joan mitchell

Relationships Questions: When You End Up Alone, Again

Does a creative person need to be with another creative person?

I remember talking to a friend, a week before I broke up with my last girlfriend, “I’m just so lucky to be in this loving relationship right now. I don’t know what I’d do if I had to face this alone.”

And, I’m alone.

Then with my past fiancé, as we were wrapping it up, I said, “We’re just two people who really don’t want to be alone. But being together isn’t working out.”

And, alone.

Turns out, if you’re single, all of your previous relationships have failed. And so, we are alone again. Perhaps, there are a few things we need to relearn, upon becoming single again:

  • You can eat what you want when you want (you don’t have to ask where they’d like to go)
  • You can nap whenever you like
  • You can leave the laundry on top of the dryer as long as you like
  • The entertainment for the evening is you
  • The alone time allotment will shrink as your enthusiasms and hobbies increase
  • Sleeping in is more fun with someone else
  • Sex with yourself is a ______ (I’m going to let you fill in that blank for yourself)
  • Seeking someone to date is more like Legend of Zelda than an eHarmony commercial
  • You, and only you, are responsible for your success in life

That last one is universal if you are in a relationship or not. However, as a single person, your motivation and competition are 100% up to you. You have all the time you need. What are you going to do, watch Netflix or work on your book? Sometimes, when you are in a relationship, and you’re a creative person, having that “what are we doing tonight” discussion was an obligation. And not necessarily a good one. Creatives need time alone to create. People in a relationship with creatives, who are not creatives themselves, need to find other stuff to do to entertain themselves. (drink, read, watch Netflix alone, go out with friends)

There is no question when I’m in a creative period, I’m counting on having some evenings where I’m not into “entertainment.” My mind and my project are entertaining me, and actually, I’m a bit distracted anyway, you’ll like me better after I’ve solved this problem in the studio.

So, does a creative person need to be with another creative person?

That’s an interesting question. When I was courting my wife, we were both “into our studios.” Saturday and Sunday would consist of breakfast together and a kiss and “let’s touch base around 5 to talk about dinner.” If either of us was “on fire” we’d gladly continue on alone and let the creative fires burn brightly. And we’d be happy for the other person in the process.

In my last two relationships, my creative time was often a struggle for my partner. Yes, but you like the musician and writer part of me, right? They wanted the “creative time” to happen outside of entertainment time. And that’s a problem.

In a relationship, we need to not be dependent on our partners for 100% of our entertainment. With an artist, this scenario becomes the hobble that begins both people down the path of resentment. The creative person resents the non-creative person for wanting so much of their time. The non-creative sees all “studio time” as time away from them, and thus, they are not the most important thing in the creative’s life. It’s an impasse. And it often ends in a breakup.

In the case of my marriage, my then-wife transitioned out of her art studio and into her mom-role when she had our first child. She became even more mom-focused with the birth of our second child. And before long, as hard as I would try to be a good a responsible husband, with chores and money and time, the resentment began to enter our marriage too. As I was still staying up late at night to get some creative time in, she was trying to catch up on her sleep. I was aflame with creative inspiration and tiredness was not going to keep me from it. She was exhausted, as only a mother can be, and needed time to reset all of her physical, emotional, and spiritual clocks.

“Hello, I’m a creative. Are you?”

At some point along the journey, my music became a problem for her. What she fell in love with, when we met, “me as a singer-songwriter,” is what started to piss her off more and more. It wasn’t like I was not contributing on all fronts in the relationship. It was more like my continued enthusiasm for creativity pointed our her own loss of creative drive. She stopped painting and started complaining that I was spending too much time in my studio writing songs and stories.

So I’m alone. Again. And you know what? Things are fine here, alone. Yes, I missed having a close girlfriend as my brother died. Yes, I would still love to have a partner in my life. But, the disturbances of an incomplete partner in my life, was not worth the comfort that relationship provided. I know more now. I’m learning again about the things that are critical to me, even when I’m alone. Especially when I’m alone. And I won’t compromise those parts of myself to “entertain” another partner.

Perhaps creatives need to be with other creatives. Sure, that can present some problems with competitiveness or scheduling. But those problems might be easier to deal with when the other person has time-alone-to-create needs as well.

If I am happy alone, creating and aspiring with all the time available to me. Perhaps, I need to look for another creative person, who has similar creative impulses. I can support another artist in all her endeavors. I can celebrate the times when she wants to stay later in her studio rather than come home to be with me. Canceling plans because a creative project is ON FIRE is one of the highlights of life as a creative person. Perhaps, it takes a creative to love a creative.


John McElhenney – life coach austin texas
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Dating 2.0

Image: Joan Mitchell in her studio, creative commons usage

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This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Jay

    I enjoy your blog, John, and looked forward to reading this one as I am a visual artist. But sometimes you make sweeping statements that annoy me!

    This time it’s, “if you’re single, all of your previous relationships have failed.” There was another about childless women having made choices that left them unable to really understand you as a father.

    My husband and I had been together for 34 years when he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, we had four more months together. Our relationship had survived the pain of seven miscarriages and 10 years of failed infertility treatment. When we had to give up on having a family we dealt with our emotions very differently, that was difficult, but we came through even stronger in our partnership. Weathering experiences that often break a marriage brought us closer through not just accepting our differences but valuing them, learning so much about each other and about ourselves. I believe we both became more empathetic toward other people too.

    During his last month, my husband brought home logs from his woodland and made jam from the blackberries that grew there, “You will be warm and have something sweet this winter.” I could not think beyond his disease, but he spoke of my future without him. He said, “You have an enormous capacity for love” and he hoped I would love and be loved again. One day during the last week of his life I wore his favourite dress and he told me, “You look so beautiful in blue. When you get a date, wear blue. It makes your eyes shine so.”

    If it was only through shared experiences that we develop the ability to empathise and to connect with a new partner I would not currently be getting very close with a divorced father of two teenagers. They each stay with him one night a week to have 1:1 time together, and they both stay every other weekend. Many plans we have between those times are altered or abandoned because his daughters need him (usually a lift in Dad-taxi) or his ex changes arrangements.

    Maybe it helps that I am pleased to have stretches of art-time without either of us feeling I am neglecting him. But I think it is more to do with the sense of perspective I have gained.
    Losing my husband just after his 59th birthday and our grief for our thwarted hopes for a family has given me clarity about what matters. Now I find it easy to let go of things that don’t. I am more forgiving, patient, tolerant of others and ready to laugh at myself. I don’t “sweat the small stuff.” And I never get angry at other drivers, except when a stream of them don’t signal that they are coming off the nearby main road and round the awkward junction that I am trying to get out of!

    My new man feels this independent, childless woman empathises with his life-story. Most importantly, he believes that a widow who dares to love again, to take the 50:50 odds of being bereaved again, is offering a love worth having. I know he’s doing all he can to nurture it.

    And yes, on our first date I wore blue.

    1. jmacofearth

      Thanks for your heartfelt comment, Jay. I don’t mean to annoy, but I am telling “my” truth. The childless women I’ve dated have not had the same empathy for me as a father. They did not engage with my kids, nor put in the effort to bond with them. That’s just my experience. I am so happy to hear you are so different.

      And when a relationship ends, in my universe, it is a failure. That’s a simple statement of fact. I am not sure how this upsets you, but that’s okay, it’s not my place to make everyone happy. I am here to tell my story, as close to my truth as possible. That’s what I’m doing. Trying to tell my truth. Experience may not match yours, and on the relationship front, I am happy for you.

      Your friend along the path,

      1. Jay

        Thank you, John.
        I’m really sorry the childless women you dated made no effort with your children. Maybe they defined themselves as “child-free” through choice and never wanted children close in their lives? But for anyone without children, through choice, infertility or circumstance, it is quite a challenge to get things right around the children of a new partner and I am sure some people don’t know where to start. There’s such a balance needed between being interested but not invasive, sharing time and giving space….. Very early days for me, but I trust I can make it work…..I have two female friends who didn’t have their own children but have lovely relationships with their now long-term partners’ children. They are cheering me on!

        Just to explain – I was probably being pedantic and too literal, but when I read, “if you’re single, all of your previous relationships have failed,” my heart said “No-oo! I became single because I am a widow. That’s not a failed relationship!” I am a little sensitive just now as autumn brings the anniversary of my husband’s death around.

        My experience has been that people make assumptions about older single women, especially those without children, assumptions that can be negative and hurtful. After my husband’s funeral, one woman told me, “You are lucky that you didn’t have kids, it’ll make it easier for you to move on. Without kids, you can’t ever be as close as a mother and father are to each other, like me and my first husband. We went through so much together as parents!” Ironically this woman acrimoniously divorced the husband she was so close to and, till they grew up, was notorious for using the kids in their ongoing battle!

        On the upside, I am going to the coast with my partner at the weekend. I’ll paint, he will fish and we’ll walk together. The girls are away with their mum, all having a great time, so our plans should be safe this time!

        Thanks for telling your truth – your blog rings a lot of bells – my partner says it’s so true to his experience of divorce.

        I’ll end with the words my oldest friend and I use when we sign off our emails:
        Look after your heart…

        1. jmacofearth

          Again, thank you for taking the time to write. While it does seem like your case is an exception to my statement, about “all relationships” but even in death things end. So, you have an exception. For those of us with several trailing, failed, relationships, if we’re single, those relationships, with the living, have failed for one reason or another.

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