Today, I’m excited to bring you the first installment from a good friend of mine. MissInsideOut is married to MoreAltitude, who we heard a fair bit from with his series in August. MoreAltitude, a humanitarian worker, shared from the perspective of someone who travels frequently, sometimes for months on end. This week and next, MissInsideOut, will share from her perspective as the spouse who stays behind to keep the home fires burning.
I put my husband on a plane to Ethiopia over thirteen weeks ago. This is our longest stint apart yet, never ever to be repeated. He has missed our second wedding anniversary, Christmas, the new year, his birthday, the birthdays of most of his family and the Mayan End of the World. (This was the sort of event I would have really liked my husband around for, because, as you may have gathered, he is handy in a disaster.)
Ultimately, I know, there isn’t anything unique about our general situation. Long distance relationships are as ancient and common as our need to hunt, gather and go to war. Recently I read Charles Frazier’s, Cold Mountain; an achingly beautifully tale of two lonely hearts living through a separation during the American civil war. Phew. It hurt. The mutual throb of longing. The challenges for the vulnerable Ada, left to fend for herself with no food, no money, no knowledge on how to run her farm, just waiting and watching the horizon. The struggles, snares, and wistful yearnings on the long road home from war for Inman, with no way to connect.
We are lightweights comparatively, but some of the feelings Frazier wrote about are universal. Despite the fact that we have more props than ever to manage separation from our loved ones, being apart is still a struggle and fraught with challenges. There is just nothing that can replace the physical presence of your dearest one.
I find this to be true even though I actually really enjoy my own company and have plenty of experience being on my own. I’ve lived and travelled alone, been a solo parent for 4.5 years, and my dad travelled extensively whilst I was growing up. But, while these experiences have helped equip me to survive our time apart, I love hanging out with my husband. I really, really, don’t like it when he’s gone.
In general, we find that any time apart under 2 weeks can be deemed as somewhat healthy and manageable. Beyond that, forget it. After five weeks apart we’re seriously stretched. Maintaining contact with my love and life mate at odd hours of day, or writing lengthy emails, gets difficult to reconcile with all the other demands in my life. A disconnect sets in. My legs turn to jelly from exhaustion. All the meals in the freezer mysteriously disappear. My old friend, adrenaline, abandons me and I crumple into a weary little shell of a person rather than ‘Mama Extraordinaire’.
Given that I was a solo parent before we married, I thought I would take slipping back into this solitary space on occasion in my stride. Not so. As a family we establish a healthy, interdependent rhythm. When MoreAltitude boards a plane, we wave goodbye both to him and that rhythm. I can handle this initial shift with relative ease. Our daughter, however, does not.
The challenges of being left behind
Suffice to say, having children and needing to maintain a long distance relationship makes things much trickier to manage. It can be difficult not to feel as though you are missing out on the adventure, and even more difficult not to feel pangs of resentment when you find your life resembling your own personal version of Groundhog Day.
This is particularly true between the hours of 5-9pm when dinner needs cooking, the kid gets whiney and wants entertaining, feeding, attention, washing, and more attention. And there’s just you with your two hands, one in the sink, the other manning the stove; probably a foot artfully applying a band-aid.
It becomes exasperating when your kid refuses to sleep alone for the 95th night in a row, but you know they will immediately right themselves upon your partner’s return.
Doing those evening stretches alone night after night can become overwhelming and a more than a little lonely. I’m talking specifically here about a loneliness that can only be quieted with adult company. That variety of loneliness tends to surface during those marathon evenings, or when an important decision just has to be made without the consultation or inclusion of your humanitarian husband who is in a 6 hour meeting with the United Nations several continents away.
As time wears on, daily details can really get swallowed up by the miles between us. Details of which we would normally share or witness together can be vaporized by opposing schedules and time zones. We have to work hard to keep the intimacy from flailing. But over time, a very real exhaustion can set in from the strains of doing and deciding everything solo when you are used to being part of a functioning partnership.
It’s just plain no fun.
Next time we’ll discuss ways to offset these challenges of being the one left behind, but before that I’d love to hear from you.
What do you find challenging about being the one left behind?