How to Avoid Fights with your Girlfriend about Work

My girlfriend likes to work hard. She starts at her office between eight and eight-thirty in the morning and works until seven or eight in the evening. I like to work hard as well. But still our schedules didn’t coalesce.

For awhile, I tried getting up at seven-thirty just after her (she would want an extra half hour with the mirror) and walking her to work.

That was the best part of my day. Getting up together, having a cup of tea and walking Eliska to work was a joy.

But when I cam back to my desk, my mind drifted for a good three hours or so while I tried to take advantage of those splendid morning hours.

Unfortunately I have a biological clock inherited from Joseph Stalin – Stalin regularly kept the Kremlin running until 5 in the morning.

So what would happen is the morning hours were at about 25% productivity. Around eleven or twelve I would switch into high gear again and get lots done until about three, but then I would fade. After some afternoon sport, returning to work in the evening I couldn’t get anything done.

Eliska would be back at seven thirty, say, again – and the day would be over. No question of going back to work after a nice dinner with her – I didn’t have the strength.

Left to my own devices a work day looks more like getting up at anytime between eight and nine am. When I wake up my mind is supercharged and just raring to get back to last night’s wars or start in on new big jobs. The employees roll in to the office at about ten but I’m already going at 100% so I don’t have much time for meetings with them and just tell them to get to work. Sometime around eleven or twelve I come out of the jetstream to check in on how they are doing.

Now it’s time for email and mundane activities. Later in the afternoon, it would be sports time again – a time I would use to refresh the mental batteries, to solve problems on my bike, or when on the water – when I came back in the evening, my mind would be at full speed. My body would be eager to get some sustenance (preferably high protein and bio quality raw vegetables) and get back to work.

Between eight pm and one am are golden hours in which any problem could be solved, any paradox resolved.

Paul Graham in his essay on “How to Start a Startup” describes the golden hours thus:

The key to productivity is for people to come back to work after dinner. Those hours after the phone stops ringing are by far the best for getting work done. Great things happen when a group of employees go out to dinner together, talk over ideas, and then come back to their offices to implement them. So you want to be in a place where there are a lot of restaurants around, not some dreary office park that’s a wasteland after 6:00 PM.

To return to the girlfriend problem – she is none too happy to have her man wolf down some dinner, talk with her in a fairly detached way and race into the office rooms (our place is huge). Now would be the time for some real talk, some drawn out lovemaking, watching a film together (she is a cinema buff) – or in the worst case if it’s towards the end of the week and we want to get out or seem other people, walking out to meet some friends for a drink.

More Smiles Like This Please, Dear Eliska
More Smiles Like This Please, Dear Eliska

This way of working clearly doesn’t fit into her world. The solution would be to cut back on the days we see one another – but make them real dates, for which I have to be prepared. As scores of the most delightful women from most of Europe can attest, when my head is in the game, I am one of the best dates around. I listen attentively, am genuinely interested in the deeper side of the other person, have an active sense of humour, am just provocative enough, have boundless energy.

Unfortunately, I like to work a lot. So the girl who is there every day gets the short end of the stick. Not because I like or love her any less – au contraire I adore her – but because I have to get back to work. I also fancy myself building our future, so I have some trouble grasping her impatience. But putting it out on paper like this, it’s pretty clear why.

Anyway getting back to a positive solution, the idea is to cut back the number of days we see one another. So the one or two weeknights are like the most fabulous dates she’s ever been on. Ballet, delightful restaurants, walks under the stars, kissing at the bank of the Danube, impromptu Cuban dancing.

When she’s not here, normally Eliska likes to talk to me on the telephone between 10 or 11pm while she is getting ready for bed. Usually that’s my worst time for a telephone conversation. There are two versions possible here:

  1. Work is going really well and I just don’t want to be distracted. The conversation inevitably does distract me if it goes beyond five minutes. So either I’m curt – a royal piss-off for any woman – or I do get distracted, which in turns either irritates me or sends the work right off the rails. In which case we would have been better to just spend the night together.
  2. Work is going really badly and I am going at it hard trying to get something positive out of what seems a lost day. The telephone call would be a welcome interruption but poor Eliska will get more grief than anyone would ever want as he or she crawls between the sheets.

I tried to solve this problem by forbidding her to call me before she went to bed. She was not happy about this strategy at all. She needed this bedtime talk.

It’s not that I refuse to talk to her at work. Anytime in the afternoon – the noon to three space – is conventional work, the kind done by producers (I used to be one), executives, and master salespeople and managers every day. Talk to this person, explain this problem, make that call. It’s all good. But that evening time is sacred. It’s the second work day which allows me to run two companies. Even when we get bigger and there are more shoulders to carry the workload, those golden hours in the evening will still be precious.

One way I solved this while Eliska was here almost every night was that I would have dinner with her at eight or nine and spend the time with her up until around twelve. After she started to fall asleep I would get back up and work until about three or three thirty. There were three problems with this:

  1. Eliska was none too happy to have me gone. Usually she would get up at two thirty in the morning to tell me time for bed on her way back from the loo.
  2. The quality of the work time was pretty lousy. The golden hours are eight-nine until one a.m. By starting back in at midnight (eleven-thirty to twelve-thirty), there is not enough physical resources most nights to hit a big problem. So I’d be reduced to running through emails and patchwork fixes, rather than targetting anything big.
  3. The physical toll was very high on me. Heading to bed at about two or three leaves me rested like an angel for the next day. When I am playing catch-up until three-thirty or four, even for me that’s not enough sleep. So I’d be a little bit slower the next day.

The two advantages to this system are not small ones. First, our sex life was quite good and frequent. Second, most people sleep much better after a rending fulfilment.

But the winning formula here would be those two date nights per week. For the evening telephone calls, we’d just agree to keep them short and that it would be Eliska’s turn to talk to me and not for me to talk to her. When you are concentrated on something else, it’s much easier and less disruptive to listen than to articulate your own inner state. She says I talk too much anyway and she’s probably right.

How does that scale to living together – the natural and short-term goal – and later having a family?

Part two of that question – having a family – is a bit tricky and I’ll have to wait on an answer to it, I just don’t have enough experience. I have a feeling that it partly involves large houses and live-in nannies. It also involves some compromise on work hours.

But for living together, the solution would be to keep the date nights. On a non-date night, we might just eat together briefly and do our separate things. There would be no disappointment on her end. She’d know that it wasn’t a date night – and she’d know that tomorrow is. On my end, I would also know that – and would be inspired to redouble my efforts to be able to go on the date with a light heart. I’d also know that I was expected to show her a good time and eager to do so. There is nothing more wonderful in this world than making the woman you love happy.

Eliska Mihalikova candlelit
More Candlelit Dinners Then, Dear Alec

On the work nights, if Eliska sees her friends, she sees her friends. If she wants to go to the movies with her friends, she goes. If she wants to have the friends visit, no problem. They can do whatever they want in the rest of the apartment. When I have a free moment, I’ll come out to play for a few minutes but otherwise it would be do not disturb.

Of course, it would be great if Eliska could get a job which would let her start at nine am. At that point, I could certainly just twist my biorhythm to getting up together and kissing the morning together.

Apparently I’m not the only one having trouble balancing work and love in the start-up phase of a company. Paul Graham writes about his experience:

During this time you’ll do little but work, because when you’re not working, your competitors will be. My only leisure activities were running, which I needed to do to keep working anyway, and about fifteen minutes of reading a night. I had a girlfriend for a total of two months during that three year period.

I hope to do a better job managing a girlfriend during the startup phase, than Paul did. I better. Despite my love of hard work, I’ve never been cut out for the monastic life.

When I’ve had startup level projects in the past (making a film isn’t much different), I’ve generally worked together with the girlfriend. Or sometimes the woman I was working with became my girlfriend (can happen in either order). In this case, you are both thinking and talking about the shared project. People tend to get more excited about making films than building companies and/or SEO – so this is not so easily applied here.

Eliska for awhile was really implicated in the company. But given that she was sixty hours/week at her day job, it was a bit much for her. I can’t blame her. What she needs is not more work, but more romance.

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