WHEN I DECIDED TO GO TO ICELAND last year with two girlfriends, the reactions I received fell into three camps: Incredulity. Slight disdain. Or, plain old abject horror. Sometimes, it was a super fun mix of all three.
I was traveling without my husband, you see. My new husband, whom I’d just married that very May, six months before my impending trip. And people had some opinions about this.
The most common question I got, by far, was this one: “You mean you’re going ALONE? Without Alex?” — to which I’d shrug, or chuckle, or maybe say something to make the other person feel more comfortable about the whole situation. But, inside, I’d always leave the exchange vacillating between one of two feelings, neither of which felt very good: on one hand, I’d tend to get pretty worked up and angry about the inherently sexist nature of this question. After all, not only does asking such a thing imply that there’s only one way to travel when you’re married (that is, with your spouse), but it also insinuates that, as a woman, I’m somehow incapable of going places without a man in tow. Um, pretty sure Alex has never been asked this question in his life. (He hasn’t; I just asked him.)
On the other, more complicated hand, I’d occasionally experience a strange sense of, well…guilt. Which isn’t to say that I believed I should feel guilty, exactly. More like, when enough people quietly admonish you for something, you inevitably start to feel like a child who’s done something wrong — even if you’re not sure what that something is.
Marriage on our terms
I’d ask myself, Should I feel weird about leaving Alex at home to go travel with my girlfriends? And then I’d think —wait a second. “Leave” Alex at home? I’m not exactly “leaving” him anywhere. We enjoy traveling together, but traveling is definitely more my thing, and we’re both totally fine with that — no one’s abandoning anyone behind in their dust, by any means.
Most importantly, when I’d start to feel the society-induced guilt coming on, I’d try to remind myself how my own marriage works. Oh yeah, I’d think, we kinda have our own thing going here, and sometimes that makes people nervous. I don’t mean that in a holier-than-thou way, as if our marriage is somehow better than anyone else’s. I just mean that we consciously entered our union with a strong sense of practicality and mutual pragmatism — it was really important to us to come up with our own concept of marriage, apart from what society deems de rigeur. We love each other very much, but our union isn’t overly romanticized, and we don’t seek from each other all the answers to our soul-driven questions. We’re not looking to become two parts of a whole being (gross), or even to share all of our life experiences.
I kept my last name. Alex is more willing to be the stay-at-home parent. We occasionally go out to bars without each other. We spend a healthy amount of time apart, as well as a healthy amount of time together. And I like traveling without my husband.
This is what makes our specific partnership work.
For me, I think, so much of this is rooted in the historic loss of identity that women have always experienced, and continue to experience, when they make the choice to wed — dowry or no dowry, there’s no denying that it’s harder for a woman to remain true to herself once the proverbial ring’s been placed on her finger. Which is precisely one of the reasons I’ve never been keen on Marriage, the Institution. I’m still not keen on it, to be frank. Though I love being married to Alex, I also intellectually recognize (hypocritically, perhaps) that the modern-day institution of marriage stinks to high heaven for women, just like it always has. (If you don’t believe me, the studies are out there — lest we forget, these lawful unions do take place firmly within a patriarchal society, after all.)
So, yeah, I’ve always been really cognizant of the loss-of-identity thing, and it’s always scared me on a molecular level. Luckily, I have a husband who totally gets all of this, and fully supports me continuing to do the things I love to do.
And, I love to travel
I don’t love it in a casual way, either; rather, it’s been a full-throttle, til-death-do-us-part affair since I was nineteen, when I studied abroad in France for two semesters during college.
I was so scared to go away like that. I’d been on one trip out of the country before, to Argentina to visit my grandmother’s family, and it was pure magic. But this? This was different. Girls like me, girls from small-town Oklahoma who’d never used a subway system or been to an art museum — we didn’t do things like live in France for a year. (Such a silly and defeatist thought, but this was the refrain I would constantly repeat to myself.) Somehow, though, I just knew that that cold pit of fear in my belly meant that I had to do it. And, of course, it absolutely did.
Since then, I’ve done my fair share of globetrotting, both with and without my husband. And while I love going places with Alex, the truth is, as a married person, I’ve found a unique bliss in traveling alone or with friends. In a world that is forever attempting to fuse my identity with my husband’s, there are few things that make me feel more like myself than navigating a new country and culture, all on my own.
Because travel is mine. In France, at nineteen, it awoke a fire in me that I always knew I had, and it’s been the consistent catalyst for some of my life’s greatest experiences to date. None of that changed when I got married, and none of it ever will.
In her lauded story collection, Slouching Towards Bethlehem, Joan Didion famously wrote, “I think we are well-advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be.”
Traveling without my husband is how I keep on nodding terms with myself: who I used to be, and who I want to become.
This article originally appeared on On Your Terms and is republished here with permission.