Absence and Hearts

Lately, I've been reflecting on marrieds choosing to live apart.  I'm realizing that I can make a significant list of couples in our circle of friends and colleagues who spend months of the year apart, or even who live apart in a semi-permanent condition.  The primary cause of this for the people that I know is the strange nomadic demands of life with an oil service company, but it's almost certain that military couples experience this to an even greater degree than we do.

While I was in university I had a professor in university who lived in Milwaukee and taught in both Milwaukee and Madison.  Her husband was a professor in Texas.  I thought they were crazy.  I no longer think they are necessarily crazy.  I don't think it's the easiest way to go, but it can really suit some situations.

This winter I went home to Minnesota on an extended visit to friends and family.  I had been in Calgary for almost a year, and was still desperately homesick.  My husband and I knew that I needed to go home for a long visit, or I might end up just going home, period.  My first stop was a week at my parents' place to help them move and to visit.

At a party with their friends, one woman (who had been mightily over-served at a previous engagement) was rude and aggressive to me about leaving my husband for such a long period of time (around five weeks or so).  She questioned our marriage, his loyalty in the face of my absence, my commitment to our relationship, our decision to not have children, and my decision to not contribute to the household (work) during this time.

Prior to this conversation, I had normally enjoyed this woman, in the other brief conversations I had had with her.  At first I was polite; she was a grown-up and married, so I tried to explain.  It was clear that no delicate explanations would convince her, so I grew more direct.  In her view, my role was right next to my husband, regardless.  In my view (and my husband's), I should not have to abandon friends and family for such long periods during a time when he was too busy to come home.

Finally, in exasperation, I asked her if she had ever moved.  I don't think she has has every lived outside of the one-hour drive radius from where she lives now, as a woman near 60.  In my heart, I knew that I was doing what I had to do to survive, thrive, and be a stronger partner, but even so, I felt angry for the next 48 hours after the encounter.  Even after she apologized to me prior to leaving the party.  Surely she doesn't even remember the conversation now, but clearly I still think about it.

Last year, prior to this year's trip home, my husband and I lived separately for four months due to conditions in our life related to his job. During that same period, another couple elected to live in two different states for three years due to the conditions of their two lines of work.  Ultimately, his work sent him out of the country for a year unexpectedly, so if she had given up her dream job in order to remain close to him, they still would have separated for a year.  Another couple with a fairly new baby experienced a separation of some months when his work also sent him overseas unexpectedly.  Stories like this in my husband's line of work are pretty common.  My understanding is that military families go though separations that are frequently of quite long duration, and get paid far less to do it.

Additionally, sometimes career change separates couples.  One of my friends, who is married to a former co-worker of my husband's, will be living separately from her husband in order to make her new law enforcement job work together with her husband's new law career.

My mom's friend had the impression that I was abandoning my duties and risking the health of my relationship with my partner.  That pattern that I see causes me to realize that to be the kind of partners the women in my generation want to be, while also having the kind of careers that we want (and that our partners frequently not only encourage but want us to have), cause us to choose unconventional ways to be together (and even therefore apart sometimes).

My choices, and those of my friends, to live separately from their partners are brave and modern solutions to tricky (and sometimes inflexible or dated) work structures.  Plus, a little absence, supported by the relative ease of travel and improvements in communication tools, can actually spice up a relationship sometimes.  Maybe my mom's friend was jealous.