I do not do well with silence, almost of any kind. When I run, I have to have my iPod or risk cutting short my exercise; when I’m in the car I have to have either that same iPod or a stack of CD’s to fill up the time; and when I’m in a relationship, I. need. Contact. And lots of it.
On more than one occasion this has proven…troublesome. And detrimental to my relationships – not just romantic. I’ve tried to not let it become such an issue, or to feel it matters so very much, to have contact, and still, were it to come down to a choice of hearing from my beau everyday vs. only every few days…everyday will win – every time. And lest you think I’m some kind of harpy clinger who smothers her boyfriend, it’s not that I expect constant communication, 24/7 x 365 because I don’t. But I do need to hear from him on a relatively consistent basis (i.e.: at least every day, even if only a brief check-in) especially once I’ve gotten past the first few weeks of over-excitable newness and realized…really realized just how much I like him, and how much I kinda-sorta want him to stick around.
As a woman who has been dating for many years, there are a lot of things I am prepared to hear from my boyfriend, but the one thing I still don’t do well with is the ominous, “I need some space” dictum. Such small, unassuming words, yet, they fill up the spaces in a conversation with alarming speed. Space, as we all know, can mean many things…distance, time, silence. It can be very good for a relationship or prove to be the final straw. It can be taken and given, fluid or static, but the overriding thing about space is, whether you want it or you don’t, there’s plenty to go around. So when your boyfriend tells you he needs some – especially early on in the relationship – well, it’s understandable that many women before me, and likely a few after, will have questions.
I think for many of us, space is taken for granted. It’s everywhere! The space to think, the space to breath; the space to live, the space to spread out; the space to care, the space to create: for a thing that neither has mass nor gains velocity, space is heavy. When you need it, space is a simple luxury that is yours to explore. Yet when you don’t, it’s an interminable abyss that grows wider, deeper, and ever more uncrossable with every passing second. My relationship, at that wonderfully early stage where everything seems gilded and perfect, is also seemingly at the stage where nothing could ever go wrong, and where space, and silence, are surely premature. Right?
My problem with his needing space isn’t so much the distance as the knee-jerk reaction I have to what it may or may not mean for me. And since it comes from my boyfriend, for us. What does ‘I need some space’ actually mean, anyway? Do I stop believing in how I feel when I’m with this man? Or, do I take comfort and heart in him, and gather strength from the fact that he feels secure enough in me to ask for this hard thing, and know that I won’t think less of him for it? Won’t toss aside our relationship because the terrain suddenly became rocky, the path uncertain? I’ve never been stretched out on a rock while vultures peck away at my heart, but I think that perhaps for a single woman who is falling in love with a man, the in-between place the words ‘I need some space’ thrust her is mighty close. It scares me, having to step aside and give him what I know he needs because in addition to the niggling fear that this may just be an elaborate way for him to end our relationship, what it mostly does is illuminate how much I am falling for him…how much I am beginning to need him in my life – and what if that goes away?
That he cares for me I have no doubt because he tells me all the time, and he shows me all the time in a myriad of very thoughtful, real ways. So in reality, from that perspective, I shouldn’t doubt. I should instead put away my fear demons and relish in knowing that I’ve met an amazing man, and we are creating a relationship together, one that is not destined to repeat either my past relationship blunders, nor his. I like the eachother we’ve become, just as I like him, and I know he feels the same. Yet when he pulls away and is silent, my fears they creep in. They creep into the spaces, the silences that he asked for, and I don’t know how to keep them at bay. Will needing him…will letting him know that I need him create a barrier and send him packing, or will it create yet another level of closeness between us that can’t be shaken? It should be the latter, and not the former, but at the three month dating mark, it’s anyone’s game. And I’m not a gambler.
The irony of all this is that I, too, sometimes want the very same space I’m questioning. And I realize that relationships are rarely always an even 50-50 break in give and take, no matter what the relationship gurus and guidebooks like to say. The truth is, I think it’s more likely that one any given day, one person may need the 80-20 split, or the 40-60 and so on. Far from being a negative (and contrary to my dislike of silence??), I think this inconsistency is actually a beautiful part of finding, and being, with a person who loves you enough to be that support pillar, that rock, and give you the chance to be silent without drawing any conclusion – good or bad. In a minute I would be that rock for my boyfriend…that support, and think nothing of it. I want him to know in his heart that I trust him, have faith in us as a couple, and that all of it: the good, the bad, the ugly are for me, irreplaceable parts of our connection. Perhaps it’s vanity, but I like to think that by getting out of my own head…shutting-down my own fears over what his silences may (or may not?) mean, I’ve already done that, and hopefully, helped nurture the foundation we are building together as a real couple, and not one who’s commitment is vaporized by these sorts of moments.
It’s true, I don’t do well with silence. But I know that the long-term silences that would result from my not paying attention to what my boyfriend needs now would pale in comparison to that which would result if he were gone from life permanently. Petulantly demanding he give me what I need (conversation when he needs his space; attention when he’s off living his own life)…making this situation only about what makes me comfortable misses not only the point, it whittles away at the strength of our relationship. Truth is, it’s no longer about just me…it’s about us.
They say that discretion is the better part of valor, and I think silence must fall under this purview. I will never like not hearing from him for an entire weekend, or heck – even an entire day. But when well-intended and faithfully received, I am beginning to think that silence may not be the demon I’ve so lately fought to keep at bay and instead, may be just the conversation starter I’ve needed.