“One is the loneliest number that you’ll ever do
Two can be as bad as one
It’s the loneliest number since the number one”
-Three Dog Night
What puts the A in A.S.S.? Alone.
Before we got married Adam traveled a lot for IBM. He would leave on Sunday nights and come home on Thursdays. Then he started Palmetto Security Group and was able to stay nearer to home. But, up until that time we’d always had a semi-long distance relationship. When Adam and I got married I thought, “Finally! I have my person! And now we can be together!” I thought we’d share all that life had to offer side by side.
We have done this, but not without a few bumps in the road. My idyllic expectations of what I thought a relationship SHOULD be like really bit me in the…. Well, you know.
His business took him away from me and not just with travel. He sometimes worked 80 hour weeks. Start ups are funny that way. He was such a great dad to our kids, but the company required that he spend a lot of his evenings and weekends away from us. I’d hoped to have dinner together every evening. I’d hoped to be able to continue to work and that we’d tag team managing home and kids. I’d hoped that we would go to bed together every night. That wasn’t my reality.
It also seemed that the more he was gone the less we had in common. We had nothing to talk about. I felt like couldn’t NEED him. He didn’t have anything left to give at the end of the day anyway. The tension levels in our household had risen to the point that nearly everything was a hot topic. So we lived in a vicious cycle of FIGHT! SILENCE. FIGHT! SILENCE.
And so we started the leg of our marriage when we lived separate lives together. I grew up in a huge family and I’d lived with friends all through my early adulthood. I’d never really had to be by myself, but now I was in the full on “adulting” stage of my life and I was doing it (seemingly) all by myself. This particular hell lasted about 5 years and it was the loneliest time of my whole life.
The more home/life/kid tasks I managed by myself the more I walled myself off to any help at all. Until eventually being alone seemed like the most natural thing in the world.
For me, it made me a nasty person. I’m an extrovert and by denying myself any help or interaction it was like I dried up as a person. For Adam, his company grew and grew and the pressure of it all was crushing.
Entrepreneurship can be a lonely undertaking. You make all the decisions and assume all the risk. You’re more than a boss. You’re a leader. The buck literally stops with you. So while the pressure Adam was experiencing was crushing he couldn’t show it. He was the leader and people were looking to him to pull off a miracle.
I used to say that Adam had the Midas touch, but now I know that’s not true. It’s not something you create and walk away from. It’s a cultivation process of seed, nurture, reap, seed, nurture, reap- over and over again. It’s exhausting. These stressors can be even more isolating to the entrepreneur. A prison with golden bars.
This doesn’t even touch on the fact that so many of the entrepreneurial families we work with “work from home” or are location independent. This is done intentionally to allow for travel and adventure, but the trade off is that there is no “village” to go to for support.
Isolation and loneliness can lead to some pretty significant health issues like depression and anxiety. These are issues that can’t be ignored or they can have dangerous consequences.
An article on Forbes.com by Dr. Pragya Argarwal states that the number one way to combat entrepreneurial loneliness is through nurturing online communities of like minded individuals. Mastermind groups and accountability groups have really helped to begin to address this problem for nomadic business owners.
But what about our other halves? We join lives expecting to have a partner in all things, but time and space can make us feel alone, even when the other person is right beside us. How do we bridge the gap when this life has caused such a great divide?
I told myself this story- “This is not what I signed up for.” “He chooses everything for us without even considering what it would do to us.” “All he cares about is his own success.” “The kids and I are just accessories to him.” “He has his priorities all wrong.” “I don’t even need him anymore. I’ll just do this all myself.” “He doesn’t even want to be home with us.” “He CHOOSES to stay away.” In this inner dialogue Adam became the villain and so did the company. It caused me to be more and more withdrawn. In retrospect I can see that it was a defense mechanism, but I found myself in my very own self made prison. Alone.
I did manage to get out of that prison, but it was a lot of work. I took responsibility for myself and I got out of my own head and that awful story. I changed the narrative. I really couldn’t even see how Adam was suffering until I got my head out of my own….(see the theme here?) When I realized we’d been feeling the same thing for different reasons I was better able to relate to him and empathize. And I didn’t want him to be alone.
We went to counseling. We had really hard and awkward conversations. And we had to teach ourselves how to need each other again.
This was not a silver bullet. We still have to work to be vulnerable enough to really need each other. We still have to have awkward conversations and we still have to work at accepting each other for who we are. But through all that we’ve built a much stronger partnership.
Loneliness is an epidemic that can destroy lives and relationships. As humans we all crave connection and support. Even the most successful of us. Needing people is not a weakness. Being aware enough to know when you need help and being able to communicate that well is a huge asset. This is the key to forging stronger bonds in our relationships and with our business connections.