He didn’t take off for another country but when I wrote earlier this year about allowing my boyfriend the freedom to pursue his dream of traveling the world indefinitely, I had no idea how quickly I’d be given the opportunity to feel his absence.
This past spring, Zane spent almost three months in the Finger Lakes in Upstate New York, doing some remodeling work on his parents’ new house. When I’d championed his desire to leap into the arms of adventure on distant shores, knowing all the risks and uncertainty such a separation would bring, that wasn’t exactly what I had in mind. I envisioned stunning foreign locales that fed him with a cultural bounty, connections with strangers that inspired him and the stirring of a more expansive self, who, glutted with so much strange and heady splendor, chose to embrace life with a greater trust in its benevolence.
Zane had been struggling with bouts of depression and a frustrating inertia when I’d encouraged him to heed the yearning to travel he’d often expressed since we began dating five years ago. With his life at a crossroads — and hope and optimism faltering under the weight of too much inaction for too long — there didn’t seem a better time to dive headlong into his dream. He was self-employed as a carpenter and his landlord was returning to the area to live in the home he’d been renting to Zane for many years.
But as much as Zane longed to go, and despite my hearty endorsement, jettisoning life as he knew it for something so bold and unpredictable seemed too impractical. Beyond the financial considerations and the hardship of being away from me and his family, there was fear — the kind we all face when contemplating actually giving ourselves to the biggest, most vibrant vision of our lives possible, the kind that makes us doubt whether we deserve to live within our own harvest and sets up roadblocks, some real, many imagined, on the path to genuine fulfillment. If given the freedom to pursue my every fierce and fanciful longing, I don’t know that even I would have leaped so confidently in that direction, as I was expecting Zane to do.
At times, he asked why I couldn’t go with him, pointing out, astutely perhaps, that my proclaimed commitments, most notably a house I’d bought only two years ago, were my own flimsy attempts to rationalize staying within a comfort zone he knew was smaller than my dreams.
And then he went to the lake house, some five hours away, for a project he expected would take only two weeks but somehow stretched into two and a half months. We saw each other only twice during that period — hardly devastating, I know, but difficult considering how much time we usually spent together and that I was used to having him less than 10 minutes away. I didn’t realize how much I missed him until he returned for my birthday and tears sprang to my eyes at the sight of him filling my doorway. It became even harder to have him so far away after that first visit and I began to wonder just how OK I would be with him on the other side of the world.
I told myself his absence would be easier to bear then knowing the vigor with which he’d be chasing his joy. But even as my impatience and disappointment mounted with each day his work on the house wasn’t completed, I felt bereft without all the small and tender ways we’d come to inhabit our togetherness. When he told me there was a likelihood of him traveling to Michigan for a few weeks to work with a friend in May, followed by a trip to Texas in July for another job, I ruefully reminded myself to be more careful what I wished for in the future.
It looked as if I would spend the first half of the year mostly without Zane, and while I would not begrudge him those opportunities and would have plenty to keep me occupied while he was gone, I’d already gotten a taste of how easy it is to feel disconnected, even with frequent phone calls and texting, when separated by physical distance — and I didn’t like it.
But then the shift came. Part of why I’d been so supportive of Zane spending time in another country was my hope that it would rouse him from the lassitude of diminished commitment with which he’d been passing his days. With many of his passions and goals whittled by depression, I longed for him to awaken once more to his life, and now he is beginning to do so.
It may have taken the chaos of having to move out of his home still uncertain where his future lay. He may have been spurred by the reckoning we all must face when the choices we’ve made will no longer support our hiding in the shadows of our life. There was even a test of our relationship, as all those things collided and shook my faith in our possibilities as a couple.
But forced to step up and take ownership of creating a different reality for himself, Zane has found a place to live, a full-time job and a burgeoning hope. Doubt and resignation are giving way to sturdier, fertile ground.
And I couldn’t be happier for him — and for us. This may feel like the safe and predictable route compared to traipsing off to South America or Europe. But it is a journey nonetheless, and Zane has shown both fortitude and resilience in taking these big first steps.
I haven’t given up envisioning him thriving in the fullness of those brighter, braver dreams, however, just as I know he’s tending the fires of my own. For sometimes, it is the holding of that space by those who love us, even if we may veer afield from its promise, that allows us to eventually find our way into its sweet and fulgent embrace.
– Life in LaLa Land, published in The Intelligencer and Bucks County Courier Times