It’s Tuesday, which is usually the day for the Twentysomething column. But Ryan announced last week that he’s quitting as a columnist. I’m not surprised. He’s gone through a huge transition – quit his job in Washington, DC, started a company (with me), and moved to Madison, WI – two blocks from me.
It’s a small town, so it’s not like he was ever going to move ten miles from me – I mean, ten miles from me in almost any direction is a corn field. But it’s funny to me to have him so close.
I ended up going over to his house a lot in the first few days, to check in on him and Ryan P without saying so. Almost immediately my kids saw the situation as new neighbors. They refer to “The Ryans” and when we went apple picking, the kids thought of the Ryans immediately.
So we brought over a bag of apples. The kids did not really understand the concept of red all over, so the apples were not ripe. And I couldn’t tell if the Ryans noticed, but they were very grateful, because it was when the Ryans first got here. When they were grateful in general.
Now it’s been six weeks. And Ryan is thinking that maybe his new blog will be about how crazy life is working with me.
I asked for examples. He gave the one about how I invited the Ryans over for dinner. I picked a night when my husband wasn’t home because there is too much tension between us to put the Ryans through it as well. I also picked the night my kids wanted an impromptu Halloween party.
So there was our nanny, who is actually a guy who is a college sophomore taking a year off to establish residency so his University of Wisconsin tuition goes down. And there were fake eyeballs and pumpkin glitter. And it was like a frat party with toddlers instead of girls. To me, that is the weird part. To Ryan, it’s weird that I didn’t cook.
“You ordered burritos!” he says.
I tell him it was better than Batman spaghetti O’s.
He shakes his head in disbelief. He thinks I’m eccentric, which I probably am, but I think this is not the best example.
Other mentioned eccentricities: I have been working out of a coffee shop for a year. Ryan can’t believe it.
The women who own the shop are probably my best friends in Madison – I see them every day. In the summer they noticed me showing up in my obsessive long sleeves and long pants so the sun doesn’t get me, and in the winter they saw me fighting with my husband at the curb when he drops me off. I always imagined I’d have some great post about how the owners let me do radio interviews from their land line (radio producers hate cell phones) and they buy Lean Cuisines especially for me so I don’t have to eat their muffins for lunch. It was a great setup.
Til the Ryans came.
They said everyone in the coffee shop is annoyed by my talking on the phone, which is probably true. So we went to their apartment. Like it’s not eccentric for me to be spending my days in the apartment of two twentysomething guys.
But as we were leaving the coffee shop for good, new art was going up on the wall: Phil Porter. I loved the art. Ryan hated it. So I gave a lecture right before we left, about why good art forces you to see things differently and the Ryans only like art with naked women on it because it doesn’t challenge anything that’s already in their mind. (Yes, they have a painting of a naked woman in the apartment. And yes, it sucks.) Ryan called me a snob.
He is a snob, too. For example, Ryan does not wear black shoes with khaki pants. I have never heard of this rule, but I confess to immediately putting my khakis aside until I got brown shoes, just in case he’s right.
Maybe we get along because we’re both snobs. Or maybe our excessive judgementalism, which probably makes for good blog posts, gives us a sort of detente.
I went out to dinner with Ryan P’s parents. I can’t ever recall going out to dinner with a co-worker’s parent. But here’s a tip. You know how when you go out to dinner with a boyfriend and his parents, you end up liking him even more? I am not sure why, but this always happens. And I have to say that the same thing happened in this situation: I liked him better. He has the same odd speech cadence as his dad, the same bright smile as his mom. It was nice to see.
Nice as long as I could squash my jealously; I don’t recall a time when my parents drove across state lines to dote on me.
Now I wake the Ryans in the morning. They are not morning people. I know you expected this post to be about starting a company, and this sort of is, because the first part of starting a company is learning boundaries.
A startup is inherently intense. Founders are so dependent on each other, and there are almost always only two or three people involved. I have two close friends who have startups: The woman’s company is three women and the man’s company is three men. I think that most startups with a both genders involve sex, and/or marriage, and those that don’t require navigation of a difficult and dicey new language of boundaries, (which I have touched on before).
There is a lot written about work spouses. That is, people who feel like they spend so much time together that they’re married. But they are not. The context for these relationships is usually a big company, where there is safety in numbers, and there are office conventions to keep boundaries in place.
A startup usually has none of these safeguards, and a startup usually entails longer hours at the office. Maybe this is why so many startup teams are all men or all women, but not mixed. And maybe this is why my friend, who has a startup team of three guys and will not consider hiring a woman as the fourth, is making a smart decision.
Meanwhile, we continue to draw boundaries at our own startup. For example:
Ryan P comes to the dining room table that is also our office and says, I have a rash.
I start thinking about my kids.
Where is it?
On my leg.
Can I see?
It’s too early. Ask in twenty minutes.
Can I see it ?
While Ryan P is typing a blog post about how he would rather work for man than a woman (yes really: he says men bond better with men) I look under the table. I don’t see the rash, but the light is not that good.
What are you doing?
I need to see it.
It’s not on my leg. It’s on my groin.
And this is the moment. The boundary moment. I look away because some boundaries are clear. But I also think of my kids – some boundaries are murky — and I navigate the best way I know how as CEO of a startup:
Does it itch?