The perfect relationship. The perfect mate. The perfect marriage.
SG and I on our wedding day, Nov 2011
Do these things exist? Perhaps they are merely chimeras that distract us from the more distressing realities of adult relationships. When people are ready to discard the fairy tale and acknowledge that relationships are messy and hard and not as constantly satisfying as the diamond sellers' commercials would have us believe, they are faced with the daunting task of sifting through their relationships past and present. Eventually you have to pick a place to stand, and if the fairytale is the only genre you wish to attach to your relationship, likely you will end up standing alone.
This is not my "perfect relationship." In my perfect relationship, my partner and I get to be both together and apart in relatively equal portions. We nearly always have the opportunity to express our affection in ways that feel good - hugs and kisses, holding hands, a neckrub at the end of a hard day. When we're apart it is only for long enough to remind us to appreciate each other's presence.
I find myself continually needing to relearn the lesson of letting go of "perfect" and being happy with what I have. Some days it is easier than others. On this Valentine's Day it is particularly challenging.
I find the most difficult part of being married to someone who works for long periods on the road is getting used to being a ping pong ball flying between paddles labeled ALL and NOTHING. When he's home, he's home 24/7. When he leaves, I'm on my own.
When he's home, he wants to help with everything. I don't know if that's just that he is a person who gains pleasure from doing all that he can for the people he loves or if he's assuaging some level of guilt over not having been able to be physically present, but my husband doesn't want me to have to do much when he's around. Like every couple we each have our preferences for the kind of chores we prefer to be stuck with, but even if there are few tasks I usually end up doing, he carries the bulk of it. Meals, laundry, dishes, dogs, getting kids out the door to school. I had to beg him to stop feeding my horses so that I would be able to have a chance to see them every evening. In the mornings all I'm responsible for is getting myself out the door. I come home in the evening and if he hasn't already got dinner on the table he suggests we order something; never does he expect me to come home from work and cook. He picks up things he knows I like at the grocery store. I'm spoiled rotten and I know it.
When SG is gone, I build my own routine. My days, while lonely, have a comforting rythym. I am much more disciplined with my time when I am the only one home to tend to things - dishes and laundry get done, things get picked up, meals get made and animals get fed. There isn't much wiggle room for lollygagging in the morning, so I quickly learn to be efficient and not play so many games on my phone while I'm eating breakfast. The kids and I turn into a cozy little team. I involve them in the decision making a little more, we have more one on one time. I try to find things to depend upon them for so that they learn to be dependable. I remember to appreciate not only how spoiled I am by my husband but to be appreciative of my independence and ability to take care of things on my own.
Usually it feels like I've no sooner gotten into the swing of my routine when my husband returns. It is a period of adjustment for both of us -he's been on the road with only his own needs to tend to. We've both gotten used to having time to ourselves. Its really hard for me, I think harder because at least SG gets a break from people while I'm at work. I, on the other hand, spend almost no time alone in my own home. Between mid-December and yesterday the longest I was alone in my house was one Sunday when SG went to church and I didn't want to go.
But when he's gone, the loneliness can get unbearably difficult. There is an ocean of difference between being alone by choice and being alone because you can't be with the people you love. When the kids are also gone, the first few hours feel like heaven and the rest of the time feels like punishment.
No, this is not easy.
I'm not alone because my husband doesn't want to be with me. He's just as lonely as I am when he goes on the road, at least once he gets beyond those first heady days of enjoying his solitude. He misses those hugs and date nights just as much as I. If it were up to me I might not have picked a career on the road for my husband, but isn't my choice to make. I might be happier if he were here, but when he had a less-than-satisfying job that kept him home, he was really miserable. I'd far rather have a partner who feels good about his work and his contribution to our family than one who is miserable and angry and feeling trapped.
I know there are people right now who would be thrilled to have a two-income household even it meant their partner had to be somewhere else for a little while. So I'll take my first-world problems and I'll remind myself to continue to find positives so that maybe the bad days won't roll around so often.
Valentine's Day can seriously kiss my first-world ass this year.