During the middle of my husband’s first long deployment with the Navy, I flew 11 hours from Tokyo to Perth (crossing the Equator for the first time!) so I could meet him at the docks for a reunion when he got off the air craft carrier. Half the day went by as I watched my friends squeal and jump into the arms of their pilots and sailors. Finally I was the only wife left, standing alone on the dock as a river of dress whites flowed past me in search of…well you know, whatever it is that sailors look for on leave.
Finally, I spotted my husband, tall and handsome in his uniform, laughing with a friend as they navigated the customs line. I guess my face wasn’t beaming as much as I thought, because he walked right past me. Let me repeat that: he walked right past me. I had to run after him, mortified. Hours of anticipation caught up with me as I caught his arm—I burst into tears.
A perfect reunion, no?
In theory, there is nothing more romantic than meeting up with your beloved in some exotic port for a sweet but finite reunion. And it’s true; I have awesome port calls to thank for some of my favorite memories (and let’s be honest, our firstborn child).
But, as with many other aspects of long distance relationships, it takes preparation and practice to get past some of the pitfalls of expectations versus reality. For example…
Expectation: We’ll spend the day seeing the sights! Then go to dinner! Then go dancing!
Reality: He’s exhausted and sleeps half the day.
Expectation: Relaxing on the beach together!
Reality: It’s raining. And we ate something dodgy from a street stall last night, so now all we’re doing is puking together.
Expectation: A romantic suite! Room service!
Reality: It cost so much to get here, we’re staying in a hostel. And the thermostat is broken.
Expectation: A joyful reunion! Long, heart-felt chats. Sweet, relaxed symmetry. Being on the same wavelength the whole time!
Reality: We’re both on edge and aware of the ticking clock counting down to another long separation.
Expectation: We’ll just focus on each other!
Reality: The job that’s keeping us apart can incredibly stressful. I didn’t expect our entire stay in Hong Kong to be one long therapy session. Also, stress makes my husband grumpy. Fun.
If you’re currently anticipating a port-call of your own and the first half of this post makes you want to stick your fingers in your ears and say, “La la la! Not listening!” I’m sorry. But there was a point to all of that. I want to help, and I figure the best way to do that is to paint a realistic picture of what can be, and then offer some tips that may help make port calls better.
We’ve already covered realism, so here are some suggestions for shaping awesome port calls…
Mostly, these tips come down to planning for success by communicating expectations and hopes ahead of time in some critical areas. You can start by each answering the following questions:
1. What would you both like to do?
If you’re meeting somewhere neither of you have never been, woo hoo! Exciting! Fun! But also a challenge. Sure, take some tours, do that Malaysian cooking class, or climb to the top of the hill for lunch with the monks, but remember: Your meet up is about enjoying your time with the one you’re meeting. Don’t exhaust yourselves into ‘hangry’ mode trekking through miles of rainforest just because you’re not sure you’ll ever be this close to the Equator again.
Also, anticipate that you may have to change plans mid-stream. A friend of mine met me at the airport in tears one time because she’d hoped to explore a new city with her husband, only to find him reluctant to leave the luxury and cleanliness of the hotel after stressful months at sea. The difference in expectations led to frustration, bickering, then guilt at their last day together wasted being upset.
2. What do each of you want to eat?
I love Thai food, but my husband wanted fresh steaks and burgers once he was freed from the confines of the ship.
3. What are one or two things you’d each love to talk about?
What would you like to tell your partner during your time together? What questions would you like to ask them?
4. If you find yourself feeling frustrated and disappointed, remember that you’re not alone and that some of that is normal
If by day three of your port call you’re thinking, “Day two was rained out, day three we bickered through lunch, and we only have 32.5 hours left together before another three-month separation,” rest assured you’re not alone in this experience.
Sometimes it’s nearly impossible not to have your emotions and anticipation run wild, and then find yourself feeling frustrated and upset. In those times, it just helps to know this is not unusual. Fighting on the streets of Singapore during your precious three days together does not mean your relationship is doomed. It may just mean that, yes, he should have told you ahead of time he would have to work your first day together, and no, no one expected it to be so hard to find each other at the meeting spot. Cut your emotional losses, rally as best you can, and consider your lesson learned for next time. Good luck!
How about you?
What has surprised you about meeting up briefly during a long separation?
What advice would you give someone heading to their first rendezvous?
Are there things you would you try to do differently, or try to avoid?