They say if you love someone, set them free. Growing up with two loving but controlling parents, often, to be set free was all I wanted. I wanted out of obligations, I wanted to be able to go out of state for college, and out of the country to explore. Breaking free wasn’t always easy –it involved things like surreptitiously searching for my passport, which my over-protective mother had hidden in her room, or trying to explain to my family-tradition-oriented dad that I had finals and couldn’t come out to New Jersey to attend the wedding anniversary of my step-mom’s second cousin.
I resolved to live my own life with as few demands on others as possible. My best, longest-lasting friendships are with likeminded people. I couldn’t imagine having a friend I was expected to see on a regular basis. I don’t do well with pals who expect me to arrive on time for an informal get-together.
In a romantic relationship, things are, by nature, a little different. For one thing, the boyfriend and I are monogamous, so that’s a commitment – though not one I feel bad about keeping. For another, we live together, which means that in order for things to run smoothly, chores must be done, projects like the remodeling we’re currently wading into have to be undertaken. And then of course there’s the plan to have kids, which will bring on a whole other level of responsibility.
But besides those foundations, the rest of the time, the boyfriend and I don’t make too many demands on each other. Often, we’re happy to sit on the couch together, each doing separate things. When we go out to see friends, it’s usually not together. Even our passions are individual affairs: I write, and he either plays video games or sews uniforms and accessories for Napoleonic battle reenactments, where audiences aren’t welcome (though the major bicentennial reenactment of the Battle of Waterloo, scheduled for 2015, will be an exception).
Life is good for our individualistic duo. When one of us wants to go somewhere, be it to the movies, or on a trip, if the other one doesn’t, the general solution is for the person hankering to do the activity, to do it on his or her own. This past weekend, for example, after watching “The Bourne Legacy” and finding it dreadful, I bowed out of a screening of “Taken 2”, and headed home, while the boyfriend stayed at the Cineplex.
But low-level obligation friendships and relationships do have their disadvantages. There are the moments when you feel inadvertently hurt, or lonely. Usually, I can shrug off these things. But something that’s happened recently has thrown my way of life into question.
For years, I’ve dreamt of having one of my siblings come to visit me. So when my brother called a few months ago to tell me he and his girlfriend were coming to Paris, and also wanted to see some other European locales, I was thrilled beyond words.
We started planning the things we’d do in Paris, and organizing a trip to these other places. My brother, his girlfriend, and I, were getting more and more excited. They’ll be coming at the end of March, but already we've been picking cheap-but-charming Italian hotels, and figuring out which museums to pre-order tickets for.
In the back of my mind, there was one little troubling thought, though: The boyfriend doesn’t really like to travel, and isn’t a huge fan of Italy, where we’d be spending two weeks. The more I brought up these plans, the more I could feel his stress and unhappiness. I realized that, excited as the rest of us were about the trip, the boyfriend would only be coming because he felt obligated.
Though I know him well, I still felt shocked and hurt by his reaction. He’s supposed to love me, and likes my brother and his girlfriend. He isn’t a huge fan of Italy, but we’d be going to some places he’s dreamt of visiting, like the ruins of Pompeii. Why wouldn’t he want to come along?
Another part of me felt panic. My brother and his girlfriend have never travelled in a foreign country before. While I can get by in Italian, and while I’ve been to Italy enough times to basically get around without any issues, it would be nice to have someone like my boyfriend, a European citizen, fluent Italian speaker, and much more level-headed train-ticket-buyer, around. There's also the communication issue: The trip involves a lot of travel to different sites and cities, so I'll have to pack light, and won't be taking my laptop. I'm also not sure that my cheap cell phone plan will allow me to make or receive calls or texts while abroad. It seems almost impossible to imagine we'd be able to speak to each other every day, let alone every three or four days.
I struggled with all of this. I struggled with wondering why the prospect of spending two weeks’ vacation with me wouldn’t be irresistibly fun. I struggled with my lack of comprehension at anyone not wanting to go to Italy. I struggled with a lot of other things, including the more fun-loving person I wished my boyfriend could be. But I had to let those things go. As much as I struggled with those ideas, I was against the idea of forcing my boyfriend to come with us. I know so well what it’s like to dread a trip you don’t want to take. I know the anxiety, the annoyance, the desperation to get out of it. I wouldn’t want anyone to feel that way. And so, since I love my boyfriend, I set him free.
Now I’ll be going to Italy alone with my brother and his girlfriend. And while I’m still ecstatic about it, the idea has lost just a bit of its luster. I won’t get to stare out at Venice's Grand Canal while holding my boyfriend’s hand. I won’t get to see his fascination as we explore Pompeii and Herculaneum and the archaeological museum in Naples. I won’t get to fall exhaustedly but happily into bed beside him, or wake up and hold him for a while as we prepare for another day.
There’s another part of that saying, about loving someone and setting them free, a part about that person coming back to you. Though the boyfriend will be here when I get back, he isn’t taking back his resolution not to come. Sometimes I wish I could use guilt and obligation to make him do what I want. I'm almost certain he'd ultimately have a great time on the trip.
I guess this is how my parents felt all those years ago, when I was trying to fly away.