A few months after Bryan and I started dating, a woman that I had just been introduced to at the restaurant asked, “Is it hard dating someone who’s always working? How do you even have a relationship when he’s never around? Do you just sit around waiting and hoping he’ll have time left for you?”
I, stunned by this stranger making assumptions regarding my life, quipped back, “No, I don’t just sit around waiting for Bryan to grace me with his presence because I am too busy running and owning my own business. I also have two young children that I am raising… alone… that keep me on my toes.”
Awkward silence pursued.
At the time, along with running a busy photography studio, I also taught other women not only photography skills but also how to start and operate a profitable business. Quite honestly, I didn’t have time to worry about how much he worked because I was (and still am) busy chasing my own goals.
From that day on, whenever I met someone who knew Bryan, I was often asked about how I managed to cope with our non-traditional relationship due to his career. Eventually, I became used to the questions and stopped becoming annoyed by the constant interest in how we were able to have a good relationship if he was always at work. Then, at some point, someone referred to me as a restaurant widow.
That didn’t sound good. We weren’t even talking about marriage yet and I’m already a widow!? How the hell does that happen!? Apparently, I had missed the memo and it is a commonly known term for people like myself. For those of you not in-the-know, like I once was, here is a definition:
Restaurant Widow[res-trahnt wid-oh]
- The significant other of an indvidual who has dedicated their life and quite possibly sold their soul to the restaurant or service industry. Difficulty of relationship may vary and often depends on career experience and goals. True restaurant widows (widowers) must be unfazed by the following:
-Brutally long and unpredictable hours that change constantly – no two days are alike
-Adopted industry people who visit/call unannounced and likely intoxicated at all hours, day and night
-Last minute change of plans and it doesn’t matter when they were made or how excited you were
-Date night happens on Wednesday instead of the weekend and they don’t start until after 9pm
-Terribly inaccurate reviews; thanks to yelp and the internet… everyone’s a critic and often times they are unaccredited with little to no food experience
-Attending events alone, so often that it causes concern amongst your friends and family that your significant other is an imaginary friend and not of the human variety
- Possible side effects may include but are not limited to:
-Weight gain from ridiculous amounts of amazing food and wine
-Loss of sanity during busy season (February-December) which may cause even more wine consumption
-Elevated food, beverage and service expectations
-Never ending feeling of being punch drunk due to constant chaos
-Often suffering from rock star complex no matter where you are or what you’re doing
I could keep going, but I think y’all get it. Once I was bestowed this new title, I decided to enlist the experts via google to better understand what it meant.
Can, opened… hello worms!
Instead of finding positive information about being in a healthy relationship with a chef, all I found were tons of sites spewing craptastic bitch sessions, often presented as fact (insert eye roll here), about how terrible it was to live life with a chef. Yikes! It wasn’t looking good for Bryan… So down the rabbit hole I went. He loved it when I would stumble across an article or site detailing the reasons not to date a chef. When I say love it, I mean he really, really, loved it. Those conversations typically went like this:
Me: “Seeeeeeee babe, it says right here (pointing dramatically at my phone) in this incredibly informative blog post on thebitterexgirlfriend.com, that I shouldn’t date you because all chefs are noncommittal, egomaniac drug addicts that love hookers, lie constantly and consume obscene amounts of booze….”
Bryan: “Ugh. Again with the articles!? Let me guess, it also says that I’m never going to be around and I will never cook for you…”
Me: “Oh my God! So it’s true?! I knew the internet wouldn’t lie to me!” <—- the trigger
These conversations, sometimes, spiraled into a debate on how hard it was or wasn’t to be in a relationship with someone in the industry. Being the passionate people that we are, means strong opinions that are sometimes expressed with even louder voices. In fact (don’t read the next part if you are family or are offended easily), Bryan recently told Barry Maiden (former chef at Hungry Mother) when we were together in Memphis last month that, “We’re either fighting hard, or loving hard… and neither are done quietly.” He thinks it’s funny to see if he can embarrass me… It’s not easy, but this time it worked and I turned a shade of purple that rivaled a glass of cabernet.
Anyway, those were the very early days when we were still trying to figure out how we fit into each other’s hectic lives. Being married to a chef isn’t for the faint of heart. Some days are easy and some days we spend constantly chasing our tails. As we go, adjustments have to be made and someone usually has to bend and mold to keep the status quo. Most of the time we keep the balance but sometimes we stumble much like we did at the end of last year.
The fall rush for family portraits left me working a minimum of 60 hours a week for four months solid. I also started to realize that the business I had grown, no longer fed my creative monster the way it once did. Then, the massive amount of time I was investing in my business and some very demanding clients started taking it’s toll. The fall is also challenging for Bryan with dinner parties and catering events. We hardly saw each other and our beautiful babies were starting to loose their patience with us and our careers. It was the perfect combination for a storm.
I wanted so badly to quit, but struggled with leaving my business and all the blood, sweat and tears that I had poured into it for almost a decade. I was proud of what I had built and had goals that I was so close to achieving. But… I missed my family more. So, I pulled back from my work and we started the long and difficult conversation about next steps one night over wine and a game of bourre in our kitchen.
Not working wasn’t an option for me. I wasn’t built that way. But a shift needed to be made to regain some of our balance. Bryan mentioned finding a way to integrate what we both do… I had no idea what that would look like, so we talked and we talked but nothing came. A few months passed and as Bryan became busier (not sure how that’s even possible) and started loosing an already loose grip on his schedule I threw him a lifeline and offered to take on the roll as his personal assistant until he could hire someone else. I’m sure I’ll have a good sexual harassment suit in my near future.
Every few days we would meet for either coffee or breakfast, if we were lucky sometimes even a three martini lunch, to discuss the upcoming events and appointments and try to stay ahead of the game. On one particular day we met in a cozy little coffee shop and sat on a old worn-in sofa (the exact one pictured above) and shared a siphon of coffee while we planned and made to-do lists.
His phone rang, as it often does, so I picked up a magazine happy to occupy my time with a little Kinfolk. While reading the issue, volume #3 to be exact, the idea hit me… ah, divine intervention!
Maybe we could create an anthology of sorts documenting this non-traditional lifestyle that we love with genuine photographic essays from our everyday life! Then, we could also feature simple but sincere interviews, similar to Humans of New York but with chefs. I wanted to create a beautifully designed, transparent, sometimes messy, documentation of our life as well as other leaders in the service industry who are cultivating unique ideas personally and professionally. It would be the opposite of all the negative junk that I had once read in gossip columns and awkwardly composed blogs. Instead, the main objective would be authenticity and showcasing people, many we call friends, in a positive light.
The second his call was over, I causally mentioned the idea to Bryan and waited anxiously to hear if he liked it or thought I was way off base. He immediately said, “I love it and I have the perfect name that I’ve been dying to use… Sleeping with the chef.” Five minutes later the domain was purchased, hosted and we were officially starting our first project together. Hopefully, we might even shed a little light about what it’s truly like to be a restaurant widow… yes, he really does cook at home, we will share some of those recipes soon!