The Startup Wife

Over at Forbes.com Meghan Casserly ran a series about the “Startup Girlfriend.”  I was going to comment, and then decided that my comment was long enough that it was deserving of its own post.  Because you see, I was once a Startup Girlfriend, and am now a Startup Wife.  Which is nothing like a Stepford Wife, I promise.  And as I’m about to wrap up my 14th year as a Startup Wife (Gah!  How did THAT happen?!?), I wanted to let the women behind me know that there is hope for their relationship, if you are committed and able to forgo some of the more established traditions (like a honeymoon where you actually spend time with your new spouse).  And so, I present my musings around the Startup Marriage (Love you M, I really do!  You may not want to read this, however…).

  • Accept the fact that you will be alone more often than not.  If you aren’t comfortable hanging out at a cocktail party by yourself, or spending evenings on end on the couch alone (maybe even watching Dora the Explorer, because you are just that cool), or will always be resentful of women whose significant others are present at events such as the first ultrasounds, the first day of school, and the weekend baseball games, then this may not be the life for you.
  • Be independent.  Your spouse is probably not going to be around to deal with the plumber, the mechanic, or be a shoulder to lean on when you move into a new house and end up with a flood in your basement.  Also, he will probably be traveling every time your driveway needs to be shoveled.  He will most likely not be around if you have to call 911 because your baby isn’t breathing, or if you find yourself in the emergency room when your first-born splits open his chin on a Sunday afternoon and needs stitches.  But also, know that no matter what happens, you can handle it on your own and be confident in your ability to do so.  If you don’t have the confidence at the outset, you will develop it.  I promise.
  • Take advantage of the times when your spouse is present (this is a hard one).  Don’t automatically launch into the laundry list of must do’s right away.  Take a few minutes to reconnect and then launch into that list (which should be highly prioritized).  Be prepared to only get through one or two items before he dives back into whatever the crisis de jour may be.
  • Don’t be afraid to use the people around you to convince your significant other that you are in fact in need of a little support and focus.  For example, if you are about to deliver your first child, and your partner thinks he has time for one quick trip to Boston, have your OB/GYN call him and explain that no, he really can’t go.  Because even the most committed of entrepreneurs will have some regrets if they miss the “big stuff.”  A corollary to this rule: make sure before you commit that your significant other is in fact capable of heeding a strong “This is important.  You NEED to listen/be present/do something.”  A second corollary to this rule: make sure you only make a stand when it it truly important.  Birth of your first child?  Yes.  Showing up at the preschool’s auction? Not so much.
  • If you decide to have children, know it is going to be a very hard road. There will most likely be no sharing of the middle of the night shifts with a colicky baby.  If you stay at home, there will be no break for you at 6pm, or 7pm, or even 11pm on many nights.  You might frequently find yourself wondering why you gave up your perfectly lovely career, and then remember that you did it because you had no other choice given your spouse’s chosen profession.  If you work you will still be the primary parent, no two ways about it.  Other parents may be surprised to find out that you are not in fact a single parent when your spouse shows up at a school function (when your oldest child is in 3rd grade).  Find yourself a really superb support network of similarly afflicted parents and some really good childcare, and don’t be afraid to use them.
  • It may turn out that those children you have will be just as creative and driven as their parents, complete with a love of the powerpoint presentation.  Be prepared to run not only lemonade stands, but also apple cider stands and hot cocoa stands.  Don’t be surprised if you get frequent communications from their schools that start with the sentence “Dear Mrs. Startup Wife, I have NEVER seen this in my 25 year teaching career BUT.”  Also be prepared for every item in your house to be fair game for whatever the invention in progress may be (and, please remember that it is not just your children who may see be snapping up your prized possessions to create the next best thing.  Some startup parents will even condone the taking apart of a perfectly good computer).
  • Know that your spouse will be incredibly positive about all of your endeavors.  If you decide to start up your own business, go for that promotion, lead a community initiative, he will be your biggest cheerleader and use his knowledge and network to support you, even if you decide to apply for a new job and he only finds out about it because you announced it on your blog.  But remember that this support will be mainly virtual.  If you have kids, don’t forget about that really good childcare from above.
  • Your spouse will eventually learn a little bit of balance.  One Saturday morning you may wake up to find that he caught a red-eye home and has taken your children off someplace.  You may find yourself a bit taken aback, and flip out because he forget the water bottles/the sunblock/the baseball glove.  You may even come to realize that you are just as much as a control freak as he is, and that is why your particular relationship works.
  • Someday, hopefully, that startup he spends all his time on will become a bonafide company.  With employees who are competent and can in fact manage on their own for a few hours.  Point out to your partner that he has turned complete control of his non-work life over to your capable hands, and the world didn’t come to an end.  Convince him that he can in fact go on a vacation.  But, be realistic.  Don’t go for that utterly romantic island with no connectivity.  You’ll spend your vacation standing outside a payphone booth eying the couples walking hand in hand and trying not to be bitter.  Save yourself the pity party and make sure to check out the wireless coverage maps before you book.
  • Finally, remember this.  Once that startup has been a bonafide company for a while and you start getting used to having your partner around a bit more, don’t be surprised if one day he locks himself in his office and emerges a few days later looking a bit like he did when you first met him.  Because apparently, bonafide companies are not nearly as much fun as startups.
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