It's V-day today and love is definitely in the air. Even though I often dismiss it as a Hallmark Holiday, I can't help but think about my own relationship. I woke up this morning, gave Ben a hug and kiss, smothered my face into his chest hair, turned over and scrolled through my Instagram feed quickly, careful not to ruin the moment.
I saw some love memes and messages, some replies to my comments and then I put my phone away. Love is in front of me, lying with me, cuddling me. It is not on my phone.
So this afternoon, in recognition of Valentine's Day, I decided to sit down with my fiance and business partner Ben McGuire for an honest chat about our relationship and how it's changed since launching our businesses.
Jen: So it's Valentine's Day today as you know. Does this particular day mean anything to you?
Ben: It means a lot. It brings up raw emotion.
Jen: No really.
Ben: Yes really (laughs)
Jen: (laughs) No really, does this day hold any meaning for you?
Ben: It means a lot.
Jen: Valentine's Day? Really? (laughs)
Ben: Yeh because if you forget, you're fucked (laughs). So luckily two days ago you gave me a little reminder. No seriously, Valentine's Day is great. It's good to get some time away where you're forced to look at your relationship.
Jen: So you actually acknowledge the day, do something for the day? Or do you treat it as another 'Hallmark holiday'?
Ben: A what?
Jen: A Hallmark holiday.
Ben: What's that?
Jen: It's an event that only exists so that businesses can sell us stuff to make money. It's a commercialised holiday.
Ben: Yeh there's definitely a bit of that in it, but each to their own. The couple decides whether it's a Hallmark holiday or not. You and I just try to take a bit of time out of our day to spend it with each other. Sure for some people it's all about buying a present, but it's really about the couple isn't it? They make it what it is.
Jen: True true. The last Valentine's Day gift, do you remember what you gave me?
Ben: Oh you don't count that? You don't count last year's love present?
Jen: No as in an actual gift that you gave me, do you remember?
Ben: Oh you mean a material gift, you're talking about material things?
Ben: Was it a dress?
Ben: You've got a good memory don't you?
Jen: I'll give you a hint, it was when we were at TRS [IT recruitment consultancy] I mean, when I was at...
Ben: Flowers. I sent them to you...
Jen: Yes that's it.
Ben: That was ages ago.
Jen: I know... So do you remember what I was wearing when we met? (laughs)
Ben: Far out, no... I don't know... a suit?
Jen: (laughs) no.
Ben: I know you dressed up because you knew you'd be interviewing me (laughs).
Jen: Whatever.. (laughs). So you often describe us as 'yin and yang'. Why?
Ben: Because we appear so different in some ways but then in other ways we're so similar because we have the same goals in life. But just because we want the same things in life doesn't mean we're similar. And I don't know whether that comes down to nature versus nurture - because you grew up in a totally different family to what I did - or whether that means because we have the same goals, had you been brought up with similar parents whether we'd be a lot more similar. Who knows? I can't work that out. All I know is that you get upset to a lot of different things to what I get upset about.
Jen: Like what?
Ben: Well you get upset if I don't make the bed properly, but that doesn't worry me at all. You get upset if I buy Coke, and I don't care if I buy Coke. You get upset if I haven't double checked whether the doors are locked, and I couldn't care less if they are or not.
Jen: It's not about being upset....
Ben: You get upset if there's dirt on the floor and I don't care if there's dirt on the floor...
Jen: I think you're using the wrong word...
Ben: Well you know what I mean, that's where we're different. I get upset when you don't fill up the water bottle and put it back in the fridge so it's cold for us next time. I get upset if you put something away to tidy up and you don't remember where you put it. I get upset... ummm... actually I don't get upset all that much really... (laughs).
Jen: So what is it like to work with me then?
Ben: You want the truth? (laughs)
Jen: Yeh of course I do.
Ben: Well basically stay the fuck away! Do not go near her (laughs). Don't ask questions! If you're desperate to find out something ask her the question, cop your little whack, get the info and run! (laughs) That's if you're desperate. If you're not desperate, then spend the rest of the afternoon trying to work it out on your own without her (laughs). No basically, don't mix relationship and business too much. Try to keep things in separate areas so you let her do her thing and you do your thing.
Jen: Well we have different working styles and operating rhythms. How would you describe your working style?
Ben: Well I'm a team guy, I'm more, Let's get it done as a team together. You're more of an individualist, you want to get it done on your own and you don't like to be interrupted. Whereas, I'm more, Let's get it done together!
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Jen: Yeh, but that's because I'm a writer and you're in sales and business development. Writing is a solitary pursuit.
Ben: Well sometimes I just need to know where you've put that pen. And I can't interrupt because you're a writer and writing is a solitary thing and it's important you stay focussed, but then I spend two hours looking for the pen even though it would be easier if I ask:
"Hey honey, do you know where the pen is?"
But then I get this: "Excuse me? I don't know, I can't remember."
"Well it was just here..."
"Oh I don't know, I'm busy. I'm working," and you furiously start typing again. (laughs)
So basically you just have to go find the pen yourself.
Jen: (laughs) It's not like we haven't worked together before though. You know what I'm like. I hired you, in fact I did your second interview [at the IT recruitment consultancy] and I worked for you when you had your recruitment business. But now that we're working again together, how is this different from all the other times we've worked together?
Ben: Well the first time we worked for the same company but in different divisions, so you did your thing and I did my thing. The second time when you worked for me, well that was the same thing. You did your thing and I did my thing plus [that business] wasn't as serious as the ones we have now. It's full on serious - we're working to survive, paying people's wages, high stress because other people depend on you. So it's stressful. Mortgages, bills, staff. Back then [in my recruitment business] we didn't have that much to worry about.
Jen: Yeh true.
Ben: And we only had one little business, but now we've got three businesses; four if you count The Trade Hub.
Jen: Well it's been tough. We both acknowledge it's been tough.
Ben: It's been the toughest year of my life.
Jen: And the toughest year on our relationship. Do you reckon it's been worth it?
Ben: I think I've learnt a lot, we're not there financially yet but who knows, let's wait and see. I feel like I've been broken in and now I'm trotting (laughs).
Jen: You're an idiot (laughs)... So you don't regret the choices we've made?
Ben: No, I don't regret anything. I think all the bulk of the hard work's been done and now hopefully we're on our way to making millions (laughs).
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Jen: So do you think all of what we're doing, the hard work, has been worth it, even though it's had a huge affect on our relationship and we've been on edge and fighting more than we've ever had?
Ben: Yes, it's all been worth it. And I don't think there's anything wrong with our relationship.
Jen: Even though it's been really tough?
Ben: Yes... we're best buddies. We might not be shagging all that much, but the relationship is super strong (laughs).
Jen: (laughs) Don't you think there's something wrong with that though?
Ben: Oh fuck that, who cares? It's reality isn't it? I mean, what do you expect we've got all these businesses going, you've got heaps of stress, you have heaps of staff, you're not going to want to have sex after all that right?
Jen: Yeh people have families, and we don't. Instead, we have businesses - so I guess there's more people out there going through similar things. But still, how do you think we can solve these issues?
Ben: We just got to keep doing what we're doing, building up the businesses and hopefully my business is reasonably solid by next year. Hopefully your blog's pretty solid by next year.
Jen: Do you think it will get easier from here?
Ben: It already feels easier than last year, doesn't it? Even though it's a nightmare still. Like I've done all my admin this morning, I've gone out to schools, I've signed up eight businesses and now I'm here doing this interview and soon as this interview finishes I've got to go off and see customers again. It's a horrible day really. Who would ever want this day? It's a bad day!
Jen: Well what does your best day look like?
Ben: Build a little cabin at home. Get it all ready. Put the last brick up on the dam and fill it up with water. They're good days. Why what's your best... yeh well the thing with you is, your best day is THIS day because you love what you do (laughs). Don't you? You can slave away like a dog over Eco Warrior Princess no worries and you absolutely love it.
Jen: (laughs) True. So what do you reckon our secret is to being together so long?
Ben: Because we genuinely love each other... hopefully (laughs). Seriously without love we could never have gotten this far, put it that way (laughs). It must be love. Remember that song, Must Be Love? (starts to sing the song)
Jen: Well if you take a look back at our eight year relationship, why do you think it's worked? I know you say love but that's such a generic term isn't it? People often say they love each other, but what does that actually mean? How do you know you're in love?
Ben: Love's not a word, it's a feeling. So you actually feel the love. And you know me, I don't genuinely like a lot of people, but I genuinely like you (laughs). No really, when I think about you getting hurt, I get genuinely upset. If I think of you feeling bad, I get upset. I want you to be happy, I want you to enjoy life, I want it to be easy for you, I want you to succeed, I want you to get what you want. Do you want to go to the bedroom now? (laughs)... No it's when you have those thoughts and feelings for somebody and you look at them and go, wow they're hot as well. So you're sexually attracted to them but you genuinely care for them too. I think that's why it's worked for us.
Jen: Do you think we've changed a lot since we first hooked up?
Ben: Of course we have.
Jen: In what way?
Ben: We've just matured. We're no longer young and aloof. We're more like, Have you put the coffee on? Yes it's on. What are you doing, are you doing admin? No in an hour. Ok well then you're heading out to see clients right? Yes yes. Are we having lunch now? Dinner? Yes yes yes... There's no, We're taking the day off and going swimming!
Jen: Well even people who don't have the same amount of responsibilities we do - and we have a lot going on - they don't even have that freedom really. They can only do so on public holidays or on weekends or annual leave.
Ben: Well at least they get to throw sickies. Remember those? I wish we could chuck a sickie. What about Monday when the staff aren't in, you wanna chuck a sickie?
Jen: No, we can't.
Ben: Point proven.
[Interview ends. We both realise the time and Ben has to go out to see clients.]
Running businesses together changes the dynamic of your relationship, as I'm sure happens when couples have kids.
There are banalities of everyday life that we can't escape. Spontaneity makes way for responsibility and love and intimacy evolves from infatuation to something more. It's deeper, more authentic, more real. And I guess this conversation with my fiance and business partner Ben illustrates these points perfectly.
So today on this Valentine's Day - regardless of whether you see it as a Hallmark holiday or not, whether you celebrate it or don't even acknowledge it - try to enjoy the day.
Grand romantic gestures on days like these are definitely appreciated (not that I've seen any evidence of this yet from Ben and it's now almost 6:30pm) if only to break up the monotony of ordinary life. Like Ben said, Valentine's Day - in fact, life - is really what you make it. It's up to you to decide how much love you want to show, share, shower with your loved one today.
If Ben and I - who sleep, eat, work together - can make an effort, surely you can too.
You can wait until tomorrow to do so if you're not into Valentine's Day or the week after - but seriously why make love wait?