You’d think that a workaholic romance wouldn’t pan out, considering the fact that workaholism really does destroy many relationships. In fact, many psychology experts already consider this a serious addiction-type condition among professionals due to the fact that the most severe cases inhibit a person’s ability to have feelings about anything apart from their work. This emotional stunting, many people feel, is the reason why you can’t expect workaholics to have a romantic bone in their bodies.
For the most part, I think there is a whole lot of truth in this. An addiction to the feelings of control and power you get from a job well done really could get in the way of one’s ability to address the emotional needs of another human being.
But that doesn’t mean that it’s impossible to have a workaholic romance.
A Tale of Two Workaholics
Confession time: once upon a time, I was a serious workaholic. I did not look the part — I wasn’t the power suit and high heels kind of professional — but that didn’t mean that I didn’t devote 100% of my life to doing my job as well as I could. I took every compliment as a signal to work even harder and better than I was doing before. Every failure felt like a fatal wound.
Once upon a time, my significant other was ALSO a serious workaholic. Often, he would stay at the office for practically an entire week — he’d only go home for a few hours on a Sunday just so he could get his dirty clothes to the laundry and pick up a clean set of clothes for his work week. He took pride in the fact that he could work harder than everyone else in his company, that he could stay longer without getting sick and that he could deliver phenomenal results because he focused all his time and energy on his tasks.
In short, we were the kind of people who wanted to do things right and then wanted to do things better afterwards.
Finding Love in a Work-Type Place
I won’t go into the details, but at some point he and I ended up having to work with each other on a specific project. Somewhere between the email and fax online exchanges, we developed a healthy respect for and a somewhat awkward attraction towards each other. At meetings, there would be unconscious innuendos that our co-workers would point out later on.
By the time the project ended, we weren’t exactly sure that we wanted to completely stop talking to each other. Needless to say, it was entirely new territory for us; we weren’t used to wanting to do things that didn't directly contribute to our ability to do great work for our companies. He even confessed that he actually asked his friends a semi-joke of a question: “What is this ‘dating’ you speak of?” Meanwhile, I just assumed that I would get over these feelings (which I hadn’t had since high school).
Three months after the project ended, I set up a meeting with him to discuss the new terms of our affiliation. We’ve been together ever since.
How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Life Outside Work
All it really took for us to give romance a go was a contract. I’m not kidding; we even had a couple of lawyer friends who wrote it up for us on a lark. It took a whole lot of negotiation, but eventually we came up with an arrangement we were happy with — we acted like this relationship was a work project that we needed to collaborate on.
We had scheduled meetings (dates) and itineraries (dinner, museum trips, and the like). We devised performance metrics and did regular “peer evaluations” (we would tell each other how we could have done some things better). It was unconventional, for sure, but we discovered that treating our relationship like our work actually helped us become more emotionally engaged in something other than our professional lives.
Eventually, we started to expand the “it’s part of my job” approach to other personal aspects of our lives — with our families and friends — and we ended up being more balanced people for it.
It’s Probably Not for Everyone
Of course, this kind of thing isn’t really for everyone. In fact, I’d be the first to admit that circumstances were in our favor. If we weren’t both workaholics, then the pre-scheduled “I love you” private messages or weekly “sweet nothings” emails would probably not have worked. If one of us did not recover from the chronic workaholism, then this relationship would have failed.
But I do think that I’ve discovered the secret to making a workaholic romance work — clear expectations and reasonable payoffs. I know that it sounds like a terribly unromantic way to go about a relationship with someone, but I’d like to argue that taking the time to communicate and work out your needs and expectations as a couple is a great way of showing how much you care. Sometimes, going with the flow hinders the romance; this is especially true when one party ends up feeling shortchanged.
Things worked out for us. Who knows? Maybe things can work out for you too.