I met Rachel in 2013 while volunteering at a summer camp in Banner Elk, North Carolina. According to her, she started falling in love with me after seeing how I was with kids: playful, carefree, easygoing, undistracted, fully present, joyful, silly, and super cute. That same year, she went to Ecuador for six months to serve at an orphanage, and I visited her during Christmas break. We had an amazing time hanging out with the kiddos there, loving on them, and even took a once-in-a-lifetime cruise through the Galapagos Islands. All I remember is the fun, the adventure, the excitement about all of the new discoveries in nature, and the romance.
We were reminiscing about our trip this morning while having breakfast, and I casually mentioned that I bet she wishes I was as fun now as I was back then. And we talked about the challenges of life, and the responsibilities on our plate, and how I have to go into “work mode” every day – and how I become a totally different person. Rachel then recollected the first time she saw me go into work mode; it was during our time in Ecuador, and I told her that I really needed to work for a few hours. And she said that it seemed like my emotional state totally changed. For example, she said that I became really intense (not towards her, but just in general). She shared that I became “frustrated, angry, and upset.” I don’t know how I could be all of those emotions at one time, but I trust her observations. She even said that she went outside to do some journaling on a hammock and got very concerned that I didn’t like her anymore, and that I regretted coming out to Ecuador to see her. I don’t remember any of this, of course. I had no ill feelings towards Rachel; in fact, I was falling more and more in love with her on the trip. In that moment, I actually wasn’t thinking about her at all. I had just shifted into work mode because I had to get things done.
We were reminiscing about our trip this morning while having breakfast, and I casually mentioned that I bet she wishes I was as fun now as I was back then. And we talked about the challenges of life, and the responsibilities on our plate, and how I have to go into “work mode” every day – and how I become a totally different person.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, when everyone was stuck at home together, I heard stories about individuals being surprised and even uncomfortably shocked at seeing and hearing their partner in work mode. Of course, I thought about myself and how I was with Rachel. In general, I don’t think I get more mean or upset or even chippy; I just think my brain necessarily goes to a different place that requires all of my focus, and my emotions just deaden so that I can do deep work. Perhaps every man is like that? I honestly don’t know. Some research shows that women have more connections between brain areas than men, and that men are more likely to think about only one thing at a time. This may have evolved from men performing highly specialized tasks like hunting and protecting, while women were multi-taskers. But maybe women are like this too, with their brains changing along with our culture over thousands of years.
In retrospect, Rachel wishes that I would have over-communicated with her about this, just to preempt any concerns or worries that might have entered her mind after seeing me in a different posture than normal. I think that’s totally fair. I guess I just didn’t know myself that well back then – I had never stepped outside of myself to see how drastically different my vibe is when I’m in work mode. And perhaps Rachel could have simply pointed out that I was acting differently, and asked if “we were good.” That would have allowed me to reassure that we are great and that my love for her hasn’t changed even slightly even if my intensity level rises and my mood becomes serious and emotionless.
In retrospect, Rachel wishes that I would have over-communicated with her about this, just to preventively allay any concerns or worries that might have entered her mind after seeing me in a different posture than normal.
Maybe this can help those of you who are currently single by helping you recognize your “work mode” and being able to bring it up to a future partner so they know that how you’re behaving isn’t a commentary on your relationship with them. And maybe it can help those of you who are coupled up by forcing you to intentionally think about how you are towards loved ones when you’re in work mode. Maybe it will lead to a great conversation that strengthens your existing relationship, or fosters some other breakthrough in the area of personal growth. I know that the realization definitely opened my eyes, and in the years since has made me better, and consequently us better.
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