Monday, September 19, 2011

Monday Marriage Matters: Travel

My husband travels a lot for work - not a LOT a lot, but enough that I spend a certain number of nights alone.  And the thing about being alone is that well, it's kind of annoying. It's super-frustrating to cook for one person, and not have anybody to do the dishes.  But it's kind of liberating.  Because I can eat junk food, like frozen waffles and boxed mac and cheese, and eat stuff he doesn't like, like broccoli, and watch crummy television and go for long runs after work and sleep late.  Sure, nobody does the dishes, but I don't have to do them either. I can leave all the dishes until Friday morning and do a mad fit of dishes before my husband gets home.  (Don't worry sweetie, I don't.)

The main reason I don't really like being alone is something I probably should be ashamed to admit as a, y'know, Grownup: I am afraid of the dark. I mean, it's not the dark so much as I'm really creeped out generally when I'm alone.  When my husband goes out of town, I paranoidly check all of the closets; I have to have the TV or radio on because otherwise I interpret every creaking of every beam in our 100+ year old apartment as something going on.  This also leads to my staying up waaaay past my bedtime watching Daily Show reruns for company.

There are a few other strains that one of us or the other traveling (because in the past it was me) puts on our relationship - when one of us works late, or works nights, like my husband does when he is out of town, it's really hard to touch base.  We talk once or twice a day, for about five minutes, pretty much to make sure the other person is alive, the house is still standing, and to finalize any weekend plans, etc. that need to be made.  It's just really hard to have a long conversation when there is a manlift backing up in the background of a conversation.  It always feels like that episode of the Office where Pam and Jim keep calling each other and can't quite connect.

The other thing that's sometimes a problem is when a last minute trip comes up and we already had weekend plans, which means that he gets home and then we're off camping or to his folk's house for the weekend, or we're throwing some kind of party and the house needs to be sparkling.  It's hard to shift gears suddenly from not seeing each other to spending all our time together, and I always come out of it saying something like, "I just need some space right now!"  Usually, eventually, we settle down and he does the laundry and I make dinner, and then we eat together and get a chance to actually enjoy each other's company, but sometimes that takes days.

Does anyone else have a traveling spouse? How do you keep in contact and make it work if you can't talk regularly? Any suggestions for good single person meals? Bonus if they involve broccoli.  I'm not a big soup person though, so I'm reluctant to make a batch of soup and live off of it all week.


  1. So, I have a husband who travels a lot. And when I say a lot, I actually mean a lot. He's flying home today from a trip but will be gone again by next weekend. So far this month he's been gone more than he's been home by about 2 to 1.

    I also harbor that little "scared to be home alone" fear like you, I lock and relock the doors and keep all the lights on and try to drown out the sound of an impending intruder with music until I worry that I won't hear the intruder because of the music so then I'll sit in silence. When he first started traveling, I'd really miss him. I'd count down the days until he got home, and try to talk to him as often as I could. It'd be lots of "I miss you"'s and "When are you coming home?". Sometimes on trips more than a couple days I'd get lonely and cry on the phone, which I know just made it worse.

    But at the same time, I'd eat macaroni & cheese for dinner and I'd work my way through the Netflix streaming queue and watch all the weird documentaries I knew he didn't want to see. It was kind of fun.

    After him traveling now for nearly 2 years, and it has majorly picked up in the last 8 months to where he's traveling nearly constantly, that has changed a lot. I finally (and I really mean like just in the last 2 months) have gotten comfortable at being in our house alone at night. I use his time away to do a little bit of cooking experimentation, because if it turns out bad he doesn't have to know about it. The time that he's gone now flies by, and I usually remember the day he's supposed to come home "Oh, B's coming home today. Cool, I guess." I honestly think that the time we do have together is better because of all the time we're spending apart. It feels really healthy.

    Some days when he's gone, we text and email constantly. Other days we don't talk the whole day. We're over the talking on the phone at night thing, especially because he's sometimes on the west coast and has late night events. I didn't talk to him on the phone the whole time he's been in Texas.

    I don't have any suggestions for good single person meals, I sometimes make a quick stir fry with the frozen wild rice steamers and some precooked chicken but that's the extent of my culinary skills. Oh and also, I often use the time to hang out with friends that I would otherwise not see because I was busy hanging out with my husband. It's win-win for us.

  2. Lady, I feel ya today! My manpanion and I have gone through a variety of arrangements:

    1. After I graduated, he took an extra semester at school, so I worked full-time in a different city.
    2. Once he had graduated and moved in, he worked at a consulting firm and traveled 4 days of the week.
    3. One assignment as a consultant was in our city, so we had a glorious 6 months of daily cohabitation (glorious is probably too strong of a word, it took awhile to get used to it).
    4. After switching jobs and then getting laid off shortly afterward, he took a temporary job in another city.

    Long story short, we've been doing this together-on-weekends only thing for awhile. But we still haven't worked it all out yet. I definitely feel you on the "shifting gears" weekend-mode.

    Some things that help:
    1. Weekday phone calls: We have those 5 minute quick calls, but *try* to have at least a 15-20 minute conversation a few times a week. I'm not much for talking on the phone so it can be really difficult for me. Some weeks we try to do it at a certain specific time; other weeks we just wing it and squeeze it in where we can.

    2. Food: I'm no good for recommendations here because I have a terrible habit of eating out for lunch and then having something incredibly un-meal-like at dinnertime (like peanut butter and crackers). I also get kid food like chicken nuggets and heat them up in our toaster oven.

    3. The weekends: We try to not fill up our weekends with plans whenever possible. This is easier in the non-summer months. We like to just sit around and hang out, maybe go to a movie or brunch - basically just making up for not seeing each other all week!

    This also makes it easier for that "getting to know you" transition that we have every weekend - no pressure to put on a happy face for your friends and family - I can be as weird and emotional as I'd like :)

    I know that we "don't have it as bad" as people with "real" long distance relationships, but it's still a tough situation to deal with. Trying to make a set of priorities like talking on the phone or "doing" something together (watching a TV show at the same time, etc) really helps.

  3. I feel like I'm really lucky not to have a traveling spouse, even though it wasn't something I had much of an opinion about before I met B.

    I grew up w/a traveling father. It wasn't so often when I was younger, but VERY frequently as we all grew up and he became a CEO of a large, international company. It had it's perks: I went w/him to Australia, he brought back cool gifts and good stories, etc., but it was hard to stay connected, even in this age of AIM, e-mail, and int'l cell phones (this was pre-skype). He lost track of a lot of our day-to-day activities... when someone's calling from overseas, it always feels kinda silly to me, to say "well, then I walked to the library and got some books, and then I had a sandwich for dinner..." etc. but weirdly, these are the little threads that, accumulated, seem to give us a sense of being close to a person.

    I traveled for about 3 weeks every year during grad school, sometimes w/no phone, so B and I would just e-mail. It was good and bad: I felt very free to just experience things and not try to figure out what times to call or worry that I hadn't heard from him. And it made for a great reunion. ;) But I'm glad it wasn't more often than once a year. Having done long distance for a solid amount of time, it takes a lot of effort to recreate that feeling you get when you reconnect over dinner or talk in bed before falling asleep. Sometimes it's impossible, schedule-wise, and then I'd be left feeling empty and a bit sad. It's like: you're not single, but you don't get to enjoy a lot of the perks of being w/someone either (talking about hardcore long-distance here).

    Don't get me wrong, though - I like a little time apart now and then. B often works weekends, which is a bummer, but at the same time, I enjoy my alone time. And it also gives me a good chance to drive up and spend time my family for a night or two.

    Oh, and as for broccoli, I used to heat up a baked potato in the microwave (prob. not great, but saves an hr+ of baking) and then steam some broccoli and eat it with cheddar cheese. Mmm.

  4. Blahh. *its perks. It had its perks (pet peeve).

  5. I will definitely have to come back to this post (and the comments) when husband leaves for Afghanistan next year (at that point the war will have been going on for what, almost 11 years? Ugh). Not seeing him for 7 months will be a huge adjustment.

    As sad as I am that he will be gone (not to mention how worried I'll be about his safety a lot of the time), there are a couple of things I'm trying to be positive about, like cooking for myself. I actually love cooking for one. I can experiment, I can use ingredients he doesn't care for, and I don't have to worry about having a sit-down dinner most nights (not that we have instituted a rule or anything, but it's a ritual we like to keep up - at the peril of my waistline). I'm also looking forward to seeing my friends more often and taking some classes. (Again, the parenthetical qualifier: not that I can't or don't already do those things, but I definitely do them less often now than when I was single.)

    As for broccoli recipes, here's a great one from Mark Bittman that I make all the time (in several variations). His calls for broccoli rabe but I usually use just plain old broccoli or broccolini. I also usually use bulgur, as Bittman does, because it cooks so quickly, but the formula is basically just: whatever type of whole grain you like + whatever green vegetable you like + some kind of nut(s). You can jazz it up with lots of other veg too. Also, it's great with or without the Parmesan called for in the recipe.

  6. As the spouse who does the traveling, I am often on the other side of this scenario. I get to deal with the guilt of leaving my husband behind to take care of our furbabies and our house while I am away. I am often traveling to some overseas location that leave a 12 hour time difference between us. I try to call home (via Skype) at least to say I arrived and then once during my stay, but it can be difficult with such a large time difference. Even with week-long trips, the reunion can be less than perfect especially when you add in some serious jet lag! We both make an effort to make the away time as painless as possible. He does not make me feel guilty that I do not call more often. I try to be less of a B*&%^$ when I get home and am jetlagged! I sometimes evny that he gets time at home alone as that is a very rare commodity for me.

    Reading these comments make me feel a little more guilty about my travels! At least I am in a travel lull at the moment and can use the time to think of better strategies for our times apart.

    As far as broccoli is concerned, I love to stir fry broccoli with snow peas and beef. Considering you do not eat beef, you could substitute with tofu or some other meat alternative. :-)

  7. I don't do well alone either, which is strange but too complicated to really get into here. So instead of dealing with the theory I'll just delve into the practical. Freeze small portions of meals that you make while he is home -- just double the recipe or make a bit more than you need.This way you can reheat a single serving when you're alone with no extra work involved. This is what I do for the Cowboy, and it works for us without having to live off of soup. (and we don't even have a microwave!)

  8. Ahhh, I am so afraid of the dark still. Mostly what scares me is mirrors at night. When I was a kid, someone told me scary stories about seeing Bloody Mary in the dark in the mirror.

    Anyhoo, the Beagle travels a lot. I always look forward to the first day or so, and then get lonely really fast. I eat like crap. I let the apartment fall apart. He's about to leave tomorrow for a 5-day trip. I am going to try not falling into irresponsible mode this time. Wish me luck.