Monday, March 19, 2012

Alone, Together

I've started doing more things alone lately. Last week, with a Groupon about to expire and unable to find any friends free to go with me, I took myself to dinner at Texas French Bread. I was worried I'd feel conspicuous or awkward, but neither turned out to be true. I wasn't the only person dining alone, and I had my book to keep me company. The meal was delicious, and by the time I was heading home I decided it was a great experience.

Pan-roasted black drum atop a bed of wilted greens and roasted sweet potatoes, topped with chile oil and fresh mint. Delicious.

On Sunday, I joined Slow Food Austin for a tour of Indian Hills Farm, a farm about an hour outside of Austin that raises organic produce and grass-fed/-finished beef. I went on another farm tour with the group last year, but I didn't know anyone there this time. I was a little nervous joining an unknown group of people for a three-hour tour, but I figured the absolute worst thing that could happen was that I hated everyone else there and went home early. Luckily, it turned out to be a pleasant day.

They let us walk through the pasture with the herd. The way the cattle all walked in a line made me feel like I was on a cattle drive. Or in the movie "City Slickers." One of those.

The look on the face of the guy in front says, "I don't trust you..."

The cattle all got a "treat" at the end of our tour - some kind of alfalfa mixed with molasses. The owner said they love it, and it's the closest they ever get to a processed feed. Everything else they eat is grass growing in the pastures, or hay he trucks in during the dry months. No corn or grain, ever.

It turned out to be a really enjoyable afternoon, and I was glad I went. But I was especially glad I went alone. I didn't make any new best friends while I was there, but I did notice that I felt unencumbered. I was free to talk with anyone there without worrying that I was neglecting someone else, and when the tour was done and I was ready to go, I could just go - or I could stay and talk to the farmers some more. It was my choice, and it wasn't dependent on what anyone else wanted to do.

I've noticed more and more often lately that I really enjoy and value this independence in my social life. It's not that I never want to spend time with someone else; of course I like doing things with my friends. I wouldn't want to give that up. But as I think about dating and relationships more, I'm realizing that I may want more independence in a relationship than most people do. As much as I want someone in my life to go to dinner or a show with - and I do really want to share those things with someone special - I also still want the freedom and flexibility to go to happy hour with friends, or take myself to dinner with only a book for a companion, without feeling any guilt for it.

Just as importantly, I also want my partner to have and make use of that same freedom. When I was married, my husband didn't socialize with his friends very often. Practically speaking, I felt like I was his sole social companion, and he seemed okay with that. And that's okay - for him. But ultimately, I was unhappy with the arrangement. I felt guilty when I went out with friends, or worse, when I wanted to do something alone, because I knew that meant that he'd probably be sitting at home alone. I saw rejection on his face when I wanted to do something as simple as go to the grocery store alone, and that didn't help either. I felt incredible pressure as his main source of social interaction. I felt responsible for him and his happiness in a way that I don't want to repeat.

Of course, I'm partly responsible for taking that on. That's part of my personality, and because of that, what I've learned is that I want (and need) someone with an active life outside of me, and who supports my having the same thing. I want many aspects of a conventional relationship, too: a long-term partner whom I love, with common interests and who enjoys sharing activities with me. But I'm also looking for something that seems less conventional: an independence that frees us both to enjoy our time apart as well.


mrs mediocrity said...

I so get this, my first husband smothered me, it drove me crazy. my current husband has lots of outside interests, mostly sports, and that gives us both plenty of time to do our own thing.
i need lots of time to myself, and we've managed to find a good balance. it can be done!

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