On Independence

I’m not a very independent person. Ever since I was little, I remember feeling anxious when my parents dropped me off alone somewhere–whether it was at the barn for my weekly riding lesson, or at a friend’s house.

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Halloween: a time rife with knocking on doors

Little things gave me butterflies: ordering food at a restaurant, knocking on doors (even when the occupants inside were expecting me), calling strangers. In high school, I volunteered for a wildlife refuge where you were counted on to make your weekly shift. If you couldn’t make it, you had to call the long list of other volunteers to find a replacement.

I’d get knots in my stomach every time I knew we had to be out of town while I was supposed to be volunteering. The daunting task of dialing numbers and asking strangers to do a favor for me loomed over me like Voldemort loomed over Harry Potter.

This might sound familiar to you, or it might not. It’s not necessarily that I was fearful, just that the rituals of life that are normal for most people were outside of my comfort zone. While knocking on a strangers’ door made me want to puke, I was totally comfortable thundering across an arena on a horse, leaning over the saddle to scoop things off the ground at top speed. Or white water rafting. Or peeing beside a tree. What can I say, we all have different comfort zones.

It took until college for me to get comfortable doing the little social niceties of life on my own (though in some ways, I’m still not comfortable. I still hate calling strangers). But as I started to do the things that intimidated me more and more, I realized that it felt good. That afterwards, I felt flushed and competent and like I could tackle anything.

At this point, I’ve faced and conquered many of those small fears. I’ve held jobs that are mostly just knocking on strangers’ doors, I often pick up the phone to call a stranger at work without thinking twice about it, and I don’t think twice about ordering food at restaurants (what an accomplishment!).

This is an old photo from a long ago photoessay that Jordan and I did, but it captures my dark feelings about phone calls with strangers nicely

But it’s not always easy to keep that level of comfort with activities outside of your comfort zone, especially when you’re in a long term relationship. When you have a partner, you have someone who can do the things you’re less comfortable with. Or, at the very least, can come along with you to ease the fear.

For me, it’s been really easy to let Jordan pick up the slack for me–to handle the things that make me nervous. When I was pregnant, I made him call the doctor for every single one of my questions (I’m actually fairly embarrassed to share this tidbit). And then when he didn’t describe my symptoms correctly, I’d inevitably end up snatching the phone out of his hand to describe them myself. Childbirth was far less daunting than calling Dr. Sholes about the irregular contractions I was having, lemmetellyou.

When you’re single, you’re forced to handle everything life throws at you on your own. That can be incredibly hard. But it can also teach you how strong you are. It teaches you to function on your own, as a complete person.

Each summer when Jordan heads out of town for field work, I panic at first. How will I handle everything? Feeding myself, taking care of our pets, keeping the house clean, taking out the trash on the right day, paying the bills, grocery shopping alone, keeping the lawn mowed.

An example of a breakfast in sweet, sweet solitude

And then within a week I’ve adapted. The house is clean. I’m well fed. The animals are exercised and happy. I enjoy the meditativeness of grocery shopping alone, the freedom of coming untethered from my spouse.

That isn’t to say that I don’t miss him–that my life isn’t one million times better when he’s around. But I enjoy the independence. And I want to hold onto that as our lives get more complicated and wound infinitely closer together, through the arrival of children and lived experience.

And I’d like to become even more independent. I’d like to go out to eat alone. Go to see a movie alone (except I’m really not a fan of seeing movies in theaters in the first place, so the chances of this happening are zilch). Camping alone, traveling alone. Through so many of these experiences, we learn to have confidence in ourselves. We learn what we’re capable of handling, and then we can bring those things to our relationships with our spouses, our families, our friends (or not–you could also just enjoy your newfound confidence and well-roundedness for yourself).

I don’t want to be the woman who has to relearn how to drive the car when her husband dies. Or who doesn’t know anything about their finances. Or–in our case–is filled with terror at the mere thought of calling a doctor on her own, because her husband has been doing it for her for seventy years.

Being this guy’s mom is a good inducement to try to be the best version of myself possible

With Indy’s arrival on the scene, I also have a new motive for increasing my independence: I want him to grow up seeing both his parents as capable of any number of tasks. In my family, my dad always drove, and my mom always rode passenger. When Jordan and I moved in together, it didn’t take long before he was usually driving, and I was usually riding (well, it did take a little time, because he had to learn stick shift).

But I don’t want Indy, if he gets married (and identifies as a man), to feel like he’s the one who has to be behind the wheel all the time. I want him to take breaks. To choose a partner who will take the steering wheel when he’s tired. And I want to be that partner for Jordan.

What’s your comfort zone look like? What are the things that scare you, that you need to do more often? And do you think being in a relationship impacts those things?

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