After a break up, my house and my time are completely mine again which has got me thinking about what it means to be independent.
There are certain props needed for particular kinds of independence. Spray sunblock is one. If I needed a significant other or roommate to paint sunblock onto my back every time I wanted to leave the house in a tank top, I’d be stuck inside all summer long—given I burn easily and my shoulders aren’t flexible enough to reach large swaths of my back. True, spray sunblock is expensive and it leaves slippery sheen on my bathroom floor. One of these days my legs might well fly out from under me above the marble tiles. Still, it is a price I’m willing to pay and a risk I’m willing to take. Because the part of me who wants to come and go as I please is way more insistent than the part of me who thinks someone ought to be right there with the sunblock lotion.
Other logistical challenges pop up regularly. Sunday was the first time I had to take down my jewelry booth at the farmer’s market on my own. I had help from a friend’s daughter in setting up, but the whole take down process, including folding my commercial grade canopy, fell on my shoulders, and at one point, literally so. By the time all my jewelry was safely stowed, the market had disappeared to a mostly empty field. There were a few stragglers I probably could have asked, but I felt compelled to wrestle that tent frame into folded submission on my own. Perhaps even more so since this kind of tent disassembly is generally accepted as a two-person job of unlocking, lowering and walking towards one another on the diagonals.
My first major glitch: I did not free the canopy from the frame before the center pole rose some 20 feet into the air like a flagpole rising from the center of a giant metal spider poised beneath its tarp-nest. By that point, I had released poles and allowed them to slide downward (in a wriggling tent frame dance of hoisted supports and tilting frame), creating an impossible geometry I had no idea how to undo. I set my not-meant-for-standing-upon stool in the middle of the tangle of rods and tarp and strained on tip toe as the stool wobbled beneath me. Minding the delicate canopy which I wanted to continue to be tear-free, I coaxed the material over the giant rise. At one point I found myself engulfed in white canopy, which adhered to my skin with sweat. Eventually the fabric came free from the frame. Then there was just the circus tent-like frame which refused to budge inward to fold, no matter what buttons I pushed or how hard I heaved.
Fortunately, I gave in to good sense and asked for help. Colleen, head of the market assisted me with an understanding smile and revealed the critical step I was missing. As it turns out, there are additional latches I hadn’t remembered to release which allowed the frame to collapse with a gentle sigh, and no great strength required. We pushed the frame inward from each diagonal into a neat rectangle of poles, taller than either of us. I thanked her profusely. After that, all I had to do was wrestle the monster into its carry case and then pack my entire car.
The whole hour of take-down, a part of me felt like someone should be helping me with this; meanwhile, another part of me said, this is what I asked for: independence. It felt good to know I did not need to depend upon a boyfriend to accomplish the farmer’s market. For next time, I know the secret to the tent frame release.
Yet as I write this, a new male companion is assembling my patio furniture for me. This is probably something I could (should?) have done myself. If I’d ever gotten up the nerve to open the box. If, once I saw all the nuts and washers and chair pieces, I managed not to panic and close it up again, perhaps I’d already have patio chairs.
A woman I know seems to single handedly take on all the upkeep of her business, house and property, wants to create a class for women to teach them to use power tools. Those tools mean independence; a woman should know how to use a chainsaw to take down a tree, she said. I know a number of women in her age group—one decade ahead of me or slightly more— who are what I might call stridently single women. While they might like to have men around for activities, perhaps even sex, but not same men, and not for a relationship. The idea of some partner ever moving into their homes is preposterous. Their spaces are strictly their own. Their lives are full of nourishing friendships, recreation, and meaning without full-time companionship. The know how to take care of their houses and certainly themselves without help. Or if they need help, they know which friends to ask.
I partly envy their independence, even as I admit I like having a person in my life to share adventures. I share their visceral reaction of needing to carve out my own time and not wanting to share my physical space. Yet I like having a person to come home to. I like the idea of being able to solve every homeowner problem but I really don’t want to learn to use a chainsaw or, really, most power tools. There are additional boxes of furniture to assemble that I’m not about to tackle on my own. While I want every drawer in my house to myself, I also feel the pull to share my life.
The kind of loneliness of being by myself when I wish for company is a dull ache compared to the sharp jab of being in a relationship and feeling unappreciated or in some sense, abandoned. But a psychiatrist friend reminded me that even a healthy relationship must be a negotiation between each person’s needs for companionship and need for space. I am in charge of figuring out how much independence I need or want and how much togetherness.