DISCUSS: Can creative careers ruin romance?

DISCUSS: Can creative careers ruin romance?

By Maxine Frances Roper 06/12/12

DISCUSS is a new series in which IdeasTap members who are part of our Creative Space programme debate issues around the arts. Today, Maxine Frances Roper wonders if being a writer has affected her love life...

A friend recently confided in me that she’s worried about a new relationship. The person she’d just started seeing is in his late 30s with a prestigious job and his own house – in a London suburb with property prices so out of reach to us it may as well be Disney’s Magic Kingdom. A freelance writer in a ropey flatshare, my friend says she feels “like an unemployed bum”.

A low and/or unsteady income is a fact of life for many in the creative industries – and the popular media image of the ‘deluded’ starving artist and their long-suffering partner with a ‘proper’ job can make us feel inadequate. Several creatives I know say exes resented their work. One freelance writer, now happily married to a musician, dated an accountant who told her there was no such thing as an enjoyable job – and even bought her a blouse in the style of a bank teller! Another’s ex believed any press trip she went on featuring wine or canapés was a party, and therefore not work. At the other extreme, misplaced notions of glamour can be a problem. “Everyone thinks it’s pretty rock’n’roll and people don’t believe me when I tell them otherwise!” says a music-journalist friend. “I’ve been out with a banker who seemed happy with the reflected glory of my ‘exciting’ job but didn’t seem that into me as a person.”

Myself, my late teens and early 20s were defined by painful unrequited crushes. More recently I’ve notched up encounters and might’ve-beens with every unavailable type, from damaged to attached. Last year, after a sudden bereavement and standard run of soul-searching, I realised my behaviour in relationships was linked to feeling my skills were worth little. Confronting the fact I’d never been emotionally healthy enough made me confront some fears, and realise they’re common to people in the creative industries. So I’ve asked Dr Petra Boynton, psychologist and agony aunt, about some key dating issues...

How do you handle a relationship where a partner earns much more than you?

“Dating is commercialised. People get so frightened by the idea they have to have a lot to spend [on partners] that they don’t look at what they’ve already got to offer. Having very little means you have to be more creative. If you’re in the creative industry, that’s something you’ve got a head start on. If you look at YouTube videos of people doing romantic things, a lot of that comes from people being creative – it takes time but doesn’t cost you anything.”

How do you handle a relationship if you’re house-sharing or living with parents?

“Be honest. In the recession, a lot of people are in this position and being made to feel ashamed that shared housing is a really bad thing, whereas it’s the norm. You can make your room as nice as you want. If you’re living with parents it’s OK to negotiate an evening where they go out and give you some space – especially if you’re an older adult. It might be that if the person you’re seeing has more privacy you spend more time over there, but have a meal at your place. People can feel very awkward about having sex. In that case, it might be about finding a time when you know you’ll be alone. You don’t necessarily have to ask your mum and dad if you can have great sex on the kitchen floor!” 

Does the typical creative diet of rejection, poor pay and undervaluing lead to unhealthy relationships?

“There’s the myth of the creative person needing drama and excitement to fuel their art. But if you’re in a situation where your confidence is constantly being affected, that will undoubtedly carry over into relationships. If you’re feeling down, it might be worth focusing on confidence before you start dating so you avoid meeting someone who’s going to be drawn to you because you’re vulnerable.”

So should creatives only date other creatives?

“Within every industry there’s often a sense you can’t date anybody outside of it. Where problems tend to arise is not the job you do but how you communicate with a partner.  Being upfront from the beginning that this is how I work and how I am is really important. It might be that you work unsociable hours or there are long periods where you’re not in work. It might be that for a particular period of time you’ve got to be really focused on a project, and that might be difficult for somebody not in the industry to understand. That doesn’t mean you can never date but you need to forewarn the person and maintain contact.”


The opinions expressed in DISCUSS do not necessarily represent those of IdeasTap.

Image by Kate Ter Haar, used under a CC BY 2.0 license.

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