Why I Left My Boyfriend For A Month (And Maybe You Should Too)

I love my boyfriend. He’s my confidant and support, and he’s all that soppy stuff you see in the movies and read about in novels, but probably don’t want to read about here. And it is precisely because I love him that I left him for a month.

I didn't leave him because I stopped loving him, or stopped caring, or even grew bored of him. In fact, when I brought up the idea that we should spend a month apart, we were at a really good place in our relationship. We’d moved into a tiny studio apartment one year prior, and were planning a summer vacation to Mexico to meet his extended family. We were in love, and excited to spend every moment together. Everything was wonderful — except for one thing: I’d completely lost myself in the relationship.

In the space of our one year together, I'd met his family, attended every one of his niece's and nephew’s birthday parties, sat down to Thanksgiving dinner with his family, and spent more time talking to his sister than I had my own. Needless to say, I also spent every weekend with my boyfriend.

It was a bootcamp of sorts, though instead of 1,000 push-ups, I spent every moment creating new things.

When you date someone, you want to know everything about them. You want to be around them all the time. Your lives gradually become entwined and, sooner or later, you’re one unit. If he gets invited to a party, you’re invited; you’ve become the “+1” on an invitation.

But even though my relationship was going strong, I soon realized that I hadn’t seen any of my girlfriends in months. I had seen my family, but I had chosen to spend every holiday with my boyfriend. My world had become this bubble, where it was just my boyfriend and me inside.

Before my relationship, I had spent my Saturday afternoons wandering through old bookstores or writing short stories. I had spent whole weekends painting canvas after canvas. I had meditated, read books, taken long bubble baths, and eaten mushrooms — a food he absolutely hated. I missed eating mushrooms. I missed ordering pizzas full of mushrooms.

In wanting to nurture my relationship, I had totally neglected myself. I had given up all my passions just to exist in a bubble with my boyfriend. I realized I had two options: stay living in the bubble as a shadow of my old self, or spend some time reconnecting with the things that made me who I am.

Having the conversation with my boyfriend was more awkward than difficult. I had originally planned to dance around the subject by asking questions like, "Don't you ever feel like you've given up your dreams for me?" or "Wouldn't it be nice to spend some time apart so we could reconnect with ourselves?" In the end, I decided it was better to just tell him how I was feeling.

I explained my dwindling passion for writing, for painting, for doing anything without him. I explained how much it was affecting me. "Do whatever you want to do," he told me. "I'll support you."

His good-hearted reaction wasn't what I'd anticipated. I had expected him to be completely dumbfounded by my needs. Instead, he totally understood.

I decided to spend the month living apart at my mom’s house. Of course, it was difficult to break myself out of the relationship bubble. My boyfriend and I still texted and talked on the phone, but there was now so much time I had to fill without him being there 24/7. It was strange. And at first, it was uncomfortable.

But by the end of the first week, there was a shift in the way I viewed our month apart. Instead of only thinking of the separation as time away from my boyfriend, I began to remind myself why I was doing this: to regain something I had lost after jumping into a partnership. I was doing this for myself.

Being away from him and being by myself with paintbrushes, books, and old meditation CDs I forgot I even owned rejuvenated me. I surrounded myself with everything I had neglected while being in a relationship — including my girlfriends.

I had fears that I wouldn’t be able to connect with old friends, or that I’d lost my ability to write. But when I stepped out of the relationship bubble and focused on myself, I found that everything I loved was still waiting for me.

I woke up every morning and painted before breakfast, read long-forgotten novels (which I'd purchased but never read), and spent evenings away from social media so I could focus on writing. It was a bootcamp of sorts, though instead of 1,000 push-ups, I was spent every moment creating new things.

In a month, I had written five short stories, drawn countless illustrations, taken up photography, and painted four giant canvases.

It was a Saturday morning when I decided I was ready to move back in with my boyfriend. You know that feeling you get when you know someone really well but for a split second you get really uncomfortable because you feel like you don't know them anymore? When I walked back in the door and saw him, that happened.

But just as quickly as that uncomfortable feeling came, it left.

"I missed you," were his first words. And I could see he had. There was a homemade "welcome home" poster tacked onto the living room blinds.

That made me feel good, but what I really loved was the fact that during our time apart he had rejoined the gym and began painting as well. I knew then that I had made the right decision for not only me, but for our relationship.

A little more than six months has gone by since I decided to live away from my live-in boyfriend. We’re the same soppy couple as we were before the monthlong absence. Only now, I take a Tuesday night French class. I catch up with my friends for brunch. I sometimes spend an entire weekend in my pajamas, painting. Now, every Saturday and Sunday, we spend a few hours apart — he goes to the gym or plays soccer while I paint or write — and then, we meet later. In this small, simple way, we continue to find ourselves — and each other.

Images: Nikos/Flickr; Rachel Oakley (7)