7 Lessons I’ve Learned: Taking Time Apart In A Relationship
Ivan left very early on a Saturday morning. We got up around 6am and went to our favorite donut shop to grab a “last coffee date” before he left for the airport. He asked if I was going to be sad without him for two months. I nodded. When he finally left, I went back to our quiet studio apartment and immediately stretched out onto my full-sized bed and rolled around - soaking in all the space and the coldness of our bedsheets.
I thought to myself: At last, freedom.
Yeah, so that “freedom” was very short-lived. It only lasted about a day and a half. Almost immediately, I noticed a gaping void in my life as I spent a very long and lonely night at home, ate dinner by myself, and went to our local farmer’s market the next day solo. Everything felt a little lackluster.
Here are the most frequently asked questions/comments I’ve received about Ivan being away:
Why is Ivan in Taiwan for two months?
He is fulfilling his lifelong dream of writing (and completing) his first fictional novel. He was halfway done last year but he’s finally locking in the final details in March! I’m so excited for him.
Do you trust him to be away from you that long?!
Why wouldn’t I? Doesn’t everyone need a break from time to time? I have complete trust in him and want to support his dreams in any way that I can.
Are you going to visit him in Taiwan during the two months?
Nope, I won’t. Partially because of work but also because I want to respect his privacy and his choice to write in complete solitude - which is what he needs.
You must be so lonely without Ivan.
No, not really. Two months seems like pennies compared to our entire lives. I mean, I miss certain things about having Ivan with me but I know that this trip and time apart is only temporary. And why not take this time to just focus on myself as well?
Why It’s Important To Be Apart:
Sometimes, You Forget Your Individuality
Ivan and I have been together for almost nine years now. We did long distance for six years. And it’s easy to forget that before we met, before we got married, and before we lived together - we led completely separate lives, in different cities as two individuals.
So, time apart for me means that I get to be alone. And being without Ivan really tests my independence (in a good way). Ivan and I both strongly believe that we need to learn to be comfortable with ourselves to craft the lives that we eventually want to lead. That’s why we created this blog.
7 Observations of Being Apart
Here are my observations from our time apart so far:
1. Time moves more slowly without him around.
I’ve noticed this a lot more in the evenings after work, when I’m alone. For close to a decade, Ivan has been my most intimate companion. With Ivan around, I’d normally spend time with him talking or debating, having dinner, etc. The days seem really long without him. It reminds me that time is the only currency we’re always spending that can’t be replenished. I should be more grateful and probably get more things done.
2. When I’m alone, I’m forced to think deeply about my life.
On a positive note, I get to rebuild or re-establish my sense of identity, how I process things, and how I approach my goals; it helps me refocus on my life and individual needs. However, on the other extreme (and stressful) end, I also have to face the truth about myself. When left alone to my own devices, I start to think about those existential questions and thoughts that I've been actively suppressing in the back of my mind:
I can't believe that I'm almost thirty now. That means that one-third of my life is over.
Did I spend my life in the best way possible?
What do I even have outside of my work? Is that where my value is? Work, work, and more work?
Is this where I wanted my life to go? If this isn't it then what do I want?
What am I passionate about?
Where is the meaning in my life?
3. I’m forced to be braver and to experience hardships on my own.
The downside of always being with each other is that he can become a crutch that I subconsciously rely on. When I’m on my own, I force myself to become stronger and braver.. An example of this is when I had to negotiate for a huge promotion on my own at work. Two issues came up during the process: a political issue that shifted my role and my inability to de-couple my self-worth to my job. I spent long evenings alone rehearsing and practicing very measured reactions and pitches. I did fine on my own but it felt 10x more difficult doing it without Ivan’s support.
4. I have more time to socialize, to reconnect with and meet new people.
I’ve known for the past two years that Los Angeles was always going to be a temporary pit stop in my life. I hadn’t made much of an effort to invest in relationships or friends in the city. And if I’m being honest, I thought the people here had nothing to offer me (which is clearly stupid). Instead, I heavily depended on Ivan for my social needs and it wasn’t ideal. I started to feel like I was living in echo chamber - where I was only conversing with uber-liberals at my tech workplace or I was chatting with Ivan about our long-term travel plans and goals and personal finance and investments. It all started to feel...repetitive. So I wanted to correct this by meeting new people. As I've opened up my social outlets, I realize that there is still a lot I can learn. People still surprise me.
5. I don't have to compromise on things I want.
Selfishly, when Ivan’s not around, I can do all my “secret single life” behavior without judgement or compromise. More specifically, Ivan and I have two very distinctive living styles. In case, Ivan is a “creative” and prefers to be messy with our home (e.g. he throws his dirty socks wherever, waits to wash dishes for days, etc.); for me, I am anal retentive - if things aren’t “in their place” or done immediately (e.g. wash dishes immediately, keep the moisturizer lotion in the same place (Ivan’s note: Lol. That’s very specific) , etc), I tend to lose my shit. So the moment he left, I got to organize my space exactly how I’ve always wanted to. It was a small act of freedom that I enjoyed, perhaps a little too much.
6. Daily routines with Ivan are embedded deeply into my life.
I’ve come to the realization that a ton of things don’t seem quite right anymore without Ivan around. I guess I first noticed it at bedtime - I noticed that I would subconsciously leave an open space for him on our bed when I go to sleep at night. I only notice this void with things that we typically do together: budgeting, grocery shopping, eating dinner, late night conversations, etc. It just feels like there’s a large gap in my daily routine now without him around.
7. I actually get a chance to miss and appreciate him when he’s away.
One of the best things about doing long distance for six years was having that sense of longing and appreciation for each other. You start to take that for granted when you live together. While he’s away, it’s much easier to reflect on all the ways he’s made my life and our life together better. For example, on really long days at work - when I feel like quitting or screaming into the void, Ivan will go out and get my favorite chips (Chester's Flamin' Hot Fries) and then he patiently listens to me go on a rant about work. It’s something so small but I feel grateful to have him as part of my life to share the ups and downs of this journey.
Time Apart In A Relationship Is Healthy
Taking time apart in a marriage is really healthy.
And “taking time apart” can manifest in different ways (e.g. a solo weekend adventure, friends night out, solo activities, etc). What’s important is that you take time to focus on yourself - it can help you maintain your individual identity, goals, or dreams; you also get a chance to do the things that you actually like to do. It’s refreshing to be reminded that I am responsible and in control of my own life.
Have you and your partner experienced this sort of situation before?
How do you handle growth and change in your relationship?
What's the longest that you've been apart?