I think we’re alone now, SELF. Is it really that important to have alone time?
When I look back on the women I’ve dated, my understanding of boundaries has changed drastically with each of them. In my first relationship, I didn’t want any space, or boundaries, or individuality—I just wanted to abandon myself and dive completely into another person (yeah, literally). True to the U-Haul stereotype, I moved in with my first GF after two weeks of knowing her, right after learning her middle name and right before discovering that she was an alcoholic. You know, right in that sweet spot. During our relationship, I texted her constantly while I was at work, and then between the hours of 5 p.m. and 9 a.m., I would do whatever she was doing just so I could be by her side. Unfortunately, “whatever she was doing” was always watching Step Up 2 on repeat and eating hot dogs. It was beyond codependence; it was obsession.
My first relationship was not about being myself; it was about being with her. I refused to hear any combination of the words “alone” or “apart” or “Do you want to do separate things tonight?” In fact, the only time we ever really fought was the one bleak December night when she suggested that we have some “alone time.” The phrase made my heart stop. I couldn’t believe that she would ever want to be away from me, even for a few hours, and I proceeded to have a complete meltdown, as if “alone time” was a code name for an entire group of models she was secretly banging on the side. After she left the house, I racked my brain for activities that I used to do before I met her, but I came up completely empty. I searched my phone for a single contact that I could call who wasn’t her. But I hadn’t talked to anyone else in months. Distraught, I went to Walgreens to buy hair dye and spent the night impulsively dying my hair brown (which, incidentally, is my natural color). IT WAS CRAZY.
What I learned:
1. Regular alone time is important to a long-term relationship if you want to avoid going insane.
2. It’s also a great way to make sure your partner doesn’t feel like your prisoner.
3. Step Up 2 only needs to be watched one time. Two max.
After my “alone time” meltdown, I assumed that I had some kind of boundary problem—until my second relationship when, to my shock, everything was reversed. Instead of me crying every time she wanted to be alone, I was the one pushing her away. She was always pulling me too close and too fast. How could that be possible, given what I told you about myself above?
1. We all know that first relationships are way intense and not representative of who we are as partners/people.
2. I was probably reacting from my “too close” experience, which didn’t end well, by trying to keep some distance.
3. The moon might have been in Aries that day, or the tide may have been low.
4. In hindsight, this girl and I were just not right for each other in the first place.
In my second relationship with, let’s call her “Carla,” I suddenly became a strict boundary enforcer. I wanted big walls up, all around, everywhere. But I still didn’t spend any time alone. Because to be alone is to die. Instead, all of my time was spent with Carla…being uncomfortable. She wanted me to meet her parents and I resisted. She told me she wanted to move in with me and I resisted. I constantly felt like I was trying to build a sandcastle around myself, and she was just immediately pouring water on it. Carla was an amazing person and I will always feel lucky that she cared about me, but at the time and in the context, it was too much. It was the right effort directed at the wrong person. When she picked out a couch for the apartment we were going to live in together one day—before I had actually OK-ed the idea of living together—I knew that it would never work. She would always be pulling me too hard to come into her space, and I would use all of my time and energy resisting. Still, I was terrified of being alone. It took ages for us to break up, and when we did, it was very, very terrible.
In conclusion, whether you are the one pulling someone closer or whether she is pulling you (or maybe you are both just hanging out, not pulling each other), alone time is super important, and tons of normal people in good relationships are doing it.
Ideas for ways to create alone time:
Take a bath, but force yourself to stay in the tub for at least five songs on Spotify (super hard, trust me).
Call an imaginary friend. Walk around outside holding your phone to your ear, but don’t actually call anyone. It’s just a nice way to be alone without looking alone.
Start a vegetable garden. It’s very character-building to try to grow something that you will one day have to eat.
And speaking of alone time, it never hurts to actually have your own life. The first reason to have your own life is that there is nothing worse than going through a breakup where you don’t just lose your girlfriend, you also lose everything—you lose all of your friends (who were her friends), all of your hobbies (which were her hobbies), all of your parents (who were her parents), and all of your clothes (which were her clothes). The second reason to have your own life is that being your own person can only make your relationship stronger.
Ideas for ways to have your own life:
Find a personality. Usually you can do this by curating a list of favorite bands, cutting holes in your jeans, or learning a new language.
Use your personality to meet other people who like it. Join a sports team, start exploring hashtags that are relevant to you on Instagram and chatting with like-minded people.
Get out there and do stuff. Paint a picture, call your mom, win a trophy—all great activities that will make your girlfriend proud and make you so much more desirable to her with every passing day.
Wear your own clothes. Nothing says, “I’m NOT my own person” like meeting your significant other at a party and realizing you both wore a blue plaid shirt. And they’re both hers.
How do you create space for yourself in your relationship?