A Survival Guide: Living With a Fellow FreelancerBy Russel D McLean August 10th, 2015
Soon after my partner and I moved in together, I found an article on The Freelancer titled “7 Reasons To Never Date a Fellow Freelancer” and almost immediately started to weep. I’d just begun my freelancing career, while my partner had been working as a literary critic for over a decade.
Was it true? Did living together as fellow freelancers mean we going to drive each other up the wall? Were we going to suffer professional jealousy? Were our three cats—Moriarty, Mycroft, and Magwitch—doomed to become neurotic balls of fur, much the same as their owners?
We realized that we needed some ground rules for living and working together—for ourselves and for the cats. After all, it wasn’t like we could leave our work at the door. Since freelancers work whatever hours they need to, our lives were about to become anything but predictable. We’d both lived on our own for around a decade, developing our own unique routines. Getting used to having another person around was hard enough during the first nine months when I had a day job. But as soon as I started freelancing full-time, it was a whole different matter and a whole new set of problems.
Somehow, we’ve made it work. I wouldn’t say that dating and living with a fellow freelancer is for the faint of heart—our cats have certainly become more disheveled—but by creating strong boundaries and sticking to them, we’ve found a way. For freelancers in a similar situation, here’s how we did it.
Find a rhythm and stick to it
At midnight, most people are in bed. My partner certainly is. I, however, am just getting started. It’s just the way my mind works. I’m a night owl, and that’s always when I’ve done by best work. My partner, on the other hand, works best in the morning. And for us, that’s okay. We tried adjusting our times to complement each other when we first moved in, but it never really clicked. I was restless in bed at night and especially grouchy in the morning.
So we started to accept that we excelled at different times. I would work later, she would get up earlier, and we’d spend our quality time together in late afternoon and early evening. The cats loved it too. After all, it means they have someone at their beck and call for nearly 24 hours a day.
Some people can’t be interrupted when they’re “in the zone.” Others like to have someone to talk to. You need to work out your rhythms and how they will affect your partner’s preferences. Sure, it takes a little compromising, and at first you might step on each other’s toes, but once you strike the right balance, you’ll find that everything else about your lives (almost) falls into place.
Most people expect us to experience jealousy in a professional sense since we’re both chasing the same kind of work. And while I understand why others might think this way, jealousy never seems to be an issue. Perhaps that’s because, while we both have similar clients, we write about very different things. I deal, generally, with pulp fiction. My partner has a soft spot for literary novels. And when we run into overlap, we’ve even traded clients a few times. One small publisher calls us a “one-stop shop”—she phones to talk to me about my latest crime release, and my partner about more cerebral works.
We also pass on referrals when it seems appropriate. Recently, the Scottish Association of Writers asked us to judge two distinct competitions. The organizaton approached us because they knew they could get two freelancers from just one email. And, more recently, a private client approached me to do an editorial report on a crime novel after my partner suggested my expertise might be more useful than hers.
Jealousy, therefore, isn’t an issue. Perhaps this is because we’re not in direct competition; our expertise is complementary. The assumption that two freelancers will be jealous of each other’s successes only makes sense if both of you are fighting for the same jobs. Even then, its more a matter of temperament. My partner and I are both easy-going people, and we’ve made an effort to help each other get more work when possible rather than recoiling it bitterness. The way I see it, the more money we can bring into the household, the better.
Be honest about finances
I used to have a relatively stable wage, but as I continued to spend without adjusting to my freelance income, I eventually had to admit to my partner that I was struggling. It was the first time I had ever had to ask for help, and it was my pride that had stopped me from reaching out sooner.
Luckily, from her own experience, she knew what it was like during those first few years, and she had enough regular work to support my shortfall. As time went on and my income increased, I was able to pay more of an equal share. Now, we both contribute when we can, and more importantly, we’re honest about our finances.
My partner and I are lucky enough to live in a country with a free National Health Service, which minimizes some of our overall financial stress, but there are still a number of other strains every freelancer goes through. By talking about those problems and planning ahead to deal with them, we can ease some of the pressure.
Split housework fairly
For the first nine months after we moved in together. as I geared up to go freelance full-time , I spent around eight hours each day at the bookstore where I worked (often more when you factored in the commute and overtime). My partner was working from home all day and felt that since I was stressed at the day job, she needed to do something to alleviate that stress.
As a result, she did all the housework. I didn’t ask or expect her to, but she would later say that it was hard not to feel the pressure when she knew that I was out all day, while she was here, right next to all those dishes and piles of laundry. It was, she said, akin to being a 1950s housewife, and while I appreciated what she did, I hated that she felt obligated to do it.
The moment I left my day job, I made a decision to try and do as much of the housework as I could, even if I did have to ask for help. If you ever saw the place where I lived on my own, you’d understand why I needed as much direction as humanly possible when taking care of chores.
These days, we divide the work equally. Because of our separate schedules, we generally clean in the afternoon. It’s not a strict schedule, but it works for us. And, as we discovered firsthand, not sharing these tasks can crush a relationship. The key to harmony is knowing that the other person has to deal with unpleasant tasks the same way you do.
It sounds obvious—everyone needs to decompress after work. But for freelancers, especially two freelancers working in the same living space, you can’t just decompress in your home if that’s where you do most of your work in the first place.
We can’t do it every week, but at least once a month we go somewhere. Sometimes it’s a trip to the beach. Sometimes it’s a good meal out. It can be all too easy to slip out of the living room in the middle of an evening and start to work on something. Getting out removes that temptation.
So can two freelancers live together and stay sane? We think the answer is a resounding yes. (I actually double-checked with my partner before answering this question.) We’re probably crazy for trying it in the first place, but we’ve managed to survive. And this is our blueprint for survival.Image by Billionphotos.com