Reluctantly Rediscovering My Independence

When long distance marriage gets a bit lonely

Reluctantly Rediscovering My Independence | A Practical Weddingby Gina Cannan

People talk about the post-wedding blues, that uncomfortable crash back to reality in which all your friends are no longer surrounding you and you have approximately two thousand thank you notes to write. In my head, I downplayed this phenomenon. We weren’t taking a honeymoon because of work constraints, so, I reasoned, we wouldn’t have been gone from “real life” long enough to be disturbed by returning to it. Two days and one thousand mile drive after our wedding, we were home. Well, I was home. My now-husband (how strange that word felt!) left at six the next morning to work on a job site a few hundred miles away. When one month came and went and he was still on that job site, I admitted to myself that post-wedding blues were a real thing.

Strange symptoms of these blues began appearing. I started talking to my dog about my feelings a lot. I stayed late at work. For once in my life, I was caught up on the mindless TV shows that I used to only watch every other week. I threw my clothes on the floor because I knew he wouldn’t be home to be bothered by them. This was not how I imagined newlywed life going.

The hardest thing to deal with was my internal monologue regarding how I was handling my de facto singleness. Hadn’t I spent a lot of years alone and self-sufficient? Hadn’t I cultivated friendships, pursued hobbies, and thrown myself into work before? My husband and I had a long-distance relationship for almost two years. I have the best memories of those two years, filled with frequent phone conversations and longing, yes, but also ski trips and wine nights with friends and a ridiculous amount of time spent watching The Bachelor with my roommates. I suddenly felt ashamed of my co-dependence, a trait I had secretly judged in other couples’ relationships. I was becoming one of those people.

To compensate for my internal weaknesses, I played off my husband’s absence to friends and co-workers. “We’re used to it,” I said airily, shrugging off another week’s passage without him coming home. What was the alternative? To admit that I missed him terribly and felt the color had gone out of everything just a little? To be jealous of other couples’ weekend getaways to see the aspens change in the Rockies, wishing we could have gone on one last camping trip before the first snow? No way. I am tough and independent and all those other things I want my little sisters to be.

During the last week of my husband’s absence, I chopped wood for the fireplace and went on solo hikes and ate cookies off the pan for dinner. I let the dog take up two-thirds of the bed, his legs luxuriously stretched out as far as he could reach them. I didn’t shave my legs. I cleaned out the chicken coop, a job my husband had pinky-promised he would always take care of. I tried my best to be okay with being alone. I wasn’t, really. I still hung up the phone after talking to him every night feeling a little letdown to be going to bed alone again. I still felt sorry for myself when my car broke and he wasn’t there to come pick me up. When he finally returned, I was almost as excited to see him as the dog (who pretty much threw his back out doing flips). And I tried—I’m still trying—to reconcile that independent, self-sufficient girl I had always believed myself to be with the woman who said, “Oh good, you’re home. The bathroom sink is broken, and I’ve been brushing my teeth in the kitchen.”

Photo by Newell Jones + Jones Photography

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  • Kestrel

    This is particularly interesting to me as someone who has been in a continuous long distance relationship for a span of 1.5 years. Of our total 5 year relationship, we’ve been long distance for about 60% of it. (College and internships really messes with the whole ‘living together’ thing.)

    I still feel pity for myself occasionally when things would just be so much easier if we lived together. While for me it’s not he sink fixing, (I’m totally that person in the relationship) it’s the other person that cares what you’re doing and actually forcing you to do it! I’m so much better when there’s someone or something that is at least relying on me a little. Keeping me in check.

    I’ve got a tendency to laze about all day if no one’s there to see me, and currently there isn’t anyone to see me except for our 9pm skype calls.

    • js

      My husband and I were long distance for two years. I love looking back on that time now because the longing was so intense and so was our time we got to spend together. I also appreciate how excellent our communication skills are now because sometimes all there was to do was talk and talk and talk. Because it was at the beginning of our relationship it also forced me to break my bad habit of moving too fast and really take my time and get to know this person. It also helped me not to fall into bad patterns where you give up all your friends and hobbies because you’re infatuated with this person and want to spend all your time with them. I had my daughter, work, school, friends and family to keep my busy and help when I really missed him. It’s great you and your partner help keep each other in check, too.

  • This could be me (minus the chicken coop). We’d been long distance before, so a three month deployment didn’t sound so bad. Except our year of long distance was three years ago and now I’m used to having him around (I greeted him with “The light in the bathroom is burned out.”) I seem to have done too good a job in downplaying how hard it was for me. It was my birthday while he was gone and I got Facebook messages from the people who normally send me cards saying whoops, they’d never gotten my new address, but have a good one, as if it never occurred to anyone that it might be a hard day for me and maybe they should put in some effort. Maybe next time I’ll do a better job of admitting to at least the people closest to me that I’m not as independent as I used to be. The way I was envious of the people on TV who got to have sex with their partners, for instance. That was a real low point for me.

  • js

    This is something I realized about myself a long time ago. I am a badass woman. I was a single mother, working and going to school full time with a life before I met my husband. My life was full, I had friends, I was happy. I still am happy, but I’m happier with him next to me. I married my life to him, and it doesn’t make me any less of a woman to admit I feel the absence of this person I have spent 7 years of my life with. It doesn’t make me less of a feminist to admit there are some things I count on him to do around the house because he is better at it, not because I don’t know how or can’t learn. I feel so passionate about this topic. I hate reading things that throw shade on women for not being independent enough simply because they have a man in their life or enjoy being married (not that this article is doing that, at all). This is a great topic to bring up for feminist month! This feels like a “dirty little secret” of badass, independent, married or partnered ladies everywhere. I’m also fascinated at how this might be same/different in gay or lesbian relationships.

    • Erin E

      This is a really interesting point. I also feel like I’ve been a badass, independent woman… and I loved a lot of my (numerous) single years. But I’ve been realizing lately that I have this desire to do less socially and more within our small family sphere. I, too, have felt kind of bad about it… like I’m eschewing my feminist ideals because I really want to spend Friday night at home with my husband, baking pumpkin bread. I’ve wondered if it’s just kind of a life phase, in a way. I had a lot of years of being very socially active and whirling with activities – maybe this new time with my baby family is my soul’s way of saying: “we’re dialing things down a bit – let’s relax and enjoy this new home and life together.”

    • Kudos to you for holding that truth about yourself. I wholeheartedly agree with you – you don’t stop being a badass because you love and miss someone.

      Occasionally I still have trouble remembering that fact when I think of my living situations. I think to myself that I should have spent more time living alone and soaking up the single life. But in reality, the one summer I lived by myself (my roommates left after graduation, and I stayed until August), I hated it. Granted, I also hated that all my friends had moved away and I still had coursework to finish. But I hated being all by myself at home. I need other people around me, and I prefer to have my favorite person around me. That doesn’t make me dependent, it makes me badass for knowing my needs and taking care of them.

    • Class of 1980

      We wouldn’t blink if a person was consumed by grief because their spouse died and was never coming back. Why is grief not supposed to happen when someone’s spouse is absent a long time?

      Even animals show grief when someone they love is gone.

      It’s just LOVE and feminism allows for love.

      • Jess

        “…feminism allows for love.” THIS PHRASE. Over and over again…

    • catherine

      See, I’m on the lesbian side, and I totally feel like a housewife a lot of the time, and I’m not ashamed to be so dependent on my partner. There’s nothing wrong with, as you say, marrying your life to someone – you’re building in a family member that you get to choose! So I don’t understand why it’s not okay to miss them when they are away..or depend on them for things around the house. That’s why it’s a partnership! We’re BOTH manning this ship. If I was single, I’d have my own ship, but I’m not.

      • InTheBurbs

        THIS! I love having someone besides myself that I can count on. One of the bazillion reasons we’re married is that she enjoys doing some of the life things I despise and vice versa.

  • This is something I struggle with occasionally. Most recently it was the past five weeks. Between business trips and personal travel we were only seeing each other on the weekends, and it reached a point where he missed home, and I missed having a busyish house with Sportscenter on when I got home in the evenings.

    However, the weeknights he was gone combined with the weeknights (and one weekend) that I was away lead to me starting a new scrapbook to document our wedding, honeymoon, and first year of married life. I discovered the awesomeness that is Scandal (how did I not know how cool this show was??), and I was able to really figure out how to make an evening routine with our cats, running, and housework really work for the both of us.

    Now, we’re having to reintegrate, in a way, because there is a many-week hiatus from business travel, which is nice. It means things are back to semi-normal routine-wise. We’re just having to figure out how to adapt to the colder-than-normal fall temperatures!

    • Jess

      just commenting to say YES to scandal. It’s a great show to watch with your partner, or without (says someone who sneaks episodes when she’s supposed to be waiting to watch them together, and is definitely not me). She’s inspired me to get a kickass wardrobe and drink red wine while wearing white. :)

  • As a Military Spouse, the comings and goings, frequent absences, and feelings of singleness are a common part of my life. Having a spouse that relishes both my self-reliance, AND my utter girlishness, there is often feelings of conflict when it comes time for him to leave. I know I *can* do it, but he’s my partner in crime and he’s SUPPOSED to be there for me, right?
    The craziest part about life, though, is how during one stint of absence you can rock the feelings of singleness, hang out with your girls, eat cookie dough for dinner and feel totally awesome about life, and yet when the next one comes around you’re left feeling paralyzed, like someone has removed one of your limbs.
    I guess that’s fitting though – this person you’ve chosen for life is suddenly not really there and you have to grieve this change a little bit.

    And hell, you can always make up for the crap upon homecoming ;)

    • js

      I’m so sorry! I was trying to exactly this comment. Military spouses are the biggest badasses ever!

    • Gina

      I SO hear you on the different ways we react to stints of absence. And kudos to you for being a military spouse– that is the hardest, most thankless job ever and I respect you SO. MUCH. for your sacrifice.

  • sara p

    My relationship (not married) looks a lot like this sometimes. Every few months my boyfriend will be gone every week for weeks in a row. I get really used to having a lot of time to myself, but I hate it and wish he’d just be home. It doesn’t help that I’m still relatively new to the town we live in and don’t have any friends here – still working on that.

    Thanks so much for sharing.

  • Jessica B

    And once again APW hits it at the right time.

    I feel this whole thing so hard. Thank you for letting me know I’m not alone in the new marriage/”absent” (not by choice) spouse, and trying to rock independence even though I haven’t been single for more than 6 months since I was 16 years old. The whole “the colors had gone out of everything” is very similar to a phrase I said to my husband when I expressed my concerns about him leaving.

    I chose to be with him because I like my life a whole lot more than when he’s not here. That doesn’t mean I can’t be by myself, it means it’s just not as good.

  • Eve

    Talking to your dog is totally normal. When you start listening to your dog, that’s when the troubles start! :)

    • Maria

      “Listening to your dog” reminded me of this amazingness:

    • Jess

      I’ve been working from home lately and started to say “bless you” to my dog when he sneezes. Then I judge myself…


      • Meghan

        Well that’s just good manners! :-)

  • catherine

    I gotta admit, I kind of get excited when my fiance has a work dinner or something…I watch my Lifetime, light the scented candles that give her a headache, do things online i never do like look at clothes and totally girl-out, make a nice dinner for myself..of course a few hours alone at night is totally different than a month apart! Ouch, that’d be hard!

    • Jessica B

      There’s a section in “The Time Traveler’s Wife” where Claire (the wife) talks about when her husband is gone (time traveling), saying how sometimes she’s glad when Henry is gone because she gets to do what she wants, but she’s always, always is happier when he’s back.

  • Marit

    This post really hit close to home for me. I’ve done the long-distance marriage newlywed thing for almost a year now. My dog hogs the bed and it is SO hard not to get jealous of the other couples out there who get to go to the lake on the weekends together. I’m tearing up just thinking about it.

  • Tamar

    YES. This is such a weird, confusing state of being. During the couple of summers we’ve spent in different cities or the week-long work trips (mine or his), I feel like I shut my life down to make the days go faster. And then I get so frustrated with myself for wasting precious days. I know I’ve asked him multiple times over the long distance phone calls- “What did I used to DO before we got together?” Because I can remember the go-go life full of friends and parties and all night movie fests, but I can’t remember what I used to do when it was just me, hanging around the house.

    I did some serious scientific studies into which T.V. shows I like and he hates (there aren’t that many, but I did find Gossip Girl), so now when he’s gone, I binge watch. This is something I do alone that we’d never do together, but it’s still mostly shutting my life down, alternating between being at work or holed up on the couch at home, watching other people’s (totally realistic) lives.

    The problem is that all the things (all of them, hyperbolic truth) are more fun to do together, and as you so accurately said, it’s like “the color ha[s] gone out of everything just a little” to do them apart.

    The nice (?) thing is, I know for a fact that we end up falling into the same habits while we’re solo (he’s binge watching Workaholics), so score one for gender equality (and/or the seduction of the media).

    • js

      Ok, first a disclaimer: I don’t have all the answers and am totally guilty of watching Grey’s Anatomy on the couch ALL day and not even showering sometimes in the Long Distance Years. The thing I did then that I think everyone who is in a relationship where you spend time a part (because it’s hard, no matter how much time it is) is that I didn’t say no. Come over and help you decorate for your son’s birthday? Ok, sure. I’m there. Take my daughter to Target for “just us” time and soft pretzels? Absolutely. Try a belly dancing class at the Y with some co-workers? It’s pay as you go, so why the hell not?! I stayed busy and made sure my life did not revolve around his phone call (if you’re a military spouse and your calls are once every month, ignore me). I am happier-hell, he is happier-when my life is full and busy. I heard something a long time ago that stuck with me and I’m paraphrasing but the guy who wrote “He’s Just Not That Into You”, (ok, not the best book for feminism month. My bad.) said that when he met his wife, the thing that attracted him was that he had to keep up with her. She had this full, amazing, interesting life and he felt lucky to be included in whatever she was doing. All this being said, I just celebrated my 1 year anniversary this weekend by lying around the house watching TV and eating pizza and that was awesome, too.

      • AshleyMeredith

        ““He’s Just Not That Into You”, (ok, not the best book for feminism month. My bad.”

        I read that book (or at least flipped through it in an airport) and I disagree! I think it’s a lot more strong and respectable and feminist to know what you’re worth and how to read the situation and not sit around deluding yourself. And then you follow it up with what the guy said about his wife (cool fact), which sounds pretty feminist to me.

    • Gina

      I think this is just it. I always promise myself I will acquire some new skill or make those days of absence meaningful in some way. But too often I end up watching back-to-back episodes of Downton Abbey and waiting for him to get back to do “fun” things!

  • K

    I’m still dealing with this 3 years in! When my father last visited, I asked him to help me hang up an organizer in the pantry. As I explained the project, he said that he must have messed up raising me because I should know how to do this. I blurted out, “but now I am married,” and we laughed. I did this type of project (and more) before getting married and having a child, but now I ask for help. My mom laughed, too, and said that I have so many other things to do now that I should ask for help.

  • Meaghan W

    I really liked this. My fiancé and I have been long distance for 3 years and I an unapologetically excited and relieved that that will be over soon. I don’t care if that makes me less “independent” I’ve been independent for long enough.

    • js

      And sometimes, aren’t you just tired? Tired of being brave? Tired of being alone? Tired of being the only parent who is amazed when your child does something small you think is miraculous? Tired of having no one there at the end of the day who cares that you had a bad day? Or that there is no one there to cheer you on as you put together that damn shelf from Ikea or whatever. Where does it say that to be an independent woman, you have to be alone?

  • Alena Lewis

    This is an excellent article. Well written and is truly written from the heart

  • Jess

    I’m going to add the other side of this, because it hasn’t been said.

    I’m the one who leaves. I voluntary get on a plane week after week and spend nights at a plant or at a business dinner and sleep in an empty king size bed. I don’t get to watch shows that I want to watch, or spend time with my friends (new city-mostly don’t have any to see even when I’m home, only hour long phone calls here and there), or cook a dinner that I’d like that he doesn’t.

    I’m as independent and alone as it gets, and I’m working and out in the world and battling for that… but at 10pm, I want to be home and letting him cook whatever he wants to make me and sitting on the couch holding his hand.

    How do I balance the woman in steel toes fixing machinery issues with the woman who cries at the airport when he parks the car in the ramp so he can be there at the baggage claim and see her five minutes earlier?

    • Tattered Notebook

      Same situation here. I’m often in not-so-comfortable places sometimes in what other people will call unsafe places as a security and peace researcher. (My husband once joked that now he knows how it feels to be a military spouse.) I am the one who occasionally travels and lives out of my backpack.

      In so many ways I feel very lucky and blessed to have such an understanding and supportive husband. He has never asked me to take some time off work or to lay low for even just a while. But it pierces me that I know he can’t sleep well every time I’m away so he spends all those long hours in the office tiring himself to death. Car rides to the airport or bus terminals are always sad. Seeing him at the arrival area waiting for me, sometimes with a flower or a gift makes me the happiest wife in the world. What bothers me most are the times when I should be there, physically, for him like when he gets sick and he has to call his family for help. I should be the one doing these things and I’m just not there.

      Will it ever be possible to be both the driven, committed, passionate career woman I’ve always hoped to be and the loving, caring wife who’s always there for her husband that I want to be? Or is this a case of something’s gotta give?

  • Sarah

    I’m echoing many other comments here but there’s nothing wrong with longing for your partner, even if you’ve chosen to be separated because of work or school. So what if you *can* do everything yourself? I feel like I put in my time being single and making tough decisions to end relationships that didn’t work. And if I was still single or ending a reltionship I would still be fine being on my own. But I’m married now and I want my honey to come home to me every night. Is that so wrong?

    It does cross my mind from time to time, say when I’m sad that my husband has to stay late at work, how many people would love to be in my situation, or how I would have loved to be in that situation when I was separated from my boyfriend by an ocean and 7 time zones. And then I think it’s nice that I still want to see him so badly and it’s just awesome that I still break into a huge smile when he walks in the door at the end of the day.

  • RJ

    I think it’s perfectly OK to both

    (a) – be a badass independent woman who is completely able to be independent but also misses her partner and enjoys it when s/he takes on tasks that you don’t enjoy. It doesn’t make you a clinging vine or incomplete person to miss another person, and enjoy some division of tasks.

    (b) – love your spouse so very very much but want a break from them now and again

    For me P!NK sings about it so well in “Leave me alone / I’m lonely ”

    Lyrics here:

  • Jennifer

    This was an amazing read.

    My common law partner and I are in long distance relationship with no end in sight – and there may never be. Thanks to his successful law practice, and me refusing to give up a life and business I worked hard to create after losing myself in a crappy first marriage, neither of us will be moving anytime soon. We’re more than okay with working hard to make a three hour distance not keep us from being happy. We get to see each other at least once a week, and usually have multiple days and nights together every other week, but no matter what I tell my friends and family about the awesomeness of a “part time” marriage, I still get lonely as soon as his presence is gone.

    When I’m laying in bed, eating ice cream from the container and watching marathons of The Hills, or when I’m running around the province for work without having to worry about getting home in time for dinner, I think man, this relationship KICKS ASS and we are GENIUSES. Knowing he’s just a phone call away and will drop everything to talk to me makes me feel secure but independant.

    Of course, when it’s snowed and I’ve spent an hour shoveling the walk, or when the dogs want out in the middle of the night or when I’m running down the street in my pyjamas after the garbage truck because I forgot once again it was garbage day, I always end up in tears, cursing both of us.

    I spent too long in my first marriage, lost and with no idea where I started and he ended. I spent too much time with no idea who I was, or what I wanted, and worked too hard to be “us”. And now, even though sometimes I curse while standing in the street in fuzzy purple slippers and a stinky bag of garbage in my hand, I think I’m so lucky to be in a relationship that allows me the space to truly know myself, while also giving me the chance to know what I can be as part of a team.