I’m hanging on like the last leaves of autumn
But I’m coming through like the first shoots of spring
I’m standing outside of
space and timeAnd I’m healing
“Last Leaves of Autumn” – Beth Orton
Today is Ryan’s and my 8th anniversary. In August we passed our 5th anniversary of living outside the U.S.A. This anniversary is a little strange because Ryan is on a job training event in Amsterdam, and I am home keeping house with Jaspy. Usually I am the one on a solo adventure and he is home with his video games and Jasper. Naturally, I have been feeling contemplative about anniversaries and solo travels and the meaning of fidelity in a marriage.
I should start with the declaration that I love being married. I am immensely lucky to be married to my best friend, but that is not my point here. I love the concept of marriage. I like the idea that Ryan and I will put effort in when times get hard or confusing. I like that more often than not things feel comfortable and natural. I like that we can speak our minds, that we can get a little bitchy from time to time but it passes without leaving scars, that we can even fight and neither one of us fears “it’s over.” There is such joy and depth to growing together. We are both so different than we were 8 years ago, and yet somehow our relationship has expanded around us, instead of constricting one or both of us. I love how we have so much fun, because we prioritize adventures and life experiences.
One of the reasons we get on so well is that while on the surface we don’t have much in common, such as taste in music, movies, food, etc., on a deeper level we have important things in common. We both have a disdain for Southern California culture, a powerful drive to travel and live overseas, and a commitment to support each other in our dreams, something Ryan has particularly excelled at in regards to me. We share a belief in our love for each other, and that our marriage symbolizes and provides structure for this love. We trust each other thoroughly. So while it is weird that Ryan is in Amsterdam on our anniversary, and I miss him dearly, it is also okay.
I sound more confident in these paragraphs above than I have often felt. These realizations about my relationship with Ryan have only come to me in recent months. For nearly three years I have been going on solo travels that have enriched my inner-life in so many ways. The places I have seen and the people I have spoken to have left indelible impressions in my soul. Ryan has been so generous to send me on these trips simply to satisfy my insatiable desire to travel. He never makes me feel bad for leaving him alone, or for the money these trips cost. He believes that by supporting my dreams we are both fulfilled, and that is the most precious gift he can ever give me. I can only hope that I am helping him fulfill his dreams too, though he is much quieter about his than I am about mine. He is much quieter than me in general!
Well, after months and months and half of Europe, my head was so full of experiences that I couldn’t share with Ryan. I would think of something that touched me deeply, such as autumn in Estonia, and it made me feel lonesome in a way I never felt before because my husband and best friend didn’t know what I was talking about. Conversations that were funny or intense fell flat when I repeated them to Ryan. My heart started churning with the guilt I was inflicting upon myself for missing so much time with Ryan, and the absolute confusion I felt because I longed to be home with Ryan but also to continue traveling solo. This turmoil created quite a crisis for me and I started losing my grip on reality, I even started doubting my marriage. It sounds silly now, but the feeling that I was having an affair, with traveling, took over me and I became very unhappy. When I was home I felt bored and depressed because I wanted to be “out in Europe,” but when I was out there I felt like Ryan was moving on here at home. I became jealous about our friends because I convinced myself that Ryan was the real friend and I was just “Ryan’s wife.” I felt like an outcast, like I was intruding when I was around, instead of naturally being part of the group. I remember one absurd night in Guimarães, when I called to talk and he was at dinner so he said he would talk to me later and I felt so rejected. I cried myself to sleep because I was so sure he was moving on, even as I was having a spectacular time in amazing Portugal.
Everything came crashing down this summer when I ran off to Turkey, weeks before Ryan, our friend and I were to go on an Ireland and England adventure. Turkey was amazing, I will write a post on it later, but it is important here because it is the country that forced me to slow down: I got traveler’s sickness. And it lasted for weeks and weeks. I had to come home early and our summer trip was derailed. I felt awful disappointing our friend by canceling the trip, but what hurt the most was how I felt like a failure as wife. There was no reason I had to go to Turkey right then. And because of my self-centeredness I cost us a trip together, one that he REALLY wanted to do, driving to Ireland was his desire, and I took that away from him. Ryan and our friend handled the situation gracefully and neither made me feel guilty at all. They are rational people and knew that I didn’t get sick on purpose and that I was miserable physically and emotionally.
There were times when I thought I would never get better, and even now I don’t always feel great. But this forced down time, gave my heart room to unwind the knot it had tied itself into. Slowly, I started realizing that the entire shared experience of living abroad and its unique relationship challenges had prepared Ryan and me to have a different style of marriage than what we had when we lived in the States. We not only can handle many short-term separations, but it is even good for us. Our intimacy is not based on being in the same room, but in the values and stories and years together that we share. I realized that I was the problem. Not Ryan. Not my marriage. Not even my solo travels. My fear of losing an illusory marriage was affecting the real marriage that Ryan and I have, and ours is so much richer and authentic than the “typical” one I was trying to emulate. I had forgotten that every marriage is different and we don’t have to compare ours to anyone else’s, or accept anyone’s judgments about ours.
Ryan insisted on me going to Ljubljana when I was starting to feel better. He knew how much I had been wanting to go to Slovenia so he made it happen. I was at the tail end of my illness and my confusion so I didn’t know why I had to go then. But, as always, Ryan knew best. It was while walking on a crisp-cold night through the beautifully lit pastel city on my way back to where I was staying that I had the epiphany about what my marriage is – that Ryan and I have always been okay and that I need to trust implicitly in what we have and in who we are, both as individuals and as a couple. I felt like the marriage Grinch. When all of these thoughts and realizations came together, all of my anxiety and depression lifted and my heart grew two sizes!
I love anniversaries. They mark the passage of time, but also create a space on the calendar and in our lives for reflection. Ryan didn’t feel the anxiety I felt, he didn’t need to have an epiphany. I could have just listened to him all along and then this post wouldn’t be so long! I am lucky I married my best friend, and that he is always here for me, even when I get lost inside myself. Happy 8th anniversary!