On my cork board, clipped from The Observer:
We’re supposed to believe that relationships tie people down, that they are the death knell for creativity and ambition. Nonsense.
We’re conditioned to think that our 20s are meant for being reckless and having fun. There’s another, better way.
Two moments now stand out at me in my life. Driving home, by myself, after my high school graduation, thinking: I am finally free. And now, driving with my father, on the way to my wedding.
Such different feelings toward two similar life events, almost exactly a decade between them. One, excited to get away—anywhere, anything. Now, excited to be here—to be at peace, like heading home. The experiences feel so different, it is as if they are happening to two different people.
Of course, it’s because so much has happened between these two versions of myself. Not just in my relationship with my parents, which 10 years ago I would have doubted would be this way. But more importantly, I met a girl. Or rather, I met the girl.
It’s funny for me to think that my now wife and I met not long after that first moment. At a party, as sophomores in college, eight years ago. I was much closer to the first me. Young, ambitious, impatient. Driven by an almost manic intensity to do things, to prove certain points, to make a mark. Things are different now, if only by degree.
For all the productivity and success advice I’ve read, shaped and marketed for dozens of authors in the last decade, I’ve never really seen someone come out and say: Find yourself a spouse who complements and supports you and makes you better. Instead, we’re supposed to believe that relationships tie people down, that they are the death knell for creativity and ambition. When Cyril Connolly said that there was “no more somber enemy of good art than the pram in the hall,” he was voicing, in appalling clarity, the selfishness and self-absorption that draws many people away from love and happiness.
Maybe I worried about it when I was young and ignorant, but today, I don’t feel any shame in saying that I would have spun off the planet a long time ago if it wasn’t for her. We don’t have kids, but relationships take their own time and toll. Yet, I’ve been in one nearly the entirety of my working life and it’s accelerated everything I ever hoped to do.
It’s as if we don’t want to admit that we can’t do this alone, or that success may require dealing with the soft parts of ourselves, the uncomfortable, sticky parts we’d rather pretend weren’t there. We have trouble seeing the ramifications of our personal lives on our professional lives and that the best way to navigate the public world is to master and find contentment in the private one.
The myth is of the lone creative entrepreneur battling the world without an ally in sight. A defiant combination of Atlas and Sisyphus and David, wrestling a Goliath-sized mass of doubters and demons. In reality, I’ve found that nearly every person I admire—every person I’ve met who strikes me as being someone who I would like to one day be like—lives a quiet life at home with a person who they’ve teamed up with…for life. The reason this one person strikes us as special, I find, is because they’re really two people.
Why it took me so long to grasp the freeing truth of this, I do not know. Samantha and I met when we were 19 years old. We’ve lived in five cities together, published three books, traveled the world, started (and dissolved) companies, quit jobs, broke several bones and, of course, on the eve of our engagement, had most of what we owned stolen—including the ring. In that time we’ve faced and experienced things far beyond what most people so young should or could experience (mostly good rather than bad things—I’m not trying to be melodramatic), and yet it was the two of us that helped each other through it.
In my part of the vows, I said that marriage was essentially one of the few regrets I have in my short life—in that I wish I’d done it sooner. Because it feels like we have always been married—partners in it together. It’s been this way almost since we met, but without the legal status, the ceremony and of course, the acknowledgment or understanding of other people. I think we always knew we would get married, but there was some slight resistance or immaturity that held it back from being made real. With time that fell away, until what was left felt natural and necessary, this step and commitment.
Anyway, that’s what I said in my vows. In hers, she promised to continue to allow goats in the house despite my repeated objections. This is, after all, what makes her special and attracts me to her, that she is so inexplicably different. That she defies and baffles the order, logic and seriousness with which I tend to treat the world. At the end of her vows, she stated she would continue to manipulate me as long as she could, into whatever other ridiculous schemes and larks she’s decided upon. That she would be both my biggest supporter and even bigger distraction. Not that I don’t love it anyway, but if this is my fate, cleaning it up and dealing with the insanity of it all, will be a plenty fair penance to pay.
Penance? One of the most difficult things about starting a relationship as kids and getting married as adults is this: “stupid kid mistakes” didn’t happen to someone else, some unfortunate ex. It happened together, or to one of you. You grew up together, instead of coming together as more fully formed people.
Biologically, women mature earlier than men, which means one thing for young but sustained relationships: I’ve usually done the ridiculous things, held on to stuff and made issues where there shouldn’t have been any. And did this to her. A man nearing his thirties can only look back on his twenties—however successful they may have been—and think: Goddamn, I was an idiot. Or more likely, an asshole. I suppose the reverse is true for her too, that I put up with her growing phases, but that’s not really the case. Or at least it doesn’t feel like it.
There’s a line from Kurt Vonnegut where he says that at the root of every couple’s fight is this claim, which neither understands or can admit: You are not enough people. I need more people. In retrospect, I see how true this was over the years and only now, have we started to fully become enough for each other. It took trial and error to begin building the support structures necessary to allow these two different people to live and fully be together.
But in this moment, heading to the wedding, all is far from my mind. Seeing her come down the aisle with a baby bunny in a basket instead of flowers, it was her moment to be the center of attention, which she not only richly deserved but relished. There were ponies and baby animals. There were friends, some wealthy and well known, some old acquaintances from life phases nearly forgotten, and there was a cake shaped like an armadillo. And there was, thankfully, only a little bit of dancing.
Ryan Holiday is the bestselling author of The Obstacle Is The Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials Into Triumphs and two other books. He is an editor-at-large at the New York Observer. He currently lives in Austin, Tex.