I stand by my frequent statements that freelance is a fancy word for unemployed. There’s no guaranteed paycheck. You may be rolling in money one month, then find yourself selling all of your gaming consoles because you haven’t found a gig in five. Freelance gigs don’t usually pay well, either. Say you write for a website that pays you $100 per article, and asks for one article per week. “Holy shit, $100?!” you may exclaim, but when you break it down, that’s only $400 a month unless you find something else to supplement it. As an independent contractor, you get completely shafted come tax time. Ending up with no return but no tax owed is about the best outcome you can hope for in most cases. If you choose not to claim your freelance income on your tax return, LALALALALA I DON’T WANT TO HEAR IT I AM NOT AN ACCESSORY TO TAX FRAUD!
Being a freelancer also requires that you be your own PR and marketing department. It took The Fiance a while to realize that when I was constantly glued to the Twitter app on my phone, it wasn’t because I was discussing the latest celebrity gossip. It was because I was introducing myself to other writers and people working in the game industry, trying to make my existence known and get some buzz going for my portfolio. When I celebrated hitting 40 followers on my Twitter account, it was because that meant I had 40 people outside of my circle of friends and family who knew who I was and what I did. Making digs at your freelancing significant other for “always being on Facebook” is hurtful. Understand that even if you dick around on Facebook to avoid working, for us, it’s actually an important part of our job. As of now, I’ve got my own Facebook, Tumblr, LinkedIn (HA! No link for you!), and this blog in addition to the Twitter that started it all. I even registered a new email address for the Overlord Bunny media empire. I check each one every day. My email inbox, Facebook, and Twitter are constantly open in separate tabs so that I’m instantly aware of any updates.
At the same time, I’ve also had to learn that there are a few times when the social networking machine needs to be put on standby for a while. I’ve started to leave my phone at home when we go out to dinner, or leaving it on silent in another room while we cuddle and watch Netflix. And of course, it absolutely gets turned off if we’re boning. I somehow doubt it’s professional to answer the phone with “Hello? GET THAT AWAY FROM MY ASS!”
4. Weird Behavior
On our first date, I noticed The Fiance (then The Boyfriend) taking photos of random buildings with his phone as he was talking to me. I thought this was pretty odd, so I asked him what he was doing. “Reference photos for modelling,” he said solemnly, then went back to photographing a tree he later told me had amazing textures.
I’m notorious for stopping in the middle of whatever I’m doing to rummage through my purse in search of a pen and something to write on. I’ve written chapters of novels on everything from receipts to napkins to my own hand, which I then refused to touch anything with until I got home to type it up solely with the other hand lest I risk smudging it beyond legibility. I also occasionally find myself unable to sleep because an idea’s popped into my head, and my brain won’t shut off until I sit up in bed writing till after dawn, which is usually about the time my shorthand stops making sense and I end up losing about half of it, anyway.
In short, I hope you have a sense of humor, but if you don’t, you wouldn’t be here. As a note to my fellow creative types, however, please, please, please try to shut it off at important events like funerals. People tend to get upset when you’re sitting in the back of the church scribbling down notes on the program that the usher just handed you while muttering “this sentence sounds like shit, what if I…” under your breath. Triple offensive points if it’s erotica. Also, significant others tend to get disappointed if, after a particularly good round of sex, you come back and ask them to describe one part of it, not to be sexy or kinky, but because you’re stuck on this one part of the sex scene in your book.
Creative people are some of the most insecure individuals you will ever meet. When job-hunting for our respective fields, we have to put on a brave face and really sell ourselves as if we thought we were the most badass individual on the face of the planet. I think we all have our little catchphrases that we say in our heads to try and pump ourselves up before an interview. Mine is “bitch, I am flawless.” Yep, that includes the bold type. The voices in my head are great with typography and formatting.
Impostor Syndrome is not technically considered an actual mental disorder at this time, but with how prevalent it seems to be, I wouldn’t be surprised if it made it into the DSM in the near future. If you don’t feel like clicking the link, Impostor Syndrome basically means that you feel like everything you do is shit and anyone who says otherwise is an idiot, or that if you actually do succeed at something, it had nothing to do with your own ability and everything to do with luck, other people’s ignorance, people just being polite, et cetera.
Every single creative person reading this has just pointed at themselves and yelled “THAT’S ME!”
Not only do I fight with this myself, but The Fiance is convinced that his entire portfolio is crap despite the fact that it is anything but. I spent six months of our relationship thinking that this warehouse scene he had apparently rendered in 3DS Max was a weird photograph of an empty building he’d taken for reference. He’s been told by other people, including some who actually work in the game industry, that he’s actually extremely talented, but he refuses to listen.
It’s not that any of us are looking for attention or praise. In fact, we hate it, because it makes us feel like we’re lying to people. If we hand you something we’ve just completed, it isn’t because we expect you to tell us that it’s good, it’s that we expect you to alphabetically list every single flaw so that we can try (and, obviously, fail) to fix it. This is where the conflict comes in. Most people think we’re just being attention whores, and we think that the people around us are being insincere. What will it take to convince us otherwise? I have no freaking idea. If you figure it out, let me know.
6. Droll Eye For The Creative Guy (Or Girl)
Depending on your particular creative field, you’re probably going to be absolutely zero fun to do certain activities with. It’s impossible to shut off your inner critic.
The Fiance can’t take me to movies anymore and he’s almost afraid to show me any games. I will grouse about what I perceive to be flaws with the storyline or, in the case of the games, gameplay mechanics, for hours afterwards. As a former dancer — the non-naked kind, thank you very much — and choreographer, I’m also a real dick about any kind of dancing shows on TV or in music videos. Meanwhile, I’ve quickly learned that if I want to watch a 3D animated movie with him, or introduce him to a new band I’ve discovered — he’s won awards at indie film festivals for his original scores and compositions — I do so at my own risk. It’s almost as if there’s a veil around everything that only those of us with backgrounds in those particular fields can see through. To everyone else, a movie is just a way to kill an afternoon, and a game is either awesome or kind of crappy but for no real reason. I equate it to being a little kid who sees Mickey Mouse take off his costume head. The magic is gone. Suddenly you can see the frayed stitching on all of the other costumes, and you notice the cleverly hidden mesh that the actor looks through.
This makes it downright depressing sometimes, not only for ourselves, but for the people around us. It’s important to remember that while we may see a million and a half technical flaws with something, that doesn’t mean we have to kill a layperson’s enjoyment of it. A simple “Eh, I didn’t care for it” will suffice, rather than a detailed breakdown of low poly versus high poly models and the importance of UV maps.
(Hey, I guess I AM learning some of his 3D stuff!)
7. I’m So Ronery, So Ronery…
As the significant other of a creative person, prepare to be alone a lot, especially if they’ve managed to make a career out of what they do.
Each blog post I write takes me an average of about three hours, including edits, revisions, and the addition of media when necessary. During these three hours, I cannot be disturbed. I’m so focused on the work in front of me that I essentially go blind and deaf to everything else. The Fiance can sit there and talk to me the entire time and at the end I will not be able to tell you a single word he said, although I apparently answer “yes” or “no” questions without realizing it, leading to some awkward moments when I find out I’ve agreed to something I have no memory of. Either that or he’s trolling me, which is also a possibility.
Even with my shut-off mechanism, I still get horribly annoyed when someone tries to talk to me while I write. I feel awful for it, but it’s the number one way to get me to snap at you. If it’s for something important, however, like asking me what I want to do about dinner or telling me that you were just struck by a piece of falling meteorite and need to go to the hospital, it doesn’t trigger my rage response. But this doesn’t help in the case of a neglected spouse who really just wants to spend time with you and talk to you about your day.
The guilt of this one has been eating at me a lot lately. I’ve been spending more time applying for jobs in my desired field, networking, and writing than I have talking to him. He’s lucky if I manage a solid hour of conversation per day. He never complains or makes me feel bad about it, but the disappointment is almost palpable when I tell him I’m simply too busy to run heroics with him or can’t focus on a conversation with him because I just really, really need to finish this paragraph. I actually have talked with people in the game industry about this, since they frequently work unpredictably long hours and yet still somehow manage to do things like not die alone. One of them told me about a coworker who, when asked how his wife handles his seemingly constant absence, shrugged and replied “I gave her a credit card to do whatever she wants with.”
This is perhaps the most challenging obstacle to overcome for a couple. The creative spouse isn’t coming home late because they’re going to the bar every night, or having an affair (Hell, even if we wanted to, we’re way too exhausted to cheat). They’re late because their job requires them to be. Even armed with this knowledge, being left on their own so often is too much for many spouses to handle, something that isn’t surprising at all. It sucks to be ignored as a kid when your parents are too busy at work to play with you. It sucks even worse when you grow up and the person you’re married to does the same thing.
The only way I’ve found to combat this is to make at least one day off a special day. No phone, no work, no distractions from anything other than spending time with your significant other. It doesn’t have to involve leaving the house or cost a ton of money. Some of the best dates I’ve had with The Fiance involved ordering a pizza and watching Doctor Who in our pajamas. Obviously this isn’t always possible, so having a home office can help a tiny bit, too. Even if you have to bring your work home with you, at least you can be in the same space instead of locked away in a dim office after hours while the dinner on the table gets cold. Or share your lunch breaks during the week, if you can arrange your time off together or your spouse doesn’t work. An hour together is better than nothing.
And As A Closing Note
I know that this post was decidedly unfunny, and I apologize for that. But much like my article about my battles with depression, it’s one that I really felt needed to be written, if not for the general public, than as a way for me to show that even when I’m working, I’m thinking of The Fiance. I want it to be known that I’m aware of the unique challenges we face in our relationship. One of those is that I may be moving to Southern California within the next month or two without him. He’ll follow when he’s able to, but in the meantime, we’ll be on opposite sides of the country. Though I’ve been resisting this move for a while, he is the one who insisted I make it a reality. The first time he brought it up, he mentioned that he really thought I had the talent to make it as a game designer.
“You haven’t read any of my stuff,” I argued.
“Yeah, I did. You left the first draft of your book in Dropbox so I read it. It was really good.”
I never knew this until two months after the fact. He didn’t want to bring it up because the was worried I’d be mad at him for reading it and, anyway, he knew that I probably wouldn’t believe him. (Of course I don’t. IMPOSTOR SYNNNNDROME! Flash!) But it touched me to know how deeply I had his support. I warned him that when I do get hired, it’ll mean lots of time spent working and not a lot with him. He shrugged and told me he was fine with that, that he’d make sure to have dinner ready for me when I got home and that he’d take care of the chores so I could focus on my work.
When a relationship includes a creative person, or, as in my case, two, it really becomes more of a partnership than anything else. Together, we’re an unbreakable team. It requires a little more work and a whole lot more understanding, but the rewards are definitely worth the effort.
Also, the sex is awesome.