M goes away for work a lot. Even during his PhD he was away a lot, and I have always had people commenting/asking me how we made it work (I’m stubborn, fairly independent and non-clingy, that’s how) because not many relationships that I know of involve one person being away so often. Sometimes that questioning feels critical – as in “how/why do you put up with it?” Maybe I can answer that a bit.
In the last 6-7 months we have been in Vancouver, M has been away twice to Europe for work, being away about 4 weeks the first time and 3 weeks the second time. It’s a long way to fly and costs a bit, so of course you don’t want to go for just a short stretch. This away-quite-often lifestyle has its up and down sides. A couple of days before M leaves, he gets a tiny bit clingy (but he will never admit this so don’t ask him). I don’t – until he is about to walk out the door for his plane and I realise he will be gone for a few weeks. Then I get a bit sad. As a lot of people seem to wonder how this whole scenario works, I thought I’d share how it works for us (note, this is my perspective only, I’m sure M has a different view on things, and ask any other couple who has a relationship like this and it will be different for them too).
I get to eat Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, chocolate and whatever else I feel like when I like, without sharing, or having anyone telling me that’s really enough (it’s a bit like being a kid and your parents go away and you get into all the things you aren’t really allowed to). I get to sprawl across the whole bed and take all of the pillows. I get to go to bed when I want without anyone complaining they aren’t tired yet and what are they gonna do. I get to wake up super early and start working/typing/mucking around without waking up the person next to me. I don’t have to cook if I don’t want to. It’s my choice entirely what movie/tv show I watch. No one is asking me to bring them a coffee in bed in the morning! There is a lot less laundry to do. I get to see friends more (I don’t have a lot of friends here yet, but from previously, as well as now, I definitely get out more with them). I spontaneously say yes to invites I get (which I would probably say yes to anyway, but when M is home it is simple courtesy to at least run it by him first, and I expect the same in return). You miss each other so you really look forward to seeing each other. There is always the potential for a little present on his return (even if he bought some duty free alcohol for us, it still feels like a little present). We have so much to talk about when he gets back (even though we speak/message on skype most days when he is away). You really talk to each other and this pays off and continues when he is back too, as your communication gets better. You get that little buzz when you see them arrive at the airport/off the train after not seeing them for a few weeks. We appreciate the time we do spend together.
It can be lonely, especially when you don’t know a lot of people. I work from home a lot, so I do miss the interaction with people I was used to, and when your buddy goes awol for a few weeks, it simply can be a bit lonely. There is no one to cook for me, or for me to cook for, which means I often just don’t cook. I get a bit bored because my built in friend isn’t there and often find myself feeling I have to find something to do (it is acceptable to spend the day in bed watching movies when M is here but somehow it feels terribly lazy when he is away). The bed can be cold. It takes a lot more effort for me to go out and do something on my own (e.g. go boarding or cross country skiing) because it takes a little bit of effort to get there and I simply enjoy these things more when I share them with someone. Sometimes I get cranky when M gets back because he is disturbing the routine I got into when he was away. I get excited when he is coming back, only to have jetlag steal him away from me while it is still day light (right how he has been asleep for an hour already and it’s only 6pm). Prior to M going away, I expect him to spend time with me, not out doing his own thing or working extra, and I get quite strict about this (although I’m not sure this is a downside or simply a reasonable expectation).
And on the flip side, I also go away for work sometimes (not as often however) or fly home to see family without M, and he never complains.
So for those of you who have wondered why I put up with it, I think the positives outweigh the negatives. We communicate better, we miss each other and look forward to seeing each other, we still get that buzz to see each other, I get time to focus on my friends. Sure it can be tough at times, but being joined at the hip all the time wouldn’t work for us. I don’t say this lifestyle works for everyone, because it depends on your personality and how much you trust each other too. Of course I’d prefer M didn’t have to go away so often, but he does, so we make the best out of it.