It’s the month of romance around the world, and people are booking their Valentine’s Day celebrations at their favourite local establishments. I realised the other day that I’ve booked a date with myself for Valentine’s Day – accidentally, I might add. I’m going to an exhibition at the Tate, followed by dinner and a musical, all of which I expect I’ll enjoy, but I expect I’ll also be the only person there flying solo.
I’ve always been happy with my own company, though, and this is probably why I love being able to work from home and manage my days how I see fit.
But freelancing can hit your relationships hard, and since it’s the season of love, I thought we’d take a look at some of the ways relationships can be affected, and how you can make sure the impact isn’t too dire.
All Work And No Play
One of the main gripes of new freelancers is just how hard they have to work. When you look at all those posts by people who have already spent years growing their businesses, and all you see is that they seem to have spent the past eight months tanning on a beach, piña colada resting casually on a little table beside their laptop, it’s easy to get disheartened when it turns out the reality is crouching Gollum-esque on your uncomfortable sofa, shovelling instant ramen into your mouth while you desperately try to keep on top of everything.
When you first set up, barring some kind of huge angel investment, you will have to work hard. It’s all very well reading articles about how you should try to maintain a work-life balance – and you should, because it’s better for you – but almost every freelancer I’ve ever known has fallen at this hurdle, especially at the beginning.
Because let’s be real here, freelancing is terrifying. You never know how much money is coming in, you’re constantly worried about that one client who actually pays on time dropping you, the rest haven’t paid you for the past three months but you’re still working for them anyway because it feels like you don’t really have a choice. On top of this, you’ve probably undervalued yourself or taken on bits of work at below the rate you need to charge, because you’re just starting out and turning away any work just feels wrong.
Plus you have to do everything yourself. Even if you’ve hired an accountant, you’re probably still doing some basic bookkeeping and your own marketing, perhaps your own web design. Almost certainly you’ll be managing your own social media profiles and having to deal with HMRC when they come knocking.
All of this adds up to a big fat lack of time. Many freelancers find it hard to switch off in the evenings and over the weekend, because it’s horrifying to think that you might miss out on a piece of work just because you weren’t in front of your emails 24/7. And of course, this lack of time impacts on your relationships; not just romantically, but friendships and acquaintances too. If you’re going to networking events on top of everything else, then finding the time for even the bare bones of a social life can seem overwhelming.
Other People Just Don’t Get It
Living with your partner is one way to ensure you see them more often, but that doesn’t guarantee a good relationship. If you’re both freelancing, you can at least share each other’s pain and maybe even provide some backup if you’re in the same industry. But often, one partner is freelancing while the other goes to work in a 9-to-5 office job, leading to a lack of understanding and resentment on both sides.
The freelancer may feel like their partner doesn’t understand just how hard they’re working, and may be annoyed when their partner goes out for drinks after work, or comes home tired at the end of the day and doesn’t want to help around the house. Sometimes the freelancer will want or need to work late, prompting them to skip the time they’d normally be spending with their partner and driving a wedge into the relationship.
On the other hand, the partner who works in an office may resent the freelancer’s freedom, and unless they’ve freelanced themselves they probably won’t understand exactly how much work their partner is doing. A common conception of freelance life is that you just sit around in your pyjamas all day, idly tapping away at a keyboard but essentially just playing at life, and this is a hard one to shake off.
So What Do You Do?
This post sounds a bit doom-and-gloomy, doesn’t it? That’s because freelancing is hard. But the good news is that it doesn’t have to break up your relationship.
The #1 way you can help yourself to keep your relationships going is to set aside time for them and stick to it. I find it helpful to have certain days when I see friends, and certain days when I take myself on date nights. If you have a romantic partner, you’ll hopefully want to add in some time for them too. Make sure the people in your life understand that just because you work from home, that doesn’t mean you can drop everything at a moment’s notice and spend loads of time hanging out at restaurants.
Which brings me to the second tip: communication. If you’re finding that people aren’t understanding what your life’s like, tell them. Better still, show them; show your partner how hard you’ve worked and what you’ve been doing all day. If you have a timesheet, show them that. It sounds overly simplistic, but sometimes just seeing the number of hours someone has spent on a particular task can help others to properly get it.
And most of all, be strict with yourself. It’s way too easy to be swayed either by other people’s demands or by our own desire to see them more often. But there are only so many hours in each day, and it’s important to make sure you work hard enough to keep yourself afloat, while also taking enough time off to stop yourself from burning out. We’ll talk more about how to do that in a future article; for now, I’ll let you go and book your Valentine’s Day restaurants.