Savoring Simple Domesticity

The part of my vacation I miss the most is the simple domesticity of living with people I care about. We took turns making meals, divvied up the chores a bit, and just generally took care of each other in a pattern of behavior my life has been missing for the last two years. Getting each other drinks, warning each other about bugs, comparing notes about discoveries on our walks, helping each other cook and clean, and the sometimes frustrating dance of having more people than bathrooms. Simple stuff, really. The daily whatnot of cohabitating. Not always peaceful, not always directly and purely positive, but involved in other peoples’ lives in a way I haven’t been in what feels like ages.

I’ve gone to visit a friend a bunch in the past two years, sometimes for almost an entire week at a time, but that always felt different. I was always a guest rather than a cohabitator. I was always in someone else’s living space rather than sharing a space with someone. That sense of mutual ownership might seem like a small detail, but it feels like an incredibly important one given that I feel the rules of guests and hosts add a level of formality my midwestern soul can’t quite relax in. Plus, if one person knows where the dishes go after you’ve washed them, it makes it difficult to try putting them away for fear of putting them away wrong. If everyone is learning about the rental unit’s strange storage systems together, then there’s no real sense of putting something away wrong. Instead, it becomes an act of discovery as you and your companions shout across the rental unit about where this particular spatula (which is different from all the other spatulas) belongs since you know it doesn’t even fit in the drawer with the other spatulas and spoons.

Being comfortable around people who are comfortable around you is super underrated. Sure, being able to not ever think about work was nice, as was being far away from my home and all the noise of the city, but I’d give all that up if it meant I got to just be around people I care about and who care about me every day. I’m not a person meant for my current level of isolation from other humans, despite my teenaged self’s fervent desire to be a mountain cave hermit of some kind, and this vacation was a reminder of that. I may not have the energy and social fervor for meeting new people and going out like an extrovert, but I definitely don’t rest as well when I’m alone all the time. Being able to just be around people is good for me, even if I’m not interacting with them much. And being able to do stuff with people any time we want is also incredibly good. I get that some people don’t mind being entirely alone and that some people feel a genuine need for direct attention or interaction, but just having people nearby is all I need. Given how much better I felt about my life from day to day, just as a result of being around people, I’m pretty confident I need to start working on that before almost anything else. The only problem, of course, is figuring out what else I’ll need to do to make that happen.

As I go back to my solitary habits, to washing just my own dishes and making all my own meals, I find myself missing the small frustrations of finding other people’s dishes in the sink because the person who left them there detests washing the dishes. Or of finding the refrigerator completely messed up so that I’m forced to dig through it to find whatever I wanted. Or of realizing all my groceries got put away while I was unpacking the car but that some of the stuff that was supposed to stay in the fridge wound up in the freezer. It can be incredibly inconvenient, sure. It can make dinner a real chore if suddenly you’ve got to thaw stuff on top of cooking it. But it is also a sign of other people being invested in your life or an opportunity to provide the same for other people. I don’t mind doing the dishes most of the time, so it was simple for me to wash whatever was in the sink when I finished up whatever meal I was eating. It was worth it to not need to make coffee every morning or to not need to put effort into figuring out what I was going to eat for dinner most nights.

Now, as I try to figure out how to make that a part of my everyday life again, I find myself feeling the familiar ache of loneliness that has continuously risen and fallen over the course of the pandemic. It feels a bit less awful right now, since I know exactly what solves it and can stop wondering if it’ll go away if I fill all my evenings with online social activities, but the small sting of it will hopefully keep me focused on finding a long-term solution to it since I can’t go on vacation with my siblings and friends every few weeks. It would just get too expensive, even if I was working instead of taking time off every time. Rentals aren’t cheap.

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