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Why Dreams Can Be Hell on Relationships, and Twelve Steps to Fuel Them Both

Joel Eisenberg is a writer-producer, and partner in Council Tree Productions, a television development company. He is also a former teacher.


I've Lived It. Learn from Me.

I was convinced I would never meet my soulmate. After all, I was an over-analytical, introspective, introverted writer. My idea of paradise was to grow an ankle-length beard while living alone in a log cabin as its windows glowed with sun-drenched snow. I would stare out those windows, at the variously-obscured views - a wind-shorn tree here, an old spun-out car there - that collectively served as an overarching metaphor for my overly-dramatic internal struggle to compose the Great American Novel.

Such was my dream, my being, and had been since I was 13. This is the perspective from which I will undertake the words that follow. I needed to be a professional writer. I was called "Peter Pan" by more than one ex-girlfriend, and yet mine was no simple goal. It was the lifestyle I so passionately sought. I wanted it all. I wanted to earn an honest living through my art. I wanted to live the artist's life - which I think I'm doing today but cannot possibly define. I dreamt of having a certain freedom over my career, and I would work diligently until I got there. I'd worry about meeting the bills while continuing to write despite the worries of others.

"It's such a longshot," one said. "You're analytical and good with kids, so go into School Psychology," said another. "You'll never write for a living. Be real. There's too much competition."

Real quotes, one and all. I was, however - and remain - a stubborn ass who could listen to one entity and one entity only: my muse.

Did the battle between flesh and spirit have anything whatsoever to do with my angst? No to the latter. Meeting my potential as a writer while being distracted with a physical and emotional relationship was the headache.

I was safe, though. I'd never meet anyone, anyway. I was far too shy by nature, and I convinced myself I enjoyed being alone. In truth, I loathed being alone, but for those artistic sensibilities ...

Living with me would have been a nightmare. It was a fait accompli.

But then lightning struck on my 36th birthday. I met the woman of my dreams, that unattainable someone I was convinced did not exist.

That miracle could have been, and perhaps should have been, problematic. We make it work. We've been married now for nearly 20 years, and in that time we both learned how to respect the other's required professional libido.

Not a misprint. When work veritably defines one's identity, most typically to my observation in the instance of artists and entrepreneurs, it is not unusual for professional and sexual - and emotional - fulfillment to be intertwined. For many, all three are akin to breathing, and personal insecurities remain most effectively hidden when one maintains a sense of control.

How does an artist, for these purposes, maintain that control? Can anyone married to their profession really make a relationship work? It is a two-way street. We frequently hear about Hollywood divorces, or writers or musicians who exchange significant others like cars at the end of their leases.

The simple answer is a resounding "yes." We can have it all. But when a non-platonic relationship blooms between a dreamer and a pragmatist, simple rules must be established early.

And then followed to the T.

"The Old Guitarist" by Pablo Picasso (1903)

"The Old Guitarist" by Pablo Picasso (1903)

Solitude and Focus: Primary Needs of The Artist

When a pragmatist attends to the proper care and feeding of an artist (or just dates them), they must understand that artists are neither whom nor what they believe them to be.

We're ... complex.

Despite the above subtitle, of course not all artists prefer to work in solitide, nor are many of us skilled in focus.

Personally, I have Attention-Deficit Disorder. Was I diagnosed? No, but I'll be 55 in two weeks and taught Special Education classes for a decade. There were far more than surface similarities between me and my students. I own my madness. Most of the time, they owned theirs too.

But I digress.

Artists are odd ducks. Artists are eccentric. Artists are --

Impossible to categorize. So why bother? We're all individuals. We're all different, so pigeonholing the lot of us is an honest lesson in futility.

We do, though, tend to have some specific tendences in common. Focus is cherished and rarely easy. The solitude I alluded to above? Many of us go about it differently. For example, I need my earbuds in at all times while I write, listening to Spotify while the television (usually MSNBC, or a film) plays in the background. Somehow, this degree of stimulus draws me into my task and enables my focus.

To me, this noise is solitude, as I've effectively blocked unwanted distractions.

If my pragmatic wife, though, walks in when I'm writing, she'll shake her head and either walk out, or go through a routine of shoulder tapping to get my attention in the event of an emergency.

Does such a high maintenance tic (let's call it what it is) accentuate my personal eccentricity and make me that much more of a pain in the ass?

Of course. But, again, I earn my living through my art. We both understand the abject necessity of my efforts paying off, especially as she's asked me for one thing and one thing only over the years:


And, I understand and respect what she must do as well, to meet her personal and professional goals.

We must stay the course, and remain mutually respectful in doing so.


Convention: A Pragmatist's Best Friend

Hell no. Not in a hundred years. I cannot abide sameness in my day-to-day. Predictability is anathema to most artists, as it is comfort to a pragmatist. (Yes, there are exceptions to every rule; my words are general.)

You both need to compromise a bit if each believes the significant other warrents it. If not, the relationship is doomed to fail. I'm not referring to compromise as would Howard Roark (Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead); I'm referring to bending to a degree that makes the day-to-day easier for your partner.

This is not a tall order. This is called "being responsible." I am not asking for you or anyone to compromise on either artistry, or dreaming.

If you both, though, want the relationship to succeed, the dreamer - the artist in this case - must understand the multiple needs of the pragmatist.

In general, those needs would include the aforementioned requirement for stability, the comfort of a regular income (not the artist's strong suit), the bills being paid on time (some of us will smirk at that one) and free time to enjoy the fruits of their labors.

They deserve piece of mind as you do.


A Pragmatic Artist and an Artistic Pragmatist Meet in a Bar ...

It'll never work may be the first thing that comes to mind, but that tough scenario does happen. And it can work. Though each term -- pragmatic artist and artistic pragmatist -- may be an oxymoron in and of itself, if you consider our individuality then perhaps we'd recognize that these two could fill gaps if their personal goals are aligned.

How many times have you heard something along the lines of, "We're good for each other because I'm good at things he's not, and he's good at things I'm not."

It's that.

The above couple may well be all smiles and happily married for the next 50 years, as the rest of us deal with our own relationship drama. In their presence we may shake our heads and ask ourselves, "What does she see in him, anyway?" Or vice-versa.

The truth is most always the same: They work at it, which includes asking for "help" if necessary.

Let's get specific.


Your Rules, Mr. Phelps.

Artists require unwavering support and tolerance for their:

1. Dreams

2. Work

3. Interpersonal Relationships

4. Networking Efforts

5. Quirks

6. Obsessive Need For Self-Expression

Pragmatists, or realists, require unwayvering support and tolerance for ... all of the above, plus:

7. Stability (Artists, on the other hand, are split as to the importance of stability. We all want to pay our bills and we all want to be comfortable. While some believe the very concept is dangerous to the more volatile artistic mind, others consider it an abject necessity.)

8. Bills Paid on Time

9. Doctors Appointments as Necessary (I've learned in my years of conversations with other artists that, like myself, we tend towards extremes. Some are hypochondriacs; others wouldn't take a pill for fear that it would somehow disrupt the creative impulse. Those who take to substances, on the other hand, to expand those impulses play with fire. The statement is not a judgement call. It is a question mark as to how much one can physically and mentally withstand for the desired result.)

10. Order

11. Health

12. Friends

The differences between the two personality-types above appear to be matters of degree more than anything else, as if you read both lists closely each entry can certainly apply to each group.

Feel free to share opposing views, as I'm all for convincing arguments to the contrary.

Maybe I'll learn something.


To Summarize ...

The name of this article is Why Dreams Can Be Hell on Relationships, and Twelve Steps to Fuel Them Both. I believe I addressed the latter more comprehensively.

My reasoning was simple: I do not have all the answers. What I know for sure is everyone dreams of (hopes for) success at least once in their lives, both personal and professional. No one is entirely bereft of ambition, though laziness, despair and giving up are equal factors to persistence and not knowing when or how to quit.

Doesn't mean they cannot one day pick up the mantle with renewed vigor, however, if life's usual rigors have temporarily overcome them.

On the relationship side, take a little and give more if you believe you've met "the one," the person of your dreams. Make it work. Do whatever it takes.

That's my best advice.