I suspect that among the secrets of a long and successful marriage is achieving a balance between “together time” and “alone time.”
Alone time does not necessarily imply being without company; it includes time spent with family, friends and colleagues in social and work situations that do not involve one’s spouse. That isn’t to say that a person doesn’t also need some time to be totally alone. Everyone wants some private time to commune with a book, an iPod or a pet. It’s also healthy to have some time to just sit and think, without spouse, children or boss yelling for you from the next room or office.
My wife and I seem to have traveled through every possible permutation on the alone/together spectrum during our sixteen years of marriage to date. Well, all but one. We’ve never had to live apart, thank God. I remember my parents doing that when I was a teenager. The demands of their careers took them to different states, so they did the “I’ll visit you this weekend, you visit me next weekend” thing for several years. I was already off to college when most of that occurred, but I know it was hard on my youngest sister. At the time, it didn’t occur to me how this living arrangement was affecting my parents. In the thoughtless way of teenagers, I figured that they chose it, so it’s their problem.
I thought about this recently when we learned that a married couple who are friends of ours are considering doing the weekend commute thing to maximize their career opportunities. You just have to wonder whether there’s more to it than meets the eye. Perhaps, like my parents all those years ago, they aren’t getting along with each other as well as they’d like us to think.
During the first few years of our marriage, my wife and I each did stints working the graveyard shift at the phone company. Our employer did everything possible to keep spouses off the same shift, so there were a few times when we felt like ships passing in the night. Although we didn’t have a lot of together time, it wasn’t as rough as one might expect. When you work “the grave,” the only thing that really matters is sleep.
After several years during which we both worked more normal hours and had evenings and weekends together, I was hired to work in a remote area out in the middle of the desert. My wife left her job to move out there with me, which left her at home alone all day. She knew no one and her family and friends were 600 miles away. We lived in a hick town where there was absolutely nothing to do and the nearest mall or movie theater was an hour and a half away. Unless she went to the grocery store, my wife was stuck at home. She spent a lot of time texting, instant messaging, emailing and Facebooking friends in other parts of the state and country. To make matters worse, my work left me tired and wanting to go to sleep early and catch extra sleep on the weekends. When I arrived home after work on a Friday, I generally wanted only a meal and to commune with the back of my eyelids, which would leave my wife alone some more while I snored. After being alone all week, my wife understandably wanted to get out of town and do something. We did our best to compromise, dividing our weekends between staying home and escaping.
After I got laid off from that job, we relocated back to northern California and moved in with my wife’s family. Suddenly, we found ourselves at the opposite end of the spectrum. Instead of being alone all the time, my wife couldn’t escape her family for a minute. As I was unemployed and looking for work for nearly a year, I got to witness this firsthand.
The recipe goes something like this: Grab your husband and, to save money during a period of unemployment of unknown duration, move in with your mother in a house with just one bathroom for the three of you. Your sister and her kids and granddaughter will live about a mile away. You will become the chief form of day care for your grandniece. Oh, and make that house the parsonage of a church with the doorbell ringing and parishioners and community members and the homeless banging on your door at all hours of the day and night. Wake up and stumble into the living room to find a strange woman sitting on your couch. Be awoken at two in the morning by a man standing outside and yelling “Pastor! Pastor!”
Alone time? What’s that?
We went from missing family to having them on top of us every minute. Alas, in life it is often difficult to find the mythical happy medium. There were a few weekends when we rented a hotel room thirty minutes away just so my wife could escape the constant going and running and doing for someone or other. When we first arrived here, it felt good to be tucked in among extended family; now, we cherish any opportunity for just the two of us to be together.
This past week, Pastor Mom went out of town for a couple of days, during which time my wife happened not to have any babysitting duties. She actually had the house to herself and could hear herself think for once. She says the peace and quiet was heavenly.
In about two or three months, we plan to move into our own apartment in a location much closer to my work. Not only do we look forward to putting the regimen of commuting behind us, but it will be great for my wife and I to have regular “alone together” time while my wife can have her “alone alone” time during the day. It sounds like marital bliss to me.
And if we miss the family, well, they’ll only be about half an hour away. I’m sure we’ll still spend a lot of time with them, but after all the running around, we’ll have a place to which we can escape. A place where we don’t have to remember to lock the bathroom door or watch where we toss our clothes. In other words, we’ll be able to go home.