cum dignitate otium, or, les Cent Jours

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.

Counterpart screenshot

Counterpart was cere­bral, grip­ping, fas­ci­nat­ing, per­fect­ly-exe­cut­ed and quick­ly became one of my favourite shows. The fact that part­ly takes place in a post-pan­dem­ic world made it all the more apt.

Indulging in the entire two-sea­son series by myself was a real treat; instead of bing­ing, I had anoth­er episode to look for­ward to every day.

Heat Signature screenshot

I nev­er play through a game twice, but the sat­is­fac­tion of solv­ing com­plex prob­lems like a John Wick space-MacGyver in Heat Signature meant the first 30 hours was­n’t enough. Honorable men­tions for Hollow Knight, Risk of Rain 2, and naval com­bat in Black Flag.

I was for­tu­nate that the weath­er was too cold for the cot­tage, which meant Trolley was avail­able on the week­ends for our co-op games; the one social con­tact I kept through­out my iso­la­tion.

Deadwood screenshot

Deadwood was a mem­o­rable expe­ri­ence, par­tic­u­lar­ly for char­ac­ters like the foul-mouthed sweet­heart, Calamity Jane. I’d be lying if I said the lan­guage and dia­logue has­n’t since influ­enced my propen­si­ty to find the right turn of phrase before hit­ting Publish.

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.

  1. 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. []
  2. How easy this is to for­get after years of cohab­i­ta­tion. []
  3. The pan­dem­ic was in the sec­ond wave. []
  4. 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. []
  5. 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. []
  6. 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. []

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