Saturday, January 06, 2007

 

In Which I Want To Be Alone...


I've read--and written--stories about relationships and one of those eye-candy factoids that always pops up somewhere in the copy is the Main Reasons Couples Fight. Mostly, it boils down to intractable differences regarding money and/or sex (and here we're including any consequences of sex, such as children). Surprisingly (to me anyway), money is far and away the more corrosive of the two.

Her Lovely Self and I don't argue so much about that sort of thing. Well, to clarify: we do argue about that sort of thing (on the money side, I still haven't lived down the time I bought a beanbag with a six-foot-diameter footprint without clearing it with her first. And the fact that it only cost $125 carried no weight with her. And on the sex side, replace "argue" with a more appropriate verb, such as "grovel" and you're pretty much there). It's just that our squabbles are never bad enough to warrant breaking the promises we made to each other almost 13 years ago in front of God and everyone.

But if there's one issue that's going to divide us--and I'm not saying our marriage is in trouble, I'm just saying if anything had the slimmest hope of becoming a marital deal-breaker--it's the subject of free time.

Her Lovely Self grew up in a house where she, her mother, father, and three sisters, did everything together except going to the bathroom (and I'm not even sure about that). They were a very tight family, in point of fact. When HLS went to college, and then later to Chicago, she never would have considered living without a roommate (preferably two). When we met, one of her reasons for agreeing to go out with me--aside from pity--was the fact that I was always willing to accompany her wherever she wanted to go. In short, she can't stand to be alone. It was a personality trait I was perfectly happy to exploit when we were younger, but I never foresaw the consequences that this kind of trait would have on her mindset over the long haul. Because, see, she has a hard time imagining why anyone would want to spend some time by himself. More to the point, she has a hard time not taking personally the fact that someone would want time by himself.

And we all know who himself is in this scenario.

As for me, I've always been perfectly happy being by myself. Some of the most cherished moments of my childhood were those times when I made a conscious choice to part from the crowd and strike off of my own. Growing up in my household, there were times when getting away by myself was not merely an indulgence but a coping mechanism. When my dad was drinking and went off on one of his hitting-and-shouting tirades, my flight response kicked in and I always hot-footed it for the fields and forests beyond our house, staying there in relative solitude and safety until darkness would begin to fall and my brother would come find me with the news that dad had left or passed out.

In school, I always had friends, but I was also the guy who enjoyed sitting up in a far corner of the bleachers during lunch or a free period, reading or writing, or sometimes just staring into the distance and thinking long-range thoughts. I do my best thinking when I'm alone and it's the time when I can best center myself.

And the hell of it is, I haven't had any alone time to myself in ages.

I get a little time to myself in the evenings, after the kids have gone to bed and HLS passes out, exhausted, usually by 10, but often sooner, since she's now sleeping for two. That gives me a few hours, but lately, with the pace of work, I've been pretty damn tired so I don't get too much time on my own that doesn't involve slumping sideways on the sofa and waking to discover I've drooled on the dog's head.

It used to be I had plenty of time on the weekends--HLS would be off shopping or gardening and I could spend time puttering in the basement or taking a long bike ride or working on a story. But weekends are the only times the kids get to see me during daylight hours and the truth is, I'll always give up the chance to be alone for the chance to do stuff with them.

Up to a point.

And I think I've reached that point.

The hell of it is, it's a subject that is so touchy to broach with my wife, whenever I try to do it, I want to call in the bomb squad first. HLS instantly supposes that my wanting to be myself equals my not wanting to be with her. And for all the eloquence I can muster, I can't get her to see that it just isn't so. I mean, I spend 90 percent of my free time with her. Is it so wrong to want 10 percent to myself? It's not like I prefer the company of others to her, like I want to go off and hang with the guys or bang my mistress (I have no mistress, let me hasten to add. I'm being hypothetical here). I just want some peace and quiet and the secure knowledge that I'm going to have a block of time to delve into other things, without worrying about the door opening and someone calling down to wonder what I'm doing or when I'll be coming upstairs.

I've tried to explain to her that I use that time to indulge in creative endeavors, things that require me to let my imagination run riot, and I can't do that when she's sitting in the chair behind me, asking me what I want for dinner tonight, or whether I've read the article she's reading. I can't do it when the kids come over and want to know when I'm going to be off the computer so I can play a video game, and then come back three minutes later and want to know when I'm going to be off the computer so I can play a video game, ad nauseum for the rest of the afternoon.

As you might guess, we had this discussion just the other night, and although she often says she understands that I need my "alone time," we both know it's a big fat lie. Inevitably, she acts hurt and starts to suggest ridiculous measures, such as taking the kids to Florida to stay with her parents for the rest of the winter, or giving me every weekend alone until Easter, during which time she'll take the kids to do every fun things I've wanted to do with them.

And at some point in her discussion, she'll bring it up. The Remark.

"Well, I guess they were right. Marrying me was a big mistake for you, because I've taken away all the free time you'd use to write and sucked up all the energy you'd use to pursue your goals," she huffed.

"They" by the way, are a married couple I will jointly refer to as BettyBob, two friends of mine from childhood. I adored them and considered them dear friends but the truth is they were not such good friends to me all the time. Betty and I had a brother/sister relationship which, alas, included all the negative aspects of such a relationship. In other words, we often bickered and had petty little fights. And she had a somewhat possessive sense about me, especially when it came to women I was dating. Bob mostly kept his mouth shut and did whatever Betty told him, which didn't help.

So when BettyBob visited me in Chicago and met Her Lovely Self for the first time, it was not an auspicious meeting. In fact, my friends were downright rude to HLS. And later, after she left my apartment one evening, BettyBob made it clear that they didn't see me being with HLS long term. And then Betty said that they saw HLS as a clingy type who would suck away all of my creative energy and free time and I would never achieve what they both felt was my considerable potential as a man who was good with words.

My biggest mistake was in sharing this remark with HLS, which I did not because I wanted to hurt HLS, but because I was amused by what I thought was the most incredibly, ironically, pot-calling-the-kettle-blackly blind remark I'd ever heard. Because for most of my college career, Betty was making constant demands on my time, and hung out at my apartment so much, my long-suffering roommate once suggested that we charge her rent. Moreover, HLS knew BettyBob didn't like her and demanded to know what they said about her. I have never liked to lie to HLS, so like an idiot I told her, not realizing that it would scar her for life. Because even though that comment was made some 15 years ago, and even though we eventually patched things up and spent many good times with BettyBob (and Bob was even in my wedding), the truth is HLS has never quite forgiven them for their remark, but she has also never disagreed with it either. Unlike me, HLS has always had a self-esteem problem, which means she is highly susceptible to the criticisms and suggestions of friends and family. If her friends had said something like that about me, she'd have seriously considered dumping me. Whereas I have never had a problem telling the dearest people in my life to fuck off if I think they're full of shit.

So it is that at times like this, when I casually suggest that I might need an afternoon to myself this weekend, or to propose that this February she takes the kids to Florida without me--for a week, not a season--she immediately gets pouty and brings up the Remark, throwing it in my face as if it was something I had said.

Which I never would, for the simple fact that it isn't true. In fact, if it wasn't for the love and support of my wife, I can categorically state that I wouldn't be where I am. I can think of three key strategic career changes I have wanted to make in my life, all vital to me either getting a chance to write a book or having the opportunity to work at a Really Big Magazine. But in every single case, those chances involved HLS giving up a sweet job with good money (often more money than I was making) to pull up stakes and move to some new city, almost always a city that has put her farther and farther away from her family, who she used to live so close to, she could visit them every weekend.

I know a host of girlfriends and spouses--and I'm talking reasonable women here, not just the crazy ones--who would have been justified to put their foot down and forced me to pass on the opportunity. But in every case, my wife went along with it--more than that, encouraged it--because she knew it would be good for my career and my long-held ambition to, well, be where I am.

I told her this--as I've told her this every time she brings up the Remark, but it tends to go in one ear and out the other, or else be dismissed out of hand.

This time she said, "Well, okay, so you've achieved a goal you set for yourself in magazines, but if you and I hadn't stayed together, you'd have had these opportunities anyway. And on top of it, you'd have had plenty of free time to pursue your other dreams, like that comic book you always wanted to write, or the book ideas you've always talked about. If you didn't have us weighing you down, you'd have achieved those things by now."

And usually this is where we get into an argument because I'll tell her she's being ridiculous and that will really set her off.

But last night, I decided to take a different tack. I don't know what possessed me, but I opened my mouth and said, "You know what? You're right."

Boy, that brought her up short. Her eyes widened and she gave me a look of mingled pain and triumph. "See? You finally admit it," she said.

"I admit that I made a choice. To be with you and to have kids and to live this life. You didn't make me do it. I did it of my own free will. And I even did it with advance warning. I mean, BettyBob alerted me to this danger, didn't they?"

HLS didn't respond. She just sat there glumly waiting to see just how big a hole I might dig for myself in this little speech.

"What you don't understand is: even if I knew for a fact that marrying you meant I'd never write that comic book, that I could have kids or I could have best-selling books but not both, I'd still choose to be with you."

Which is self-serving to tell you, of course, but it is what I said. More to the point, it IS how I feel. I mean, don't get me wrong: I'd love to have a couple of books and a comic-book series under my belt and be the literary idol of millions. But I love my family more. And heck, if I'm willing to sacrifice my life for any one of them, sacrificing a portion of my writing life is a pretty cheap price to pay (assuming it was true, which I don't think it is).

So, Her Lovely Self and I had a little "Awwww" moment and it was all very loving and happy at the Magazine Mansion, until she looked up at me with her puppy-dog eyes and said,

"So does this mean you still want some alone time this weekend? Because I really need you to finish cleaning the basement."

Yours,
From Somewhere on the Masthead


Comments:
Well, cleaning the basement is ONE way to guarantee that the kids don't keep bugging you, at least....

I've always been an "alone" time type of guy myself. Not that I don't enjoy doing things with friends also, but I like just hanging out on my own also. Of course, being single, I probably have a bit too much time in this regard right now...but oh well.
 
hello there. i happened upon your blog in december and have visited a couple of times since. this is the first time i want to leave a note. i can relate to your wife. and to you. your topic used to be the number one argument-causing issue between me and my partner. it is hard to juggle the whole "i love you but i don't want to be with you _right now_" or understanding that it is not personal when it comes from the other side. i really don't know what wise words of advise i can give you other than perhaps seeing a couples counselor. it was the best thing we ever did. another approach could be to try and build this time into the daily routine somehow, so that when the need for it arises it is not such a huge deal. we all need to "chill" every now and then, be it for pure survival or coping or just to reconnect with ourselves. it's a good thing. i guess what i'm trying to say is: hang in there. it looks like you're not doing that bad a job. thank you for sharing!
 
Even though having a "cave" is rumored to be a male trait, I am the one who retreats to my cave. I am a girl who needs time to my self. Think what that does to my esteem, being that I am a mom and a wife. Definately not the typical perfect mom stereotype. But I am glad, in a way, that my family knows I will claw out time for my self. I love them with my whole heart. But my soul is mine. I don't buy into selling it to anyone or any thing.

All my hobbies of choice are alone things:
writing, photography, riding horses. It's who I am. It just is.

Love your wife honestly. The only deal breaker is trying to lie, to her, or yourself.
 
I can understand HLS's POV, but I love having time to myself; I need it. Unfortunately, I can be abrupt sometimes when it's interrupted. That never goes over well, so I sympathize.

Nice turn-around on The Remark, MM. Good luck scrounging together a few free moments.
 
Money isn't just the root of all evil, it will kill a relationship faster than anything else. That's why early on (20 years ago) The Wrench and I agreed that we would never spend more than $100 on anything without consulting with the other first. Yes, it means that those "big" surprise birthday/Christmas gifts aren't such a "surprise", but it also means that we decide *together*, which completely removes the possibility of that "You bought WHAT?" argument later.

The Wrench and I both need our "alone time"; we have actually been known to argue over who has had more. We do a lot of things together, to be sure, but we also both feel the need for our creative solitude.

Perhaps if you set up an "office" at home (even in the basement) it would make it easier for HLS and the kiddos to let you have that solitude. Your "office" could include whatever you want it to... a workbench, a recliner, a computer, a typewriter... it's your office, so you get to choose. Just an idea...

T. :)
 
Well done on the turnaround to The Remark - now every time HLS thinks about it, she'll remember what you said!

My father is very similar to you in his need for alone time - he goes fishing or snowmobiling to 'get away from it all'. Even if he's only gone for a couple of hours, he comes back cheerful and refreshed. If you have the time or ability - maybe you can take up a hobby like that.

Good luck & thanks for the story :)
 
As a fairly newly engaged man, and also a recent creative writing BA graduate, I've gone through the same thing. Sort of.

I come from the camp of not liking to be alone, so it all comes from My Lovely Fiancee, who has similar self esteem issues. She invents the part where I get mad about not having time to write (even though I've never said anything about it). So do you know what I tell her?

I tell her that if I didn't have her, I'd be so distraught about not having someone that I wouldn't be able to write at all, let alone sit at a computer for an hour and concentrate on anything. Not sure why I'm commenting on this post today when I usually read most of your posts, but I guess it's just that writer's guilt for not having written anything in a few days. Also, your post enacts my writer's guilt fairly heavily since I never seek free time/alone time so I can write.

The fact of the matter is, I'd rather enjoy my life than lose out on something glorious because I made sacrifices for my work. To sum up - to me, writing is selfish and self-centered. Show me the writer without the ego, and I'll show you a ten pound elephant.

Talk about that for mental state, hunh?

Oh, also? I'm jealous of how many of us you've roped into reading about your life. You should consider going through your archives and publishing this blog.
 
i'm another wife/mother who needs cave time as much as my husband, if not more. in fact, yesterday, i went to the "gym." i decided "why waste my one hour a weekend to go get sweaty and tired when it's such a nice day here in DC, i could go get a cup of coffee and sit outside in the park for an hour instead with a good book. i drove home with the heat on so i'd look warm and sweaty like i had worked out - bwahahaha!
 
I can identify with this one.

Dear Hubby and I live together, carpool together and work together. Alone time is a precious luxury. When I'm with Dear Hubby, my actions are governed by what he wants to do/say/eat/watch, etc. I want him to be happy more than I want to do what *I* want to do. So when I have a few hours of alone time, I can luxuriate in ME time. I can watch that stupid SciFi movie, read a book in complete silence, or go outside and sit with the dogs.

Sometimes I want to do my favorite things without forcing my spouse to sit through something that I know my spouse does not enjoy.

That's not so wrong, is it?
 
whoo boy. my need for cave time was one of the major reasons that jeff and i didn't make it. (not the only one, mind you, but one of the big ones.) he didn't understand how i could possibly want to do anything without him. obviously, my advice isn't worth the time to read it, since we split and i didn't figure out how to fix it. but, i understand how you're feeling.

i would say that with another child on the way, the demands on your time are going to increase, probably exponentially. while it's probably not optimal to try to find a solution when hls's emotions are *ahem* on edge, some resolution before your latest little time sink arrives would be good.

good luck!
 
'Self-esteem problem'. That comment alone could get you in hot water, assuming HLS reads this blog. The proper term is 'sensitive'. She is sensitive; keenly aware of the feelings of others. This is a good, although sometimes problematic, trait. Self-esteem problem...well, isn't.

So, yeah. I'm the kind of person who doesn't need a great deal of alone time. Hubby does. He took up cycling. Gets all the alone time he needs, now, on the bike where he can think and often solves the worlds problems. If only Bush would take up serious cycling.
 
Thanks for your post, I am definitely the one who needs my alone time, or time with friends or my sisters. It's hard to try to figure out how to express that without hurting the other's feelings!
 
More evidence for the old "opposites attract" posit.

I figure these periodic figurative sparring matches are rather important, perhaps even essential, to a healthy relationship. If you can air out your differences without letting things get too far and then come back together in the end, just as strong if not stronger, then the relationship will likely endure much, much worse. Otherwise, if relations between the two sides just get less and less friendly then it probably wouldn't stand much of a chance against the test of time.
 
I was a cover-story feature writer for a small magazine... In other words, the beginning of my dream career, and I gave it all up, retired from professional writing, all so that I could stay home and raise two children and be a great househusband to my family. That was 5 years ago and I've not had a tinge of regret. Being a Dad and a Husband easily outweighs being a Writer or anything else you've got.

So, um, yeah, I feel ya.
 
Pregnancy can make you strange. I was terrified every single day that my husband wouldn't make it home from work. It's funny now. I LOVE my alone time and I'm surprised by people who don't like alone time. Good luck, I hope you guys work it out.
 
As children, we probably would have met each other in the woods, hiding; or maybe not. I was pretty good at it :)

I understand your need because my husband hates to be alone too. Good luck with yours- I've never been successful explaining it to mine (26 years married). He just thinks I'm a nut ;)
 
I like some amount of alone time, but my husband really needs it. It hasn't always been easy, but he's much happier and much nicer to be around when he does get his alone time, so I do my best to make sure it happens.

We've had a number of really hard years, but a couple years ago, we finally clicked and got things working pretty well together. Our resolutions were mainly about communication and control, but giving him alone time has definitely been a significant contributor to our current happiness.
 
I totally get it, though it always takes me longer to need my alone time than it does for my boyfriend. I also don't realize I need it until I am alone, usually window shopping or out for a walk/bike ride. Suddenly it hits me, "This is great, I can go where I want, when I want, without consultation"

Your need to have some alone time AND HLS's sensitivity to the request are tied to the impending arrival of child #3. She's never alone (with a baby growing inside) and probably wants to know that you are there for her and the baby. You, on the other hand, probably want to go to your cave for a little bit before your family expands and home gets more crowded. Get a little peace now, as a way of preparing (mentally) for the arrival of your new baby and the extra responsibilities that come with it.

Kind of dificult to balance everyone's needs.

Best wishes for your balancing act.
 
yep, hls has you by the proverbial and literal balls...but I'm still gonna dig up some ammo links for you about introverts/extroverts because friend, you need it bad...trust me, it helped my mom deal with my dad, after 49 years of marriage. Lucky for me, I am an introvert and I married one as well. I fear for our childrens' futures...
 
Although I have never posted here before, I have enjoyed your blog for some time. Today I decided to post a comment because this is the number one topic that my fiance and I fight about. Until I read your post, I never understood his point of view. He is a wonderful man, but one who is not very good at expressing his feelings. Your post helped me to understand him better and for that you have my sincerest thanks.
 
I know its been a while but spilling coffee over a brand new keyboard was just not in my agenda.

yet there it happened.

I understand your frustration on the alone time. Woman like HLS and my love of life are like so. I love her with all my heart and yet when I ask to be left alone to just read a book or think on a subject ... she does not quite understand the concept of "alone".

Thus my way around the idea is that I don't get any "Alone" time at all and I accept it like the sun coming up in the east.

I get my "Spartial" time ... where in which I do my thinking in sparse intervals and make darn sure that I note down everything that I can within those short period of time.

Its just not worth having over an argument in which I ALWAYS end up loosing. Its easier to roll over and play dead.
 
Wow! HLS sounds a lot like my Dear and Patient GF, right down to the BettyBob comment (although I had multiple BettyBob couples share their thoughts) and the not understanding a need for some time alone. We live together, but she teaches one or two nights per week, so I get a few hours per week of self time. Great post and very nice recovery on The Remark, too. Keep doing what you're doing, because you're setting a good example for the rest of us schlubs.
 
How bad do you want your alone time? Enough to get up at 5:00 in the morning to enjoy two precious hours? I did. For 20 years.
 
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