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The Startup of Your Next Relationship: Using Business to Master Pleasure

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At an early age we are taught that (kind of like drinking a tall glass of OJ after you brush your teeth), mixing business with pleasure is typically not a good idea. No one wants to walk into their place of work and be inundated with awkward, flirtatious glances from the co-worker he/she had a steamy encounter with the night before. (As a general rule, once a colleague has seen you in your birthday suit, it's all downhill from there.) So, we avoid such run-ins by dividing our personal and professional lives into two separate spheres.

But what if the two are not so separate after all? What if we can use a model conventionally confined to business as a how-to guide for our next relationship?

This semester at the University of Michigan I decided to venture out of my comfort zone and take a class entitled, the Psychology of Entrepreneurship. Unbeknownst to me, I would end up as one of the few English and psychology majors amidst a sea of business and entrepreneurship concentrators. I was immediately intimidated by my classmates' Ross School of Business vernacular and did what any confused college student would -- watched a slew of motivational TED Talks with heavy YouTube traffic.

Once revitalized by Amy Cuddy's advice to "Fake it until you become it," I decided to stay confident, open-minded, and become the next Steve Jobs.

...too ambitious?

As the semester played out, I came to the realization that the study of startups is inextricably linked to the study of people -- something I am much more experienced with. I soon realized that the same principles applied to launching a successful business could be used as a blueprint for the identification and pursuit of a successful relationship.

So, before your next "relationship venture," you may want to think like an entrepreneur and consider the four following concepts:

1) Opportunity Recognition

When starting a business, it is essential to identify opportunity. This means sifting through the hundreds of ideas you may have and identifying which of those is worth your time and energy. Opportunity recognition implies that you must take external factors into account -- the market, industry, social or technological trends, and consider if your venture solves a monetizable pain for a particular group of people.

In relationships, the process is not so different. We meet new people every day and must utilize our knowledge of external factors -- convenience, age, timing, personality, and recognize which person presents the opportunity for a successful relationship. Rather than waste time and energy on someone you know isn't right for you, take more time to consider whom you plan to invest in.

2) Career/Relationship Capital

In a book entitled So Good They Can't Ignore You, the author Cal Newport touches upon the power of "career capital." He defines the term as the development of rare and valuable skills that you must build if you want to land a job that you are both successful at and passionate about.

Now, lets translate this into what I will call Relationship Capital. In our relationships, we cannot strive to be the best at everything. It is too unrealistic to think that we will be the most communicative, the most loving, give the best gifts, and kick social a$$ with every one of our boyfriend/girlfriend's relatives. Thus, we must cultivate relationship capital and identify our interpersonal strengths. This way, we avoid always feeling like a failure, enjoy what we are truly good at, and accept defeat when a boyfriend or girlfriend is totally in the right.

3) Small Wins

Usually when faced with a problem, people have the tendency to catastrophize. We see issues on such a large scale -- global warming, world hunger, THE APOCALYPSE -- that it is difficult to preserve rationality. So, it is important to reframe how we problem solve and focus our energy on small wins. This means tackling minor concrete tasks rather than searching for a sweeping, abstract resolution. In business, small changes in practice can significantly increase the productivity of a venture in the long run.

In relationships, it may be valuable to consider adapting a similar "small wins" mentality. Rather than disregard something like long distance and deem it an insurmountable obstacle, reappraise the situation and focus on concrete, tangible activities that can preserve hope and encourage emotional investment in your significant other. For instance, schedule frequent Skype calls, write daily emails, and G-chat all-day-err-day. As a result, each communication can be viewed as a success and will hopefully increase positivity and initiate long-term commitment.

4) Persevere or Pivot

Often in business, it is hard to identify when to persevere and stick with your original vision and when to pivot and change your business model. Entrepreneurs are so emotionally invested in their ventures that sometimes they have a hard time acknowledging defeat or changing direction. If something isn't working, it is hard to see time and energy spent on the "something" as a sunk cost. This can lead to irrational decision-making and more wasted time and energy.

The same goes for relationships. Sometimes we spend an inordinate amount of time trying to fix a problem that cannot be fixed. Rather than admit there is a fundamental issue with a relationship, we try to stick to our original "relationship model" and ignore the obvious truth -- it isn't working. We do not identify that our relationship is a sunk cost and ruminate over the fact that we spent years with someone we won't end up with in the end. But to avoid even more time wasted, we shouldn't let emotional investment in someone cloud our judgment. It is important to recognize when to persevere and fight for your relationship and when to pivot and move on.