Nate: (Sighs) Can you just ask me to move if you need something from this drawer?
Nate: No, not, 'Sure.' I almost spilled this everywhere.
I'm chopping tomatoes for dinner in our little Airbnb apartment in Barcelona. Nate's prepping egg plant to put in separately because he knows I hate it. The drawer with all of the knives and cooking utensils is under his work space, so I keep moving him and pushing in to get things.
As I chop, I'm watching an episode of The Fall on my laptop. It's the exact sort of serial killer cop show that Nate hates. He's already commented on how bad it is that every new show on TV is about a murderer on the loose.
I know that it's only a matter of time before Nate will ask in a clipped voice, "Hey, can you put in head phones?"
It is our 195th day on the road. Our 195th consecutive day spent together.
This isn't a fight for us. We won't talk about this exchange later. If anything one of us might turn to the other and ask, "Hey is everything okay?" an invitation for the other to come out with something entirely different that might be bothering us.
This time, we both say fine.
Traveling with someone- even someone you love dearly- for this long, under these circumstances, in small and sometimes uncomfortable spaces is a challenge. Compound that challenge with the pressure of a first year of marriage, and things get even harder.
Regularly, Nate and I sit in silence in the same room working on our laptops, reading or watching different shows. We rarely watch together because our tastes are different. We read entirely different books- I often opt for a light fiction beach read (think "Eat, Pray, Love") while Nate's currently reading a non-fiction book on the history of debt.
So our tastes are different.
Lately, here in Barcelona Nate's been popping down the street to get a kebob for dinner. I don't like middle eastern food, so I cook pasta in.
Back at home, this sort of separate togetherness would have alarmed me. I would have laid awake at night wondering if we were just roommates or good friends living in close proximity to each other. Now, I give our relationship much more space to breath.
This does not mean that we like to go for long periods of time feeling disconnected. We have become practiced at saying out loud the simple statements that plague us.
"I'm feeling unkind towards you."
"I feel really disconnected to you right now."
At those times, we call in the big guns, practicing exercises our therapist back in Chicago taught us to reconnect. We turn off phones and computers, we lay in silence with each other in bed, we remind ourselves to talk.
When we're feeling over connected, like we can't escape or get away, we plan different things out of the house. Yesterday Nate went to work at a cafe down the block, and I stayed in the apartment, ecstatic to get a few hours of alone time at "home."
Despite us being so attuned to each other and our differing moods, I have to resist assuming what's going on with Nate. I have to trust him to be responsible for himself, that he'll be capable of identifying what's going on with him and ask directly for what he needs.
This is something we're always working on. I can't read his mind, and he can't read mine.
I might notice that he's getting grumpy, that he's snapping more often that he needs to, but I can't say, "You're feeling aimless right now. This trip is amazing, but you're stir crazy because you miss the purpose that your job gave you."
The fact is- even though we're so physically and emotionally close, even when we share a small space and a toiletry kit, a towel, a bed, a tube of toothpaste- we are separate people.
I repeat this in our marriage like a mantra. We are separate people. That's okay.
We have to be separate to love each other, because being the same is just too much pressure. Why do we have to want to eat the same meals to be happily married people?
When I accept that we're different people, I can appreciate him without becoming him. And becoming your partner is so incredibly easy. The boundaries are constantly blending. Everyday is a negotiation on where I end and he begins.
In the end, when we're successfully differentiated (a term our therapist used), we feel fully ourselves. I'm more likely to accurately identify what I really want ("Actually no, I don't want to go to that museum because I find myself bored at museums") and give him what he really wants.
Operating this way makes me genuinely grateful to have a partner that listens to me and who wants to give me what I need. And it makes me more generous towards him. When I'm not giving in or giving up my wants and then quietly resenting him for it, I can actually give of myself. In a way that feels more genuine.