Twelve years ago, I agreed to engage in a very serious business with a tall, dark-haired, young man. He had the clean shaven face of a baby as he walked through the apartment door and held out a giant, pink donut box to me. His expression was slightly terrified, switching suddenly to confused, as he registered that my hands were covered in chalky white Ajax. I was kneeling beside him as he awkwardly struggled to reverse our positions. He asked me to rise; to stop scrubbing the yellowing corners of the linoleum in what had very recently become ‘our’ kitchen. I quickly rinsed my hands and turned to receive his adamant offering. Quickly he went down onto one knee, and I gasped, first because the floor was still covered in wet Ajax, and then a second time, when I realized what was actually happening. I slowly lifted the cardboard lid and inside was a familiar crystal doorknob nestled atop a tiny blue pillow.
This was the way my grandfather had proposed to my grandmother (sans the Ajax and the donut box). He was too poor to get her an engagement ring, so he offered her a perfectly round, glass doorknob instead. The hardware attached looked like a giant gold ring. My grandma still boasts that she owns the world’s largest diamond.
The doorknob John presented to me that day, was taken from his bedroom closet door, in the old house where one week ago he rented a room. He and his roomates affectionately called their home “the Alamo” because of its Spanish/Mexican exterior. It sat nestled in a peach orchard, where the sweet smell of warm fruit on hot summer nights came wafting through open windows. Upstairs in his room, John had a giant black and white poster of Audrey Hepburn on one wall. A closet stashed with dirty laundry, old guitars and broken skateboards stood ajar on the opposite wall. I discovered the crystal doorknob sometime before we began dating. I couldn’t help but receive it as an omen. Later I would nonchalantly mention its significance to John, its presence existing beside us as we spent weekends happily marooned on his full size bed, a mattress and boxspring on the floor, watching movies on his tiny tv together, hands intertwined, sharing our histories and our bodies.
If I paint too flowery of a picture, I beg you to permit it. Our courtship was short lived, and so I stretch the memories of my youthful love with John to claim the foundational space it deserves. I would cling to these recollections in the following months when the pleasure of our new love was quickly overtaken by the business of pregnancy and marriage. Wedding plans, morning sickness, doctor visits, and financial concerns loomed. I had to glorify each second of that summer to justify why the inconveniences and hardships ahead were worthy endeavors.
Pleasure and business had been mixed.
An article featuring advice from the Young Entrepreneur Council, has many wise warnings on this matter. This is priceless advice for anyone getting married: “It’s tough to manage a friendship when business will need to be a priority.” For me personally, becoming a mother, a homemaker and a wife would feel like being torn into three separate pieces. The sentimental reasons credited for our unity would be sucker punched right out of the marital ring. On Friday nights I sat alone with a breastfeeding baby, unable to sufficiently pump milk, unable to go out with our pals, unable to speak up about how unfair I thought it was that John was still entitled to this freedom. He was a our sole provider. He was accustomed to leaving us at home. And his youth was still this real attainable thing. He wasn’t the one with the mammary glands, or the body that had been flipped inside out during birth.
The YEC says “before going into business with a friend, make sure you are clear about expectations and roles. This can save a lot of misunderstandings.” But all we had were some whimsy wedding vows. No one had delegated responsibilities, or discussed how we would equally distribute the new demands of family life.
John was able to continue doing the job he was accustomed to. His work was evaluated by his employers. He got paid, a solid nod to the fact that he was daily completing things that were of worth. I, on the other hand had labored to give birth, the most valuable thing on earth to me was the payoff. Now each day I struggled to rewrite motherhood for her. I spent hours sitting with my daughter at the breast. No one told me what I was accomplishing each day was valued. If anything I felt each day ended with failure. I was unable to do things I was accustomed to doing: the house was a mess, laundry divided and multiplied at magical propensities, I was too exhausted and hormonal to show my husband proper affection. And my employer? That was John. He came home and interpreted what my worth was, whether he was aware of it or not.
“Be cautious” says YEC, “know your relationship well and what it can withstand. Make sure you know how you can work together. It will probably help to have a clear decision-making process, whether one person has final say or there’s a team vote ...adapt as your company does.”
When John and I disagreed over things, housework mostly, or the distribution of free time, I was often in tears before I could even relate what I wanted to say. I didn’t trust that our relationship could hold all the heavy things I was feeling. John couldn’t empathize with me. He was easily irritated by my expectations. And often before anything was resolved, I would lose my temper, or John would go to bed mad. Sometimes we didn’t speak afterwards for multiple days.
I didn’t have an opportunity to do anything outside of my role as mother, with the exception of writing cruel sentiments about the angst of wives (hell hath no fury like a wife that has journaled for the past 12 years). On weekends, we hung out as a family, making the most of what the city offered in the form of parks, riverside picnics, and trails. I felt loved by this man that I was still getting to know. He made me laugh, and cry, hard. Our roles seemed so predestined, that I didn’t know I had permission to communicate what wasn’t working for me.
I think that through a lot of it, John assumed things were going well. I wanted a second baby. He had a steady job. Nothing calamitous had happened. I still felt deeply attracted to him, but also hurt that he would never understand how hard it was. He was the one coming home from “work”. He deserved to relax, or ignore us, or take off with friends. The things I did at home all day were possible because he supported us. And therefore they must all be blessings. But they weren’t.
YEC recommends that friends starting a business must be “able to navigate through tough times with honesty and come to an agreement at the end of the day that [both] can fully support”. And as I consume the better part of a day writing this article, the little people left to their devices, I know that this is the best advise of all. It took many years, as opposed to a single day, to know that my emotions and needs are valuable to this whole family. I only hesitate a little as I notify John that dinner time has approached, and I am nowhere near done writing. I’m still learning to own the words I want to say; “Can you please make dinner tonight?” But he hears me. His response is actually just that: “I get what you’re saying.” And twelve years later, the business of marriage with children is a mutual endeavor that John and I have both come to navigate with honesty.
The Alamo was left empty for many years after John moved out. The lack of upkeep made it unlivable. It was torn down several years ago. That old house had served its purpose, a haven for two young people learning about love. We were able to snap some pictures of it, and reminisce about the fundamental parts of our union, before it was gone. Old ways of thinking about marriage are slowly deteriorating too, and should be torn down. It takes time, to trust our instincts, and our partners, and build new homes for new ideas.