Flirting With Disaster

When your business takes up 18 hours a day, who has time for romance? These entrepreneurs do--proving mixing love and business doesn't have to be a tug of war.
Magazine Contributor
6 min read

This story appears in the August 1999 issue of . Subscribe »

As the post-college years turn killer midterms and entry-level jobs into delightfully fading memories, grinds and slackers alike find themselves settling down professionally, emotionally and (to some, the scariest of all) romantically.

The desire to find someone willing to understand you (and even forgive your annoying habits) is what eases the pain of awkward first dates and ceases all involuntary flinching at the word "commitment." Just finding "that special someone" is enough work, but when relationships get serious, they require the one thing many entrepreneurs never have enough of: time.

Trying to navigate the murky waters of romance while keeping a start-up afloat can be a daunting challenge. But don't resign yourself to single servings quite yet. Some of the entrepreneurs who've settled down in more than the business sense have found that the same skills that got their business off the ground--like prioritizing, communication and serious planning--can also be used to keep love alive.

Elizabeth Millard ( is a freelance writer who believes that love truly is a many-splendored thing . . . if, of course, it's properly scheduled.

Entrepreneurship X 2

With in-house encouragement, Jackie Tarry, 28, started her own graphic design company, The Hot Shop, in New York City, three years ago. Her boyfriend, Christopher, had already been in business for himself for five years, so she'd become familiar with the hectic schedule entrepreneurship demands.

Although the two have lived together for three years, when the entrepreneurial spirit doubled in their home, Jackie and Christopher began to realize they hardly saw each other. To keep their relationship from deteriorating into a polite "hello" in the hallway and a cursory kiss goodnight, they established unbreakable "date nights" and 10 p.m. as a definite ending time for the day's business.

"It's making time that's the hardest thing, because it's the one thing you have the least of," Jackie says. "In the past year, [our businesses have] started to have busy times at the same time, so we've had to establish clear boundaries and get very specific. Usually we say `OK, this is the night or nights of the week when we're going out; this is the weekend day we will not work.' "

Jackie and Christopher also try to squeeze in daily updates about their businesses. "The key seems to be having that `connect time' to sit and talk about what's going on in our lives," she notes. "It's important to remember why you're in this relationship so you don't take it for granted. We try to call each other every day just to check in, send each other e-mails and little things like that."

What it all boils down to, Jackie says, is this: "To stay together, you have to treat the relationship as an entity in itself and give it as much prominence as the business."

Family Ties

As a desk officer at a police station near her Burlington Township, New Jersey, home, Kimberly Horstman Teed, 35, spent the late-night downtime between 911 calls working on her start-up, an etiquette magazine called PresenceSense. Just when she'd gotten a grip on the fine art of dispatching a squad car to a domestic dispute and then working on laying out a few articles, her husband gave her a reality check about the lack of time she was spending with him and their 7-year-old son, Shawn.

"I was nonexistent in our home life," Teed admits now. "I wasn't doing things with them because on the nights I was off work, I was working on the magazine and thinking of all the things that needed to be done. I was a terrible mom and a bad wife, and I didn't realize it. It just kind of crept up on me, and it took my husband saying one night `It just isn't going to work like this' [to make me realize it]. So we sat down and made a plan."

Trading in her uniform for a home office, Teed developed a schedule that allowed her more time for the family, with rules about when to turn the computer off and when to delegate dish duty so she could meet a deadline. The effect on her marriage was akin to a fresh shot straight from Cupid.

"In all relationships you have really ugly times," Teed says. "But after the ugliness, you get stronger. Right now things are absolutely wonderful."

Working It Out

"Usually people who start businesses have high energy, are smart and are used to being able to accomplish a lot," explains Kathy Marshack, a psychological consultant and author of Entrepreneurial Couples: Making it Work at Work and at Home (Davies-Black, $26.95, 800-624-1765). "The biggest pitfall is thinking you can cram one more thing [whether it's a business or a relationship] into your life and it will all work out. People need to be aware ahead of time that when you start a business, there's going to be a drain on your partner, and it's going to affect the relationship."

Marshack suggests couples set priorities and make time together part of their daily plan. Communication is key, she says, and don't worry about boring your partner by chatting about business minutiae. "Most people err on the other side--not filling in [partners] on what's happening with the business," Marshack says. "Entrepreneurs tend to be single-minded people with confidence in their own abilities to get things done, but on the other side is a supportive partner who needs to realize they're still loved. They can feel left out. It's a delicate balance between being single-minded and being aware of other things in life."

For the steeliest of her Type-A clients, Marshack suggests a visual clue to help: "I sometimes have people post pictures of time bombs on their computers. That way, if your partner wants to spend time with you, you look at the picture and think `Is what I'm doing really a matter of life and death, or can it wait?' You've got to get your priorities straight."

Test Your Love I.Q.

If you can answer "yes" to more than one of these questions, you should consider shutting down that computer and making dinner reservations immediately.

  • When your partner wants to hold hands during a romantic walk, do you switch sides so you have one hand free for your pager?
  • Is sex a fond memory rather than a future possibility?
  • Was the last gift you gave your partner a business-related item, like a Palm Pilot or a spreadsheet program, that you later "appropriated"?
  • When your partner wistfully suggests having a nice dinner together, do you instantly think of which restaurant can deliver takeout the fastest?
  • Do you know the dates for your next six months of business appointments but only the season in which your partner's birthday falls?
  • When your partner asks you to go to a party, do you call the hosts ahead of time to make sure they have a modem hookup?
  • In serious relationship talks with your partner, do you find yourself using terms like "downsizing" and "bottom line" to describe your feelings?

Red Flags

Psychological consultant Kathy Marshack points to nine warning signs that indicate trouble:

  • Failure
  • Boredom
  • Confusion
  • Unproductive habitual behavior
  • Life's major turning points
  • Fatigue
  • Weight loss or gain
  • Lack of sexual desire
  • Forgetfulness

Contact Sources

The Hot Shop, (212) 386-3657,


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