Everyone knows it’s no bed of roses to date a banker. Nor is it the easiest thing in the world to be a banker looking for love. But one way or another, it does seem to happen; singleton analysts who've been complaining about their slave-driver bosses grow up into married vice presidents VPs complaining about their lazy entitled juniors. And it's when you're a married VP that the hard work really begins.
In a sense, bankers have a matrimonial head start. Because so many relationships founder in the first year or two of the analyst programs, it's unusual for there to be a mismatch of expectations in long term banking relationships. - Most people who have married someone in banking met their spouse while he or she was already working and know what to expect. Missed dates, weekend conference calls and constant tiredness are deal-breakers for some people and that’s understandable, but if you really feel that way, why did you marry a banker? The time to complain about that sort of thing was before you put a ring on it.
Although spouses of bankers are aware that the counterpart to the big money is a lack of time, that doesn’t mean that they have to like it. Time spent apart is time in which two people can grow apart, if you’re not careful. When you work in finance, the worst thing you can do, however ridiculous your schedule, is to get into the habit of walking back into the marital home and heading straight to sleep. If your spouse was a client, after all, you’d make the effort to go the extra mile, put on a smile and ask about their day and interests. And conversely, if you constantly greeted a CFO with monosyllables and bad temper, you would expect the advisory and capital markets business to drop away before too long.
“Elly”, an anonymous banking spouse sets out the things you have to put up with to stay married to a banker. It pretty much involves total subjugation to the job: "My husband works ungodly hours. He takes client calls on Friday nights, has conference calls on Sunday mornings and evenings, in the middle of family dinners, and dinner dates," she says.
Being a banking spouse is genuinely hard work. But people stay married to doctors, who also work long hours under pressure. Truck drivers have families, and they spend longer away from home than all but the most obsessive M&A bankers. There are even married people in the armed forces, who hold their family lives together under much more extreme stresses, and with the added possibility of being killed.
What’s the difference? It’s not so much the actual conditions as the fact that nobody is going to begrudge their doctor spouse staying late at work to treat a patient, or their military spouse going on a “business trip” to Afghanistan. The thing that really determines whether a banking couple is going to make things work is whether, at base, both partners believe in what they’re doing. If you object to the business itself, you’re going to object when it starts interfering with your family life. If your partner shares your ambitions and values, they’re more likely to understand the sacrifices that need to be made.
The banking relationships which work, therefore, are those in which the non-banking spouse accepts the need to make sacrifices for the 'greater good.'
Again, Elly explains what it takes: "He has a job that requires him to be there for his client," she says. " - Much as I dislike it, said client has a lot of money and this money trickles down to my husband and it helps the pay the taxes and bills. Don't get me wrong, I hate client calls to death. But they mean well for my other half’s career and could help make him MD... so I let it slide. The dinner could go cold for all I care. He could miss my birthday if something goes wrong at work. I will be sad though, but as long as he has his job and it makes him happy, I am happy..."
If this sounds like masochism, maybe it is - although it's masochism mitigated by money that 'trickles down.'
It's once the first kids arrive, however, that banking relationships (like many others) experience real strain. Here, you will gain a new appreciation for how considerate your MD actually was with his demands, and how respectful of your sleep patterns. At this point, the best advice is probably to spend some of that money on on babysitting; it’s one of the few luxuries you can buy where you’re sure you’re using all that you’re paying for.
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