At the beginning of this year, my gentleman friend A., who I’d lived with for about two and a half years, moved to a different city.
I’m a PhD student in City A, with mumblemutter years left to go. We moved to City A together, after he’d had the good sense to call it a day with academia after a Master’s degree, so I could pursue my PhD. But the job market wasn’t that great for him in City A, so when he was offered a job in City B at an organization he’s keen on, with lots of room to move up the ranks, there were no second thoughts about it. He moved to City B, and we’ve been commuting back and forth almost every weekend since then.
Living alone again was and is an adjustment, especially since I still live in the same apartment we shared. I had lived on my own (in a tiny apartment in a sketchy neighbourhood) before I moved in with A., so I knew intellectually how to live in an otherwise empty apartment, but I’ve realized that living on my own after having lived with A. is not the same as just living on my own while dating A. Not only has the commuting (we more or less alternate weekends) imposed a new structure to my life, but I find how I approach living on my own is very different than how I did it before.
Admittedly, how I did it before was not the healthiest. I ate poorly, irregularly, and with an absolute minimum of dirty dishes, I lived in an apartment that was too small for the amount of stuff I had and felt boxed in and trapped, and as my friends one by one left university and the city, I got increasingly lonely and turned further in on myself. I was doing my Master’s at the time, which left me with a ream of insecurities and stresses. I was the only woman in my research group in recent memory, I struggled to grasp the material at times in a group with an astonishing amount of brain power, and I realized that this was not something I wanted to study in perpetuity after about six months of a two year program. I floundered — there was little for me to grab ahold of.
Except A. A. definitely got me through my Master’s, and it’s no exaggeration to say I’ve no idea where I’d be without him.
So fast forward a couple of years, where I found myself living alone in a much larger apartment in a decent neighbourhood, but still with a very limited social network. It takes about a year or so until I feel comfortable and settled in a place, and above everything else about this adjustment, I feel slightly destabilized. I was just starting to feel like I putting in roots and actually Living in City A, not just passing through for school, and while I still feel rooted, I feel a bit like a poorly planted begonia: I’m in the ground, and the roots will still take given enough time, but one good yank before that and I’ll need replanting. It’s hard to build a strong social network when you’re out of town on half the weekends, and spending time with your partner the other half, and it’s certainly not something I’m good at even in the best of circumstances.
It’s not all doom and gloom, though, and there’s a lot of positives about solo living that I’ve rediscovered. Bread, cherries, and peas can be dinner, I can watch bad TV at midnight, I can do work at midnight. I have space around me, and while sometimes it’s a little too quiet and empty, after living in an apartment with no room to swing a cat, I better appreciate having physical and mental space to call my own. Having a time structure imposed on me has made me work to more clearly delineate my work time from my non-work time, which is something I’ve not done well at all before (note that I still list doing work at midnight as a positive!). I feel like I appreciate A. more now that he’s not always around.
A. and I both feel good about this arrangement, even if it does often leave us lonely in the middle of the week. He has a fulfilling and interesting job, and I am slugging away at a degree that will hopefully open doors for me when I’m done. We don’t have to choose between work and partner, and while this is suboptimal in many ways, it’s certainly better than unemployment or the disappointment of dropping out. But other people don’t always see that, and when it comes up in conversation, I often get the “Oh.” of slight confusion. Am I not moving there soon? Why did he leave in the first place? Are I sure this is a good idea? I’d expect this from the nosy elderly neighbour type people in my life, but I hear this from unexpected places: people my age, some of my friends, my hairdresser. And it’s not like having a commuting relationship is unusual or new: my parents had one for a while, and A. and I both know several pairs of people who’ve had one at some point, many of them between Cities A and B. I am confused at their confusion — this is neither unusual nor ill thought-out.
I’m no soothsayer, and of course I don’t know what’ll happen in years to come. But if the way things are going is any indication, this will pan out just fine, even if I will be an old lady by the time I’m done with the degree. Living on my own is giving me the space to reexamine and adjust myself, shedding bad habits and ruts and letting go of unquestioned insistences, and hopefully not picking too many others up. Solitude, even for five days a week, is nothing to be afraid of.