Thursday, March 31, 2016

Going solo

When I first wrote about this idea of a month in New York, even people who travel a lot said they were jealous, and that surprised me. I narrowed it down to three reactions: (1) it was New York City, (2) it was long-term, as a “resident,” not a tourist, and (3) it was on my own, without Tim.

Some married women were startled; some thought it was “brave.” Some said they’d miss their husband. One friend who took a solo trip said she didn’t miss her husband till after Day 11. My friend Helen wrote that a “solo adventure could really open up the time and space to think through all those other big questions” we have about life.

Well, I’m not sure I’m figuring out any Big Questions, but I have thought about marriage. Do I miss Tim? I’m not sure what “missing” means. With technology, it changes. We talk on the phone, we send each other emails, we make plans. (I still send him on errands.) We’re still connected.

But when I decide to go to a collage class at Materials for the Arts in Queens, I don’t have to compromise because Tim’s not interested. I don’t have to compromise on a daily basis AT ALL. Marriage is a steady dose of compromise, from not having the light on late at night to whose turn is it to cook dinner.
I plot out my activities on a calendar, and it’s heavy on the arts, literary events, theater, political and Jewish stuff. I am pretty confident that those things would never show up on Tim’s wish list of how to spend a solid month. I can imagine his groaning from 3,500 miles away. That’s why this trip is my special event and vacation, not his.

When I created my space in the apartment – clothes go here, reading material goes there – I didn’t have to confer. I didn’t even have to leave any room for Tim’s stuff. My very specific, anal-retentive organizational tendencies could just Impose Order. And when they break down and junk accumulates, it’s only My Junk.

So do I miss Tim in my space? No. Do I miss him in this life? No. I wanted this experience of solitude. I have not experienced real solitude for 27+ years, and even here, I still have conversational and emotional access to Tim. But what I have now are 24 hours in every day that I have to fill or not fill on my own. Where I have not been successful at home in finding a new rhythm and giving myself the freedom to move slowly – or not at all – I have begun to do that here. It began with just needing to recover from wearing myself out, but it morphed into just letting myself Be.

My cousin Larry and his wife Kathy are both retired, and I asked how they spend their days. Larry said he fills his day with less, does everything slower, takes more time. Kathy said her days are still filled with to-dos because they still eat dinner and require clean clothes. I thought about how I left my to-dos in Anchorage. Yes, I still make dinner and do my laundry, but it’s just me, and it’s easier. There’s just so much less.

I’m trying to understand why things are simpler. I had fish, asparagus, and a salad tonight, but I only had to make exactly how much I was going to eat. When Tim and I eat dinner, it feels like a bigger production. It feels like it takes time, requires more clean-up, invades my day. Here, it was a short respite between my afternoon adventure and my evening one. I was happy when I realized the timing would work and enjoyed preparing it; it felt like a break instead of a chore. Afterwards, I pretty much had two bowls to wash and a pan. It’s like camping, kind of bare bones.
I never forget that I am here because Tim is back home working, and I marvel at how generous and gracious he is. (I think I would be a lot crabbier.) I also know this is temporary. This is not my life; it’s a very distinct departure from my life. From the life we share. If at any moment I felt permanently alone – as if there were no Tim to return to – this would be a challenging, frightening, unpleasant experience. I wouldn’t even do it.

So, no, I don’t miss him, but it’s because I know he’s there.


  1. Most excellent essay today Barbara!

  2. Thank you; love this one. Woke me up to how I have the oppertunity to experence being single for the first time in decades. It may not be forever so I think I can look at it differently. That is what you have always done for me friend; make me think! Thank you and love you!

    1. Lorie, you have LOTS of opportunities ahead of you!

  3. When Aqattaq moved to Kotzebue, I asked Louis if he missed her. He said, "No, I don't miss Aqattaq. I love her!" Our adult interpretation was because he loves her, he'll never be without her.

  4. I am so glad this post resonated; I was worried it was too revealing, too selfish, too whatever. But thank you for these thoughts. And thank Louis, too!

  5. Thanks for sharing your life. I'm so glad you have the blog. Please keep posting the link on Facebook!


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