There are two types of people in this world:
Those that when stressed, seek validation.
Those that when stressed, seek space.
Guess which one I am.
When I am stressed, I need reassurance from my closest friends and family. I need to vent and exhale whatever has been plaguing me. I don’t need them to solve my problems for me. I’m just looking for a reassuring string of words, a tight hug, an “I got you, girl. I’m here.”
Someone in my life that I care a lot about is the opposite. When he is stressed, he needs time alone. Not a lot of time, not for too long – just a night or two to sit at home by himself. He needs a moment to pause, exhale, and breathe. I don’t get this. I am someone who wants to latch on when I feel like I’m drowning. He doesn’t want that lifeboat of attention from friends or lovers. He wants to let go and float alone in his own thoughts.
To be clear – there is a difference between “hey, I’m stressed and I need to be alone for a minute, but it has nothing to do with you,” and “hey I’m going to ignore you and neglect you and only pay attention to you when it suits my selfish needs.” One scenario is just the person who needs quiet time during periods of duress – the latter is an asshole who should be dumped, immediately. So if you’re like me, and crave validation from others when you’re overwhelmed but are dating (or are even just friends with) someone who is the opposite, there are a couple of things to keep in mind in order to give them what they need without driving yourself to madness.
1. It’s not all about you. Nine times of out ten, I will counter this and say that pretty much everything should be for, about, or in honor of you. I think as women, we’ve been trained not to think of ourselves first, ever. Having a generous and giving spirit is wonderful – its why I have so many fantastic girlfriends and why I rarely meet a woman I don’t immediately befriend and want to invite over for wine. However, I do think we as women need to remember to take care of ourselves and put ourselves first. You should do things that make you happy, and not just concern yourself over the happiness of others. You should take charge and make decisions based on what you want, not always passively allowing others to have more say than you. You should do whatever the hell you want, honestly. But when it comes to stress, and how a partner may handle it differently than you, don’t jump to the conclusion that their moodiness, anxiety, or apathy is about you. It’s not. It’s really, really not.
2. Ask them if you can help, and then back off. If they want help, whether that’s in the form of you tackling a project alongside them or offering an open ear and caring heart for them to vent to, they’ll gladly take it. If they don’t want help, give them space. Sometimes, when I’ve had a busy couple of days with events each evening and no time alone, I just need a day to sit by myself and be bored. I can have five really great days with friends and activities, and genuinely enjoy myself and the people I’m spending time with, and still need that sixth day to just be alone. It’s the same way with those who become a little reclusive when they’re stressed – they just need a night or two to decompress and breathe. I’m going to reiterate what I said in point 1, because it relates to point 2 and is still hard for me to grasp sometimes – it’s not about you. Let them unpack the clutter in their hearts in their own space, on their own time.
3. Focus on something else. Go hang out with your friends, get drinks with that coworker you really get along with, take a dance class, eat a pizza, sniff a candle – literally, do anything else besides obsess over it. It’s so hard for me not to internalize my partner’s reaction to stress and drown myself in thoughts like “fuck, it’s you. You’re the one causing stress. You suck.” Delete those thoughts from your mind. Burn them. Then, drink a bottle of Moet in the bathtub and laugh along to a Two Dope Queens podcast. When your partner is done decompressing, they will come back refreshed and ready to pick up where you left off. Just have fun doing you for a night or two.
As hard as it is for me to wrap my head around my dude needing alone time when he’s stressed, it’s what he needs. When I’m stressed, he gives me what I need. I’ve been in the process of moving, and as many of you know, it’s an absolute nightmare. I just want to throw out everything I own and start over, because the thought of individually wrapping 1,000 different wine glasses is too much to bear. My manfriend helped me cope by running to pick up boxes for me, going with me to open houses (or going by himself and taking videos for me, when I was busy and couldn’t make it), listening to me when I was venting, hugging me when I needed to feel warm and safe. He would be deadass tired from work and presentations, and still make time to be there for me. So as difficult as it is for me to understand his need for space when he’s overwhelmed, as much as my natural instinct is to internalize it and worry we’re headed for doom, I need to give him what he needs, too. The man has made me breakfast in bed and spoon-feeds me ice cream. If one night of quiet is what he needs, I should be able to manage.