One of the things that blew me away about my partner when we first became friends is that he called me self-sufficient. I wasn’t expecting this. At the time, I was dating multiple people — and a couple of them actually called me needy. High maintenance. That sort of thing.
I didn’t feel like I was that way of course. But I also knew that our self-image can diverge wildly from what those closest to us see. And when multiple people give me the same criticism, I tend to take it to heart. Especially when I care about them.
“No way,” my then-friend, now-partner said to me at the time, “that has to do more with them than you. If anything, that’s projection.” I gave both of the people who called me “needy” a lot of love and support. I didn’t call them “needy” of course because it wasn’t a big deal to me. (I’m fairly nurturing at baseline.) I just did it. And I kind of enjoyed it.
“You’re very independent,” he said to me. “And I like that about you. Independent but good to be around.”
“Thanks,” I said. I’d learn through the time we spent together that he was very similar. Good company but very autonomous. And I loved — and still love that about him.
But I don’t know that I ever really absorbed how independent I actually am until this past year. Because, you see, I’m a very social person. I always have been. I’d never been completely alone. I am a person who, no matter what, had a bunch of friends. Knew people. And in times that were tough and dark, I had people I could reach out to for a small favor. Sometimes this was crashing on someone’s couch for a few weeks between one lease and another. (Or at least until I hopped onto another couch during my most housing-instable periods of living, not wanting to overstay my welcome.)
Did I have a person I could really count on? No, not really. Now, I appreciate all the love and support my friends have given me over the years — but for a long time, there was no one rock solid. No one I could set my clock by. So it was always spread out, distributed. I could always find someone who could do me one favor — that I could repay however I could.
But my partner Justin emerged just as I was turning 30 as a surprisingly reliable human being. A human being who was a lot like me. And who mystifyingly seemed to care a lot about me. We were terribly good friends and were more surprised than anyone when we later fell in love — and even more strangely, married.
I didn’t give up my huge network of friends when we got married. No, no. We were very social. The hosts. The people with the party house. We were selective about who we let into our lives. New people usually came via referrals from current friends — but every friend knew that if they brought in someone damaging or bad that they could be banned from our house as well, so for the most part, our friends were very selective with their guests (with a few exceptions).
And then an opportunity came our way a year and a half ago, and we relocated cross-country (from Ohio to Texas). The process of fixing up our little 100-year-old house (one Justin had bought years ago before he’d even met me at the bottom of the market when he could barely afford the thing, as an investment and a bit of stability) was exhausting. Selling it was stressful and a rollercoaster ride.
And adjusting to a new area while Justin got used to his new job? Also very stressful. Especially because the week after I landed in Texas, I found out my father was in the ICU and had almost passed away. (My father was the parent I was closest to. He would spend the next year in and out of the hospital before he did finally succumb about a month into the pandemic.)
I was just getting my bearings and meeting some folks locally that I thought could turn into new friends when the pandemic hit. And then it was back inside. Justin and I were dealing with the disaster on our own. Everyone was isolated to a certain extent, but I felt our isolation acutely for quite a while. I kept thinking how difficult our lives would become if one of us were to fall seriously ill. We had no one local to do even the smallest favors for us, things that were standard for us to do back and forth with our friends back in Ohio.
We were alone in a way I wasn’t mentally or emotionally prepared to be. It was like a pop quiz I hadn’t studied for. How would we do?
Well, a year later, the pandemic is still ongoing, but we’ve managed to avoid illness. Vaccines are becoming much easier to get in my area than they were even a few weeks ago, and I’m working my way through that process. I can see the light at the end of the tunnel — though am trying hard not to celebrate too much before the finish line (and end up losing the race because of it).
And the pandemic wasn’t the only challenge. As if to remind us never to take anything for granted, the Texas blackouts descended in mid February 2021 (just after Valentine’s Day), leaving us without heat or electricity for days and briefly without water.
It was scary. And not just because of the threat to our safety — although that was palpable.
It’s because of the realization I had while we were doing everything we could to trap the residual heat in the one room we’d be living in: No one is coming to help us. There’s no big powerful protective force that’s going to step in and make sure everything’s going to be alright.
“Wow,” I found myself saying, “I guess we’re the adults now…”