Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Expanding Within Your Sphere

So, Dude came home from doing Secret Things in the Woods, during which we were able to communicate only via occasional letters.  He was supposed to come home on a Friday night, but that didn't pan out, and he actually got back the following morning.  I had made some preparations for his return, such as stocking the fridge with beer and cleaning the bathroom (as if he'd notice), but otherwise I went about my business as usual: I went with friends to see a movie and have dinner, and then went home and enjoyed some whiskey on my couch. That's where I was when I woke up around 4am and realized he still hadn't called and took myself upstairs to bed.


Anyway, I got the call the next morning around 9 and went to post to pick him up.  He was tanned and smiled broadly at me and picked me up and kissed me.  We went home and immediately had hot, urgent sex on the kitchen counter.  Shortly afterward, he took 2 beers from the case I had in the fridge, sat on the couch, and caught up on Facebook while I worked out.  We went out to lunch.  We did a little initial wedding ring shopping.  That evening, we went to a cocktail party with friends.  All in all, it was a really good day.

I'd heard that it is pretty common for military families to experience an adjustment period that can be stressful and frustrating when the service member comes home after being away.  He'd only been gone 6 weeks, not a full deployment, and hadn't had the stress of actual war... but still, I was aware of the fact that 6 weeks is a long time to be completely separated from one's partner, and this was the first time that he came back from being away since I'd moved 500 miles from my previous residence to his, and the simple truth was that we might not sync up immediately.  Except we did, or so it seemed.  The weekend was lovely.  It felt like no time had passed at all.  I felt a sense of smug self-satisfaction.  We weren't one of those couples.  We were closer and better matched than that.

And then reality set in.

Don't get me wrong-- I was very, very glad to have him home.  I'd missed him in a way that I could feel in my skin.  I would hear songs that I ordinarily laugh at because they are so overwrought and cry.  Sometimes nothing in particular would happen at all and I would cry.  He is my best friend and no one in the world makes me laugh like he does and I never sleep better than I do in his arms.

And yet... there is something about having another human, even one that you especially like, all up in your shit that is just annoying. Dude has many, many redeeming qualities, but I have never met another person who creates as much clutter as he does.  It didn't take long before our home looked like a tornado had swept through.  He had a couple of weeks off before he had to go back out for another 3 weeks in the woods, so he was home a lot-- and I work from home.  And it was distracting to have him watching TV and laughing (even though I really, truly love his laugh) while I was trying to work, because (a) it was loud and (b) I really would have preferred  to be on the couch with him. We have one vehicle, which I had free rein over in his absence, but suddenly I had to share it and didn't really want to.  The Tuesday after he got back, I wrapped up work around 6, and he announced that he was going for a run.  To be fair, he invited me to come, but he wanted to get 8 miles in and it was too hot for my taste to run that distance.  And I was annoyed that he had dicked around all day and now that I was finally done with work and ready to hang out with him, he was leaving.  He had been gone for 6 effing weeks and was going out again soon and why did he have to leave right then?

Mind you, this was all over an hour's run.  And he offered to pick up ingredients for dinner on his way home. I was not actually being particularly fair or rational, but I felt incredibly agitated.

Almost every day, there was some sort of relatively inconsequential conflict like that, and we found ourselves bickering a lot more often than we like to.  Most of these tiffs were fairly mild, and some resulted in actual solutions that would prevent future conflicts (e.g., please keep the TV low or use headphones if you're watching while I'm working, let's try to be done with other things and ready to make dinner/spend time together by 7ish), but some of them were just nonsense.  I felt my nerves getting increasingly raw and I couldn't exactly suss out why.  I just knew that I still felt a little sad and sort of angry and I had a sense of claustrophobia and none of it really made sense, even to me.

By the time his last day at home rolled around, we were both at the end of our ropes.  I couldn't shake the feeling that I was bracing for the impact of his impending departure, and I deeply regretted the fact that so much of our time together had been spent in petty arguments.  I could barely get myself out of bed, and I definitely couldn't stop crying for any length of time.  I wanted to enjoy the day with him, but I just couldn't get there.  And he wanted to enjoy the last day before he had to go again, and was hurt and sad that I couldn't muster the wherewithal to go out and have fun.  We were supposed to go see friends of his; I told him I couldn't handle it and he should go ahead.  I poured myself a large glass of wine and retrieved marshmallows and chocolate that were leftover from the previous weekend's camping trip and sat in front of the TV in hopes of finding something funny to lift my mood, but nothing made me laugh.  I felt distant and numb.  He came home and asked if I wanted to go out for brunch, and I told him I didn't (in my defense, it was almost 2 by then) but that I was glad he was home.  He said he needed to go get a few things that were on his packing list, and managed to convince me to put on actual pants and a bra and go with him.  I wore my sunglasses into the stores to conceal my red, puffy eyes and avoid having to look at anyone.  At first, the mere act of walking felt monumental and the feeling of sunshine on my skin seemed to hurt, but within an hour or so, the dense fog that had descended over me began to clear.

When we got back home, we snuggled and watched a couple of movies and ate raw cookie dough from a massive tub.  It finally felt normal, and even though I was sorely disappointed that more of our time hadn't been like that, I was grateful that, at the very least, our last night together was a good one.  We woke up at a completely ungodly hour the next morning and I drove him to post and we said our good-byes.

The sun was barely up when I got back home, and I, being the analytical and solutions-oriented gal that I am, wanted to figure out what the hell had happened over the last couple of weeks that made me feel so utterly overwhelmed and irritated so that I could figure out how to manage things differently in the future.  I looked online for more information on the adjustment period phenomenon I'd heard about.  One of the sources I read (hell if I can find it again) expressed it in a way that really resonated with me: that during the separation, both people expand within their spheres, and so there is bound to be a period of renegotiating boundaries as you figure out how to fit together again.  I had gotten used to a tidy and quiet house, and now I had to make room for the entropy vortex that is my honey.  He had grown accustomed to an environment where everyone did what was needed and no one was too worried about other people's feelings, so he wasn't always as thoughtful as I would have liked about things he said or did (though, to his credit, he was usually very responsive when I voiced objections).  We had each gotten comfortable with more independent states of being, and suddenly finding ourselves in very close proximity to another person-- both physically and emotionally-- felt pretty damn taxing sometimes.  It makes perfect sense, in fact, and is really not so different from when you first move in together and have to figure out all those little tics and patterns and how they mesh together.  It takes communication and patience, but it's not actually so terrible if you just take it slow.

As it turns out, taking it slow has never been my strong suit.  When I am emotionally drained-- and that's exactly what I was, I now realize-- my impatience becomes even more pronounced.  The fact that we had only 2 weeks to make this adjustment AND simultaneously prepare for another separation, albeit a much shorter one, created the conditions for a perfect storm.  And I think the fact that our first weekend together was so blissful set me up for a hard crash back to reality, and I just wasn't prepared for it.

So.  That's where we are right now.  I am going to chalk this up to a learning experience and, when he comes home next time-- and every time after that-- I'll be a bit more patient and gentle with both of us.  When I feel claustrophobia creeping in, I will go for a walk to give myself some space instead of trying to will it to stop.  When he is doing things that make me feel like a minor character in his day, I'll remember that he really doesn't mean to and trust that if I let him know what's bothering me, he'll do what he can to fix it; he always does. Instead of orbiting him because I profoundly miss him when he's away and want to soak him in, I'll make plans with friends (both in-person plans with friends here, and phone call plans with friends back home) and stick to my workout routine and meditate and do all those things that I know fill my emotional tank so that I have something to draw on to keep me balanced and bring energy to our partnership.

The night before he left, I told him that I was sad that things had been rocky and wished we had just a couple more days.  He kissed my forehead and told me, "We have a lot of more days."  That isn't how it always feels, but he's right.  I feel this panic-inducing sense of urgency sometimes (which is partly just how I'm wired, but army life definitely exacerbates it), and it sets me up for frustration and disappointment.  We love and respect each other and have faith in our relationship and, even though things can be complicated, they'll turn out just fine.  More than anything, I think, I need to remember that.

xo- K.

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