Spending vacation time together (and apart)

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A few years ago, I had a week-long work trip to London.

During the week, I was working jam-packed days — getting up for breakfast meetings and coffees with customers, working a full day in the office, and even taking 1–2 calls with our New York HQ after 5 p.m.

By the time I got to 7 or 8 p.m., I was often frazzled and fried from a full day at work.

My husband, by contrast, was just getting his day started. Unlike me, he’d have spent the day working quietly on his computer or visiting local pubs. So by the time 7 p.m. hit for him, he was ready to socialize.

You might see where the tension could emerge.

On the fourth day of this, when we met back up at the hotel, I lashed out and exploded.

“OMG NO. I don’t care where we go eat. I didn’t have time to think about it. And honestly, I’m not even sure I want to go out with you at all right now. Maybe it’s just too stressful for me when you come on work trips. I just can’t do this. I need to be alone. I’m going out to eat by myself. See you later.”

And I left.

I’ll be honest — it was a little awkward. Also, I definitely didn’t articulate myself as well as I expressed it above. I’m sure it was much more manic, much more whiney, more confused.

The final day that we were together abroad was still pretty tense, so much so that even the flight home was a little bit awkward. I had all sorts of questions in my head: If I can’t spend time away together with this person, what does that mean about our relationship? What kind of idiot am I to have invited him here with me, to then reject him when he wants to spend time with me? Am I just cruel and heartless?

Thankfully by that time, I had a bit more clarity around what was going on: I had used up all of my people-time bandwidth and he had not. For me, my “recharge” time is solo time wandering a city alone, reading, or writing. For him, his “recharge” time is time spent with friends or in small groups of people.

In other words — it wasn’t that I suddenly didn’t enjoy his company anymore. We just weren’t spending our time the right way.

From that point on, we made a rule about future trips: I need time alone to do my thing, and he needs time alone to do his thing. We tested it out at our first ever beach vacation later that year. Our morning routine went a little like this: I’d go to the beach with a book and a mimosa. He’d sit in the hotel cafe and get work done on his computer. Every hour or so, one of us would come and check on the other, but we’d stay in our independent silos. And then, around lunchtime, we’d meet up and go out to eat.

We both agreed: That morning time alone was clutch. It made our time together even more powerful and lovely.

We’ve done some version of that on every trip since that London debacle. This makes it okay for him to say, hey, can I go out with some friends this afternoon? And it makes it okay for me to say (like I did today), of course, but can I do something else?

Just because you love somebody doesn’t mean you have to spend every waking second with them. If anything, the fact that we’ve both identified what we each need for our days to really work makes them even better. So while I love spending vacation time with my husband, I also need to have part of that time to myself. And it means a lot to me that I’ve found somebody who’s willing to find the best balance of both worlds.

Written by

GM @USV, alum of @StackOverflow and @NorthwesternU, board member at @CompSci_High and @NUalumni, co-founder of #BeyondCodingNYC

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