No, I don’t mean going out and drinking too much then desperately taking home the last thing with two legs at the bar, only to wake up horrified at the slug laying next to you, extricating yourself, and doing the walk of shame in the morning…
Unless that’s your kink, in which case, I’m not gonna yuck your yum as long as you practice it ethically.
I mean the things that add to a relationship and help build it stronger AND add to your life as an individual and build YOU stronger.
For example, this week, my Pet is out of town. He went to the mountains to cycle. And I chose to stay blissfully alone all week. Seeing no one. Doing NOTHING social.
Which is actually contrary to some of what I’m going to suggest, but it’s not, really. It’s doing something for me, and for me alone. And after several months of close togetherness, it feels like bliss.
Yes, I miss him.
Yes, I also feel a bit like part of me is gone.
Because it is.
He is a part of me and I am a part of him in very real ways.
For example, in transactional memory.
You know, the part of you that turns to your partner and says, “Hey, what was the name of that band that did that song about a telephone number?” And they say, “Tommy Tutone?”
That’s transactional memory.
And it grows between people that are close, like lovers, partners, and besties.
“There are two different structures of a TMS—differentiated and integrated. In an integrated TMS, friends share similar knowledge and are able to reinforce or remind each other of what they know. In a differentiated TMS, they have knowledge of different things, and can consult each other like encyclopedias.”https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2016/08/how-best-friends-share-each-others-memories/496715/
And it’s one of the reasons that losing someone like that, either through a breakup (breaking up is hard to dooooooo!) or through death or moving or whatever, because you not only lose their presence in your life, but you also functionally lose some of your personal data—albeit data that was stored on external servers.
The closer you are, and the more things you do together, the more of your data you offload to each other, depending on skills that each of you have, discovered over time.
And this is a good thing.
Except for when it isn’t.
Because instead of using an external drive (bear with the geeky analogy) for day-to-day stuff, we can use it for backups, primarily, and keep the day-to-day stuff on our internal—when we spend some time apart, and give our brains time to sort through and store our mutual memories.
Not because we don’t want to have them, but because we want to have those AND others, as much as possible, because it’s good for our brains, and it’s good for our relationships.
Especially when we go out and create memories and experiences with others, and come back and share them with our mate. Not to mention, giving each other time to miss physical presence.
And we grow in our time apart, giving ourselves the opportunity to think about who we are inside AND outside the relationship.
Ever been through a breakup, and afterwards, just felt like you’d given up a lot of yourself just to be in the relationship? It’s not necessarily that you regretted it (although maybe you did), but that you realized months, maybe even years had gone by where you’d not really done anything JUST FOR YOU, and maybe, you were even a bit unsure about who you were just then?
That’s what happens when your relationship becomes your sole resource for activities, interests, and social connections.
I tell Pet, “There is NOTHING I don’t want you by my side for, nothing that I think couldn’t be improved by you, and yet, I’m always happy that you get to do things without me that you love, spend time with your friends, and I love to do my things as well, and miss you during and wish you were there.”
And I mean it.
After all, when I’m traveling with friends, I do miss him. A LOT. And I wish he were there. I also cherish the time and closeness with those friends and the ability to share the experience with him through photos and videos and letters and recounts after the fact.
Humans are social creatures.
And when we are not partnered, we have a tendency to live life for ourselves, to go out and do more and explore the world and what’s in it. To spend time with friends, to learn more and engage more.
And that’s GOOD for us, and for our brains.
Humans that can say they have 10 or more friendships one year are more likely to be both healthier AND happier five years down the road.
Two recent studies of nearly 280,000 people in almost 100 countries by William Chopik of Michigan State University found that friendships become increasingly vital to well-being at older ages. Among older adults, relationships with friends are a better predictor of good health and happiness than relations with family.” (source)
And sharing friends with your partner is beneficial, because there are more people to share the memories and the different details.
Don’t get me wrong: long-term partnership and the closeness it brings provides a milieu of benefits: emotional, physical, practical and financial. But finding the RIGHT long-term partner is key, and even finding that person is no substitute for having your own individual friends and interests.
The people who are most successful as singles are especially likely to end up in happy marriages, in large part because of the personal and social resources they developed before marrying.
With the ability to live alone and provide for ourselves emotionally, physically, practically and financially, we can put less strain on our relationships to provide basic needs, and can, instead, allow the relationships in our lives to bring added benefit and, when needed, walk away when things don’t go well.
And honestly, we fall in love when we are separate people. BECAUSE we are fascinated by and want to know MORE about that other person.
Yes, of course, we also fall more in love as we get to know each other.
But we need both security in our understanding AND a sense of adventure and mystery.
Couples need time alone to develop intimacy (and reconnect), especially in the early bonding stages of a relationship.
However, after that, social time with friends together and apart helps couples stay more interested in each other, and more satisfied with their relationship.
So, consider stepping outside of your relationship for double dates, friendship, taking a class, and practicing hobbies, even travel, and coming back together to share your new joys with each other as individuals.
Whole, complete people.
Note: I realize that some of what I’m suggesting is easier with greater resources: a larger metro area, more money, even the ability to easily make friends. And that some people are happier doing exactly the opposite—like I am, this week—and hermit-ing by themselves to recharge their batteries. For those, however, who might benefit from this, I suggest considering some trials and seeing how it goes.