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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The "I" In "We" -- Where Is It?

I have been the "I" in "We" for many years now. And, don't get me wrong at all, I love my life. I love my husband. I love what we have created together and experience together. And, no, we're not thinking of splitting up or any of that -- so stop trying to read things into something that isn't there. We're all good now, right?? So, that being solid and out of the way, I'm kind of wondering where the "I" went. I don't think I'm totally alone in my feelings, either. Although I may be nearly alone in talking about it openly...except for my buddy who talked about it here at great length. I sort of feel sometimes like I don't have a life to myself much any longer. And I suppose that's normal and sort of what happens over time. I know that when any two couples get together they begin to formulate the "we." The couple. The two of them. And parts of each of them eventually go away as they migrate into one another. Or at least become muted or put on the back burner. Needs, wants, desires, likes, dislikes all tend to not count for as much as they used to. The couple comes first. The communal relationship comes first. Then the individual. It's weird, if you ask me. Not bad, or right or wrong, just sort of twisted how it happens. Over time. Gradually. Sometimes even out of necessity for one reason or another -- be in physical, emotional, mental, whatever. And many times because of dysfunction, mental or physical limits, or requirements placed upon us by our society, church, family, or another outside influence. And I'm not referring exclusively to same-sex relationships....I believe that all people, all genders, face many of the same issues.


I married into a family that knows everything about each other on a daily basis. They know when each other works, when they are going to the grocery store, who has a doctor's appointment, when each other is at work, when they are coming home, what plans are coming up, if a regular bowel movement was had that morning, etc. And, I must easily admit, I'm not fond of such a plan. Alas, they many times know when I work, where I'm going, when I'll be home, etc., I don't always like it very well. I like anonymity. I like not being totally connected to every single person I know....whether in person, by phone, by email, or otherwise. I like free time. I love alone time. In fact, I require it. My inner free spirit longs to jump ship! So it will come as no surprise that I don't like voice mails that say, "I know you're back in town and just wondering what you're doing and when you're going to the grocery store next." I typically ignore them. It's become my typical M.O. My extended family knows my friends and I know theirs. They come to parties of my extended friends. I have very few friends to myself. My family even used to go to church together. And that really bugged me.....I'm just saying. They somehow integrate themselves into my life, my blog, my home, my parties, my plans. And as much as I appreciate them, I don't like having every single part of my life knowing exactly what any other given piece is doing. Sounds like I have my cranky on, doesn't it? And I have over the years, believe me. I've lashed out, become horribly angry, demanded free time and alone time. Like I already said, I need it, I require it. And I rarely get it. My hubby works from home much of his work week -- so if I'm home, so is he. And we spent the first seven years of our life working together -- work, play, layovers, vacations, weekends and home....it was all together. I didn't really complain much. But as I've aged, I've changed. And I've begun to complain. Sometimes quite loudly. I have discovered that there are other dimensions to each of our lives that often go undiscovered or even avoided because "I" takes second stage to "we." I've discovered that I don't like blending into everyone else. I like me. Myself. And I. And there's not much of I left, quite frankly. If someone calls for Lewis, they typically call for "Lewis and Blair." Not just one of us. Much of our mail comes to both of us. Rarely (never??) is just one of us invited to a party or dinner or gathering. It's always both. I have no friends of my very own that I've discovered in and of myself and remain my own. Even this blog has become communal. Those who read my blog, typically read his....and the other way around. My friends have become others friends and likewise. It was only a few months ago that I took my very own vacation, by myself, alone. It was weird, I must say...but, at the same time, I loved it. Somewhere along the line, I've gone missing in action.


Now, I know that I sound like I'm grasping at straws here....and in some ways, I am. I love my husband dearly. And I will do whatever is necessary to make his life as easy as I can. It's not about a lack of love or any of those little games. It's simple: About losing me in a sea of we. I have found myself doing things to try and actually craft time alone. And then, when I have a few hours alone, I have so many things that I want to do, I don't do any of them....I'm overwhelmed. I should go to the gym, yoga, downstairs for coffee alone. But there are friends who want to have coffee with me. Maybe go to the beach. Or to the store just to wander without a shopping list. Or to the Japanese Garden for a morning of solace. Or friends or family who want me to go here or there with them. Or go to the gym with them. Or plan a vacation with them. And the phone rings....checking in on me. And a text message arrives. Or or or or or or ---------. It's better today than it used to be, I'm starting to get it ironed out, but it's been exhausting in the past. Tiring. Icky. Not pretty. And if I were to tell you precisely what it is that I want to change, I may even struggle to put it down in writing. I just want a few more friends of my own, just my own. A few days, and evenings, by myself. To go have a drink in a bar...by myself....sitting at the end of the counter, listening to other's conversations. Taking it all in. To have time at home without commitment or obligation or a schedule. To see a movie without knowing that I have to go home at a certain hour or report in. Am I wrong? Am I a bad husband?

My honey (and, yes, I definitely do mean honey!) and I are a bit different in that respect. He needs less alone time than I do. But he's done a nice job of taking his alone time and learning to listen. To his heart, his life, his plans. He hasn't always liked it too well but he's learning to be alone. I think even he has hidden behind me sometimes. But he's such a valuable player in this relationship. He is more than able to stand by himself with his head held high. He has begun to develop the ability to say, "No" to requests that are not necessary. He knows what it means to protect me and my time. He knows that I don't like him telling anyone where I am or when I'll be home. And, I must easily admit, that he's the best husband in the world. We've both grown and changed in beautiful ways through our years together. You wouldn't believe the experiences we've been able to share together. And neither our time alone, nor our time together, takes away from the total beautiful conglomerate that has become our life.


As I've approached middle age, I have this vision from time to time of what the second half of my life may look like. I know, for sure, that I am with the best man anyone could ever ask for. That's a given. But I also know that I want my life speckled with new friends of just my own, time of my own, vacations of my own, explorations of my own. And it's a good thing, not a bad thing. It adds dimension to one's life and allows one to expand well beyond the closed-in four walls that many of us exist in. Some enjoy the sheltered life inside....but not me. I want to have my hands in as many things as I can before my time is over here. Some of that time is shared time. Other bits of it are private time. But it all adds up to this thing we call life. I want to be there for my honey whenever he needs me....and I have no doubt that he's there for me 100% of the time.

19 comments:

Billy said...

I understand where you are coming from, but I must also say that losing that 'we' was the hardest thing I've ever gone trough, so appreciate the time you have together. It's worth more than all the riches in this world...

Lemuel said...

Do you consider yourself married? Then I would expect that the "I" becomes secondary to the "we". Please note that I am not saying that the "I" disappears. It becomes secondary - or even tertiary - in importance. From my perspective, in any marriage - straight or gay - regardless of the element of faith or non-faith - "the two become one". The "I's" step aside and each is concern above all for the good of the "we" and for the good of the other. After those two goals are achived then there is a time and a place for the "I".

anne marie in philly said...

"I believe that all people, all genders, face many of the same issues." - true!

spouse and I do not work together. I get alone time in the mornings before/afternoons after my job begins/ends.

he has his interests/hobbies, and I have mine.

and yes, we do some activities together.

yet I have begun to envy my single friends who have to answer to no one but their cat/dog. it must be a sign of "getting older"; it's hard to explain in words.

I want to try new things and experience new heights, but feel I am being held back by my relationship. is that so wrong? or am I just being irresponsible and selfish?

(deep heavy sigh)

RAD said...

I get it...and I totaly know where you are coming from...I have asked myself the same questions. Its deep...

Mark in DE said...

Just for the record, you have me for yourself. I ready your blog, but not Blair's.

I do not require or desire the 'alone time' you describe, but I respect that need in others. Perhaps it might help to actually schedule personal time. Tuesday mornings before noon (or whatever) is scheduled 'Lewis only' time. Blair knows not to expect you to be with him, and your extended family will know not to expect to contact you or be contacted by you during 'Lewis only' time. Just a thought.

bridgeout said...

Thank you for being so bold as to put these thoughts out there for the reading. I felt a lot of this in my previous long-term relationship. The more closed in the walls became, the more I longed to escape. I felt from day one in that marriage the "two became one" and I poetically wondered which "one" did we become?
In my current long-term relationship, I used to feel more of this in the beginning. We also worked at the same place for a couple years. It was almost too much! Just because I am such an independent spirit. I don't know how it happened, but just in the nick of time before I felt I couldn't breathe anymore-- I changed course. Left that job, went back to school, met new friends, got a job in a new field. That differentiation really "saved" us. Not that we were going to break up, but for me not being able to have enough sense of freedom/autonomy would have been detrimental. My honey doesn't need the alone time or "I" time like I do. I have learned to carve out those little things for myself. I guess I am rambling now, but I totally get what you were saying.

Steven said...

As much as I want to find someone to establish a relationship with, I fear losing the independence that I have grown accustomed to.

From what I have been able to gather, it seems that your life and hubby's life are very much inter-twined. As Mark has said, allocate "personal time" with each other to do your own thing. Generate conversation that runs along the lines of "Guess who/what I saw yesterday!" instead of "So what did you think of him/that yesterday?" Or what is even better sounding: "I missed you!" What's the saying? Absence makes the heart grow fonder.

Will said...

You've brought up what I think is THE central issue in relationships.

In my first long term relationship, I felt I had to devote all my time to my partner, and restructure my life to devote it totally to the relationship. I didn't lose my "I", I gave it away in handfulls. It all fell apart.

With Fritz, it's very different and I work to maintain that difference. We're crazy about each other but each of us has his own sphere and when we come together for dinner or afternoon tea, or when we wake up together and talk in the early morning hours, each of us has something fresh to bring, some news the other doesn't know, etc. I travel around the country for theater and opera, he to offer workshops. We maintain our individual identities while making a really tremendous couple. It's a balancing act, but I think it's essential to keep that balance.

I was stunned that you wrote about this issue so openly and honestly. Thank you!

Java said...

I'm glad that you wrote about this issue honestly and openly. But not stunned.

I need my alone time! But I have 4 kids in addition to the husband who all want a part of me. I hide. I give it to you instead. Well, not you personally. The blogs. I let my mind wander around here.

There is an element in me that wants to escape. It's strong at this time of the year. I'm tethered, but I'd like a little more slack in my rope, you know? There isn't much slack this year. Your words resonate with that part of me that wants to RUN AWAY!! But I don't want to burn any bridges, of course. I love my husband. Oh, I disagree with you on one slight point. I'm the one with the greatest husband in the world. I'm sure Blair is wonderful, and he's definitely more suited for you than my husband is. But my husband is the best. Just sayin'. ;)

Ur-spo said...

One of the greatest tasks we have is trying to grow our "I" identity while simutaneously nourishing our 'we' identities with loved ones, our tribe etc.
No small feat.

There was a shrink named Modell, who wrote about 'the private self' a space in the psyche no one can ever be in or go to but the person who has it. I like that concept.

wcs said...

*smile*

Will said...

Michael--I like the "private self" concept, too. I grew up amid the older model that there was only one person EVER for you in the entire world, that you had to give yourself entirely--this from my parents who were, ironically, severely troubled in their marriage. To them, publicly at least, a private self would have been an unacceptable disloyalty. To me it's an essential thing, a place that renews me to be able to give more without spending all of myself in the process.

Dave2 said...

The one time I totally gave into the "we" I was badly burned, and it hasn't happened since... probably intentionally. This does not, however, keep me from still wanting it from time to time. :-)

Breenlantern said...

Lewis: You know you and I are kindred spirits in this. I think we have been misled by age old fairy tales that we must leave behind ourselves and devote everything to the new "us"...no where else in life: job, neighborhoods, friendships, etc are we asked to give up our identity and become one with the group...we are asked to bring our own strengths to add to it. Our hubs did not fall in love with "we" they fell in love with "I" and I think when we stop being the "I" we stop being the person the other committed to. Sometimes we get lost in the "we" and I don't think that's ever a good thing. With all do respect, I do not agree with my good buddy Lemuel: the "we" does not and by no means should supersede the "I"...at least, not for me, or you, or for anyone who's nature it is to be ourselves first, then part of a unit. Many people give themselves over to their marriage and their responsibilities to their spouses...but to me, that is not a partnership, it is subservience, something perpetrated by centuries of wives being legal property, then religious views that a man "takes a wife as his own" and a father "gives his daughter" to her husband. As same sex couples,without centuries of established roles, we can break free from that archaic outdated mode and discover new ways to have meaningful successful relationships as two individuals choosing to share a life together. Put your spouse before all others? Sure, I buy that and practice it...but always put him before me? I don't know if I'd want to be with someone who thought my wants and needs and desires should always come second to his...our needs are a COMBINED pool and where they overlap, great. But where they don't, why should we submerse who we are and what we want for someone else? And why would we commit to be with someone that expects us to? Sorry, but "we" is the combination of two "I"'s, not the replacement for. Of course, this is what my truth is, what I believe and what works for me. There are those who only feel complete as the other half, walking forever as half of a whole and never being on their own, and if that works for them, more power to them. But it is by no means the right path for all of us, any more than ours are the right paths for all others. Be who you are and need to be. Nurture yourself as well as your relationship and respect yourself as much as you respect your relationship...you do not have to choose...you can have and be both..the we and the I in harmony. Thanks for an insightful and candid post. Would that we all could be so honest and fearless.

Greg said...

I think we all need some quality alone time. My partner and I always manage to spend a little bit of time doing what we like by ourselves. It keeps us sane and grounded.

Michael Guy said...

Most excellent post: As you know, I am now an "I" apart from a "we" of nearly 26-years. It has been challenging, at best, to rediscover who the "I" is. I've spent half a lifetime being a "we." At times it feels like half my physical self is missing in action much like that 'phantom limb' feeling war veterans experience who have lost a leg, etc.

Your points are valid; I became so wrapped up in our "we" that I totally lost, downplayed, let go of all the good "I" things that made me so attractive in the first place.

I think it is very critical and a keystone to any strong partnership that both involved maintain a sense of self. A relationship is a compromise at best. Still, looking back, I should have stood firmer with regard to my interests, space and relationships beyond the "we."

Very thought-provoking post, Lewis.

Stephen said...

I understand...
after 30 years together, I sometimes wonder where the "I" went, but then I count "our" blessings.
Best to all 3 of you!

TonyG said...

I totally know where you're coming from. My partner and I actively plan "alone time" in the house for each of us each week. When we don't get it, we feel it. There's something quite nice about, as you say, being at home, amongst your stuff, and not feeling it necessary to do anything, including talking or whatever with your partner. It's similar to the feeling I have when checking into a hotel for a business trip - it's my room only, for a certain amout of time. It's sort of liberating.

That said, I, too, adore my partner and couldn't imagine being without him. We just recognize that we have some limits.

WAT said...

Well, this kind of fits in with what I have been realizing now for the longest time! There just isn't time for everything! And it sounds like you lack time for yourself really, which is a bit of a shame.