I am a terrible girlfriend. Actually, that’s not strictly true; I can understand why some people would think I’m a terrible girlfriend. As a freelancer, I’m never really “off.” No matter what day it is, if I’m at home, I’m probably in front on my laptop, absorbed in a world that my other half is not involved or interested in.
I don’t ignore him completely. I’ll occasionally tell him about a funny article I’ve read, or let him know what our mutual friends are up to on Facebook, but generally my internet time is mine alone, and I can imagine it can seem isolationist and rude, particularly outside of normal working hours when what’s on my screen doesn’t look like anything important. Not only that, but my online life has turned me into a bit of a homebody. Why do I need to leave the house when everyone I need to talk to is only a few clicks away?
I’m lucky that while he doesn’t “do” computers, my boyfriend is understanding about how much time I need to put in and how difficult I find it to unplug. He’s seen how stir-crazy I get without internet access and far prefers my company when I’m not climbing the walls with frustration. But I also know that for some people, having a partner who is so absorbed in another activity, especially at home, might be a deal-breaker. You might think that you’re doing enough by being in the same room and being available for conversation, but monosyllabic replies to questions while never taking your eyes off the screen might not be what your partner has in mind.
Running a business, whether as a freelancer or an entrepreneur, is hard work. It is also time-consuming and if you don’t take the time to step back every now and then, it could easily take over your life. For those who are passionate about what they do, work is their life, but even the most ambitious go-getter usually has some interests away from work. The problem when you work for yourself — and work from home — is that the little tasks that most people might leave at the office are still with you when you’re supposed to be relaxing. Checking your email one last time becomes a full-blown IM chat with a client in a different timezone. Editing a blog post becomes a four-hour session of tinkering with the design.
While your partner is probably understanding and supportive, it is important to remember that unless they have gone into business with you, they are probably not as emotionally (or financially) invested in your venture as you are. The time you spend lovingly building up your enterprise might seem to them like you neglecting life at home in favour of focusing on something else. If you shut yourself away in an office, they might even view that as you withdrawing from shared space. And if you are at your computer all the time and they can’t see what you’re up to? Well, that’s when the paranoia can start. And the fighting.
Nobody likes to feel as though they are second-best, and people in relationships have certain expectations about the amount of time they spend with their significant others. I understand that working on a new project can take up virtually all your time and attention, but you have to prioritise time spent with your partner too. Success if great, but not if it comes at the expense of a relationship in which you are already emotionally invested. In the spirit of taking my own advice, after I hit “Publish” on this post, I’m shutting down, grabbing a hamper and taking my boyfriend to the park for a picnic. I’d rather be late with Twitter updates than trying to blog in the throes of a messy breakup.
[Image by BigPinkCookie]