At some point in my early adulthood, I found it far more enjoyable to partake in something for the first time when it was in the company of another – not only as an introduction but a time stamp in the relationship.
However, this habit eventually became a reinforcement (and testament) of a worldview that didn’t leave room for feelings of inherent value. I would deny myself any form of pleasure unless I was with another person1. It’s like I needed someone to validate those experiences, and didn’t know how to give myself permission to enjoy them otherwise.
One might have believed that many painful years alone would give me the chance to develop a better sense of self-compassion, but a career has a way of concealing such inadequacies. That’s why I had as much growing to do as Heather did, even though I was the one to initiate the healing separation. Three months would certainly be far too long for me to tide myself over with chores or mindless busywork. An aversion to idleness would inevitably lead me to find ways of occupying my time in a more meaningful way, and I would be responsible to no one but myself.
Spending some time in exile also seemed like an effective way for me to learn how to prioritize myself, to figure out my wants and needs, to discover who I truly am when the mask is down2. Unfortunately, it wasn’t practical for either of us to live apart, even though a complete break would have given me a better chance to heal. As Heather was still working from home3, I spent whole days with the office with the door closed and made it my goal to pass the time in enjoyable ways.
Between nearly 1000 games in my Steam collection and a library full of media that I’ve never found time to watch4, it wasn’t hard to pass the hours. The room occasionally felt like a 10’x11’ luxury prison, but it was still freeing to partake in all the pleasures I’d been saving until I had a person with whom to share them. For the first time in my life, I started to believe that I didn’t need to be with someone else the way I used to; that it was possible for me to be happy on my own, which didn’t seem possible before.
Eventually, I realized that I’d never truly lived for myself. My goal had always been to find someone else to live for, essentially to replace my parents with another person to give me the value — expressed as love or attention — I so desperately craved as a way of justifying my existence5.
I’d been completely dependent on Heather for years, but navigating such a long stretch of time6 alone forced me to find the resources to take care of myself. This was a taste of what my life would be like without her, and it was nowhere near as painful as expected. Knowing this helped reduce some of the pressure I put on her from having such a huge role in my life. I started feeling confident that I could safely pull back with less fear of abandonment, and resume our relationship as a healthier individual.
- Another reason losing L____ was so hard; she was the only other person in my life who made it a point not to watch our shows until we were together. [↩]
- How easy this is to forget after years of cohabitation. [↩]
- The pandemic was in the second wave. [↩]
- I have many, like The Sweet Smell of Success, considered some of the most influential films of all time, but also dated and probably only appreciated by hardcore cinemaphiles. [↩]
- I only recently learned that people with healthy childhoods don’t need to seek that kind of validation, as they gain a sense of self-worth by having parents who value and love them unconditionally. [↩]
- Typing this, I realize that three months is actually a paltry amount of time — but the fact that we hadn’t been apart for more than a day or two in the seven years we’ve been together made it feel like forever. [↩]