There are times when couples can be temporarily separated, such as work travel requirements or emergency family situations to tend to. For a guy, these times to myself always sound incredible. But alas, the high 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.
Actually, not so much. No one prepares you for this 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. Before the loneliness freak-out 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. If I set out to accomplish specific goals throughout the week, I’m much less likely to go stir-crazy.
I write my goals on a chalkboard. If I ever feel aimless, I do something from the list. I also 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 “TRY OUT A NEW RECIPE!” at me every hour, I would.
My definition of a goal may be too wide. Reading a book cover to cover usually makes the list. It’s a noble and enriching activity that has never been completed. The ones that do are usually the sad ones, like when the top goal is “Go outside,” with a little drawing of a thermometer next to it. I’d celebrate each outing (dog-walking and burrito runs didn’t count) by filling a fifth of the thermometer with red, on up ’til the red thermometer juice sprayed victoriously from the top.
This isn’t very rewarding. 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, you’d finally get in that good no-pants-and-kind-of-drunk relaxation you’ve been craving. Be around someone long enough, and you’ll find that it’s next to impossible to feel calm unless you lower the standard to cranking up the playback speed to see if you can speed-read an audiobook.
My brain’s natural reaction to boredom is to kill it. So it releases an elite squad of soldier brain cells to end my boredom’s reign. 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 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.
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, already in bed, wearing my jammies and long sleeping cap with the fuzzy ball at the end, I was flicking through whatever YouTube’s recommendation algorithm spat at me. Suddenly, it gave me a whole list of ESPN’s 30 for 30 shorts. Seconds before sleep, I clicked on The Bad Boy Of Bowling, a shockingly compelling documentary about an all-time great pro bowler who doesn’t play by your rules of decorum. And a short about the history of the most despised mascot in all of baseball auto-played next. And then one on the history of the high five in professional sports. Once video becomes the crutch, things start to go downhill pretty fast, in the most boring way possible.
Watch Videos Of People With Hobbies
Around the time that you’re making a lifelike facsimile of your spouse out of pillows as you binge Gilmore Girls, you’ll realize you should have developed a hobby. And not just 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 short break goes a long way. My wife is into crime dramas, while I watch sports. 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 – just videos of a guy so good at what he does that he can make hypnotic videos about corners.
Hours of nothing but people way more talented than me creating incredible works of art that will make me jealous until I watch an “Epic Fails” compilation, just to take the edge off. They have a hobby, 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. 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 should start calling friends to hang out when I’m following noises around the house hoping it’s just my cat playing with the drapes again, and not the face of Linda Blair from The Exorcist. Marriage gave me 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.
All Of Your Dietary Constraints Vanish
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. While we’d all like to believe we’re an island, 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 carbs are a suitable replacement for love.
I can fall 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 10 years, with her clutching my neck, whispering with her final breath that it was my twice-weekly bacon, guava, and brie grilled cheeses that did this.
After 3 days alone, you’ll see me leaving Taco Bell believing that the only thing that can wash down these Queso-ridos is a 12-inch Italian sub. If I’m only responsible for my heath, things are going to get gross.
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 butt to make me dance. Take it out and I fall into a sack of my own skin.