Space. The thing we all need. So we can do weird stretches without being watched or so we can regroup thoughts and feelings. Whatever the reason, space is linked with sanity. At least it is for me.
As an introvert I’ve always been the kind of person who needs my own personal space. Somewhere to escape to; that I can control and feel safe in. As a kid that was my bedroom (until I realized that my brother would go in and steal small, miscellaneous objects and hide them under his bed). Then I had reprieves in parks and friends homes and my grandparents. As an adult, my apartment is what constitutes as “my” space.
I recently moved in with my boyfriend. Or more, we lived together in a cramped room in the Yukon for 3 months in a larger house full of more men and then we continued to live together when we came back to Toronto.
Those 3 months were some of the hardest of my life. I felt perpetually lonely but was virtually never alone. My “space” was wherever I happened to plop myself down on the 9th Ave. Trail and it was even worse for my partner who had less than 24 hours the entire time actually to himself without anyone else there after working 12 hour days, 6 days a week.
As a result, we were both emotional. Me in the way that is highly sensitive and reactive, him in the way that is aggravated and exhausted. We fought all the time. Not little bickering fights, but things that grew and manifested into ugliness. There was no where to walk away, nowhere to get space. There was always someone around that ran the risk of overhearing us which made the situations more stressful.
People fight. People fight more when they are unhappy.
So, why is space and happiness correlated? What is the difference between being alone and loneliness? What does space mean for different people – is it time to do things for yourself or is it physical space to be?
When my partner and I arrived back in Toronto I truly believed that it would be the sweet end of out bitter fights. We started dating in this apartment, we both like my roommate, there was more than one room to be in, things were clean. The way I remember it, we had been really happy in our time here. But in these thoughts, I hadn’t accounted for the fact that my partner still had his own personal space as well as routine. We both had lives that intersected with one another’s and our own places that we could re-group in and go to to find reprieve if necessary.
So when we got back home and the fighting continued, I tried to accommodate. I made more space for his things, we did some projects in our bedroom so that he felt like he had control and could make decisions, and I tried to figure out chores amongst the three of us so we could determine who was going to take out the garbage or vacuum so that there was less pressure about what was getting done and the balance of who was doing it. I went to work and hoped that he had enough time while I was there to do his own thing.
It wasn’t until the holidays when my roommate went to her hometown that I realized a lot of the issues we’d been having didn’t have anything to do with us (or my roommate). Even though our home is nice, clean, and we all have a say in what goes on, it’s still not entirely comfortable for everyone. My partner can’t walk around naked when he wants to. We almost always have the door closed to the bedroom. I’m the middle-man relaying problems from boyfriend to roommate and bridging gaps – because we’re not all in it together.
I have it lucky. I live with my boyfriend and my bestfriend. I never have to wear pants, I can talk to everyone without worry, and if I want to implement a change I don’t feel the need to ask anyone. And no one else in the apartment feels like they have those bonds with everyone.
So when my roommate left and my boyfriend could play video games in the living room without worrying about waking anyone up instead of stuck at our desk in the bedroom, it was kind of a turning point. Not having to make sure the door was closed while gettin’ it on was a fun moment we’d never had.
To lay it out, we were relaxed. There was no worrying about anyone else. We could comfortably do what we wanted – poop with the door open, leave the dishes in the sink, and other small unimportant things that could stay small and unimportant because we didn’t have to worry about making anyone else comfortable or adhering to keeping the space a certain way.
For the record, my roommate isn’t some crazy clean freak who needs things a certain way. I’m definitely that person in this household. Mainly what I’m talking about are things that are put in place by everyone to maintain comfort and respect for everyone. But the thing is, the lines of comfort in a romantic relationship are vastly different than any other relationships.
Even so, personal space is still important. I need my desk to write, and I find it difficult when my partner is using it because I don’t feel like it’s fair to kick him off but I also know that I can’t do what I want to be doing without that space. He needs space to stretch and make his body feel good without always being observed or interrupted. I need time in front of a mirror to make sure that I’ve gotten all the blackheads from my skin – something I don’t like to do in front of my partner because he doesn’t believe in popping pimples but it’s something that I enjoy doing.
Space, I’ve realized, is having the capacity to do the things you want and need to make you feel good without having to feel guilty about it. It’s a physical state, as well as a mental state. Being able to prioritize yourself and your needs, and having the capacity to carry those things out. It’s not always having to have a reason or an answer, but instead the ability to just do without the fear of being watched, judged, or offending someone. Space is the capacity to breath easy.