It is very difficult to be successful professionally if your house isn’t in order. I get the sense that couples everywhere are re-evaluating their marriages, most likely driven by being forced to spend more time together because of the pandemic. After getting the green light from my wife, Sina, I’ve decided to share our story in the hopes that it helps anyone else out there gain some perspective.
The Portrayal of Love in the 80s and 90s
As a boy I was always more emotional than my other male friends. Growing up in the 80s and 90s, watching movies like Karate Kid, It Could Happen to You, When Harry Met Sally, Pretty Woman and pretty much anything with Tom Hanks, I had no chance. The story was always somewhat similar. Man meets beautiful sweet woman and they fall in love. I remember watching those movies and falling in love every time, thinking “That’s what I want.”
The movie never shows you what happens later after they’ve been married for 10 years. Furthermore the female characters in these movies never had any real grit, and rarely had their own professional careers or life goals beyond being rescued by that perfect man.
One of the movies I remember growing up with was Flashdance. I recently watched it with my 9 and 10 year old daughters and was completely horrified at the blatant sexualization of the main female character and the portrayal of her as a helpless jealous girl needing to be rescued by her rich boyfriend. It’s amazing how as a child you don’t necessarily question what you see on screen. I just knew I wanted to be one of these men that rescues a beautiful woman and lives happily ever after.
How will new generations view marriage?
It was hard enough being a kid in the 80s and 90s and trying to figure it all out. I’m a boy, why don’t I like football? Why do I cry at an emotional TV commercial? Why don’t I like beer? Am I gay? If so why am I so attracted to women and not at all to men? What about all the movies where the nerdy, nice, sensitive guy gets the beautiful girl? Can’t buy me love, Back to the Future… can’t that really happen? Or is it only in the movies? It wasn’t until college that I finally felt that girls were attracted to me because of these character traits.
I’m glad that kids today are not growing up with such rigid definitions of gender and roles. I wonder how today’s movies and shows with the boy meets boy and girl meets girl storylines are shaping what love looks like for kids. Marriage is no longer defined by society as a man and a woman creating a family. I remember seeing older couples on the dance floor and hoping that I too would have that. What will kids today want for their future? It can’t be easy.
The New Focus on Self
Wellness, self-fulfillment, find yourself, love yourself, figure out who you are and be happy and secure with yourself before you can be happy with someone else. These are all trends and messages that have increasingly emerged over the last 20 years, and I believe that’s a good thing. But can marriage still work today if we truly put ourselves first and ensure that we are fulfilled and happy?
I think the answer is yes, but only if the two people involved in the marriage both acknowledge to themselves and to each other that this is their approach to life. The commitment then becomes, I love who you are and respect and support whatever you want out of life, and will be with you regardless of how that changes over time. But it takes a tremendous amount of tolerance, empathy, self-confidence and security to be in a relationship like that. Frankly, I don’t know many people that have enough of all those things to do it.
Marriages Everywhere are Struggling
I’ve made it a point lately to reconnect with friends that I haven’t spoken to in years (in some cases decades). The one common theme in every single conversation is how surprisingly difficult marriage is. Many have split up, some more than once, or at best, their marriage is struggling.
The reasons behind the struggles are also similar. Money, sex, stress, kids are among the many factors, and not necessarily in that order. People are pursuing their dreams, focusing more on themselves and their own happiness first, and with today’s complex always connected world, there just isn’t time to focus enough on a spouse and kids. Too many of us spend our first and last minutes each day with our phones instead of our spouses.
I now have a newfound admiration for older couples that I see that are still together. I’m sure they faced their own set of challenges, but certainly not the same technology-driven distractions, and complex professional and social dynamics that we face today.
We are no Exception
In 2009, I fulfilled my childhood dream that I grew up seeing in the movies, in which a gorgeous woman falls in love with a nerdy, sensitive man. My wife Sina, who could easily have been on magazine covers, married me. But unlike the movies which end after the happy couple gets married, our relationship continued to change and evolve.
Sina was not the simple passive girl waiting to be rescued. She had a successful career and worked her way up to a key executive position. She had strong opinions, grit, and attitude. These are all traits I am glad my 2 daughters will learn from her. I’ve learned a lot from her and she has opened my eyes to new ways of seeing things about life and the world. That said, she is not the sweet, loving, maternal woman that I always thought I would end up with.
Ironically, that doesn’t mean that our marriage doesn’t work since we have reversed gender roles in that regard. I invest a lot of time in providing emotional support to Sina and the girls. But if I invest so much into my wife and daughters’ happiness, how can I focus on me and make sure I am fulfilled and happy with so much responsibility at home?
What I’ve realized is that Sina brings things to the table that I never even knew could make a family and life so interesting and fulfilling. On a recent catch up with a close friend I said “Having a family has been one of the most incredible experiences, but it came with sacrifices that I never thought I’d be able to live with.”
Rebuilding a Solid Foundation
Marriage is messy, it’s complicated, and it’s fucking hard. Now imagine doing it while trying to bootstrap a tech business from the ground up, with all of the pressure and economic uncertainty that comes with it. Being an entrepreneur comes with even more ups and downs than a marriage. I don’t know what the marriage survival rate of entrepreneurs is compared to the average, but I can guess. Mistakes will be made. You can bounce back and forth between the brink of bankruptcy and the possibility of economic independence multiple times. This can be scary for both partners and requires the unconditional support on behalf of the spouse for a marriage to survive.
The pandemic has likely forced a lot of couples to reevaluate. There’s nothing like being trapped in a house or apartment together to make you take stock of where you fall on the spectrum of love and hate. No more business travel to give people some much needed space and time alone. Lots of time at home to think about life and if this is the one you want.
In line with my theme for 2022 of “New Beginnings”, I have had some much needed open conversations with Sina. I’ve realized that it’s ok if our marriage doesn’t fit the unrealistic mold that I painted for myself in my childhood. It’s also ok if it’s messy and difficult. It’s supposed to be. Sina and I are extremely different people and that’s what makes us a strong couple and parents. We have a mutual passion for exploring new countries, cultures and languages. This is what brought us together in the first place and what we want for our kids. We are partners, and we are best friends. We agree that everyday should be lived like it’s your last and to live life with a purpose. That said, I do need to be more proactive about doing what makes me happy. The key is communicating what I need and taking responsibility for those things.
Marriage is Like Business
You can’t fire your kids, but you do have the ability to influence who they become as a team member. You can of course fire your spouse. As a CEO I focus on open dialogue and transparency. I have the same approach and philosophy at home with my wife and daughters. When I build a team for a company, I focus more on who the person is. I know everyone will make mistakes but the intention is what matters. Does this person’s values align with the company’s core values? Everyone brings strengths to the table. The key is to recognize those strengths, value them, and remember that that’s why you hired them in the first place. Startup life is full of unexpected twists and turns, but it’s your team and their strengths that help the company survive. The same applies to your family. I certainly don’t have the answers but I hope this story helps in some way and helps some of you find some perspective.