I was in Portugal for 10 days for a meditation retreat. My husband and son were home in Pennsylvania. They were at home not because they didn’t want to be in Portugal.
No, they were home because I had not invited them.
For so many reasons, I wanted to travel alone: to focus on meditation rather than the needs of family life, to sleep without his snoring, to eat wherever I wanted, to go and come as I pleased, even to watch mindless films on the airplane without someone tapping me on the shoulder.
Many years ago, author Cheryl Jarvis first recommended “marriage sabbaticals,” or taking three months off from your marriage to pursue another interest (such as writing). In her controversial book, Jarvis claimed that the time away would leave one feeling refreshed and allow one to appreciate one’s spouse much more.
I didn’t want three whole months. I only wanted a long vacation. Was I asking for too much? I didn’t think so.
As I hugged my husband and son goodbye, I waited for regret and heartache to squeeze my heart.
It didn’t. I only felt joy and excitement.
“I’ll miss them,” I told myself.
Yet as the plane took off and leveled out at 30,000 feet above the Atlantic, thoughts of my family became few and far between and, eventually, non-existent. By the time the plane touched down in Lisbon, it was as if I were single and childless. Instead of the enormous weight of responsibility that I usually felt precariously perched on my shoulders, I only sensed a surge of freedom.
“I bet you miss your family,” someone remarked a couple days into the trip.
“A little,” I said. Truthfully, I had not thought of them at all.
“Are you Skyping with your family every night?” someone else asked.
“Um,” I said, trying to buy some time to think of a reasonable answer. “No….It’s hard to find a good time to do that….” And, in reality it was. Between the five-hour time difference, the bad WiFi connection in my hotel, the exorbitant costs of calling home, and the schedule of my meditation retreat, staying in touch would have been quite difficult.
Yet that wasn’t what had stopped me from doing it. What stopped me was this: it had not occurred to me to call home.
“What does your husband think of you traveling without him?” one man asked.
This one was easy. “We’re both extremely independent people,” I answered. “Plus, he knows that meditation makes me happy. When I’m happy, his life is so much easier.”
That much I knew was true. My husband supported my need for alone time because I did the same for him. I enjoyed meditation and going inward. He enjoyed cycling and going fast. He’d taken several four-day weekend trips to various bike races earlier in the year. He hadn’t invited me. I hadn’t asked to be invited. We remained happily married.
Sure, a 4-day trip to a Kentucky bike race is not the same as a 10-day vacation alone in Portugal, but it’s only a difference of 6 days and three thousand miles.
Two days before the end of the trip, I caved to the repeated questions from various people who kept asking, “Have you talked with your family? How’s your family doing?” I sat in the hotel lobby and FaceTimed my husband’s cell. On my computer screen appeared the image of my son, red faced and puffy eyed. He’d obviously been crying. Guilt flooded every cell of my body and I felt my heart lurch forward. “Now isn’t a good time,” my husband said in a pinched voice.
“I love you,” I said helplessly. “I love you.”
Soon the session was over. I sat and stared at my computer. I wanted to be home. I wanted to comfort my child. I wanted to be there.
Why wasn’t I there?
“He can handle this,” I told myself. “It wouldn’t be better if you were there. The child cries when you are home, too. Your presence is not a preventative balm for unhappiness.”
True enough, I soon got the following email from my husband, “Sorry, we were having a costume malfunction for Halloween. All better now.”
“See?” I told myself, “He’s just as capable of comforting a sad child as you are.”
It was a humbling moment, but also a liberating one.
Two days later, I was retrieving my suitcase from baggage claim, making my way through customs and walking out into the late fall sun. A car pulled up. My husband parked, got out, and gave me a huge hug.
I didn’t lie by telling him that I’d missed him. I hadn’t. But what I did say was the truth, “I’m so happy to see you.”
And I’ve been happy to see him every day since. Back in love, that we are.
Editor’s Note: Alisa spoke more about how her solo vacation improved her marriage on Good Morning America! Check out the video here.
Read more of Alisa’s writing at ProjectHappilyEverAfter.com.