It was 11 p.m. in Porto, Portugal, in a charming riverside apartment with glorious sweeping views of the water and cliffside. I had just spent the day tasting Port in the Douro River Valley, drinking Vinho Verde, and eating Portuguese egg tarts. I should have been reminiscing contentedly in bed about the day’s jaunts, but instead I was in the bathroom, sobbing manically into the shower as if my soul were imploding.
The First (Long) Time
My husband had been out of contact for two months while he was at a high-stress, rigorous, highly competitive training school—a program with a 95 percent fail rate the first time through that involved barely any sleep and very little food. He was the one with the struggle, but I was over here in the depths of self-created despair. What in the hell happened to me in the seven years that I’ve known this man? Two months is barely a hiccup in the span of a lifetime, and yet I was Seriously. Losing. It. Here I was, opting out of Mediterranean seafood restaurant crawls to wallow in angst, screaming into pillows over missed phone calls, writing over-sharing and sorrowful social media posts that were just… cringeworthy, and actually collapsing in tears over iffy European internet connections. What in the world was I doing?
For the first time in my life I felt emotionally out of control—on a painfully public level. When we met, seven years ago at twenty-three years old, I wouldn’t have thought there’d be a chance in all of flaming hell that I’d put on a spectacle of such dramatics over a guy, and yet here we were.
Some of the insanity, I know, came from guilt. He couldn’t use a cell phone, and I had no way of calling him back, so every missed pay-phone call from my exhausted, defeated, and demoralized husband who was going through, perhaps, actual hell on his end frayed my raw nerves. Some was from rootlessness. It had been months since I’d really had a home; we gave up our apartment, and I was hopping from friends’ houses to hotel rooms since. But the rest was dependency—on this human I’d spent the last seven years building my life upon and who now I couldn’t properly stand without.
Change is good… Until it isn’t
When we first met, he would go away for a month here and there a couple times a year. His time away wasn’t the easiest thing in the world, but his trips got more manageable for me over the years. By the time we were five years in, one year from our wedding, I thought I had the separation anxiety kicked. Then, the news: in less than a year he would be gone for months. While I knew going into our relationship that our life together would be punctuated by long stretches of separation, I never anticipated a stretch quite this long—but moreso, I never anticipated how much this would shake me to my core. In my early twenties, I was busy constructing who I wanted to be—and being someone who “hates change” would definitely not have figured into that vision. As I moved through my late twenties, however, I began forcing myself to reconcile my wish list with who I really was. I’m a Taurus, which explains so much about me: how I gain energy from the earth and nature, my love of security, my hyper-concerns about money. We’re fixed signs, snug in the middle of the spring sequence, which means we’re stable, firm, dependent, stubborn—and we don’t like change. We love routines. We love comfort.
re-learning to be Alone
It’s still challenging, but I’m grateful for the (many) solo moments my husband’s work creates for me. They’re my checks and balances—keeping me honest to myself about how deep I’ve gone and far I’ve drifted from shore on this current of partnership. They also keep me humble, and exercising my self-forgiveness muscles, because, my god. I find it hard to love the grown-ass woman who has difficulty getting out of bed because her husband’s away for two months.
The first step was distance. Distance from my relationship. Distance from the unresilient habits I’d developed while in it. Fighting back the complacency that comes with being together and wanting to spend all the time always as a unit. Finding myself at lunches alone, bar visits with just friends and not partners, nights out separately, activities that I enjoyed but often gave up because they didn’t fit into the Venn diagram of Things We Both Cherish.
One Day At A Time
Maybe this will fade? Maybe I’ll get better? It’s been seven years though, so while I used to tell myself it will get easier with time, I’ve accepted that now we’re pretty much in the territory of “you’re overly dependent and you need to consciously counteract that to maintain some semblance of maturity and mental health.” His next trip will be for eleven months. Until then? As he says, “Just get to breakfast,” a phrase he learned in his grueling training ordeal, which is just another way of saying, “Focus on one day at a time.” There will be a lot of breakfasts to look forward to, until, hopefully, I stop needing to. Breakfasts, forcing myself to travel on solo trips (Japan seems a safe place to start, right?), staying busy, doing The Things That Give Me Joy, and, oh yeah—therapy.
What do you do to create space for yourself in your relationship? To deal with a lifestyle of separate travel? What lessons did you learn, and which ones did you learn the hard way? Am I developmentally a decade behind everyone, or do you still struggle with this?