When I was twenty-two or twenty-three and in my first years of marriage, the ToolMaster and I faced a conundrum. He was a relatively new employee at his work, in charge of a multi-million-dollar project that was about to go live, I was a medical intern and had no say about my schedule. Try as we might, we couldn’t get our holidays to coincide.
At the same time we both needed a mental break because, well, I was a medical intern who had no say over her schedule and he was still a relatively new employee, proving his capabilities to himself and his boss.
What to do?
The solution was obvious to us both–independent vacations. And so it was that I went to the mountains for a period, unaccompanied. I stayed in a cheap motel, dined on instant oatmeal and simple meals from foods bought in the city and kept in a cooler. In the mornings I left details of my upcoming hiking trips with the motel manager. That way, if I twisted an ankle or got eaten by bears or targeted by a sexual predator, someone would know where to start looking when I failed to return.
In the evenings, I went to the hot springs alone and soaked my solitary bones.
It was fantastic. Not as fantastic as if the ToolMaster had been there, but I had a perfectly wonderful time, as did he, when his project took off and the time came for him to do the same.
It didn’t occur to us that this would be seen as abnormal.
It didn’t occur to us that the objections would be about the quality of our relationship, rather than the financial burden of paying for two holidays in one year on one salary, or the extra safety risks involved. Weren’t we worried about the other person’s faithfulness? people wanted to know. Wasn’t this a sign we didn’t really care for one another because, actually, we were still in the honeymoon phase of our marriage? Wasn’t this weird?
Know what we found odd?
That these questions weren’t just posed by people of an older generation, which would be somewhat expected, but that our peers were equally confounded and bemused. We were surrounded by doubters. Fortunately, something in us both said we were lucky to see the world through a different lens. We might we weird, but we were a matched pair of odd ducks, so everybody else could butt out.
Years later, when I was teaching Human Sexuality, I had the happy occasion to pick up and read several books by Dr. David Schnarch.
- (Constructing the Sexual Crucible: An Integration of Sexual and Marital Therapy (Norton Professional Books)
- Passionate Marriage: Sex, Love, and Intimacy in Emotionally Committed Relationships
Wowsa, guys. He wrote of challenging concepts:
- eyes-wide-open sex;
- marriage as the proofing ground to interdependence;
- sexual dysfunction as a gateway to intimacy and self-sufficiency;
- relationships constructed on the partnership of equals where each is still responsible for their own happiness–in essence, the opposite of that Jerry McGuire sentiment of “You complete me.”
I was smitten. I’m not certain if it was a case of someone articulating what I believed, and then pushing it to a deeper level (oh the irony that I’m talking about a sexual therapy book), or whether those books became a formative influence. Both, probably. Not that it matters.
Why bring this all up? Yesterday I read an article which reminded me of Dr. Schnarch, of a defining period in my life, and it’s too good to keep to myself. Here’s a quote:
“It’s easy to have hot sex with a stranger,” Schnarch insists. “But passionate marriage requires that you become an adult.”
And this, Schnarch admits, is a challenge. Becoming an authentic adult means going against the whole drift of the culture. It specifically means, among other things, soothing your own bad feelings without the help of another, pursuing your own goals, and standing on your own two feet. Most people associate such skills with singlehood. But Schnarch finds that marriage can’t succeed unless we claim our sense of self in the presence of another. The resulting growth turns right around and fuels the marriage, enabling passionate sex. And it pays wide-ranging dividends in domains from friendship to creativity to work.
The rest of the article can be found in Psychology Today in an article entitled How to Grow Up. Read it, peeps. Aside from the sexual material, I think you’ll find many principles which apply to writing.
In fact, I think you’ll find a happy confluence of material on self-determination in two literature-focused posts I highly recommend:
Robin LaFevers’ Find Your Voice, Find Your Power
and Justine Musk’s The Most Badass Thing You Can Do as a Creative
How about you? In a committed relationship, is there a place for separate vacations? Do you believe your marriage or partnership goes against the culture’s grain? If you could name a seminal work (heh) that influenced your relationships for the better, what would it be?