I met Michael six months after I left my previous relationship and was, I think, understandably not eager to get into anything super-committed. It turned out I had good reason to be wary: I was still trying to figure out my sense of what “myself” or “Rebecca” was as an individual after being in a relationship that required me to defer to being one-half of a couple, not one whole person in a partnership with another whole person. The baggage weighed on me and made me scared of what the relationship would ask of me. Michael and I broke up twice.
The second time it happened, it was in no small part because we were spending exorbitant amounts of time with each other. Toward the end, I didn’t have a job, and I figured anything I wanted to do for myself I had to do in the beginning of the day because he’d want to see me at the end of the day, and I should dedicate my time and attention to him while he was home. Here’s the problem: Michael was working three or four eight-hour shifts a week. Accounting for sleep, that meant that there were 100 hours a week that we were acting like we had to spend together, paying complete attention to each other, and frankly neither of us is interesting enough to fill up that much time.
Once we broke up, I started baking, taking more responsibility for my apartment (he’d been living with me), taking photographs more, watching less TV. And we still saw each other several times a week — we’re best friends. We love hanging out with each other part of the time, when we have things to catch each other up on or something novel to do, and we don’t feel obligated to do something or say something or act in a particular way.
I had to ask myself, why did I and why did we feel like it was necessary for us to spend so much time together? I think a small part of it was almost morbid; it felt like, Oh god, we only have so much time, I love this person so much, I have to spend the time that I have with him. Part of it was that we were just both really new to being in a relationship with someone we liked as much as we like each other. Part of it was that we had helped each other through some really rough times early in our friendship in a drop-everything-and-come-over sort of way, and we’d gotten used to leaning on each other. Part of it was my baggage.
When we got back together, we set rules about how much time we would spend together. He slept over maybe three times a week, and we didn’t call each other every day. We talked on Facebook and texted more often. It helped that he had started a 40-hour-a-week job and I’d taken on more work myself. We missed each other more. As things progressed, Michael started spending more and more time at my apartment, but with the caveat that even though we’d be around each other more, we wouldn’t have to really do anything with each other — we both wanted to write, I had pictures to process, we watched movies separately. Sometimes he was home when I wasn’t and that was fine. He took over the lease so that I could travel, and when that failed and I came home, it was surprisingly easy for our relationship to adapt to me suddenly being at home with time on my hands again. I still had things I’d rather do than sit around trying to invent conversation with him out of nothing, even if that meant sitting in the same room, doing our own things, and not really acknowledging each other. In other words, it’s been better to have a life and be able to talk about it with each other every once in a while than to dedicate our lives to the really boring purpose of being in each other’s presence all the time.
We live in a studio apartment. The practice of just ignoring each other has been crucial to us being able to live together. It feels more, now, like we’re a steady presence in each other’s lives, there when we need or want each other. We don’t feel neglected by each of us purusing our own interests, we feel supported.