I am one who has always taken privacy in a relationship very seriously. But to my girlfriend, it did not make much sense. Sharing an incident with you to show you what I mean.
We are at a café, crowded with muted conversations and dark red drapes. Mallory is sitting across the coffee table from me looking deep into her white-chocolate mocha. We haven’t spoken to each other properly in eight months. I know she is angry but I’m unsure as to why. I could imagine disappointment, yes. Anger, no.
She raises her head slowly, looks into my eyes, as if seeking something, and says, “You’ve never understood me.” I look away. There’s never an acceptable response to that accusation except complete silence. She continues, “I don’t think you have ever really cared about me or our relationship.”
I Recognize The Importance Of Personal Space In A Relationship
“But I have, Mallory,” I interject.
She brushes me off. “It was like I existed to you only in the moments we were together. In the entire two years we’ve lived as a couple, you never once asked me where I was, what I was doing, whom I was with, whenever I was away. Is that how you show affection?”
I don’t understand at all. Is she saying she is angry, because I did not pry into her personal life? Because I actually respect personal space in relationships? That I treated her like a grown-up and not like a teenager who needs to be supervised?
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All I did was try to give her privacy in a relationship
“I respect you babe. That means I respect your judgment. Your choices. I believe that if you want to tell me something you will. I also accept that you may not want to share everything with me. So when you don’t tell me things like where you were, who you were with, what you were doing, or why you were doing it, I accept it as your right to keep your private life private. You can go enjoy all your night outs with friends and I don’t want to create problems, that’s all.
As my partner, you are accountable to our relationship only. As a person you are a free spirit and not accountable to anyone except your own conscience. Haven’t I said that before? I just take personal space in relationships much more seriously than you do. ”
She sighs audibly. Her eyes accuse me but for crimes I still don’t get to see. “It’s not the same. It’s never the same,” her voice has an edge to it now, “That’s what you will never understand.”
The last sentence feels like an irrevocable curse. Is my soul to wander this world eternally looking for understanding, never to find it?
“Do you mean I should have kept tabs on you when you were out or doing something that I was not a part of? Would that have had made you happy?”
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She was just not convinced
I search her face for signs of approval. There’s only anger there. But there’s something ambivalent about her anger. I’ve seen that look before. On kids who trip and fall and can’t decide whom or what to blame – the rock for being in the way, the ground for causing the pain or the parents who did not instantly appear to alleviate it.
I sit looking at the aesthetically defined lines of her face wondering how a love is laid to waste here. Over what, I still cannot fathom — the problem with giving enough space in a relationship. Lines from a poem on marriage by Khalil Gibran potters into my thoughts:
Give your hearts, but not into each other’s keeping.
For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts.
And stand together yet not too near together:
For the pillars of the temple stand apart,
And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.
Should There Be Privacy In A Relationship?
And I sense something close to understanding in my heart. It only gives rise to more questions than answers. Had Mallory somehow accepted the popular version of what a relationship is? Has she been sold on the morality of entitlement and ‘ownership’ of one another in intimate relationships? I thought I was dating an independent woman, but that did not seem to be the case with Mallory.
Did I, by not asking about things like her whereabouts, create a “spiritual separateness?” And that was unacceptable to a heart that believed, with a million others, in the infused ‘Us,’ that replaces the ‘I’ in a romantic relationship? Are we all aiming for spiritual servitude in marriage or should there be privacy in a relationship along with freedoms?
I am still thinking of the ‘curse.’ Would a spouse who asks more questions be more in love with their partner? When does interest become inane? When does it become pathological? There must be better indicators of love and affection between two souls, right?
One deserves the freedom to make their own choices
I am reminded of the filial bond. As a parent, we teach our children self-responsibility and self-reliance. We help them find the courage to trust their own judgment. To the best of our ability we prepare them for the world. And one day they fly away into the open world. No longer will you supervise their actions. No longer will you call to check where they are, who they are with or what they are doing. It’s important to have freedom in relationships.
You’ll treat them as equal adults who are free to lead their lives as they want. Then why would an adult consciousness regress? Why would it wish to return to that stage in growing up when parents had to keep a check on them? When the questions, “Where are you?,” “Who are you with?,” “What are you doing?,” were posed regularly? This is where my understanding breaks down and Mallory’s accusation moves into the realm of the incomprehensible.
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As adults, privacy in relationships means respecting one another
When we equate our partners’ intrusive curiosity of our individual lives as a sign of their interest in or love for us, we have forfeited our spiritual and emotional independence. If they cannot stop from intruding into the private space where we exist as individuals and not as spouses, we and our right to life is not being respected. If one is wondering why their spouse hasn’t asked about something, isn’t it more responsible to ask why one hasn’t shared the information with their spouse already? This to me, is invasion of privacy in relationships and the opposite of developing respect for one another.
What worries and bothers me more is that Mallory may not be alone in her anger. Or in her ‘waiting’ to be asked about her daily choices. There must be thousands of women and men who are simmering within, with anger they believe justified and their constant rejection of the importance of privacy in a relationship. Hopefully they will be able to explain their emotion to their partners and together seek a higher ground to figure out an equation that works best for both of them.
Mallory and I, well, we haven’t had coffee together ever since.
Space in relationships is not about hiding information from each other. It’s about not hovering over one another with unwarranted questions, opinions or retorts. It’s about trusting someone else to make their own choices and take decisions that make them happy.
Should there be privacy in a relationship? Of course. In every relationship, a couple must have their own space and energy to conserve for themselves. Even for a happy marriage – personal space in relationships is just as important.
Keeping secrets from one another is very different from the importance of personal space in a relationship. Deliberately hiding something can be bad for your relationship. But having your own personal space to grow, evolve, evaluate and change yourself is essential to your being. You can love someone deeply but still nurture yourself by maintaining your privacy in a relationship.