I finished a book recently about life as a single lady, and while I’m no longer technically single, I spent nearly 13 years of my adult life unattached. Conversely, I’ve only been in my relationship for about 3.5 years. So I have all kinds of habits that were set in early in my independent adult life that are conducive towards all the parts of living and spending time at home alone, and don’t quite mesh with living with another person. It’s a challenge for both me and the Boy, but one things that has turned out to be a side benefit of having those “independent-single-person-oriented-habits” is that he has the kind of job which requires him to travel a lot for work.
Having a partner or spouse who travels for work can be difficult in any case. If you spend all your time together, and suddenly they’re gone for either long stretches of time, or else at semi-regular intervals, it can feel like your lifeline, your source of amusement beyond work each evening, has just evaporated. In this situation, it would be easy enough to just mope at home and feel sorry for oneself. But this is the wrong attitude to take – if you want to be able to thrive in a life where your partner is travelling, then you need to figure out how to make more of your life too. For me, this is a combination of two things: first, I get to fall back into those solitary habits that I developed for 13 years and do things the way that I always used to. I eat meals that aren’t healthy or could even really be called “meals” – if I don’t have to feed someone else, cheese on crackers can be good enough. Or else a plate of butter and cheese spaghetti, often frowned upon as childish and not a real meal, suddenly is a valid life choice because there’s no one there to say no. I can also watch the television shows that the Boy doesn’t like or watch without feeling like I’m excluding him or work on an extensive and large craft project (hello giant blanket that I am knitting!) without feeling like I’m physically crowding him out.
Alternatively, this is the best opportunity to reach out to friends and family and stretch beyond your coupled self. I know that I am too often guilty of ignoring the friendships that I nurtured in my single days as my primary source of social connection. When your person is out of town, this is an ideal opportunity to reach out in those relationships. Of course, if the only time that you invite a friend to happy hour, or dinner, or to just get together is when your person is away, that’s going to look bad. So the key here too is balance – using the travel time as an opportunity for reaching out, but using these times as jumping off points for continued socialization. And the reason for encouraging these friendships is that if something happens – these are your people too. It’s easy to get caught in a self-contained relationship bubble, but things happen and you will find yourself needing support and nurturing outside of your enclosed unit.
Sometimes when the Boy travels, I get neither luxuriantly lazy single-lady behavior, nor fun times out with friends. There are nights when we are scheduled to have the girls, and it turns out he has to travel, or else has a work event, and so I am left with the task of the evening going-to-bed routine, and sometimes even taking the girls to school in the morning. This is not super fun. Putting children to bed isn’t difficult, but when you’re not the regular person who monitors this time of evening, children will try to take advantage – perhaps not by brushing their teeth correctly, or begging for more pre-bedtime reading, and even pushing bedtime farther and farther. Mornings can be especially difficult with a pre-teen who is both sleepy and reluctant to get out of bed, and also sassy about what morning routine tasks she has or hasn’t done. And this is to say nothing of the fact that my own regular work schedule gets altered because of when drop-off for school has to occur.
There are benefits, though. A friend whose husband also travels extensively recently told me that she uses the times that he is gone to really dig in at work, and not worry about staying late – no one is waiting for her, and she can really focus. I too have done this when projects gear up at work, and it’s a good thing to be able to say, “Yeah – no problem”. Additionally, frequent travelers tend to get benefits that those of us who never travel for work barely get to imagine. The Boy has had both airline AND hotel status for a while, which means that he earns more miles and points for every stay, and while those are paid for by his work, the benefits go directly to him. We have been able to take advantage and travel fun places with minimal cost, again by sticking with travel programs that are within his network. Finally – there is that old saying of “absence makes the heart grow fonder”, and I can report that at least in our case, it’s very true. Whether it’s 24 hours, or a few days or even longer, I often find myself missing the Boy and wishing he were home, and I’ve been told by him that while he enjoys his travel, he often finds himself excited to get home and be reunited as well. And that feeling of seeing someone who you have missed, who has also missed you and finally being together again? It’s pretty special.
So, in this day and age when more and more people travel extensively or frequently for work, I know I’m not the only one out there who has dealt with this situation. Who among you can tell me what strategies you use for coping when a partner is traveling for work and you’re left behind? Or has a secret benefit that I’ve forgotten to mention? Let me know – it’s always nice to have that “aha!” moment.