“It doesn’t feel right.”
“What do you mean?”
He had just changed jobs and moved across the country to be with her. He was making just about the same amount of money, but the cost of living in San Francisco is much more than it is in Indianapolis, where they both grew up and went to school together. They had been together since they finished high school. Six years have passed.
“I don’t know. It just doesn’t feel right. I mean… we essentially had life apart for a year. I got used to living a certain kind of way. I was just starting to feel like I belonged somewhere, and now I’m not so sure anymore.”
“You don’t feel like we belong?”
“No, it’s not us. Well, maybe it’s us. I dunno. There’s just… a lot going on. In my life, I mean.”
“Being apart this last year was awful.”
The last year was indeed awful for them. They were busy with new jobs. They were on different time zones. They would try to schedule time to chat online or get on the phone, but even then, drinks with colleagues always took precedence. His dinner time was her happy hour, her dinner time was his bedtime. Without the other’s support they both struggled in a post-college stupor, unsure about the paths their careers would take and where their lives would go. After 7 months, he decided the de-facto pay cut would be worth the move. She agreed. Two weeks have passed since the move.
“This isn’t nearly as awful, right?”
“No, no. Stop it. This isn’t awful. This is just… not what I was expecting.”
“What do you mean? We’re good, we’re great! I haven’t seen you in a year. It’ll just take some time to adjust.”
“Something is different.”
“What is it?”
“I dunno. Maybe I’ve changed.”
“What? No, you’re still the same person.”
“You must have noticed it too.”
They both knew there was some truth to what they were saying. Something was wrong. Little things that wouldn’t annoy them in the past would annoy them now, like how he chewed his food or how she always wanted to hold his hand. Big things that they once aligned on too were off. As she found more of herself in her religion, he grew more cynical of the world. The happy medium that they had worked so hard to settle on the last six years had slowly unraveled in the last 11 months. They didn’t notice it happen until it did.
“Yeah, I have noticed something. I don’t know what it is. But we’ve worked so well together for the five years, I can’t help but think that we just need to work on it some more and we’ll be okay. Right?”
“I just feel like in our time physically apart I was able to do things that… maybe I couldn’t do before. When we were together. I grew a lot in the last year… I’ve had to face a number of things. Alone. Not saying you weren’t there for me through them, but you weren’t there for me through them, you know? And maybe that’s not a bad thing. Maybe… we needed that space to understand more about ourselves.”
“What are you saying?”
“I’m saying maybe we’re holding each other back, instead of pushing each other forward.”
In a way, that was intrinsically true by virtue of the time they had been together. Looking back on their experiences in life, almost everything was shared. Their friends, their passions, their beliefs… both molded by the other until the two minds were one. And, for all their time together, it was a welcome change - in the beginning, they learned to be tolerant and understanding. And when they faced challenges, they learned from the other. They used to push each other and motivate the other. But, in their time apart, they reevaluated the value and power of individualism. Opinions and ideas that they once shared, maybe out of convenience or complacency, dissented. The year was hard for them, the collective, but helped them, the individuals, grow.
“I dunno. Just a thought.”
“Is this working?”
“I don’t know.”
“Can we make this work?”
“I don’t know.”
“Maybe these are transitionary pains. We’ll get out of it soon. We always do.”
“Yeah, we do.”
They were empty words, and they both knew it. It might have been blissful ignorance, maybe they weren’t looking close enough. But here it was, the end of the line. Neither of them wanted it. They both knew it was coming. The time spent apart in between had taken a toll on them. They both knew it needed to end, but neither of them were brave enough to stop it.
“Maybe we should… keep trying? It’s only been a few weeks.”
They would be together for another 6 months after this, living in constant not-unhappiness; they weren’t unhappy, but they weren’t happy, either. They lived in a contradictory duality - they stayed close together while trying to gain independence. They wanted to start fresh while carrying the weight of their past on their shoulders. They were devastated when it ended, but they were relieved to find that there was still a whole world waiting for them on the other side.