Hades and Persephone had it down. If you remember their arrangement, you’ll recall that Persephone’s mother, Demeter, wanted her back above ground after Hades, Greek God of the Underworld, kidnapped her. But Persephone had fallen in love. So they compromised.
Persephone would spend four months of the year with Hades, and spend the remaining eight in the land of the living. (That’s why we have seasons, or so the legend goes.)
And this worked wonders for them — they gloried in their love for four months of the year, and spent the rest of their time glorying in themselves, their projects, their individual wants and needs.
The beauty of Greek Gods for ancient Greek citizens was that they weren’t perfect, formless, ideals.
They were just like humans. They had caprices and whimsies and could feel bored, lonely, dissatisfied, even enraptured.
And the purpose and meaning behind Hades and Persephone’s agreement is a lesson modern humanity has forgotten: Space and solitude are not the poison that kills your relationship. They’re the antidote.
Gary Chapman’s book “Five Love Languages — quality time, words of affirmation, acts of service, gifts, and physical touch” — neatly package an individual’s preferred care style. How a person likes to give love, and how they like to receive it.
But those five can neglect a sixth care style that doesn’t have anything to do with how you relate to your partner. In fact, it’s more about how you don’t relate to your partner…
Too Close for Comfort
The world we live in is cramped. And we all need our alone time. Time to do me, and the space to be it in.
Wage stagnation and rent hikes have shrunk our personal quarters in this big wide world so small, that square footage is the most valuable part of most millennials’ homes.
And on top of that (or maybe because of it), we expect too much from our partners. We don’t have room for a village anymore, and our significant others are expected to pick up the slack.
Perhaps without realizing, and perhaps by hyper-focusing on how to come at our partners correctly, we forget that there’s a form of interaction that’s just as important: not coming at them at all.
In our incredibly connected, often claustrophobic, world, compacting seems easy, but its also stressful.
Instead of casting a wide social net, where lots of different people bring value to you in different ways, it’s easy to isolate, especially with technology that isolates us, and to double down on the resource that’s most handily available.
But doing so makes setting personal boundaries nearly impossible. It makes disconnection nearly impossible. It makes saying “no” to demands on your time, your availability, and your emotional energy nearly impossible.
Love in the Old Days
We hear a lot about the variant strengths and weaknesses of the marriages of our grandparents versus our own relationships.
And while there are many significant changes in our recent times — women leaving the home to work, men expanding into vulnerability, Netflix providing TV and movies that can be binge watched — here’s the biggest change: in yesteryear, when you left the house for the day, you didn’t speak again until you saw each other at home.
Barring emergencies and check-up phone calls, you weren’t texting all day, you weren’t sending cute pictures, or following up on each other’s every movement.
Did it make those marriages less meaningful? Or was the time apart a necessary structure to helping you remember that your day had its own meaning, because you were your own person? Given the curse of time and distance, it’s hard to say for sure.
But the fact that there isn’t a culturally acceptable way to say “leave me alone” to your partner is certainly evident of how society weighs and values quality time in relationships.
Practicing Distance Practically
Emotional well-being is studied today like never before. Terms like “neurotypical” and “neurodivergent” flood the wellness cycles of the internet. More people are seeking treatment for mental illnesses now than ever in modern history, and most of those mental illnesses have sprung up only in recent times.
The findings of many studies place a heavy emphasis on the importance of alone time, connecting with yourself, and reflecting.
So how do you know when you’re not spending enough time by yourself? And how do you know when to say something to your partner? And what to say?
- What did you enjoy doing before your relationship? When you still lived alone, or woke up by yourself on a Saturday?
- How much do you enjoy activities that your partner enjoys? How much do they enjoy activities that you enjoy? How much does that ratio impact your respective enjoyment of your preferred activities?
- Where do you see a space in your life that doesn’t have to be communal?
It can be small.
Maybe you don’t want anyone in the kitchen while you’re cooking dinner. That’s your time, to listen to your music, catch up on your podcasts, or hum quietly to yourself.
Maybe you need a weekend away by yourself every now and again. Maybe you both do.
Maybe you love your partner desperately, but miss having the whole bed to yourself. Maybe every few weeks, you sleep in the guest bedroom.
Maybe you decide not to go to the same gym anymore, because you’re better focused when you’re by yourself.
Maybe, and this may be the hardest one of all, but maybe you just need to say “I want to be alone, not because of you or us, but because I need me.”
And maybe they’ll breathe the same sigh of relief you did.
Because distance not only makes the heart grow fonder, it can make your heart grow stronger.