Either through design or default, odds are that at some point in our lives we will be alone. We can rail against the inherent unfairness of our circumstances or we can maximize the opportunity and blossom in the experience.
At least part of the distinction of whether being alone will be tragic or terrific lies in the reason for the aloneness. A Bridget Jones type search for Mr. Right and fast approaching spinster-hood may mean desperation and despair are the order of the day. The euphoria and freedom felt by a recent divorcee is the polar opposite. The loss of a beloved through death will exacerbate feelings of loneliness and sorrow.
Is the period of being alone temporary or permanent? Is it short-term or protracted? Is it the result of gut-wrenching soul-searching and a conscious decision? Or is it the result of someone else’s decision and action? Is it the means to an end – a retreat or sabbatical? Is it job-related and therefore a non-negotiable, necessary evil?
In my mind the degree to which we can control our own destiny is the single largest determiner of state-of-mind. Equally important is how we choose to react to those circumstances and matters outside of our control. Auschwitz prisoner Viktor Frankl was not able to prevent his incarceration and torture but he was able to control his thoughts and triumph over circumstances that have destroyed others. The same ability to choose our response to what happens to us lives in us all.
I choose to maximize my use of my husband’s absence by using the time alone to pursue a university degree, write, paint and be still. The fact that he is earning a living driving a truck into the United States and is gone for a week or so at a time is vastly different than if he had left me for a twenty-five year old. It was a joint decision. After 31 years of marriage we have the maturity, trust and prudence to know that for now, for us, this is a good thing.
Like for many of my friends in similar situations with work-away spouses, there’s a tangible, unspoken-of, upside to these absences.
Freedom. And empowerment. The freedom to organize our days in ways that suit us. The freedom to pursue interests and hobbies unfettered by spousal demands. The opportunity to make decisions quickly, unilaterally, decisively. The ability to eat, sleep, work, and play on your own timetable and to meet our own needs. The chance to be “numero uno” and enjoy it.
I have had friends complain that when HE comes home, he has the nerve to sit on her side of the bed. Or has different expectations of the children resulting in clashes over discipline. He’s been away so he feels magnanimous when the little darlings act up. She’s been with them 24/7 and knows the rules of engagement and heads are going to roll. She’s had to deal with the dental appointments, parent/teacher interviews, fund-raising and car-pooling and frankly resents his “just dropping by” interference in her domain. Juxtapose that reality of resentment with the newly widowed woman who would do anything to have her man back again to snore or drop his dirty socks beside the hamper. That woman would be grateful to argue over how to handle the kids.
In my own case, when Roy leaves for Texas or Kentucky or Chicago I feel an odd mix of relief and “call to order.” The need to step up to the plate and be in charge. It is almost as though I live in limbo when he’s here and then spring into action when he’s gone. I’ve noticed the meals are sparer, healthier when he’s gone. I wake up earlier and accomplish more. I answer the phone and deal with whatever comes because I must. There’s no one else to delegate it to.
That is not to say that I don’t love or miss him. After all these years of marriage I’ve come to rely on him for laughs, vehicle maintenance, a warm bed and sex. I rely on him as an escort, a chauffeur, a confidant, and a handyman. I rely on him for help parenting our grown children. There is a distinct relief in having someone special to share both the worries and the joys. These chunks of time spent alone have deepened my love for this man.
I choose to use the time and space to continue re-discovering who I am and why I am here. I choose to blossom. I choose to maximize being alone. For that, I’m profoundly grateful.
*Reprinted with permission