In my ten or so years of dating, I’ve experienced triumphs, failures, heartbreaks, butterflies, and everything in between. I’ve been flat-out rejected and I’ve rejected flat-out. But a recent string of love and loss has given me cause to rethink my behavior in relationships and reflect on how to be a better lover. These are the things I’ve learned about love.
Soul mates are real. Perfection is not. Having logged far more time with computers than women, I’ve come to expect that relationships should operate in a similarly predictable fashion. And, much as a web designer pushes pixels until their design is perfect, so too can we pigeonhole our significant others into being perfect by our measure, right? No. We humans are generally fucked up. We have ugly faces when we wake up, we smell when we come home from a long day, and we’re prone to misery at the most inoppurtune times. While it might be the case you’re with your soul mate, recognize they’re just as human as you are. Loving their inperfections is often more important than loving their good qualities.
A hot date is exciting. But a hot date won’t take care of you. Countless times during my last relationship, I explained to my lover that I wanted to “see other people.” I thought it better to express this desire and talk about it rather than act upon it callously behind her back. I’ve always had a hard time with commitment, be it with my living situation, job, or relationship. But only recently, I’ve realized that a “hot date” gets cold fast. I’m reminded of a quote by relationship expert Chris Rock:
You gotta think about life in the long term. Now, people tell you life is short. No it’s not. Life is loooong. Especially if you make the wrong decisions! And in the long term, if I’m sick, is new pussy going to take care of me? No. If I’m hungry, is new pussy going to feed me? New pussy can’t cook!
Happiness in a relationship comes from within yourself. Your lover can’t make you happy, and you can’t make them happy. The best you can do is provide support to act as a catalyst for their happiness and have faith that they’ll come around. So many times I’ve found myself unattracted to my partners, not recognizing that it might have been my own lack of awareness causing our mutual grief.
In order to truly love, you must first truly love yourself. I’ve experienced this on both sides of the table. Nothing is less alluring or attractive than a lover who can’t muster the courage and strength to take care of themselves. Deficient self-love is the root cause of codependency in my experience. In cultivating healthy self-love, you’ll appear more vibrant, capable, and desirable.
Next time, I’ll be a better lover.
I’ve worked in the startup scene for the better part of a decade. In that time, I’ve built MVP’s, maintained production applications, and generally helped people with ideas turn those ideas into working realities. And in that time, I’ve logged hours on late nights, weekends, and other time I would have been spending time with my loved ones had I not allowed the pervasive “live to work” startup culture permeate my being.
The sense of urgency when working in a startup can indeed breed excitement and form cohesion. But none of our work is, by definition of the word, urgent. Some of us might be building systems whose reliability and availability does save (or cost) lives. Those excluded (and you deserve kudos for your dedication), we work in an industry of seemingly unending urgency despite the inconsequntial nature of our labor.
That’s not to say we’re not making great things. Or that the things we make aren’t valuable and world-changing. But it is to say that there are more consequential, valuable experiences to be had than manipulating text and images on an expensive pane of painted glass. I’ve actually heard of startup founders who admitted their company was more important to them than their spouses. It is this brand of irrationality that has turned me into a mercenary.
My life’s passion is to be a better human, to cultivate love among those closest to me.
As a mercenary, I’m eager to solve your problems. But they’re still your problems. I take responsibility for my mistakes and take credit for my triumphs within your organization. But my life’s passion is to be a better human, to cultivate love among those closest to me, and to have time to take the hard-earned fruits of my mercenary labor to solve my own problems. Taking on the brunt of your organization’s hardships by working when I could be traveling, loving, making, and playing sucks the soul right out of life. It begs the question: What is it all for?
That’s why I’ll always be a mercenary.
Despite my relatively stable income, maintaining a healthy, consistent savings rate has always been a difficult test of my will. Either I’d find a new, shiny toy I just couldn’t live without or I’d find myself in an emergency situation where spending was my only option.
I’ve always been under the impression that credit cards were to be used sparingly, but I never considered the ramifications of making interest payments and how disempowering “buy now, pay later” really is on your psyche. And, when you don’t have a savings plan, rainy days quickly turn into credit card balances.
In 2012, I spent most of the year catching up with my 2011 tax payments. I jokingly refer to 2012 as my lost year, akin to the Japanese Lost Decade. Recognizing the error of my ways, I sought to find a methodology which would ensure this type of catastrophe would never happen again.
When receiving money, whether by way of your paycheck, a gift, or a garage sale, the typical procedure is to put it in our wallet or bank account and then spend it with mild to medium discretion. As long as we spend less than our income, we’ll come out okay, right?
This strategy would suit us fine if we knew, with utter certainty, that our income will always exceed our necessary expenditures. Unfortunately, such casual treatment of our income doesn’t account for a grave flaw in human nature: our tendency to justify wreckless spending because we’ll make more money later.
In recognizing this pattern of earning and spending, I realized the only solution was to formalize a process around my income. Now, rather than simply depositing my income into my checking account and transferring an arbitrary amount into my savings account (usually only to be transferred back so I can buy “shiny new toy X”), I apply a series of filters to my income:
- 25% is set aside to pay my income taxes
- 15% is deposited into my savings account
- 10% is reinvested into my business (this pays for things like my Internet access, business cards, conference fees, etc)
- The remaining 50% is “mine”.
I’m self-employed and withhold my own taxes, so of the items in the schedule above, only #2 might apply to you. I’ve found that saving 15% of my income is the sweet spot where I have enough liquidity month-to-month without having to habitually dip into my savings account to maintain my standard of living.
I use a spreadsheet to track every penny of my income and how it should be appropriated. By establishing consistent process for your income, you’ll find yourself saving more and spending less.
Your new rewards card
When you save a percentage of your income rather than feebly saving arbitrary amounts each month, a pretty sweet thing happens: all of the sudden you accumulate a sizable balance and realize those credit cards you carry in your wallet suddenly feel less useful. Most people use credit cards “for the rewards” or “in emergencies.” The truth is, carrying a high savings account balance yields astronomically higher rewards. Consider the following scenario.
Jane has a Chase Freedom Visa with a 15.99% APR and a $5,000 credit limit. She also has no savings account. Jane only carries a balance on the card in emergencies. Last night, her dog Sparky woke her up howling in the early morning and, startled, she took him to the animal hospital. Sparky needed emergency surgery. She swiped her Visa and incured a $1,683 charge overnight. Assuming she pays back her credit card bill using approximately 15% of her $4,000 income each month, she’ll pay it off in three months and incur $45 in interest charges.
Sally, on the other hand, is carrying a $5,000 savings account balance and does not have a credit card. When Sally’s dog Spunk needs to go to the animal hospital, she pays cash. Her savings account balance is now $3,317. Even if she only maintains her 15% savings rate, she’ll have replenished her savings account in three months. The difference between Jane and Sally? While Jane was busy repaying the bank and incuring $45 in interest, Sally had been earning interest on her positive savings account balance. Jane will end up broke when Sally is worth $5,000, even though they both earn the same amount.
Don’t trust yourself, fool
It’s important to recognize that, when it comes to spending, humans have little to no self-control. By implementing safeguards into your income stream, you can ensure you’re ahead of the inevitable emergencies that will arise. And believe me, it feels damn good. Fool.
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