How to work with your partner when they don't understand your work.
I know I’ve mentioned it in other posts, but just in case you’re new to reading these blogs, I started my first business at age five. Halloween parties for my classmates turned into a Haunted House in my parents’ backyard for charity, and eventually turned into a full fledged professional business before I even finished high school. If you’re interested, you can read all about it here! Today, though, I want to dive into how my relationship with business changed once I got into a relationship.
My cousin and I had just moved our business from Toledo to Cleveland a year prior, and were getting ready for opening night on September 23, 2011. Everything was going as smoothly as it could be. We were all excited to and welcome another Halloween Season. With the actors all in place, sound on, and fog at full force, we were ready to get the line already forming outside through the door.
For two kids who were pretty well experienced but still had a lot to learn, we had a great night! Our staff went out to our traditional “after haunt” meal at Denny’s, then I went home and got some well deserved rest. We proceeded to finish out the rest of the weekend in the same fashion, and everything went off without a hitch! It wasn’t until Monday morning that things took a turn…
Like so many people, my typical morning routine was waking up, grabbing my phone, and checking social media. I wasn’t just mindlessly scrolling through memes that my friends had posted, though. I went right to our page and checked in on the reviews from our opening weekend. While I was going through and taking notes on the feedback, I noticed a particularly nice review and took it upon myself to give it a “like”. Later that night, the girl who posted it sent me a message. She had done a little Facebook search to see just who this stranger “liking” her review was, and wanted to reach out in hopes of working for me.
Of course I did a little Facebook creeping of my own and told her I would be more than happy to have her come volunteer. She responded right away and asked if her boyfriend could also come.
The 2011 season came and went super fast. Jess finally made it out to act towards the end of the season, and of course brought her boyfriend along. Before we knew it, we were closing down and packing up to move to our new location for the 2012 season.
I spent the whole summer living with my business partner and cousin, Max as we got our building ready for the next season. Come August, I was moving into my dorm to start my sophomore year at Ohio State while simultaneously getting ready to open in a month. I had started dating someone over the summer, and I could feel the strain me being in Cleveland all the time put on our relationship. The truth is, we were just in very different places. She was going about a normal life, enjoying college and making the most of her experience. I, on the other hand, was stressed out of my mind trying to balance all these things at once. When I was at the haunt, I was thinking about school. When I was at school, all I thought about was the haunt. There were a lot of arguments when I wasn’t around because I was always missing out on something, but we were fine when we were together.
Jess and her boyfriend seemed to be doing just fine, despite the fact that he had also gone off to college. She was also keeping busy with going to college during the day and beauty school at night. As we got closer to the season, she made constant appearances to help with the odds and ends around the haunt. She spent many long nights after being in school all day helping us paint, clean, and really just anything we needed. I found myself laughing with someone instead of spending nights on the phone getting yelled at for whatever I was doing wrong. After the first weekend of our 2012 season, I went back to campus and ended my current relationship.
We did have a bit of an eventful season in 2012. The more popular we got, the more people we attracted, and not all people were super awesome. On one of our last weekends, Jess’ brother got a door slammed into his head by a rowdy patron and got a whopping 24 stitches. If anyone is interested (because I think this is super funny), this is what the two of them looked like walking into the ER…
No, I’m not kidding.
Max and I spent a lot of time on the phone with their parents. Obviously their son was injured pretty badly, so we wanted to do all we could for them. Keep in mind, we were still kids and still learning. We had never endured an injury like this before. Jacob was out for the season for apparent reasons, but there was also talk of Jess not coming back to work for a place that wasn’t safe. I stayed on the phone as long as it took to make sure that didn’t happen. After a few hours, we were in the clear. Two weekends later, we were throwing our end of the year party.
I knew once this party was over, it was back to school and normal life…but I wasn’t quite ready for that. Since most of us were too young to go out drinking, I suggested we all go out and see a movie together. A few people, including myself, loaded into Jess’ car and headed to the theater. After the movie, she stopped her Jeep on the side of the road to grab one of our Fear Experience signs.
She dropped me back off at the haunt, and I watched her drive away. I wasn’t sure if I would see her before the next season, or really even during the season. But I did know how I felt about her. Respectfully, I didn’t do anything to disrupt her relationship, but that took care of itself…and really soon, too!
That night, as I was getting ready to crash in my frequented hotel room across from the haunt, I got a text from Jess thanking me for an awesome season, and we went back and fourth a little. I figured, after an hour of not hearing anything from her, I was safe to finally get some sleep. But just as I closed my eyes, I got a text.
It was from Jess. Apologizing that she had just dropped off the face of the earth. But she was breaking up with her boyfriend. I wish I could say I gave it time, but within minutes, I was on the phone with her. It was 4am before we hung up. Being the great friend that I am, I offered to hang out with her before I headed back to Columbus, just to take her mind off things. We did hang out that day…and the next…and the next…and we actually never stopped. I returned to my dorm in Columbus two weeks into November being able to tell my friends that Jess and I were finally together!
Right off the bat, Jess was different. She was the first girl I had really dated that actually shared a passion for what I did. She would tell me later that going through the haunted house for the first time scared her, and that she spent the first hour of her first night acting shaking so badly she could barely stand. But she fell in love with the industry so fast. We spent every weekend together between Columbus, Toledo, and Cleveland. Even though it was hard not being together all the time, we didn’t fight about it. We mostly just expressed how excited we were to see each other in the next few days. We did this for 4 months before I decided to leave school and pursue my business full time. Jess helped me find an apartment, and I officially became a full time Cleveland resident.
It was honestly pure bliss for the first few months of the relationship. Jess had come with me to a massive haunted house trade show and gotten to see how big the industry was firsthand. She was so hooked. When she wasn’t studying to become a cosmetologist, she was with me, talking about the haunt. It wasn’t until we started getting closer to the season that things started to get a little rough. Now, she was experiencing just how much attention I had to give to the haunt. We couldn’t hang out without me jumping on the phone or having to run over to the building for something. I’m not going to lie, we struggled. While still dealing with a lot of insecurities from her last relationship, Jess would often get really anxious about missing out on things. Now it was her trying to balance the haunt, school, and a relationship. She wanted to be with me through everything but also had her own stuff going on. It was rare to get a day for just us between her normal life during the week and the haunt on the weekends.
As hard as it was, there was something so different about it. We had plenty of fights and arguments about where and how we were spending our time, but we always came out on the other side having grown from it. It wasn’t something that was fixed over night, though, and there were times we thought we were in the clear, but nope! It was pretty clear that we had both grown up with different pictures in our heads as to where life would take us, and we both had to decide if we wanted to proceed together or separate.
Things got harder before they got easier. On the ride home from passing her exam and becoming a licensed cosmetologist, I had to take a phone call and put out a fire at the haunt. She was not happy. I think it was the first time I looked at her and truly saw a crazy person…and I’ve seen her like this:
And so, there we were. In a space where she didn’t feel celebrated for her major accomplishment and where I didn’t understand why she just couldn’t understand that I had to handle this. Although we eventually cooled down to make the two hour car ride back home more bearable, I knew we still obviously had things to resolve. We spent the next month pretty amicable but not in a super great spot, and that only carried into the haunt season.
There were nights that Jess would get so upset over the smallest things…and all while I was trying to run a business. I did my best to work it out with her, but all while I was being pulled in many different directions. When we weren’t at the haunt, we were sleeping or just hanging out. Neither of us really had the energy to just talk it out. We barely made it through the season, but we did make it. And once the dust settled, we got back to working on us.
I want to point out, Jess and I were still pretty young. I think that played a big part in how we went about things. She had just finished school and was out in the real world for the first time. Meanwhile, I had been running a business since I was a kid. I don’t remember if there was an event or a conversation, but somehow we both fell back into place with one another.
Come the next haunt season, we were really good. Jess would go to work at the salon during the day and then come help me out during the evening or when she had days off. She reconnected with friends that she had lost touch with, and it gave her something to do besides her typical school/work/haunt schedule. Don’t get me wrong, we still had our moments, but they seemed to be fewer and far between. By the time our season ended in 2015, we were in a really good place.
By the beginning of 2016, we got word that our building had sold. We packed up our haunt and Jess packed up her stuff so she could move in with me. I worked to figure out what my next move would be while she supported me every step of the way. Eventually, I did settle on digital marketing full time, and I worked from home! Anyone who is in a similar spot can attest to what a blessing and a curse it is. I was home when Jess was home, so we definitely had more time together. We had settled more into each other’s routines and had gotten used to our lives as they were. With nothing holding us to Cleveland, we made the choice to move our lives out to Columbus, where we still live today.
I asked Jess where she is now with all this. Obviously we know things have gotten better, but still wanted to see exactly where she stands. This is what she had to say.
“I think as we’ve gotten older, it’s gotten a lot easier. There was a lot I didn’t understand coming into this. I think it’s what a lot of people think…that if you’re your own boss, you can do whatever you want. And that can be true, but to a point. Bills don’t get paid if you just slack off. You don’t have someone you can call to cover your shift when you’re sick. There’s a lot more behind it than just starting a business, making money, and just being some super rich dude. Being with you through these years and seeing you go from running a haunt to starting a new business from scratch. It takes a lot of hard work and dedication. And lots of discipline. There are a lot of mornings I want to spend cuddled up next to you, but you’re driven enough to know that that isn’t always the right call. Especially working with you now at SkySprout, I’m learning how hard it is to discipline yourself the way that you do. I think people in similar situations…it’s hard not to crack under pressure. Love isn’t always enough sometimes. Like, I’ve always loved you, but I have not always liked you. But willingness to learn from each other instead of fighting each other is a major key to determining success. And you’ve taught me a lot about communication and given me these healthy and effective skills to communicate when something is bothering me. You’ve also been so awesome with calling me out when I’m not acting right and putting such an emphasis on mental health being so important. Now I know a lot of how I reacted was because I have depression, although that’s not an excuse. Now, having taken the steps I need to take to manage it, I feel like I can see things clearer and approach things more rationally, and I think you would say the same. We both had to learn how to reach each other, and I think that by us not giving up and seeing this thing through, that’s why we’re stronger today.”
It’s so easy to get frustrated when you aren’t on the same page. Jess and I had a lot of trouble communicating with each other about our expectations. Part of this understanding came as we got older. Part of it came from learning to take care of ourselves instead of just stressing out about the other person all the time. Go to the gym, eat well, go to therapy. Do what you’ve got to do to be your best self, and it will reflect in the relationships around you.
It wasn’t a straight shot to get here. Jess and I still struggle at times, but we’ve also communicated better and gotten on the same page. Remember, you don’t necessarily have to agree to be on the same page. There are plenty of days where I would like to spend the mornings in bed with Jess, but I’ve got work to do, and she knows that. It’s for me just as much as it’s for her and just as much as it’s for us.
When you choose this life and work as hard as you do to be an entrepreneur, not everyone is going to get it. It’s difficult. Not every relationship will make it. I got lucky in the sense that my partner just happens to love the same industry and has turned that negative energy into determination to one day work alongside me when the time comes to open another haunted house. Not every entrepreneur is going to fall in love with someone like that, and that’s okay!
You see, the choices you make in business are just like the choices you make in life. You have to visualize what you want and you have to create it. Jess and I have fought just as hard for each other as we have for what we want out of our careers and life. Instead of letting it get between us, we’ve communicated and brainstormed how to make it work for both of us. There are always going to be challenges, that’s just a part of life. It’s how we run with those challenges that will determine our success.
And, just think…if it hadn’t been for my first business, I would have never met my wife.