Monday, June 22, 2015

Is Your Significant Other Holding You Back?

 Tattoo Nerd,

 I started dating this girl shortly after I finished my apprenticeship.  We've been together for almost two years now.  I feel I was honest with her about the realities of being a tattooer; long hours, that I was just starting out, that I wasn't going to always have money, and she seemed to understand and even encourage me at first.  Lately, though, she does nothing but complain about my "hobby", the people at the shop I work at (fellow tattooers and customers), and tells me I "should get a real job". What do I do to convince her that being a tattooer is a "real job"?

 Yep, that sucks.

 Let's start with a disclaimer.  I am not a romance expert.  My past is a long-list of broken relationships and often angry women.  I am not the guy to go to in order to save your relationship.  That said, your concern is a common one, something I have both witnessed among others and seen myself first hand.

 Years ago, when I was considering becoming a tattooer, I was dating another artist.  I was working in a warehouse at the time and she was a painter.  She was used to a moderately high-standard of living, her parents where well-off and provided for her in many ways.  We talked about moving south, and I began discussing becoming a tattooer.  She was almost immediately put-off.  Tattooing was too "low-brow" for her tastes, and she was concerned about all the nude women I might see.  When I asked if she would have the same reservation (about nude women) if I wished to become a gynecologist, she stated that she wouldn't mind because of the money I would be making.

 A month or so later, I broke it off with her.  It wasn't about supporting me in the pursuit of my passions, it was about how much money I could bring her.

 A relationship should be a mutual partnership, with both parties fully aware and appreciative of their own value and what their partner brings to the table.  You don't go into a relationship thinking you can change the other person, you go into it embracing their flaws. As tattooers, we can be very "flawed", especially when held to the standards of the 9-5 world.  Your partner has to know, and appreciate, the life you live; long hours, inconsistent income, late nights, the "party-element" without the party, and your dedication to craft.  This is a hard pill to swallow for most people.  We often make the mistake of thinking we can change our partners, that one day we will hit our stride in our careers and they will learn to appreciate and support us.  It is a wonderful dream, but clinging to it will probably lead to more frustration for all parties involved.

 That frustration can lead to problems in your work.  From just being unable to enjoy the job because of troubles at home to drama that can happen when the significant other decides to lose-it at your shop, a relationship with the wrong person can damage your career.  Ask yourself if your significant other believes or has even stated any of the following:

  Is your job "just a hobby", "not real", or "easy"?

 This is indicative of someone who has no awareness of what it takes to be a tattooer.  They are oblivious to the long hours, the frustration of not having a consistent income, the haggling with customers who under-value your work.  They have no appreciation of the commitment-to-craft it takes to be a tattooer.  Often, the problem is that they are envious of your job, especially when they are unhappy in their own work.  Misery loves company, and they would rather you join them in their suffering than try to enjoy and be a part of your pursuit of happiness.

 Is there "no money" in tattooing?

 We know this is simply bullshit.  The average tattoo artist makes $30,000 to $50,000 a year.  The problem for most people in a relationship with a tattooer is that the income is inconsistent.  Some months you might make several thousand dollars, others only a few hundred.  Meanwhile, they have an income they can count on.  When they count on you, the tattooer, to consistently help with the bills and you have a bad month, this leads to problems if you are not prepared.  

 Frankly, this is more the fault of the tattooer than the partner.  In an ideal world, you as a tattooer would not be in a situation where someone was relying on you financially until you saved some money and learned to manage your inconsistent income.  That can take a couple of years for a new tattooer, maybe more.  It is far easier for your partner to deal with the lean-times as a tattooer if you have already prepared for them on your own in advance. If you are a tattooer who is relying on someone else to augment your income, then you deserve the troubles you have.

 "All you think about is work" and they want to party.

  This is the death-knell of a tattooer's relationship.  That partner that in the beginning thought it would be cool to date a tattooer and hang-out at a tattoo shop, only to discover that there are long hours, and while we have fun, it is still a business.  The social-status of dating a tattooer suddenly doesn't mean much when your friends are partying and your tattooer-partner cannot go with you. They may enjoy the money you are earning, but not the work that is behind it.  When the attention that you give them is not enough, be prepared for them to start seeking that attention elsewhere.

 On the flip-side of this is expecting your partner to cater to you while you are at work. They deserve to have a life as much as you, and you made the choice to live that life in a tattoo studio.  They did not.  Being okay with your partner going to the clubs with his or her friends takes a great deal of either trust or apathy.  Expecting them to run your errands for you while you are at the shop is almost as bad as expecting them to pay your bills.  A relationship is a two-way street, and if you both have problems with that, you may want to re-think the whole thing.

 Are your clients and co-workers beneath them, or have they said they don't like tattoos?

 First of all, it is a real testament to your game if you are covered with tattoos and work as a tattooer and someone who has a contemptuous view on tattoos and tattooed people is dating you.  The resentment from this situation is just going to fuel both you and your partner's frustration.  Again, it suggests a lack of appreciation for your career; it is more than what you do, it is who you are.  They may think things will be great when you "grow out of tattooing", while you know you will be doing this for the rest of your life.  It is unlikely that either of you will come around to the other person's way of thinking.

 Your money is their money.

 In a relationship, you should share most things.  For many tattooers, it is nice to have a partner who manages your income and handles your bills.  The problem we often run into is when our partners see us as an ATM for their party-life, or we expect them to work miracles with what little we have.  You have to both know what you are getting into when you join incomes and trust one another with your expenses.  You are each far better off knowing you can manage your own bills rather than relying on one another's income.  

 They don't trust you with attractive clients.

 This is a deal breaker.  As tattooers, we often have clients who are enhancing their body-image with art.  Often, when a client wants to enhance their body, they have a body they want to show-off.  If your partner is insecure about themselves and their own image, then this could lead to trouble,  Furthermore, if you met your partner when they were getting a tattoo in your chair, then they know the opportunity exists.  This is just one of the reasons it is a bad idea to date a client.  It takes maturity and trust, on the part of both you and your partner, to overcome this problem.

 The tattoo lifestyle caters much more to dating than being in a relationship.  Tattooers live a life that is outside what many people expect from a significant-other, often move from one location to another, and are not as "available" as many people with a romantic interest would like.  Being focused on our careers and art is also often hard for someone else to deal with, especially if they want that focus to be on them. Until you are in a fairly stable situation, you will need someone who is extremely understanding and well aware of what they are getting into if you get into a relationship. 

Jason Sorrell is a writer, tattoo artist, satirist, artist, and generally nice guy living in Austin, TX.  He loves answering questions about tattoos.  Shoot him a message at