I’m going on the trip of a lifetime without my boyfriend. All anyone asks is how he’ll survive without me

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I was relatively late to the world of solo travelling. While most of my friends spent years backpacking around and hopping from one hostel to another during uni, it wasn’t until my late 20s that I headed out into this wide and brilliant world on my own.

As soon as I did, I was hooked. I travelled up the West Coast of America. I drove to Broken Hill and back. Then, very much bitten by the Aussie travel bug, I spent four months driving alone around this Great Southern Land.

Then, at 35, I met my boyfriend and my solo situation shifted. Suddenly, I found someone I wanted to travel with and experience different adventures with.

Melissa Mason has been travelling on her own for years.

But occasionally, I miss the exquisite aloneness that comes from travelling by myself. When you go it alone, you have full autonomy. No one vetoes a five-hour round trip to see a historical artefact. No one talks on a sunrise hike when you’re immersed in the sounds of nature. No one rushes you. You get to experience everything in the way you want to, and you only have to accommodate yourself. Yes, it can be lonely and expensive – mostly when you realise you can’t stomach the mysterious odours of another 12-bed dormitory again – but the benefits far outweigh the negatives.

As my partner and I started to plan a European holiday earlier this year, I raised the idea of going a month ahead of him so that I could spend some time on my own in the Greek Islands. Though he was completely supportive and excited for me, when I mentioned our plan to other people, the most common initial response was, “How will he cope?”

As an adult man who has been living out of home since he was 18, holds a steady job, has his own friends and knows how to cook (or at least knows how to Google recipes), I feel confident in saying that he’ll cope just fine. But if the roles were reversed, I don’t think he would be asked the same question. He’d probably be met with slaps on the back, questions about the trip and excited remarks. Friends might say I’d miss him, but the word “cope” wouldn’t make an appearance.

I’m sure no one who raised concerns intended to imply that it’s my job to care for him as if he is a child who is incapable of fending for himself. It’s just something we say because it’s just something, deep down, we still believe: That adult men need female partners for survival.

This is, obviously, incredibly sexist. But the reaction didn’t surprise me. We still assume women in heteronormative relationships hold not just the home together, but also her male partner’s life. Even when that partner shares housework and cooking duties, and cares for the dog, as mine does, the ingrained patriarchal attitudes that are built into our cores still exist. And if I’m noticing those attitudes deep within me, then they’re evident in others, too.

For better or worse, solo travelling is on the rise. According to Webjet, between April 2022 and March 2023, there was a 78 per cent increase in Australian solo travellers compared with the year before. That means more women, both single and partnered, are heading out into the wilderness on their own than ever before and more men “coping” on their own.

For years, there was a long-running joke in our family that if Mum went away, Dad would perish. “He can’t even boil an egg!” we would say. But it wasn’t really a joke at all because the truth is he would have been adrift. Dad grew up in a time when women were expected to take on all the home administration, to the point where male partners never learned to, well, boil an egg. This wasn’t Dad being a selfish husband; this was the social fabric. Just as he never learned to cook, clean or wash up, Mum was taught to take on everything and never ask for help. Together, Dad’s dependency was a joint creation, just like most other couples of that era.

While most people today would be firmly of the opinion that both partners should share the domestic load, we still cast men and women into these roles. Yes, we want equality in the home, but we also expect and plan for inequality.

I feel good about my decision to travel alone. I will help my partner with some of our communal responsibilities before I leave, but it is also not my job to keep him alive. Just as it was with my parents, the shared independence within my relationship is a joint creation. I’m not “leaving him to look after himself”; he’s not “fending for himself” in my absence. He’s an adult who will exist in one place for a month while I do the same in a different place.

Being in a relationship shouldn’t mean feeling guilt for living independently. And if my partner was able to survive up until we met, I’m sure he’ll survive four weeks.

Melissa Mason is a freelance writer and contributor to The Age.

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