When I was 18 years old and a senior in high school, I volunteered for a local film festival. I attended a documentary screening and the subsequent reception afterwards and struck up a conversation with the director. I told him I was on my way to college with a Film Studies major and asked for advice. He kindly gave me his phone number and we made plans to talk once the festival was over.
A week or so later, I gave him a call. He gave me various pieces of insight on making it work as a freelancer and dealing with studio executives and financiers and other high pressure situations. But one thing he said definitely stuck with me: he said it helps to move to LA and start a career while single. Now married with two kids, he had finally reached a point in his life where he felt he could make the freelance life and family life work, but for young newbies in LA, relationships are freaking hard.
I took that advice to heart, but naturally, life and love came along and my plans changed. I met my musician boyfriend at age 19 and married him at 26, and a year later, we held hands as we lept off the proverbial cliff and into the maelstrom of the entertainment industry.
It wasn’t perfect back in our home city – no relationship is – but moving to Los Angeles and diving straight into the arduous process of building careers in entertainment flipped our marriage upside down in ways we had never imagined.
In the interest of paying forward advice that was given to me, here are some insights into life and love in the big city, based on my own experience. For those feeling the strain – or for newbies looking to follow in our misguided footsteps – here are a few tips for navigating the stress:
1) Think it through
Although both of us were aware that we needed to be in a bigger city if we really wanted to pursue these careers, the decision to go to LA was actually pretty impulsive. We quit our jobs, gave our notice to our landlord, packed up our stuff and hit the road, with no jobs waiting for us and no support network in LA. I do not recommend this course of action. At the very least, we should have established some kind of community there first, no matter how small. One of us should have stayed at home and continued working for the summer while the other went out to find an apartment and scope out the city before truly committing to the move. Taking our time and making a more informed decision would have avoided A LOT of terrible fights.
2) Meditate together
Meditation is a big help when it comes to reducing stress, which is why it’s so popular among creatives in busy cities like Los Angeles. It’s also incredibly easy to feed off of each other’s energy when sharing a small space, like most couples do in tiny LA or New York apartments. Meditating together helps reduce stress levels in both parties. Plus, it’s a nice bonding moment.
3) Use a shared calendar (and grocery list)
You know how everyone has that one chore that they hate more than all other chores combined? For me, it’s grocery shopping. So, I can’t tell you how frustrated I would get with my husband when he would eat the last of something and forget to tell me, or when he would go to the store for one thing and neglect to check with me on whether we needed anything else. The solution was a shared grocery list (the app we used is called Our Groceries). The same goes for a shared calendar. In an industry that keeps you busy at all hours, communicating on basic plans or household necessities tends to get lost in the shuffle. Use technology to your advantage to avoid a stupid fight over a gallon of milk or a co-worker’s birthday dinner.
4) Meal planning
A lot of people enjoy cooking and use it as a way to unwind at the end of the day. A lot of other people see it as another interruption to the creative process and looming deadlines. Meal planning and delivery services have become very popular lately, and for good reason. A conversation with your significant other once a week can reduce a lot of the logistical chaos of unavoidable chores (like eating). Freezer meals are always a good idea, the crock pot is a god send, and even if the plan is to order food on a certain night when both of you have to work, deciding what to order ahead of time will keep you from the endless spiral of deciding what you want.
5) House cleaning or power hour
Many of my creative friends spring for having their homes cleaned every week or two. They feel it’s worth the expense because cleaning is something that takes time away from income-generating activities that require their attention. Personally, I didn’t feel comfortable spending the money on house cleaning, so my solution was the Saturday morning power-hour. Every Saturday, we would get up, have breakfast, and spend exactly one hour cleaning before moving on to any other weekend chores, activities, or freelance work. It was a huge weight off to know that even if the apartment got dirty during the week and we were too busy or drained to do anything about it, we had our Saturday morning habit so firmly established, it wouldn’t stay dirty for too long.
6) Make sure to have friends apart from each other
Two people living and working in a small space together can create a pretty specific bubble, especially if you spend the majority of the time working from home. Even if you’re the perfect couple who can provide plenty of intellectual stimulation for each other, it’s critical to have a support network outside of the relationship. The best way to break out of The Bubble is to interact with others who love you and can bring different perspectives, different senses of humor, and different topics of conversation into your daily interactions.
7) Get out of the city together a few times a year
Taking a break and relaxing together is crucial for maintaining a peaceful home. A weekend in the mountains or in Palm Springs, a day trip to Malibu, or going home to visit family for the holidays helps alleviate the everyday stress. Taking time for a vacation is important to everyone, not just those in the entertainment industry, and I highly recommend it to anyone who is in the position to do so.
8) Be proud of each other
My husband and I had been having a particularly rough few weeks when he invited me out to see a band his company was promoting (he worked in music PR at the time). By the time we arrived, a few of his coworkers were already a couple drinks in, and very enthusiastic about meeting me. His boss even said to me, “I’m so excited to finally meet you! He never stops talking about you. It’s always ‘my wife is so smart’ and ‘my wife is so talented’ and ‘my wife is so creative’ all day!” I can’t tell you how much that meant to me. I may have been driving him crazy, but he never stopped loving me for the things I do.
9) Acknowledge the fact that you need to take turns
Creative jobs tend to cluster in big cities, and big cities are freaking expensive. In many cases, both parties making a living on freelance work is not enough, and one person will take on most of the responsibility, either through a full-time job or various other efforts and sacrifices to make it work. If you’re the one being supported right now, don’t forget to remind your partner how appreciated they are, and that you will be the one to support them someday. It’s OK to take turns, but it still needs to be a two-way street.