This was a hard week. Possibly the hardest I've had in quite a while that wasn't a depressive episode. It was also a really good week because it reminded me that I'm resilient and can endure but it also emphasized that I need people much more than this introvert sometimes thinks she does.
My husband Flick & our girlfriend Iris went on their first holiday together; the first time one of us has travelled with another partner. I've gone for a few long weekends to visit Will in Chicago and met up with him once in Portland but this was a big first in the form of one of us heading off for a week of adventure, pleasure, and relaxation in the sun with someone else.
I was invited to join them from the start, so in no way was I deliberately excluded, though that would have been totally acceptable if they'd wanted to go alone. Since I have a lot of trouble when I don't have private time and space to myself, sharing a hotel room with two others is too overwhelming. It would have jacked up the cost too much to get multiple rooms or a suite, and then come the complicated sleeping arrangements–who sleeps with whom on which nights…It just felt like too much and I thought it made more sense for the two of them to go. I was excited for them.
As I watched Flick pack the afternoon before he left, I started to feel the pangs as it really hit me that he was going on this adventure without me. We've been together essentially the entirety of our adult lives, living more years together than we were alive before we met, so almost all our big experiences have been together. It felt really weird that he was going to be having big new experiences on this trip with someone else.
It was important to feel really connected before he left so we spent close time together the night before his departure snuggling on the couch watching Netflix and he gave me a massage so I could anchor to the feel of his hands on my skin. We'd previously planned to go to a play party together that night but a stomach bug meant I felt terrible and wasn't up for sexytimes. In the morning, I made them coffee as they prepped for the airport and figured I'd settle in with the kitties to enjoy a quiet week to myself.
Instead, it was hard. I hadn't made it clear what I needed as far as communication went, so when I had to inquire if they'd arrived and ask for the hotel address, I felt panicked and adrift. It was a small oversight but not knowing where they were staying felt scary and upsetting even though I knew it was extremely unlikely I'd have any practical need for the information. My autopilot is to send itineraries and addresses to Flick, to announce as soon as I've landed and been picked up at airport, but clearly it isn't his and I hadn't been on the ball enough to think to ask in advance. It wasn't until I realized I didn't have the info and had to track him down to get it that I freaked out a little.
Of course, being sick as well meant I was lacking the resources to be as self-reliant as I normally am and was much more sensitive and reactive. Though I felt extremely forlorn, I didn't want to pester him while his focus should be on Iris, the person he was with, instead of listening to the minutia of my day. As well, I didn't know how much data he had access to while in the States and was worried about my contact costing a fortune so wanted to save it for important things. I knew that if I really needed him, he'd be there without hesitation, but I didn't feel like what I was going through was important enough to bother him with. And did he really need to hear about how the bus driver pulled way ahead of the stop so even though I was third in line to board, others rushed forward and I had to stand all the way to work? I really hadn't been aware of how much we text random stuff back and forth all day until I felt like I couldn't. I felt unmoored.
Emily Nagoski, Ph.D. captures the feeling beautifully in Come As You Are. “When your stress response is activated, your attachment mechanism says, “Soothe your stress by connecting with your attachment object.”” Feeling disconnected from my attachment object meant I felt unable to soothe my stress. She also discusses a feeling of homesickness for your partner(s), even if you're the one at home since they represent your secure base, your emotional home, and you can experience separation distress when you're away from that secure base. Flick is my home and the homesickness was brutal.
I'd asked them to send me photo updates of their days so I'd feel included but that ended up being harder than not getting them and I felt even more isolated, despite a helping of compersion at seeing their smiling faces together. I kept my feelings of isolation to myself since I knew both of them desperately needed the relaxation time away from the extraordinary amounts of stress both of them have been experiencing over the past six months and wanted them to feel free to have fun.
Thankfully, though my other partners weren't available due to their own personal reasons, I was able to reach out to non-monogamous connections who were kind listeners and extremely supportive from afar. I even got some naked photos to cheer me up and they did a lot in that regard. As the week wore on, the angst eased, I kicked the illness, and I settled into the groove I'd expected to feel the whole time. I still missed him but it was a manageable level and when I got the pics of the two of them at the Grand Canyon, it was a slight twinge rather than a wave of despair.
As with so many firsts, I learned a lot from the experience. I don't know that I'm eager to repeat it, but at least I know what I could be in for if we do. He is off to visit a love in a couple months, which feels quite different as he'd be staying with her in her home with her husband and daughter, but I can still use the lessons from this trip to have the next go more smoothly.
Try, screw up, learn, discuss, apply new knowledge, try again. Pretty much my non-monogamy mantra.
The first time I went on vacation without my long-term, live-in boyfriend, I went to Seattle and, I must confess, I enjoyed every single second of it. From the posh hotel with the king-sized bed (all mine! no snoring!) to seafood dinners with fabulous friends he’s never met to a solo stroll through touristy Pike Place Market, I could not stop smiling.
So, I had a wonderful time without him. Does that mean we’re disconnected, destined for separate lives? Definitely not.
The article wasn’t to suggest that separate holidays means we’re disconnected. I’m a huge fan of time apart. As a giant introvert it’s pretty essential to my well being. We didn’t do a good job before he left figuring out contact etc. which led to some really complicated emotional stuff happening, so it was just the very specific circumstances that were involved in this vacation that led to the disconnected feeling.