On the power of reclaiming your own space and time and how it makes relationships flourish.
One of the most important steps in a modern relationship seems to be moving in together — right before the proposal, the wedding, and having kids. We’ve been together with my boyfriend for around 4 years now and we still enjoy living separately.
My friends and family definitely ask me “OK, but what’s next?” more often now than a few years ago. The problem is that mainstream romantic comedies and TV shows are constantly programming us to think that someone who is hesitant to move in with their spouse has commitment issues or fear of intimacy.
But is the need for your own space really so despicable? It’s not uncommon that people in long-term relationships feel cornered at home. They complain about not having a nook of their own and try to claim a little bit of space by taking long baths alone or immersing themselves in their phones for hours on end.
Hence the concept of the Man Cave — hated by the wives because they see it as a sign that their husbands don’t want to spend time with them anymore. As a counter-balance, the increasingly popular She Sheds are taking over Pinterest, promising blissful evenings with a book to wives and mothers deprived of even one moment alone.
There is a beautiful story told by Osho in his book “Love, Freedom, and Aloneness: The Koan of Relationships” where two lovers lived on opposite sides of the lake. Whenever they wanted to meet, either the man would invite the woman to come over, or the woman would invite the man. In this way, they never took each other’s company for granted and they appreciated every moment spent together.
What I love most about this story is that they respected and celebrated their own individual spaces as extensions of who they are. They never felt like their individual selves were invaded or dominated by the other person.
This story made me question if I’m ready to give up my proverbial side of the lake, and the answer is no (at least for now). I’ve decorated my place with a bold turquoise wallpaper and eclectic details — none of which are the taste of my boyfriend who is more of a beige and wood kind of guy. I have a rather minimalistic approach to stuff, while he likes keeping things from his past. He proudly displays antique furniture that belonged to his grandfather, while I prefer not to worry if my cat scratches my inexpensive couch.
He likes spending time at my place because it’s cozy and peaceful. I like his place for its bathtub and a big TV. We spend a few days in a row together when one of us feels pampered as a guest (have I mentioned the bathtub?), after which we usually need to rest for an evening in our own respective places.
The Two Bedrooms Relationship
I realize that wanting to keep two houses or apartments in a relationship is not always realistic. Financial reasons aside (especially if living in a city like London or New York), it’s also not practical if you want to have kids. Although having two apartments would probably help each of the partners get a good night's sleep once in a while, I can’t imagine what a logistical nightmare that must be.
But since reading Osho’s story, I can’t help thinking: what about having two separate bedrooms?
Imagine having one room where you don’t have to compromise on the decor. A place where you can keep things that make you who you are without having to explain yourself. Space where you can do your bedtime rituals without irritating your partner.
Imagine a relationship where sleeping in two separate beds is not a punishment after a fight, but a sign of respect for your individual selves.
Imagine feeling this joy again when a person you love chooses to give you their time and full attention, instead of throwing distracted grunts over their laptop.
Imagine the thrill of being invited to someone’s bed again, or preparing your own space to be shared with someone you love.
Taking a Break from Your Partner
Everyone understands the importance of taking a break from work, from everyday life, and even from kids. Why is it, then, that taking a break from a relationship is still such an uncomfortable concept?
I’m not talking here about the “We were on a break!” situation from Friends. It’s not about being single for a weekend and sleeping with other people. It’s simply about claiming some time to focus on yourself and recharge. It can feel uncomfortable at first because we might have lost our own individuality in the relationship throughout the years. However, reclaiming our hobbies and interests along with our personal space is very powerful.
The trick is, though, to be able to recognize the signs that you need to spend some time alone. For me, it’s when I become grumpy towards my partner. The moment I start feeling irritated instead of empathetic when we talk, or I snap at him for not making the bed, or I simply feel more jittery — these are all signals that I have nothing more to give. My “love tank” is empty and I need to refill it.
I think that the most difficult part is to communicate this need for space to your partner in a way that won’t hurt them. Saying “I’m sorry, but I can’t help you right now until I help myself first” is tough. But the good news is that your partner is an adult who is more than capable of dealing with their emotions without you for a while. This realization can be very liberating and empowering for both sides.
So enjoy some time for yourself and focus only on your own needs. It doesn’t matter if you need reading, hiking, or watching Netflix — you will come back to your relationship rejuvenated and full of new love to give to your partner.