This week, my wife Paula and I are doing something that means we are either extravagantly rich or about to get divorced. We are staying in separate rooms, in the same hotel.
But here’s the thing. We’re not extravagantly rich, I don’t snore (much) and lately we’ve been more in love than ever.
We learned two things and I’ll be honest, I’m a little embarrassed to share them because they seem obvious, but they helped us.
1. We are both incredibly creative when we have solitude.
2. We enjoy each other’s company more after we’ve been apart.
Before I say more, I want to acknowledge it’s very possible you can’t relate to us. Maybe you and your partner are always wanting more time together because you both work day jobs and take care of kids at night. Maybe you travel so much for work that dedicated time together is already precious.
But maybe you’re like us. We are both self-employed and we can work when we choose to. This luxury has made it possible for us to be together practically all the time, so creating healthy separation is something we can benefit from.
Solitude = Creativity
Recently I’ve been enjoying the book Daily Rituals, a gift from my highly creative friend Obi Okorougo. The book describes the daily routines and rituals of over 161 writers, composers, painters, choreographers, playwrights, poets, philosophers, sculptors, filmmakers, and scientists, every one with different habits, rituals and routines, except for the one thing they all have in common. They all require solitude. Many of them went to great lengths to be completely alone during their creative time, because they all recognized the importance of solitude in producing great works of art.
When I say solitude, I don’t mean being in the same room with other people who occasionally talk to you. I mean being totally, ruthlessly alone. When my wife and I practice this, we don’t even like to be in the same location, but if for some reason we are, our rule is to only email each other, unless it’s urgent, then we text. We will also use the practice of noble silence from Vipassana, which means no talking, no eye contact, no gestures, nothing that acknowledges that person’s presence at all.
Treating the love of your life this way can be uncomfortable, and it was for us in the beginning, but breaking through that resistance can unlock gems. The increase in our creative output during these times that we are alone is remarkable. You would think we were on drugs, because words just seem to flow from our finger tips. True alone time has been a huge blessing for our creativity.
Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder
This is one of those truths that everybody agrees with but few practice. In fact, I believe absence not only makes the heart grow fonder, but it’s an essential ingredient in a passionate relationship. What happens when we are with our partner 24/7 is the contrast between being with them and being without them fades away, leaving us with a bland middle ground.
One of the measures of a great relationship seems to be a couple’s ability to consciously create separation.
We’re going to spend alone time either way, so we might as well build it in. When we don’t, alone time often comes after a fight, or an upset where we need space to cool down. The challenge for us was knowing ourselves and communicating our needs clearly and without blaming the other person.
Two Becomes One
Healthy separation creates what we call a feeling of “two-ness”, which is just as important as “oneness”. The way we look at it, the feeling of oneness can only happen if we are first in the feeling of two-ness. Coming together is only possible if we are first apart. Sex is literally this, two becoming one, and our sexual desire for each other has a lot to do with how much healthy twoness we can create.
The part that makes this all worth it is the feeling I get when I see Paula after being alone. It’s like seeing her for the first time, and I get chills just thinking about it. Seeing her so sourced in her own happiness, her own life, her own creative flow brings me delight beyond measure.
Two becoming one.
Again, and again.
It’s a joy missing her, and it’s a joy being together.
That’s the most I could ever hope for.