Cersei and Jaime Lannister have it rough. Set aside the incest for a moment, and let’s look at how difficult it is to constantly be in professional cahoots with your lover while also making time for romance.
I made this observation while binge-watching Game of Thrones with my husband the other day, in preparation for this Sunday’s season-six premiere. My husband disagreed. Of course he did. That’s what he does — professionally.
I’ve always fallen for contrarians, and he is the most contrarian of them all: a stand-up comic, podcast host, and TV personality who enjoys pushing buttons and taking things to the satirical edge — often as if his life depends upon it. This is what made me fall in love with him, but realizing that he is perhaps even more stubborn than I am has complicated our intertwined professional lives more than I ever expected.
When we started dating in February of last year, I was a clock-in, clock-out office-job girl. But less than a month later, I was suddenly full-time freelance. It was scary and thrilling and totally uncharted territory for me. So, giddy with the intoxication of all that freedom and agency, we began hatching creative projects together.
“You are great on my podcast,” my husband enthusiastically complimented me after I appeared for the first time on his show, New York City Crime Report. After the second or third time, the enthusiasm waned. Turned out, just like editors, well, he had some notes.
And just like I’ve always done with editors, I got defensive. I don’t exactly love professional criticism — and definitely not from my lover, of all people.
“You’re more funny when you’re not trying to be funny,” his suggestions began. “You’re more interesting when you’re spouting journalistic expertise rather than trying to do cheap one-liners. Play to the height of your intelligence. Don’t telegraph your jokes so much.”
And he was just getting started.
Unexpectedly, right as I began to fall in love with the freelance life, I also fell in love with him. Just as there was a honeymoon period of early love, there was a headiness about finding a new career mate. How could it be a bad idea to work together so much? Sure, I didn’t like his critical feedback, but I knew that we not only had podcast chemistry, but we also had overall performance and writing synergy.
As the romantic relationship progressed, so did the professional one, at a rapid-fire pace. We did more podcasts than I can count, we did tons of radio, we even started doing TV. True to the spirit of the man I fell in love with, he generously passed performance opportunities my way constantly.
But an unsettling realization began to take hold. My husband and I have vastly different working styles and ideas for how to hatch a professional life together. (Think: Jaime setting his brother Tyrion free, and Cersei wanting to go in a different direction.)
How different? Let me count the ways.
I like to have just enough material and waste little. He prefers having as much as possible — the more darlings to kill the better. I live for tangents and detours. He likes to stay on track. I like to be realistic and pessimistic and pandering. He likes to be absurd and optimistic and alienating. I’ll gladly be a hack for work. He would choose to never receive money again for his creative pursuits if it meant never having to compromise.
I look at everything as being on the table for discussion. He doesn’t want his personal life to ever overshadow the professional world he creates onstage, or anywhere else. I think I’m helping my career by networking like an ass-kissing busy bee. He would be fine working pretty much only for his loyal contingent of fans if it meant never having to be a phony or a whore. He likes a lot of communication. I like a lot of passive-aggressive silence. We both hate bookkeeping.
Everything falls apart when the permeable lines between love and intimacy blur into professional situations. For every Beyoncé and Jay Z there is a Russell Simmons and Kimora. Show me an Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt, and I’ll counter with a Marc Anthony and Jennifer Lopez.
On the bright side, when the working-with-your-lover thing works, it really works — as evidenced by the season-six previews of Game of Thrones, when Jaime promises Cersei, “We’re the only ones who matter, and everything they’ve taken from us we’re going to take back and more.” Because when you’re “on” both in love and in work, it’s like your support system is twice as strong.
A study earlier this year in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology found benefits for couples who share a professional connection. The study showed that professional support from spouses led to greater family and job happiness (obviously), but here’s the really interesting part: These benefits were twice as great for couples who had the same career or workplace.
Still, it’s not quite as easy as that makes it seem. You need hard-core boundaries, limits, written contracts when possible, professionalism, respect, schedules, clear duty assignations, and a refusal to let a fight in the “workplace” carry over into the private life. No matter how many times I assure my husband that I know my place in his creative endeavors, I still manage to step in it, again and again.
Most recently, it was on air.
“Shut the fuck up,” I hissed at my husband. He didn’t of course, nor would I have expected him to. But he later told me calmly and directly, while he appreciated my presence and enthusiasm, not to undermine him like that ever again.
“Fine, why don’t we just never work with each other creatively again?” I spat, not meaning a single word.
“Fine by me,” he said, meaning every damned word of it.
And then I pouted. I gave him the silent treatment. I went for a walk. I wanted to avoid him for the rest of the day — and then I couldn’t do it any longer. Not because I wanted to reconcile or anything, but because I had to ask if he would record my podcast and edit it so I could make sure that the profit train didn’t run dry.
This is not an easy request to make when someone is royally pissed at you. “I don’t care if we ever work together again, you big jerk, but in the meantime, could you do me a solid and provide some free work for me, please?”
I also had to ask him about this column. Writing about the flaws of a relationship as it unfolds is no joke in terms of the stakes. And there is nothing more awkward or more humbling than asking someone to read over your piece on hand jobs when you haven’t had sex in two days. Talk about corporate onboarding. But I have a commitment to write. And the Stadtmillers always pay their debts.
“Write whatever,” my husband has said when he is at his angriest.
“But I can’t,” I said. “I can’t do this without you.”
“Whose fault is that?” he asked. “Just don’t misquote me, and leave me alone.”
I do plenty of straight journalism, but this memoir game is something I’ve always shined at with a proud level of disgrace.
So I promised my husband that I would never again undermine him on his show (or my show, for that matter) as long as he did the same for me. He agreed. We weren’t really speaking to each other too much at this point.
That’s when I had to break the standoff.
“I have to record a podcast,” I told him. “And I need you to do it.”
And just like that, he instantly turned on the charm.
“Happy to be here doing your show, Mandy,” he said into the recorder.
But I knew what he was really saying.
“The things I do for love.”