When I started this trip, I thought only about getting away—from the house, the garden, Broomfield, the Denver area—to see new places, have new experiences, meet new people, work on my photography, work on Todd’s movies. All that has happened.

But I think there’s something that develops when you travel with a companion that I didn’t anticipate. With friends far away and some hobbies a little more difficult to practice on the road, the other person becomes your main source of companionship and entertainment. That can foster something that feels like dependence.

In our old life, Todd used to go to work every morning, where he had enough stimulation and social time to be ready to rest by Friday night. I stayed home and worked there, on editing projects, on the house, on the garden. Home was a haven, a peaceful place where I could work or think, but it was also my workspace, and any messes were mine to deal with, or not. I had a lot of control over my space then, and I was possessive of it.

Now that Todd and I live and work in one-bedroom apartments instead of a house with 4 levels, home is an all-purpose space for both of us, especially in Portland, with 4 people traipsing about overhead at times.

Not only that, but our home-space changes every few weeks. There’s no point in getting attached, even though I find myself nesting in different ways in each place. This month, I caught myself doing detail cleaning. Why? Well, it’s a nice place. It has touches like composite countertops and bathroom tiles that look like stone. It’s been 3 months since we sold our house, and I guess I missed having a place that was worth cleaning.

For a person like me, an introvert used to spending most weekdays for the last 15 years by herself editing or writing, it’s different to have someone there all the time. I spent too much time alone before, but now it seems the pendulum has swung to the other side.

After a while, we begin to get on each other’s nerves and to act out. Even though Todd is more talkative at social events than I am, he tends to keep his feelings under control, possibly a result of years spent in management. I value the expression of feelings for its own sake, but Todd often doubts that saying anything will matter. I also tend to convince myself that I am stuck with situations instead of revising them to suit myself. So when we get tired of being in the same 500 square feet, I generally say something or get angry. Todd, who is used to the cube-farm and enjoys (most of) the social interaction it offers, retreats by putting on headphones.

None of this really came to a head until Seattle, where there were so many cool things to explore together and a ratty little apartment awaiting us at the end of the day. Add to that the thousands of photographs I took because Seattle fascinated me, and you have a recipe for overload.

I dealt with this in Portland by spending a day alone at the Hoyt Arboretum and Japanese Garden. Walking around looking at plants and trying to identify birds always refreshes me. Luckily, in southeast Portland, beautiful gardens—manicured or overflowing—abound. Roses still bloom, which surprises me. I don’t have to go across town to see these beauties; I can just walk down the block.

And I started to read again. So far this year, I’ve read perhaps 10 books; I usually read more than 30 in a year, and I think that number is way too low. Some of the books I’ve read this year (The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson and Woman of Valor by Ellen Chesler, a biography of Margaret Sanger) were dense and required concentration when I really needed a diversion.

The real tasks for both of us, however, are not just to reduce stress or escape to a coffeehouse; we need to build a new togetherness that doesn’t depend on 40 hours apart each week, and we need to plan ways to meet people who might become friends.

Leave A Comment

  1. Susan October 12, 2011 at 5:28 pm - Reply

    Very interesting. The interplay between people, personalities is fascinating. My dad and stepmom (who Todd met) do everything together almost all of the time (except when my dad travels for a project once in a while). They live together in a one-bedroom condo in Chicago or a two-bed in Miami. Both are retired, so they are home and about together all of the time. It works for them. They have complimentary personalities that make them able to spend all that time together and not desire alone time or drive each other nuts (not that they don’t have occasional conflict).

    I assume you guessed you would experience some of what you are feeling, but it is another thing to experience it for sure. It will be interesting to see how it evolves.

  2. Beth Partin October 12, 2011 at 9:27 pm - Reply

    Susan, I think that change is part of the occasion. We were used to a certain kind of schedule, and now we have another one. If we went back to our old schedule in a year, we might be saying to each other, “I never see you!”

  3. Mom October 20, 2011 at 8:18 am - Reply

    You lifestyle is much like the relationship a couple has after retiring. It takes some adjustment. As you know, Ernie and I don’t share all of the same interests but we do share some interests. We have evolved to equally enjoy our time away from each other and our time together. I like this way of sharing life more than when we were both working. It is comfortable for us.

  4. Beth Partin October 20, 2011 at 9:03 pm - Reply

    Betty, there are all sorts of adjustments this year. I was just thinking about the 4 different places we’ve lived and how each one had its advantages and disadvantages. Maybe there is a perfect home out there, but I don’t think I’ve ever lived in it—except for a few days on vacation.

  5. Dad In Law October 24, 2011 at 10:15 am - Reply

    Liked your post, Beth. Betty has already said most of what I would have said. Going from a full time job requiring around 12+ hours away from home each day for 30+ years, to retirement where one has some control over additional time available for spending with the spouse is a major adjustment. When one takes the pre-retirement counseling as I did, the two main concerns to overcome are 1) giving your spouse space because she/he is used to that and let he/she be the one to invite you into sharing her/his confines; and 2) after many decades of working relatively non-stop morning to night (not necessarily the case with many organizations today as I have seen with two of my sons’ work), if the retiree has limited outside interests and hobbies (I have the reverse problem with too many), the chances are high that he/she will become a couch potato and likely his/her retirement will be short-lived (i.e., people tend to die quickly when they become inactive).

  6. Beth Partin October 24, 2011 at 10:25 am - Reply

    Dad in Law,

    When we were planning this year, I didn’t really realize how different things would be. It’s all part of the learning process, which I enjoy most days. Thanks for commenting!