Every day after work I shut down my computer, clean off my desk, empty the trash, and shut off the light. I close the door on a thousand voices and requests and meetings and documentation and member calls and training development courses…and walk down the hall to get Sophie. She “drives home” with me. It was Sophie who figured out why I had such a hard time disconnecting after work. Nothing I did—taking a walk, washing dishes, starting dinner, even getting in the hot tub—made me feel like I was off work. I tried getting on my laptop, which was too much like what I had already been doing all day, and then tried playing games on my phone, and then tried watching TV. Each day I tried something new to signal a tangible end of the work day. Nothing worked. There are weird things you don’t anticipate about working from home. This was one of them and one that seemingly had no solution. One day I said to Sophie, “Not even plopping down in front of the TV works.” With her incredible wisdom, looking through those eyes that see everything yet reveal nothing, she said, “Mom, you can’t go from screen to screen to screen. You need the actual drive home. You need the disconnect.”
It is not just the drive. It is the time. We get off work and get in our cars and whether we sail over country roads to get home or cuss out bottle-necked traffic and red lights, we have that time that says, “You are done here. Unwind. Drive. Turn up the radio. Roll down the windows. Make your way home.” I suppose that I will adjust like my coworkers have done over the years working from home. But even after working all day in their spare rooms or basements or kitchens, they don’t go home the way you would expect them to. They also need the divide. My boss told me that no one in her family speaks to her for 30 full minutes after she has closed her office door. If someone tries to ask her something or get her to do something, her husband or one of the kids will say, “She’s not home from work, yet.”
I find this endlessly fascinating. The commute. The separation between work and home. After years and years of this behavior, this enforced habit, it is so ingrained in us that we don’t even know it’s there until it’s not there anymore. And when we find it gone, there is such a palpable discomfort in knowing that something is missing, that something is changed, that we will do anything to replace it. Whatever it is. With whatever else that can take its place. Fill the void. Close the space. Make it right. Get back into the comfort zone and take your rightful place.
This is what I went through for the first few weeks working from home. Every evening at 5pm, spinning and looking and wondering and sitting here and sitting there, trying to make dinner or walk the dogs, read a book or listen to music, fold the laundry, check the mail, wash my hair. I couldn’t find my way home.
It is the same way with being single. It is my natural inclination to be paired up. I have always been half of two. I have always been coupled, partnered, owned. For the first time in my life there is absolutely no outside influence on any decision I make. I can go where I want. I can do what I want. I have no one to answer to. I have nothing to explain. And it is awkward. I don’t think I will ever be one of those people who says, “Being single is so wonderful!” For me, it is that empty space and time that the drive home use to fill. There is a void. And I can’t quite get comfortable enough to settle down into it. After years and years of being with someone, the behavior, the habit, is so much a part of me that I find myself looking and searching for anything that I can wedge into the space to make things right. Grad school. I had actually decided against grad school, but then this space opened up and it was the closest thing within my reach. It could distract the busy little brain cells that were working so hard to get me to pair up! Find someone! Anyone! Say yes to the date! Accept the message! Take her up on the offer for a “nice lunch.” What will one coffee hurt?
Well, mainly, my resolve. I don’t see being single as a challenge. It is not really something I’m fighting for. But it is something that I have to go through. After years and years of conditioning, doing something the same way over and over and over again, making that drive home day after day, decade after decade, some days it seems nearly impossible. I don’t know how to not drive home every day. I get off work, get Sophie, get in the car, put the top down, blast satellite radio, and we blaze a mean VW path through the backroads of Davidson County. I am adapting.
I work all day. Grad school at night. I joined the rowing team and shoved that into Saturday mornings and Sunday afternoons. But there were still hours left over for me to wander around single in. Join the Y? I resisted it from the first thought without reason. It’s a free company benefit. I always join the Y. I know the people there. I have a coach there who I really like. I could see myself going in, getting on the recumbent bike or the rowing machine, avoiding the news spewing itself on twenty TVs, peddling my way into a sweat and trying to ignore the absolute monotony of blending in.
There is something incredibly comforting in familiarity.
The thing is, when you are evolving into something unknown to yourself, when you are becoming someone you’ve never been before, you cannot do the same things the same way you have always done them when you were a normal person. Because you are not normal anymore. You are not paired. You are not meeting other couples for bowling and BBQ. You are not talking about the division of household chores or squabbling over money. You are not debating the philosophy of childhood discipline. You are not arguing over who has to pick up the dog from the vet. You are in the drift. You are tethered by your ankle to a gaff rig, blown in schizophrenic directions without warning, all while trying to drink the ocean through a straw.
I found Krav Maga.
I shoved it into some empty time slots.
I submitted an article for publication.
Perhaps the most radical thing I’ve done over the past week was accepting a friend’s offer to stay at her condo on Myrtle Beach. Alone. By myself. With my singleness. Without work or school or rowing or hand-to-hand combat. I want to see the face of this loneliness. I want to look into the solitary eye of this beast from which I have spent my entire life trying to escape. I want to hear the shatter of silence without trying to fill it with noise. I will sit alone by the waves and let myself be engulfed by the enormity of my own smallness.
And I will drive there and back, blasting satellite radio, blazing a champagne-colored VW path, in spite of fear and vulnerability…with the top down.