The One Aspect Of Marriage Nobody Prepares You For
My wife's job has her flying across the country for a week at a time every so often. These weeks to myself always sound incredible. At first. Yay! I'll finally get to rub my butt on everything without her there judging me! But alas, the high of rubbing butts on things is fleeting. Inevitably, within 48 hours, I'll face a hard truth: I have no idea what to do with myself.
Within a day or two of losing the person who keeps me tethered to reality, I'm left with a lot of alone time, which I use to slowly demolish all that is good about myself. But there's a trick to filling the void before it consumes me, a trick that you can also use. And it begins with ...
Establish Clear Goals With A Detailed To-Do List
You're an adult. You're independent. You're sharing your life with someone you love, but you don't need them. You don't need a crutch. You're psychologically and genetically superior to most other humans. You can be totally cool with long periods which don't involve seeing your closest loved ones, because you once survived a plane crash on a mysterious desert island inhabited by a smoke monster.
No. That was definitely the show Lost. Turns out you don't know how to do any of that. No one prepares you for it when you enter a long-term relationship. You're so used to being with someone that the sudden absence of their major and cherished presence is disorienting. I envy people who can look at that sudden vacancy without having a panic attack. Before the loneliness freakout sets in, I try to set myself up with goals that give me something to do so I don't stew in my boredom. I need to know there's something on the horizon that's gotta get done. It's not about occupying a week's time. If it was that simple, I'd just watch the Lord Of The Rings special edition Blu-rays once. It's about goals. If I set out to accomplish a set of specific goals throughout the week, I'm much more likely to not go stir-crazy.
I have a small chalkboard on which I write my list of goals. If I ever feel like I don't know what to do with myself, I do something from the list. At the same time, I have a daily to-do list which covers the details that build up to the accomplishment of the larger stuff on the chalkboard list. Sometimes I'll even make nano to-do lists on my phone which further break down the steps I need to take to accomplish things on the daily list. If I could pay my neighbors to scream "MAYBE TRY OUT A NEW RECIPE!" at me every hour on the hour, I would.
My definition of a goal is maybe a little too wide. Reading a book cover to cover usually makes the list. It's a noble and enriching activity that has never been scratched off once. The ones that do are usually the sad ones, like the time the top goal of the week was "Go outside," with a little drawing of a thermometer next to it. I'd celebrate each outing (walking the dog and getting burritos didn't count) by filling a fifth of the thermometer with red, on up 'til the red thermometer juice (lava?) sprayed victoriously from the top.
Trying to replace my wife with a lot of menial accomplishments isn't as rewarding as you'd think. But accomplishing so little can be exhausting, which is why it's nice to work in some well-deserved relaxation ...
Being Physically Unable To Relax
You'd think that with no one around, it'd be easy to finally get in some of that good no-pants-and-kind-of-drunk relaxation you've been craving. It's just you and whatever you do that pulls you out of the world and makes you melt into the couch. Be around someone long enough, and you'll find that it's next to impossible to feel calm unless you lower the standard to pacing while cranking up the playback speed to see if you can speed-read an audiobook. The side effects of missing the company of someone you love sound like being on meth.
My brain's natural reaction to boredom is to kill it; no remorse, no survivors. So it releases an elite squad of soldier brain cells to end my boredom's reign once and for all. They have the discretion of an atom bomb. Where light reading or watching a couple episodes of a show might do the trick, the squad suggests weird shit like trying to bounce a racket ball from hand to hand for as long as I can while listening to an '80s hair metal playlist at 2 a.m. This is where I remind you that this part of the column is about relaxing. One day soon, the squad will go AWOL and live off the grid and suggest I prepare for bed by wingsuiting through a canyon.
Then there are times when I'm on the cusp of relaxation, and it's interrupted by a sudden deep fascination with whatever lulled me. One night, when I was already tucked into bed, wearing my jammies and my long sleeping cap with the fuzzy ball at the end, I was flicking through whatever YouTube's recommendation algorithm spat at me. Suddenly, like an 18-wheeler into my REM cycle, it gave me a whole list of ESPN's 30 for 30 shorts. Seconds before sleep, I fucked up and clicked on The Bad Boy Of Bowling, a shockingly compelling documentary about an all-time great pro bowler who doesn't play by your tight-assed rules of decorum. And then a short about the history of the most despised mascot in all of baseball autoplayed right after. And then one on the history of the high five in professional spo- WHAT THE FUCK HOW IS IT DAWN.
Once video becomes the crutch, things start to go downhill pretty fast, in the most boring way possible.
Having No Hobby, I Watch Videos Of People With Hobbies
Around the time that you're making a strikingly lifelike facsimile of your spouse out of pillows so you can have someone to gab with as you binge Gilmore Girls, you'll realize you should have developed a hobby. And not just a "see how many marshmallows you can fit in your mouth"-type hobby or a "see if I can meow in a way that the cat thinks that there's another cat in the house"-type hobby, but a hobby that demands solid crafting skills, attention to detail, and hours of undivided focus.
In a committed long-term relationship, it's nice to have separate hobbies that you can retreat to as a small escape from the world and the relationship itself. A drop of selfishness goes a long way. That's why my wife is into embroidery, while I do absolutely nothing constructive with my free time. It's really only when she leaves that not having taken up a hobby becomes a problem. I have nothing that lets me devote the kind of singularly focused attention only the manual labor of a creative hobby can draw out.
So I end up watching tons of videos of people who do, like of this guy who makes amazing scenic dioramas.
Or this guy who has over 40 videos in which he makes beautiful Japanese wood joints and nothing else. No larger project to attach it to. Just one video after another of a guy so good at what he does that he can make hypnotic videos about corners.
Just hours and hours, deep into the night, of nothing but people way more talented than I am creating incredible works of art that will slowly grow a jealousy within me that will fester until I watch an "Epic Fails" compilation of people stumbling a little, just so I can take the edge off. They have a hobby that's almost meditative, and I hate them for it. Yet it's the only thing that comes close to easing the anxiety of suddenly being thrust back into living alone. But I'll take whatever distraction I can get, because after a couple nights alone ...
Childhood Fears Of Monsters Return With A Vengeance
With another person, any noise in the house is easily ignorable. It's just the building settling after a long hot day. Remove a person, and that sound means the house's demon is telling you to get out. Without realizing it, all this time together turns your significant other into a security blanket that wards off all irrational supernatural evils. You know there's no one else around, so any errant noise must not only be someone else, but a something else.
I hit the point when I should start calling friends to hang out when I'm following noises around the house hoping it's just my cat fucking around with the drapes again and not, ya know, the face of Linda Blair from The Exorcist. (Specifically in the picture of her in full makeup that was above the actual contact lenses she wore in the movie that were on display in the Planet Hollywood I ate at once as a kid. I sat facing the wall that fucked-up face was on. It burned into my retinas and sometimes makes a guest appearance on Night Four of my descent into spouselessness-induced madness.)
Marriage bestowed me with a bravery I never previously had. Almost nothing's scary when you're in this together. The furry monster with razor-sharp claws that stalks the living room at night is going to have to get through both of us. Sure, my wife would be functionally useless in a real furry-monster-in-the-living-room attack, but the power of our love fills me with a certainty that lets me know it's going to be okay, because while it's closing in on her, I can be somewhere else making a break for it. Can't feel that confidence in my escape if she's not there.
All Of Your Dietary Constraints Go Out The Door
A good partner is a moderating influence. They'll let you get away with an extra slice of cake now and again, but they'll stop you from trying to swallow the whole thing in one gulp like it's an Advil. As much as we'd all like to believe we're an island (even one with smoke monsters), we are social creatures. We need human contact. Remove the primary source of contact, and it's only a matter of time before you're trying to fill the void of the other person with a vice, like food, as if calories and a carbs are a suitable replacement for love when all they usually deliver is loose stools.
Without someone to keep me in check, I end up falling into a pit of indulgence that ends up eating at me. I do all the cooking in our home. I make sure we eat sensibly. I love my wife and want to protect her, even from foods that could do her harm in the long run. I don't want her heart to explode in 30 years, and as she's clutching my neck she whispers with her final breath that it was my twice-weekly bacon, guava, and brie grilled cheeses that did this. I did this, with the destruction power of my BGB sandwiches.
Me without my wife plus about four days equals driving out of the Taco Bell drive thru and deciding that the only thing that can wash down these two Quesoridos is a 12-inch Italian sub. When I have no one else to elevate my self-respect game, my weaknesses shine. If I'm only responsible for my heath, things are going to get gross. Including more feels like manslaughter, and explaining the aftermath feels like a crime scene.
When my wife gets back, everything adjusts back to normal. This happens every time she leaves. If I'm an inflatable wacky arm tube guy at a car dealership, then she's the power plug that blows air up my ass to make me dance. Take it out and I fall into a sack of my own skin.
Tell the world you don't need to play by any of society's rules (except for commerce and some other stuff) with this renegade cat mug!
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