Couples Chronicles — Interview 5
That Little Twinge in My Heart
First published in July 1987
© 1999, Demian
Patty Carlisle and Karen Jensen have been partners for five years [in 1987]. For the past four years they have owned and operated their own business, Urban Press, in Seattle, Washington
How did you first meet?
Karen: Patty was my trainee at a print shop. We were good friends for a while; then we got involved.
What first attracted you to each other?
Karen: We come from similar backgrounds and have similar interests. We play softball and hike. We’re practically clones.
Patty: Karen’s got that good Scorpio look. Scorpios look at me and I melt. She has this way of looking right into me. It’s magnetic. That’s something I remember from the very beginning.
Karen: Patty tells a real good story and I’m a real good listener. That was a key thing for me.
Also, she reminds me of my sister Heidi, who I’m very fond of. Some of her mannerisms pull that little twinge in my heart.
Do you still feel these attractions?
Karen: Oh, yes.
Patty: Yes, but there’s more. Now there’s a bigger, more objective attachment. I love how she goes and putters in the basement and builds things. It’s less abdominal, more cerebral now; a much better balance. I’m more attracted to the whole person.
Karen: I always ask myself, “What would I do without her?” Oh, my God, I just can’t imagine. We’re together constantly and not to be together … (pause, then whispered) lost in the world.
Do you enjoy similar intimacy levels?
Patty: It has not been as easy for me to be intimate in the last eight months as it was four years ago. It’s got something to do with constantly being together, and the toll that takes. Also, our intimacy levels ebb and flow, not always in sync with each other’s.
Karen: Our casual intimacy is fine. Our serious intimacy is where we’re having a problem. We’re still good at hugging and kissing in the back room at work, no problem there.
Patty: We’re real affectionate. We both thrive on that. Sometimes it’s just a pleasure to touch and check in with each other. To some people that’s being intimate; to us that’s everyday, like saying “Hi!”
Was there a moment when it switched from friendship to a more intimate relationship?
Patty: No, it was kind of messy. We were both involved with other people. There was some overlap. I don’t think we did it real well.
Karen: We just blundered through. Not a high point in either of our lives.
Patty: There was a lot of pain, on the one hand, and a whole lot of joy and exciting things happening on the other. Having to struggle through that stuff helped us see a lot of bad patterns we didn’t want to repeat this time around.
Are you still friends with your previous partners?
Patty: For a while Karen and I lived in the same house with my ex-lover. Everybody thought it was real strange. We all got along; it seemed O.K. at the time. Though we were friends for a long time after we broke up, more recently we haven’t been.
We are friends with the woman Karen used to be involved with.
How did you make the decision to go into business together?
Karen: It was pretty easy. When we worked for the print shop, we could see that they certainly made money, and they weren’t very organized. We figured if they could do it, we could.
It was a matter of starting out small, getting one piece of equipment, getting the customers coming in, being reliable, doing what you say you’ll do.
Patty: We also did a lot of dreaming beforehand. We thought, “If we were doing this for ourselves, we’d do it differently, we’d do it better.”
A lot of people dream those dreams and don’t realize that they can do it. People think it takes courage to start your own business. I think it just takes audacity.
It didn’t take very much money. I bought our first piece of equipment with a personal loan based on the money I was making at my job. Then I quit my job within a couple of months.
Karen: We’ve been lucky, so far as the risks we’ve taken.
Have you had business training, besides working in a print shop?
Karen: We took a short business course, but we had everything already figured out, such as keeping good records. Working in print shops gave us experience with customer service, accounts, credit, collecting, and all that neat stuff.
Patty: We both had fairly decent educations to start with. We drew on that, even though our college work was in unrelated fields: botany and kinesiology.
Do you divide areas of responsibility in the business?
Karen: We compliment each other. I’m pretty good at soothing someone and Patty’s good at standing firm. We balance each other out.
Have you experienced any sexism running your business?
Patty: We’ve had trouble from an occasional customer. We’ve told them to go away.
It’s hard to tell sometimes if people are reacting because you’re a woman, or because you look the way you do. I don’t “dress for success.” I applied for the loans in my T-shirt and jeans.
How is the business doing?
Karen: We’re comfortable, making a middle class standard of living. The bank is always willing to loan us money.
I don’t want to get so big I can’t control the work. We’re getting to the point where we’ll have to decide if we want employees. That has me scared.
What papers have you drawn to legally define your relationship?
Patty: We have a whole slew of things that we worked out with our attorney. We have a partnership agreement for the business. We also have a Non-Marital Agreement which outlines what’s mine, yours and ours.
If we ever dispute how to divide up belongings, there are rules we devised which decide how we’d do it. I couldn’t take Karen’s circular saw, for instance, because it was hers before we got together.
Karen: The house is part of our Non-Marital Agreement. It’s also on our wills. We inherit each other’s interest in both the business and the house, so that our other heirs, our families, can’t step in.
Patty: We also have powers of attorney and life insurance on each other.
We didn’t want to struggle about money and, at this point, money is a simple issue. Because we earn exactly the same amount, we split the partnership earnings right down the middle. Major business acquisitions are also split down the middle.
It’s important for us to know we both put equally into earning money, and we equally share the reward. We want to avoid the feeling that one of us isn’t pulling her share. The feeling of equality works well, maintaining good will in the job.
Are there any other areas of concern in your relationship?
Patty: We’re together all day. Then to go home and make positive use of time together, intimacy time, is sometimes hard. You don’t get to ask, “What happened today?” You know what happened.
Retaining individuality is one thing we’re going through right now.
Karen: “Joined at the hips” syndrome.
Patty: We’re trying to find where individuality is again. It was fun doing nothing but working together for a long time. Now we’re both feeling the need to go out and do things on our own. Still, I have a hard time letting Karen go and going out on my own.
Karen, what do you do when you want to go out?
Karen: Oh, golly, usually I just do it anyway and face the consequences when I get home. It’s really not that bad. Patty realizes I have to do what I want to do; she just struggles with it. It’s more her problem, but I react to it a lot.
Patty: I try to remember that it’s my problem. Giving me attention 24 hours a day is not necessarily Karen’s duty.
Karen: I encourage Patty to get out and do things on her own, look up some of her old friends and have a good time.
How do you handle complaints about each other?
Patty: There aren’t any major complaints. We deal with problems when they’re still small, which keeps them from building up.
Advice for those thinking of going into business with their life partner?
Patty: You have to really like each other. Just loving each other doesn’t work.
Lots of people love each other, but they don’t always like each other enough to stand that much time together, to struggle through those day-to-day moods. It’s bad enough if your partner is coming home from work and they’ve had a terrible day, and you have to put up with a couple of hours of release. Doing business together can be really stressful!
Final words about your relationship?
Patty: Before this, I had no understanding of what it meant to work at a long-term relationship. We’re at the stage now where I do. It means not jumping off the boat at the first big wave. You ride it out, realizing there are a lot of waves. It’s a pleasant ride if you look at the whole thing.