• I've always been independent but have been in a relationship for seven years. 
  • When I had the chance to travel abroad for a month, I felt guilty leaving my boyfriend.
  • I realized traveling alone is vital because it reminds us we exist outside our relationships.

I have always prided myself — maybe too much for a trait that is at least somewhat innate — on my independence. I'm happy to do things on my own from movies to travel to decision making. When I was younger, I loudly and boldly claimed that I did not see myself as a relationship person. And I still feel, to a great extent, that I would and could be satisfied on my own. 

Thus, it has come as a bit of a surprise to find myself in a very happy relationship of seven years. We're each other's emergency contacts. We have a place together, a dog, and bills, I'm in and I'm in deep. And still — even according to the couples counselor we recently saw — we are both very, very independent. 

We do not necessarily need one another. But life naturally, and wonderfully, erodes independence. We've become accustomed to being around one another, especially after a pandemic where we were home together all day, every day for well over a year. 

Travel helps remind us that we exist outside of our relationships

So when I got the chance to spend a month traveling and working abroad — an indescribable luxury — I balked. The idea of leaving my boyfriend on his own seemed, frankly, rude more than anything else. It's not that I didn't think I'd miss him, I wasn't worried about that; I knew I would. 

I did, however, feel terror at the idea of what it said about me — or about us — that I wanted to go. For as much as he can take care of himself, my boyfriend does not really enjoy being alone for long periods of time. This only added to my fear that I was doing something hurtful. I was worried that with the length of time I would be gone and the distance (plus the spotty internet reception), it would feel like I wasn't just taking a break from my life, but also from him, which was not the case at all. 

Of course, he encouraged me to go. He knew I had always regretted not studying abroad during college.He was happy to watch our dog and take care of our life in Los Angeles while I went to work on an olive farm with two friends. 

So much of our modern life is built around romantic partnerships. We assume people will buy (or, let's be honest, rent) houses, celebrate milestones, and plan vacations with their partners. People don't usually celebrate the ten-year anniversary of a close friendship or decide with a best friend whether relocating for a job makes sense. 

The author and her partner. Foto: Courtesy of the author

We structure so much of our lives around partners, which can be wonderful. But it can also be easy to calcify into a person you didn't intend to become — even if that person is great. In a relationship, you can often turn into someone that fits with your partner as you grow together. I don't want it to sound like I think this is a negative trait; in so many ways it's the very marrow of the good stuff of life.

But this trip I took — in fact, the act of simply taking the trip and doing something that I thought would potentially rattle the cage a bit — reminded me that I exist outside of my boyfriend, too. I can do things that are risky, selfish, brave, or silly without him being there. It reminded me that I'm a person who has built a life with someone, but I am not just the person I am when I am around him. These trips give me the airing out I need to remind myself of who I was before I met him and who — truthfully — I still am. I never want to lose that. 

Despite feeling guilty, I'm not truly leaving my boyfriend behind

Even though I came back from my last trip reaffirmed that traveling would only strengthen my relationship, when I got the opportunity to travel again this year, I still felt hesitant to bring it up. I wondered if another month away would be too much alone time for him, but yet again, he was supportive.  In fact, this time, my partner was more effusive and reassuring than ever.

You can't really leave a relationship as significant as ours behind. Time apart can be used to remind yourself of who you are and give yourself space to just be, but our friends, our loved ones, our families, and our partners leave an indelible mark on us. Even if they're not there with us physically, they're still with us, in a way.

When I was younger, I always loved the song "You Belong to Me," made famous in my house by Dean Martin. I loved the idea of a partner who supported you traveling the world, only asking that you come back to them. It's wonderful to have someone so good to come back to with new stories to tell and new experiences to share.

But also, it feels good to be reminded that you are not the other person and they are not you. You are two separate people who choose to be together. I love spending the night playing "Wingspan" and watching "Somebody, Somewhere" together. I love our life. But I love other parts of my own life, too. 

This year, my boyfriend is also going on a solo trip. I can't wait to have the house to myself, but more than that, I cannot wait until he is back. 

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