Life as the Girlfriend of Million Dollar Startup Founder

I have to rack my brains to count the number of times we’ve had dinner at home over the last few months. I don’t have to think too hard, because it’s less than a handful.

The routine of a quick kiss in the morning before he leaves (just as I wake up) and a quiet hug goodnight as he comes home (just as I’m drifting to sleep), is the usual.

This is the life as the girlfriend of a startup founder.

They say behind every successful man is a great woman, and I can’t argue that.

It’s not a normal life to lead and if you’re expecting a fairytale romance or the movie relationships that you see on the big screen, don’t expect to go far. When you’re in a relationship with a startup founder, you’re in a relationship with their business.

Their business and your relationship go hand in hand.

So, how do you successfully navigate the founding of a startup while building and maintaining a successful relationship? I’m here to tell you how.

  1. Don’t expect a light at the end of the tunnel

Your relationship is the business and the business is your relationship. The sooner you acknowledge and support that the business comes first, the easier the rest of it is. See, there is no light at the end of the tunnel. The startup world? It’s always going.

It’s full of alarm clocks, late nights and 6 hours of sleep a night — if they’re lucky. Dinners go cold, reservations aren’t met and it will feel like they never have time for you.

If you hope it will get better and things will ease up — you’re setting yourself up for failure.

The startup life is a rollercoaster and whether you like it or not, you signed up for the ride. So stop holding that glimmer of hope that you’ll get a nine-to-fiver that comes home for dinner at seven and watches the latest episode of MasterChef with you at nine. If you wanted the normal life, you wouldn’t be with a startup founder.

Instead you’ll have to learn to incorporate moments and build habits to foster your relationship into the everyday. The smallest things will feel like the biggest molehills. Sharing 10 minutes over a cup of coffee in the morning will start to feel like an hour of time together.

A rare dinner at home together will feel like Christmas.

It’s time to celebrate the small things.

2. It’s not you, it’s the business

When he’s constantly checking his phone, cutting your lunches short and calling to let you know it’s going to be another late one, it’s hard not to get trust issues.

When you constantly feel like you’re not coming first, that gets old quick.

You have to have some big mindset shifts to not let it get the best of you.

It’s not him and the business and you in the corner. It’s the three of you together. When he puts the business first — he’s not putting it first over you. A startup requires extreme amounts of sacrifice to make it, and you’re lucky enough to be with the %1 that’s trying to make it, you can bet there’s going to have to be some sacrifice on your end too.

It’s important to focus on the biggest picture here and to not let the sacrifices make you resentful to the business.

You’ll see other couples who do a lot of the things you just can’t, but don’t fall into the trap of dwelling on a lifestyle you wish you could have.

3. The co-founders are going to be your best friends

You’re going to be more invested in how the co-founders of his business are doing than how he is.

In fact he probably is going to spend more time with his co-founders than you, and that’s something you’re going to have to get used to.

You’ll know the in’s and out’s of their dating, social and private life, because how they’re doing is going to affect him, and he affects you.

So, as the saying goes, if you can’t beat em’, join em’.

4. Your best is to be a silent partner

During this whole process you’re going to feel out of control. He’ll be gone for long hours, you’ll hear bits and pieces of how the business is going, funding rounds and office politics. You’ll never feel like you get the whole picture.

Along with feeling like you never get enough time with them, you’re going to feel unloved and unneeded if you’re not careful.

This is a pivotal time to remember that the best form of support you can be is an empathetic and thoughtful one. This is a moment when it just isn’t about you.

You are their rock, with the startup world being so chaotic, the best thing you can do is be the one stable force when they come home.

Listen, ask the right questions and be there for them. You’ll want to do more, but just being there (and simply there, unconditionally and drama-free) is one of the best things you can do.

5. Become obsessed with your own life

Aside from the big mindset and habit changes that need to happen, the second most important thing you can do to cultivate a successful long relationship is to focus on yourself.

Don’t forget to have your own hobbies, your own social life.

At the beginning when you’re constantly thinking if you’ll be having dinner together, it will start to grate on you that they’re never home. But if you create a life that complements the startup and has flexibility for whether they’re home or not, you’ll find it much easier to feel loved and not forgotten.

Spin everything in a positive light. With all the free time you have, you now get the best of both worlds. You have time to pursue hobbies, spend with friends, while having a loving, caring partner.

At the end of the day, there’s a big reason entrepreneurs struggle with relationships. Who doesn’t want to feel number one in their partner’s eyes? But how can you feel number one when their biggest passion needs to be their business.

Maybe entrepreneurs need to be with other entrepreneurs. I don’t have an answer for that yet. But here’s my tips from a year in a relationship with a million dollar startup founder.

Oh yeah, and just when you think you do have time with them? They’re going to be so burnt out from a 100 hour work week, that’ll you’ll be frustrated that you only ever get them at the 10% that’s left of them. But more on later.. tbc.