Does being in a good relationship take the edge off creatively and aspirationally?
February 29, 2012 12:59 PM   Subscribe

Does being in a good relationship take the edge off creatively and aspirationally?

When I was single, I used to be a lot more creative, industrious and well, interesting. I was also not so happy.

I've been in a relationship for a few years and have absolutely no complaints about my girlfriend. She's great. I'm pretty happy these days, but these other aspects of my personality seem to have faded some, quite possibly, because everything is fine?

I want to follow up on my creative and professional ideas, but it feels like my baseline of general satisfaction has stolen away the burning motivation I used to have to get things done, and I just don't follow up.

Has this happened to you, and if it did, did you find any way to get back to normal without becoming miserable or wrecking your life to get there? Could it just be age? Is this why there's that thing about scientists doing their best work before age 30?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (18 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
My creative output tends to suffer when I'm happy, for whatever reason. I suspect it's because I tend to have more to draw on when lonesome or otherwise unhappy.

But the thing is, it's there when I'm happy too, I'm just less inclined to draw on it; the things that make me happy are more compelling.

The best you can do - and what I eventually did - is be a little hard on yourself and set aside time every week to devote to creative pursuits. Force it, basically. The result might not be ideal (it rarely is when forced) but it'll be a result, and that's a good thing. The thing to be on the lookout for is to come to the emotional understanding that you are more fulfilled when making things, regardless of whatever else is going on in your life.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 1:03 PM on February 29, 2012

No - being in a good relationship just means there's something else you'd rather do than put the work into your creative pursuit. Which makes total psychological sense - art is hard work sometimes.

You didn't change. You're still interesting. You just have something else that's more pleasant to think about in your down time, so you're inclined to think about that instead.

Just make a point to put the same amount of work in that you used to put in when you were alone and bored and figured "oh, well, I guess I could write/work on that project/whatever you did becuase it's not like anything else is going on." It'll come back.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:11 PM on February 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

A couple quick thoughts:

- As you suggested, this is probably caused at least in part by getting older. As you've been in a relationship for years, you've aged, so it might seem like the relationship is the cause when it's really that there's a difference between being in your 20s and being in your 30s. If you're a music fan, try this: make a list of a bunch of rock and/or pop stars off the top of your head. Now, did any of them have their commercial or artistic breakthrough after age 29? I doubt it. They might still be performing in middle age or old age, but I'll bet their concerts involve a lot of the same songs they played in their 20s (or teens).

- Inspiration can come from many different sources. I don't know what your art or your creative process is like. Some people get inspired by pain, turmoil, insecurity. But you might also get inspired by more positive things in life. Or you could draw on past experiences that were more dramatic, while being happy that your life now doesn't involve so much drama.
posted by John Cohen at 1:11 PM on February 29, 2012 [3 favorites]

I am convinced that what happens when we enter into a romantic relationship is that the Eros energy that we normally pour into creative pursuits becomes diverted to our partner, so the motivation to create is diminished.

We also usually want to spend a lot of time with our partner, so much of that urge to connect with people, that motivates creativity for many people, gets absorbed. And of course we have less of the solitude, the "cave time," that we need to let ideas germinate.

What's helped me more than anything is to reclaim that solitude from time to time, and force myself to have decent chunks of alone time where I can just sit and tinker or stare into space, some space that belongs completely to me.
posted by El Sabor Asiatico at 1:15 PM on February 29, 2012 [4 favorites]

It's been just the opposite for me. The angst and stress I used to have about being alone or in difficult relationships occupied way too much of my mental bandwidth--being in a happy marriage has freed up that energy for creativity.
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:21 PM on February 29, 2012 [5 favorites]

It's all about time management. Schedule off a regular portion of time for your projects. Make it predictable and consistent, communicate it with your partner, and stick to it. Once you get into the groove you train yourself to be in work mode for that period, and you get stuff done.

If you can't find that regular and predictable time to put toward your projects then your problem is with priorities. In which case you need to learn to be happy with the choices you've made and not stress so much. :)
posted by Stagger Lee at 1:22 PM on February 29, 2012

Not for me, though it's undeniable that when you're in a partnership you tend to have less time for creative pursuits. I suspect if someone is using writing, for example, primarily as wish-fulfillment or primarily therapy (nothing wrong with that, and it doesn't mean the work is necessarily crap), being happier would certainly take the edge off.
posted by smoke at 1:23 PM on February 29, 2012

I don't have any advice, just my experience.

I just got out a relationship because of this (among other things, but mainly this). I felt like I couldn't creatively grow anymore if I kept on like that. It was diminishing my creativity and it wasn't worth it to me. Whether it was I was directing my energy differently or I produce better when I'm less happy I don't know, but whatever it was it wasn't worth it to me.

I broke up with my bf 4 weeks ago and I'm actually 5000x more productive, happier and producing way way more than ever. It was like the fog of comfort was lifted. So awesome, so worth it. I feel way sharper and I'm so glad to have the parts of my personality that had faded away back.

However, my partner was not creative and didn't value the same things as me. If he did things might have been different. Also, I'm 23.
posted by ad4pt at 1:24 PM on February 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

Also that relationship lasted 3 years and was pretty good for the most part, and I didn't realize it because it happened so gradually but looking back I feel like I lost my awesomeness and now I have it back.
posted by ad4pt at 1:29 PM on February 29, 2012

I've had the same experience as Sidhedevil described. I'm married, happy, and better at everything than I was before. I'm more creative, I think because I'm more uninhibited. I should also mention that I've been in therapy and have done a ton of work on engaging with various fears & inner criticisms, which is really the reason I'm more creative and more productive. But my relationship has only helped, not hurt. And really, if I believed that creativity required me to be unhappy, well, fuck being creative then.
posted by univac at 1:47 PM on February 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

I think the simple truth - visible in the answers you've already received - is that some romantic relationships nurture creativity, and some vitiate it.

That you're in the latter kind of relationship is not necessarily a bad sign about your relationship. As you say, you're happy. It just means that the awesome chemistry you share with your partner is not the kind that also excites your muse.

Having been there, I made the mistake of making my partner feel bad about the fact that I wasn't feeling as creative as I'd felt when single. I wish I hadn't done that. It wasn't his fault in any way!

Things that worked: time to myself, vacations taken alone, and also activities and places new to both me and my partner, which necessarily forced a slightly different vibe between us for the duration of said activity/visit, which I'd often then find energizing when I turned back to my creative work.
posted by artemisia at 1:56 PM on February 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think, as others have said, that if you're in a happy relationship you have to self-motivate much more. Some people join writing groups, take classes, schedule time. I've definitely noticed that I need much more motivation now, although frankly I was always motivated better when working with groups that imposed external deadlines.

I do know some creative couples that spur each other on to additional creative projects, but again -- that's external motivation, and you can substitute band/writing group/hacker circle for that sort of interaction.
posted by lillygog at 3:03 PM on February 29, 2012

I am in a more perfect romantic relationship than I ever thought possible, and I have found that I feel supported and encouraged in my efforts, and I also know that someone I care deeply about is watching what I do and is ready to be proud of my successes and supportive through failures. She's a huge safety net; I feel like I am able to take bigger creative risks in my creative life without worrying about failing or impressing anyone.

I've found that being in a strife-free, mutually supportive relationship has freed me up to do what I want. I think that if you feel stifled, complacent or inhibited then maybe there is something wrong in the dynamic between you and your partner. If you feel like you would like yourself better if you were 'free,' take a look at your future self and all of that stuff.

If you are truly happy, that's a different story! You only have so much human capital to spend. Building an intimate relationship with another person is a deeply fulfilling endeavor. There are only so many hours in the day - just make sure that you are happy (to-the-core happy) about how you choose to spend your time, and you'll be all set.
posted by amcm at 4:24 PM on February 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

Does your partner have creative inclinations? Does she appreciate and like your creative outlet? Have you shared the importance of your desire to be creative?

Your inspiration and impetus for creativity will be different. Art modalities and mediums are different. Is there a way that those can intersect and have a more collaborative approach?
posted by i_wear_boots at 8:50 PM on February 29, 2012

As someone in a creative profession I have to say that I haven't found this to be the case. At all.
posted by ob at 9:07 AM on March 1, 2012

Nathaniel Hawthorne didn't have that problem...
posted by misspony at 9:34 AM on March 1, 2012

You can be happy and still be creative. The Artist's Way is, at heart, all about that. Artists don't have to be tortured and unhappy.
posted by Tin Man at 10:41 AM on March 1, 2012

Rilke has a great quote that everyone in a relationship should take note of:
"Once the realization is accepted that even between the closest human beings infinite distances continue, a wonderful living side by side can grow, if they succeed in loving the distance between them which makes it possible for each to see the other whole against the sky."

One thing I realized in my previous relationships was that while I loved my partners, I also loved having the time and solitude to be on my own and figure stuff out. Otherwise I felt like going nuts, despite enjoying the couple-activities of cooking together or just chilling on the couch.

In my current relationship, we set aside at least two days a week to be apart. I work on my sewing or research random things that interest me, or even more mundane things like deep clean my apartment. Initially my partner interpreted this as "I hate you, we need to spend more time apart," but has realized that no one person can fulfill everything you need.

For you, I would recommend setting evenings apart to pursue your creative interests. The best way to structure it is enter yourself in personal or public projects. It forces upon you a deadline and the pressure to produce something. My partner likes to work on creating posters for poster shows; the processes starting from brainstorming ideas to figuring out who can screen print posters is immensely satisfying.
posted by mlo at 2:13 PM on March 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

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