At the end of 2019 I will turn 40. Forty: the age that I looked on in my twenties as positively ancient has finally caught up with me (or me with it!). Consequently, the other night, with myself supping a chilled glass of wine and Nat enjoying a fancy gin (complete with a flotilla of floating fruit), we got the laptop out and started to look for ideas to celebrate this milestone birthday. The odd thing was that, after an hour or so of browsing the internet, I’d decided, with Nat’s help, on a solo adventure. This decision got me thinking. After all, this is a big birthday celebration – one that would normally be expected to involve family and friends. Consequently, I’m now sitting here wondering what I gain and what I lose from solo adventures and, crucially, whether I have a bad case of selfish husband syndrome.
In many ways the decision makes sense: Nat, as much as she loves the outdoors, has no burning desire to go alpine climbing. I, on the other hand, love the idea of being able to tick this particular and iconic mountain off my bucket list. Furthermore, as I’m a teacher, Nat, unfortunately, doesn’t get anywhere near the same length of holidays that I get. This would effectively mean that she’d end up using her valuable and limited holiday time to go on a jolly with me that she wasn’t too bothered about. That in itself seems daft, especially when she has ideas of her own of where she wants to adventure next year.
On a practical level, we’d also really struggle to get a babysitter to care for our two toddlers 24 hours a day for about 10 days. Even if we did have that very generous offer, I instinctively know that if we both went on this adventure we’d also struggle to relax. It’s different when we leave the kids with each other – you don’t worry about them settling as much. I know that they’ll be great with Nat and Nat knows that they’ll be great with me. However, whenever you leave them with anyone else, particularly for that length of time – and no matter who those people are – there’s an element of worry. It’s natural.
All of this, of course, leaves me looking rather like a selfish dad. Nat has to sacrifice what will undoubtedly be an amazing experience to stay at home and look after the kids simply because I want to do something. I know that she lacks both the holidays and interest in this particular adventure to join me, so I basically realise that I can push on anyway and achieve one of my bucket list adventures.
Whilst, on the surface, that looks to be a fair assessment, our relationship is much more than one or the other of us using our opposite number as a cheap babysitter so that we can go off and fulfil our dreams independently. As such, hear me out and give me the chance to defend my solo adventures. Firstly, despite the babysitting issue (I was adamant we could cross that bridge nearer the time): I wanted Nat to come on this trip and made a point of asking her more than once. Are we, therefore, to forgo our individual interests and dreams because one person in the partnership doesn’t share the same desires? I would say, that as long as it doesn’t negatively impact upon your relationship then, no.
It’s a little bit like when you have kids. You absolutely want to throw all of your energy into being active with the kids: spending time with them until they’re sick of you, but you also don’t want to lose your identity as an individual too. Yes, I love more than anything being Jesse and Amelie’s dad and Nat’s husband, but I want people to know David too. I want them to know of my interests and ideals. Surely that a basic human need, right?
Moreover, I would also argue that in me going off to pursue my individual interests – whether it be weekend bivvying in a cave with mates or an alpine adventure with strangers – I’m going some way to achieve balance in my life which will undoubtedly have a positive impact on my wellbeing and mental health. The healthier I am of body and mind, the more able I am to be the dad and husband I want to be, surely? Again, it’s about striking a balance. As long as I don’t spend all of my available free time pursing my selfish, solo adventures then, hopefully, we all benefit as a family from the variety that each of us have.
Of course, there’s a lot for me to gain personally from solo adventures. In some instances, my solo adventures aren’t even solo; they’re just adventures without Nat and the kids. Consequently, I get to hang out with close friends who have shared interests. These are lads that, in a lot of cases, I’ve known since being a kid myself, so getting the chance to catch up from time to time now we’re all married, have kids and have jobs is pretty cool. It’s funny because I saw this post on Facebook not so long ago…
I genuinely thought how sad it was that this was the perceived wisdom about growing up. That somehow adulthood had to mean abandoning friendships and forgetting former passions. As you can see, this is not something that we have allowed to happen to us. Maintaining friendships is an important aspect of life. Sometimes it’s friends who keep you sane and laughing when all else around you is faltering. I can’t imagine that I’ll ever have a last day of playing outdoors with my friends!
This isn’t just about me either. I have always encouraged Nat to follow her own interests and maintain friendships. That’s why we work so well together as a partnership: we get each other and know when each other needs a little bit of grown up time outside of family and work life. Whether that’s a date night hike into the hills as a pair, meeting up for a drink with friends while the other one of us stays home, or one of us taking a trip to abroad to do something we want to do; it doesn’t really matter. What matters is that each of us have time to unwind, to be the individuals that we are outside of our role as such and such’s dad/mum/husband/wife. I truly believe that it makes us better mums/dads/wives and husbands…as long as the balance is right!
The last part of my defence is that although I do love the odd solo adventure, I enjoy far more sharing the experience with Nat and the kids. I have often joked to Nat that she is literally the only person on the planet that I could live with. One of my major flaws is that I have a pretty low tolerance threshold for a lot of things. I’m great with people in short bursts but I’m one of those annoying people who observes everything. This means the little things that wouldn’t bother most people, get right under my skin after a period of time and begin to itch away at me until I reach that fevered point where I contemplate scratching my arm off to throw it at said person with the annoying habit. See: that escalated quickly! Nat is the only person I have ever met who I can spend hours, weeks, a lifetime with, that doesn’t have this effect on me. She is the bright yang to my cloudy yin. This means that whenever I go out into the hills or mountains without her and the kids, I always instinctively wonder what their reaction would have been to the sights I see. I imagine the smiles and open-jawed faces of awe because, deep down, I want to share those experiences with those closest to me. Having these experiences is wonderful, but having a loved one there to share them with wins hands down for me every single time.
So, after initially being a little worried that my solo adventures were a sure sign of selfish dad syndrome, I’m now content that, with the current balance that we’ve struck,they’re not. It’s definitely one to keep an eye on though. I don’t want to become that guy who doth protest too much or too often. Anyway, as always, I’d love your thoughts on solo adventuring when you have a family life to maintain. Am Ikidding myself here, giving justification to my actions, or this all part of a healthy relationship?