Can Marriage Work for Writers?

Quoth Hopeless Romantic: This may be a sore subject for you, but do you think marriage or long-term relationships interfere with the literary life?

Sore subject? Not at all, Hopeless Romantic! I love discussing my failed relationships with strangers from the Internet.

The short answer to your question is that nobody should ever get married for any reason other than inheriting property or securing a feudal alliance. The rest is just an excuse for people to buy you shit from your IKEA gift registry.

No, I’m kidding. Mostly.

The real answer is that writing is no different than any other absorbing passion in your life like roller derby, medical school, or Scientology: you and your partner need to agree on how largely it will loom in your lives together.

A couple lounging
Don’t expect this, though.

If you begin the relationship with one level of commitment (both to your partner and your art) but it changes, it’s important to renegotiate expectations. What does “alone time” mean? What does “together time” mean? How much attention is enough? How are you splitting responsibilities for your shared home?

These are all questions of shared and individual priorities, and they’re something to discuss in any relationship. What’s the difference if your partner feels abandoned because of your model railroading hobby or because of your grand literary ambition? Either way, you’ve failed to understand each other’s needs in the only reliable manner: actually talking about it.

I think the key to a healthy relationship is less about sharing the same interests and more about understanding the importance of your individual ones.

In other words, it helps for you both to have a “thing” that you care passionately about, and it’s imperative that you at least respect its significance to your partner. If you’re in a relationship where someone is waiting for you to “grow up” or “get it together” or otherwise change your priorities…that’s not good.

That respect goes both ways. While you’re transforming our shared mythic heritage with your fantasy novel, you don’t get to sneer at your partner for their passion for gardening or learning to code in C++.

Any passion for the more-than-necessary is a good thing to encourage in your fellow humans. It’s too rare.

As luck would have it, I’m in a relationship now with another writer. That’s convenient because we both write every evening for an hour in the living room, so neither of us is hurt that we aren’t paying direct attention to one another. It’s nice, also, to share the ups and downs of the writerly life (though when the downs sync up, that’s depressing all around).

She knows why it’s important to me to write quietly each day, why it’s frustrating not to get a scene right, why a rejection hurts, and why an acceptance is a cause for celebration. I could explain that to a non-writer (though it might be easier with someone who pursues another art like music or film), but it saves some time and emotional drama for us.

(That said, we’re old and tired of emotional drama. That’s another thing you should negotiate with your partner, too.)

It really comes down to total honesty with your partner (and yourself) about what it will take to fulfill your artistic ambitions, your mutual acceptance to see it through, and frequent communication if anything changes.

You know…like any other relationship.