Ask JKE is our monthly advice column written by Jackie Kai Ellis. Submit your questions anonymously here.
I’m looking for advice on how to date, during a pandemic, while running a small business. I am a fellow baker and as you know, work long, strenuous hours, often while the rest of the world sleeps. Will I ever find love? Is it possible to find a balance while growing my business?
-Lonely Night Baker
Dear Lonely Night Baker,
On finding balance
Just before Beaucoup Bakery opened its doors, I had begun to date someone. He was cute, quiet, and funny. I was fresh out of a long marriage, and I liked him the way I like sipping icy-cold lemonade while laying on a picnic blanket.
A few weeks later, as we became closer and the bakery launch was nearing, he said to me, while helping me clean the floors of drywall dust: “You don’t want the business to suffer because you were distracted by a guy.” There was no discussion. I didn’t argue; it was true. The bakery was my dream, my only hope, and at that point nothing was more important. He was wise to see it, and kind to say it aloud. From that day forward, we stopped talking.
In the months that followed, there was no room for loves or lovers—only power naps on concrete floors and eating whatever was in arm’s reach. My 72-hour work stretches were fueled by passionate mania, determination, and an obsessive desire to see my dream come to life. Every design detail, every croissant, every double americano, every song on the playlist, and every email piled up until one day, depleted, I asked a couple of seasoned bakery owners: “When does this end?” They answered simply: “When you choose to delegate.”
So as I could, I did. I let go of controlling every detail, leaned on my team, and redefined “important.” And each time I did, I made space for me. I was sleeping every night again, I was eating vegetables again, I was seeing friends again, and, eventually, I even had room to think about dating again.
On finding love
In wanting even more life balance, I decided to sell Beaucoup about five years later. I began to fantasize about a time when my business was not on my mind, when I wasn’t worried about its last stumbles or its next steps. And in this vast expanse of free space, I decided to focus on finding love. At the time, I didn’t feel particularly good at it; I was on the heels of another failed relationship. And so, I set out to learn. It was a new project for me to take on.
I had never really dated—I always went straight into relationships instead—so I made a point of going on as many dates as possible. Proper research.
After each date, I would note which personalities and quirks did or didn’t work for me, which lifestyles and life choices meshed or clashed with mine. I kept my mind open as I discovered all the different characters that existed in the world. This experimentation and process of elimination went on for many months, resulting in some lively dinners, a few blocked numbers, a handful of solid guy friends, and a back pocket full of entertaining stories to tell at cocktail parties. What doesn’t kill you makes you funnier.
In a profound way, I was also challenged to see myself. Each person reflected back to me my assumptions on gender roles; the purpose of relationships; my personal desires versus what society deemed desirable; and my insecurities, fears, and needs.
Date after date, years passed. And, after a few more exhausting experiments, I stopped—walking away satisfied with having learned a little more about how to love and how to be loved. I had finally realized that so much about finding love is actually out of my hands.
On finding (and relinquishing) control
I did, in the end, find love, but that’s another story for another day. The one here is really about the control we have and the control we don’t. Sometimes we aptly put leashes on dogs, or reins on champion horses. At other times, we pull leashes tied to heavy rocks for much too long, or make futile attempts to put reins on water.
The COVID-19 pandemic has been an exercise in hanging on and letting go in many ways—but so is running a small business, and so is finding love. In all these things, we cement our desires, figure out what we have control over, practice loosening our grip, try letting go; we learn when to use a leash, how to use a rein, and when to just chill out on a picnic blanket and sip some icy-cold lemonade.