2020 has been a shit show. I don’t need to tell anyone that. For some of us, that means we’ve cocooned inward and taken even better care of ourselves; for others of us, it means barely surviving, eating too much comfort food, and drinking a lot of wine. Whichever camp you fall into, sending big love your way. For me, it’s been a combination of these two ways of treating myself. I have mostly coped by laying in bed binge-watching all six seasons of Madam Secretary while drinking copious amounts of wine and ignoring my partner, my art, and my writing. That method of coping hasn’t been much help. Things got complicated there for a while, between me not really taking care of me, my partner not taking care of him, the stress of the pandemic, and too much wine, things finally escalated, and I decided to leave that situation before we destroyed any relationship we might be able to salvage.
Figuring it Out
The other day, I was talking with “almost three dates” guy- Dionysus. He is working through some of his own process of finding the best ways to take care of himself. Life has a way of piling on us, and if we are not constantly vigilant, it can carry us away. It got me thinking about my own processes for dealing with the stress of life and relationships, and how do you take care of yourself in the middle of a global pandemic and with one of the most important elections at stake in the history of my country? It also made me realize that even though I have been back here in the US for almost three months, I haven’t put as much conscious thought into healing and taking care of myself as I normally would. So now what? How do I get back to being me, back to taking care of me?
One thing I know; I need time for myself. One of the reasons I enjoy being polyamorous so much (specifically, I identify as solo-poly) is the freedom to design my relationships in a way that works for me. One of the things that works for me is plenty of alone time. I am fortunate to work from home, and that time definitely counts towards feeling like I’ve had some time to recharge, but it’s not enough. While I was living with my partner and we were in lockdown, I couldn’t redesign our relationship with more time and space to support myself in that endeavor, and that really impacted my mental health and how I took care of me. Now that I am no longer living in Colombia with Said and moving into my own apartment soon, I will be living alone for the first time in more than a year. I will be able to reclaim time alone and really get back into the things that work for me. I hope to figure out how to maintain those ideals even when I am in a closer romantic relationship again.
Once Upon a Time
I remember when I moved into my first apartment. I had been out of college and living with my father for a year, and for the first time, I was truly on my own. I got into the habit of doing relaxing indulgent “take care of me” rituals on Thursday nights. I would wash my hair and do the extra-long conditioning, shave my legs, spread a big blanket on the floor and do my spray tan (hey, don’t judge. It was the 90’s), give myself a facial, and moisturize my whole body. All while listening to music blasting on the radio (yes, we even listened to the radio way back then) and then when I was all done, I cracked open a good book, curled up on the couch, and sat in silence to read the rest of the night, undisturbed.
I distinctly remember one night during this ritual, I thought, I always want to do this. Even when I am in a relationship, I want to have Thursday nights to myself. I built elaborate stories in my head about how one week I would stay in, and my partner would go, and the next week we would switch, but it would always be me, having my own time, away from even my most devoted lover. The stories always included a man who valued my independence as much as I did.
However, like most of us in this culture, as time moved on, my individual ideas about how relationships could ideally be conducted were overtaken by how relationships are “normally” conducted- monogamous, fully entwined relationships where you meet the needs of your partner, often at the expense of your own. Yep, I swallowed the pill; the idea of me being responsible for my partner’s happiness and our relationship’s success was fully integrated. I accepted the challenge and rose to the occasion.
Over the years, I immersed myself in this relationship or that, losing myself and my sense of identity. I cared for me, sure. I did regular mani/pedis, had massages, took care of my nutrition, meditated, journaled, and exercised. All the things the books and internet tell us we should do to “self-care.” But I wasn’t in tune with me. I wasn’t in tune with my true self. It would be many years before I had that realization in the years following my divorce and my subsequent nomadic life. Opening myself up to new experiences, traveling alone, and learning how strong I really was showed me a whole new world of possibilities. One of those possibilities was autonomy and independence within my romantic relationships.
Getting Back to Me
For me, choosing polyamory helped open those doors, but thinking consciously about your relationship and its structure can do the same thing for any relationship style. The way I began to relate to others in all my relationships paved the way to understanding how to take care of myself. I realized if I wanted to be whole enough to be part of a healthy relationship, self-care had to look like more than bubble baths and pedicures. (Though don’t get me wrong- bubble baths and a big glass of wine are still a big part of my self-care time!) I expect my partners to come into our relationship as whole as possible, and I expect the same for myself. It’s my responsibility to meet my own needs or find ways to meet them. I can do that better when I have the freedom to do so. My partners understand this and give me that time. Having my own time within a committed relationship is a valuable gift.
So, back to 2020. I spent most of the year living with a partner, dealing with surgery and recovery, and then being in very strict lockdown. I let it pull me under. I forgot the things that make me a better person, a better partner. I got sucked beneath the wave of the pandemic. I forgive myself. We all have to. Life has been hard, and it’s not over yet. But now that I have more space, literally more room to breathe because I don’t live with my partner right now, I can see back into this year with my “hindsight goggles” and move forward more productively.
What to Do Now
If you have been struggling to keep up with your own needs or feel overwhelmed, I can only tell you what my personal plan is now. I will take the time to consider what makes me a better person and then a better partner. I will ask myself, what makes me stronger? More joyful? What fills my soul and makes me more interested in the world around me? How do I arrange my life so I can do those things? How do I make time for myself? How do I make that time productive? How can I do more of that?
These are never easy “conversations” to have with ourselves, but I think even if we only have these thoughts occasionally, we can feel better about ourselves in a lot of ways and have stronger relationships. We have to confront behaviors, patterns, and maybe even people in our lives that don’t fit the “plan,” then be brave enough to eliminate them. We must identify what works and ruthlessly seek those things out, even at the expense of other ideas, people, thoughts, and activities. Unfortunately, life always seems to conspire to keep us focused on other things. Things pile up, and suddenly we’re underwater again. That’s ok, I believe life ebbs and flows, and we should have the grace with ourselves to be ok to move with it. Simply trying to stay focused is sometimes all we can do to move forward little by little, inch by inch.
Taking care of yourself, truly being a whole as you can be, takes work and concentration. It’s one of the promises I’ve made to myself as I move into my new place and set up my new life, to reclaim one night a week for me. Not only to do the lovely little relaxing rituals I find so helpful (my apartment has a bathtub, and regular bath and wine nights will resume immediately!), but I choose this action as a literal commitment to carve out time for myself. That one night a week, I will reclaim and maintain even when I am dating more regularly again—a time to remind myself that I am important too.
For me, carving out that dedicated time to treat myself well will remind me to do more for me, to care for me in the way I know works best for me. By making myself a priority, I expect to be a fuller, happier person, even as I spend more time alone and we head into a cold dark winter of lockdown and other not so great things. Being satisfied with myself will help make it go easier. I also hope it will make me a better partner as I develop new relationships and seek new adventures here in the US.
Are there ways you can commit to taking care of yourself? Do you know the things you need to do but don’t do them? What keeps you from them?
(PS. I do not mean to imply that simply carving out time for ourselves will help in every situation. Mental health is a real concern for many that goes beyond a bath and doing more hobbies. If you are struggling with mental- health issues, my heart goes out to you, and I hope you are able to get the support you need in these trying times.)
***Photo allgo-an-app-for-plus-size-people- on-unsplash