Flying Solo

Hayley: Finding the balance between independence and holding hands

A few short weeks after I started dating Nick, we returned home to my apartment following a night of exuberant barefoot dancing. Unfortunately, barefoot dancing and glass beer bottles are a bad combination, and I had gotten a tiny sliver of glass lodged in my foot on the dance floor.

“Let me see,” Nick said. “No!” I cried, shrugging him off. “I can do it myself.” The next hour or so tested my flexibility, and Nick’s patience, as I insistently attempted to find the glass in my foot and dig it out on my own.

“Hayley, it’s almost two a.m.” Nick finally pleaded. “Just let me take a look!”

“I don’t need your help!” I shot back. This went on for some time, until I finally burst into tears, relented, and let Nick fix my foot (which took all of two minutes). As he kissed me goodnight, he said, “You know, you’re going to have to learn to let me help you someday.”

“Fat chance,” I thought, as I dozed off. Accepting help, I believed, was a sign of weakness. I grew up in a female-dominated household, raised to believe I could do anything I set my mind to do. I changed my own tires, killed my own spiders, and assembled my own furniture. I wasn’t opposed to serious relationships and equal partnerships in theory, but in reality, I clung to my unassailable self-reliance like a shield.

Several years later, I’ve gotten a lot better at asking for and accepting Nick’s help. I happily relinquished control in some areasspider killing is exclusively Nick’s job nowand haven’t felt like I’ve had sacrificed my independence in the process. That is, until I booked my first solo trip since we had started dating.

I was thrilled at the possibility of meeting up with some of my best friends in Miami for a bachelorette weekend. It was the logistics of getting there that made me uneasy. I have a near-crippling fear of flying, and every trip on an airplane is preceded by a few sleepless nights and a fair amount of tears. I’ve tried fear of flying courses, and a variety of sedatives, and nothing seems to help. I’ve never let it stop me from going anywhere, but the gut-wrenching anxiety that accompanies each trip is unpleasant and exhausting. (Moving to an island, in retrospect, was not the best choice, under the circumstances.)

Having Nick by my side helps somewhat. He keeps track of my passport and reminds me to take the water bottle out of my backpack as we go through security. He begrudgingly helps me remove four pounds of clothing from my suitcase and shoves it all into his own bag when my luggage is (inevitably) over the weight limit. He squeezes my hand during turbulence and soothingly repeats what we learned in the fear of flying course. “Remember, it’s just like speed bumps,” he’ll whisper, as we go through the clouds. Most importantly, he gets me on the damn flight, which is no small feat in itself. On many trips, I can be found Googling driving times and car rental rates while waiting to check in for the flight, or sobbing on a layover trying to convince Nick that we should drive the second leg of the trip. (Bargaining: the third stage of pre-flight panic.)

So I know having Nick around helps. And yet, it caught me off guard when suddenly the idea of taking a trip without him left me feeling rattled. After all, I did plenty of solo traveling before I met him. There were seventeen-hour bus rides and spontaneous weekend trips; twelve-hour flight delays and lost luggage. Hell, I moved to two new states without knowing a soul, hailing taxis to apartments I had never seen before, shared with roommates I had only met via Facebook. And yes, I took flights by myselffairly frequently, in fact. So why the sudden hesitation?

Naturally, I blamed Nick for my newfound anxiety about traveling alone. He had turned me soft! His hand holding and pre-flight pep talks and soothing whispers had made me weak. Not only was I worried about the flight itself, I was worried about losing my passport, and lifting my carry-on bag into the overhead bin, and finding a cab once I landed in Miami, and getting lost on my way to the restaurant where I’d meet my friends. These were things I used to do on a whim, and now here I was, fretting about doing them without my man by my side. Who was I?

Of course, the flight to Miami was uneventful. I hauled my own carry-on bag and hung on to my passport and found a taxi, and my friends, without incident. I had an amazing weekend exploring a new city with my girlfriends, and even held myself together on the flight. The experience gave me a rush, reminding me that, while I love to travel with my husband, I am still capable of doing it on my own. Stepping off a plane in a new place, breathing in the scent of new and unfamiliar air, watching traffic whiz by on the streets of an unfamiliar city… it might be more enjoyable to share these things with Nick, but it was comforting to reassure myself that I could still enjoy these moments without him.

Soon, I’ll be putting a new twist on testing out my independent travel abilities. We’re headed to Chicago for a friend’s wedding, but because of the restrictions on the frequent flier miles we’re cashing in, we’ll be flying separately. So next weekend, I’ll kiss Nick goodbye at the St. Thomas airport as he boards his U.S. Airways flight, and I’ll board a Delta flight three minutes later. I’ll take deep breaths on takeoff and hold tight to my passport and remind myself that clouds are just speed bumps. He’ll call me from his layover in Charlotte and make sure I’m boarding my connecting flight in Atlanta. Everything will be just fine, and I know I can handle it.

But I’ll be damn glad to see his face when we both land at O’Hare.

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