I’m about to get real. There’s a new feeling that has entered my life in the past few months, and it’s not one that is often talked about. In fact, if it is, it usually incites two typical responses. The first is a look of pity followed by some mopey drawn-out utterance reserved for a weak kitten and the closest acceptable level of baby-talk that the targeted 26-year-old (me) will tolerate. The second option for a response is implying a sign of weakness and self-infliction by launching into “Well, why don’t you get out and do something about it?”, thereby blaming it on being a recluse. You’ve probably guessed what I’m referring to already, and it’s loneliness.
I’ve mentioned before how work schedules do not line up in our house. A refresher: I work a normal weekday 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., while Bill’s work week spans Friday through Tuesday from 2:30 p.m. to midnight. What I haven’t mentioned is my end of the deal on a daily basis, and I’m slowly realizing that I’m not the only newly married young wife experiencing this. In fact, even my unmarried yet coupled-up friends are feeling similar from time to time.
So here’s how it is. I’ve never had a problem with alone time. In fact, I would consider myself one of those people who needs it to maintain sanity. I love quiet things, like reading and lounging and watching HGTV. I love to go for runs to clear my head. There are definitely times that I go to our room and shut the door and just sit. I also look forward to nights in on more-than-rare occasions. I don’t like missing gym sessions, which oftentimes are derailed by plans with other people. I’ve gone to the movies by myself, I’ve eaten at restaurants by myself, and I’ve taken off on an impromptu day trip by myself. I’ve even traveled Europe for a week, completely on my own, seeing the sites and staying in hostels/houses/tents in Scotland, Ireland, Germany, and more. In a sense, I enjoy going it solo.
But this is different. When I come home from my full-time job on a weekday, the house is usually very quiet. It’s great for unwinding from the day, changing out of my stuffy work clothes, and just taking a break. On weekends, I enjoy hanging out with Bill for a few quick hours, and generally by the time he leaves, I’m content to sit and eat my carb + condiment combo (think pretzels and hummus, wheat thins with goat cheese and blueberries, water crackers and brie, pita chips and spinach dip… all the keys to my crunchy, salty happiness) to my little heart’s desire without fear of judgement from anyone but the dog. But one to three hours later, whether weeknight or weekend, something creeps in. The house feels bigger. The rooms feel emptier. The strange noises get louder. And I get more… alone.
It’s a strange thing, this creeping void. It’s almost as if our home is hollowing into something more akin to a house. Less welcoming. Less warm. Less comfortable, safe, familiar. There is more to be done and less to be enjoyed. Boredom and tediousness and echoes replace contentment and progress and laughter. And I start to feel restless, wandering through our commonwall, parking myself on some project or in front of some distraction, only to get up and try to satisfy the disquiet someplace else.
I remember the loneliness of singledom, when all you want is just to have someone to love and to love you, and you go about your business always on the lookout for the next big thing to happen in your fast-paced life. I am in no way saying that this is better or worse than what I am describing, as everyone’s experience is relative. However, there is another type of solitude that manifests when you are married. It seems to me that this heartache is born of the idea that when you find the person you want to share the rest of your life with, you picture yourself, well, actually sharing your life with them. Your daily life. The good mornings and the goodnights and the how-was-your-days. However, life sometimes interferes.
In fact, it seems to interfere far more that I expected. Maybe it’s the fear of being lame or getting the standard responses I mentioned at the start of this post, but I’ve found it harder and harder to reach out to others with the way I feel five days a week. To my surprise, though, a funny thing is happening now that I’ve made the leap to stop the downward spiral of “hiding my loneliness, getting lonelier” just for a second by taking a step outside and just observing. I’ve started to drop little bits of information, small watered-down summaries, and slightly self-deprecating jokes in conversations to see what happens. As it would turn out, other attached women feel the same way, and they are just as reluctant to divulge.
There’s the friend whose husband is currently trying out a new job across the country, leaving her and their baby at home for a few weeks at a time. Or the friend whose partner is spread pretty thin, working creative projects during the day and bartending at night. Or the friend whose husband is a charter pilot, on call for stretches of time, not really allowing for concrete plans and leaving her for days at a time at a moment’s notice. Or the friend whose husband is a director, spending three months of the year conducting three- to four-hour rehearsals after work most nights of the week. I can’t even begin to imagine how military wives feel.
Until recently, we all just smiled and assured each other we were doing okay. But the conversations are shifting. Apparently we all feel bouts of aimlessness from time to time, wondering where our partners are. We all wonder when our houses got so big and quiet, no matter how small and cozy they actually are. We all debate in our heads whether it’s worth it to actually cook or open a bottle of wine, when the former won’t be enjoyed and the latter will go bad. So we eat crackers and cheese or cereal or whatever leftovers are in the fridge and drink hot tea instead. We would all love to go out with our single friends if it wasn’t for the nagging feeling of not wanting to drink too much or worry about a ride knowing we have a home waiting for us. When spouses are working, there are no built-in rides home. When they’re not working, favors like picking your drunk ass up from the bars are not limitless. Not to mention that we’re now when we’re out, we’re the “married one”, meaning no more free drinks and no more fun conversations, which isn’t so bad… but now we’re also the ones who get ditched when something hot and shiny comes along. And crashing on a couch is no longer an option because your marriage bed is waiting. On top of that, money is now a shared commodity, and $10 drinks are not in the budget of saving up for kids and houses and rent and groceries and paying off debt from that heck-of-a-party disguised as our wedding day that you attended. All of this adds up to “it would just be easier to stay home”, since excuses for half-assed partying are still not accepted. So we bake cakes and move furniture and watch dramas/sitcoms/reality tv. We style our home decor, and then we style it again. We browse the internet and go to Target and walk the dog and vacuum the floor. We move things slightly to the left, stare, then move them slightly to the right. But these things feel half-hearted, and although are houses may be nice and clean, we are unfulfilled. Nesting isn’t as fun when the nest is empty.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I wouldn’t trade my marriage for anything. It’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. In addition, I think I made it very clear a few paragraphs ago that pity parties are not welcome here. This is merely a conversation, an observation, maybe even a therapeutic word vomit. Settling down can be beautiful, and after a year like last year, all I want to do is revel in it. But as I muse and contemplate and ponder the empty feeling that comes out of the cracks and corners and the spaces of my house a few hours into each of my husband’s shifts, I am beginning to realize the Disney Princess mindset with which my generation has been conditioned to prescribe to isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. It seems that marriage isn’t as much of a happily-ever-after guarantee as we’ve come to think of it. It’s more of a literal “for better or for worse” story that comes with actual ups and downs instead of singing birds and fireworks and riding off in carriages after sunset. It’s promising to stand by your spouse even when times are hard and you don’t have much money and nothings going right and you’re always alone. And it’s your spouse knowing that even though you are at home – alone – that you’re not going anywhere, figuratively and (more often than not, it seems) literally.
So I have a few take-aways I’d love to impart onto you.
The first is this: If you are the friend of a married person, check in with them to see how they really are. Society puts a lot of pressure on us to keep a happy face, even when all we want to wear is our sad/frustrated/tired/lonely one. The easiest way to do this is, every once in a while, suggest a night in. She probably has some wine left over from the wedding. A huge collection of chick flicks. A spread of gourmet cheese and crackers. And my bet is that she will be more than happy to share all of it, with a side of major love and appreciation.
Secondly, if you are the spouse who is always working, we know that this is just how it is. We know you have to make a living. We know you are doing the best you can. And we know that you are doing this for “us”. What we don’t know is that you appreciate us for the compromise we are making in letting you do what you want to do. And we don’t always know that you miss us and you would rather be home or out or anywhere, really, as long as it’s with us. So please, tell us. And not just once, because that monster that eats the warmth of our homes comes out everyday. Not just once, because this is our lifestyle, not just a passing moment.
Third, if you are the one at home, know you are not the only one feeling like this. We are all out here, doing our thing too. Hopefully our paths will cross and we can grab a glass of wine on a Saturday night and talk about all of this, because it’s amazing how much better it feels knowing that even though you might be by yourself, you are not alone.
And lastly… Billy, you are an incredible husband. I know that we argue about this. I know that you feel bad. And I know that no matter what you say, it probably never feels like enough. This is just a major adjustment period, both in the grand scheme of things and in the small details, and I’m working on it. If this is what it means for you to follow your dreams, I’ll do it. In fact, the alternative is not even an option in my mind. So just be patient with me, and I’ll try to be patient with you. And even though by the time I see you tonight it will have been about 52 hours (ahem, more than two days) since we last saw each other in a state of consciousness, I want you to know that I’m here, and I’ll be waiting for you. And if you’re wondering what I’m doing at home by myself all the time, it probably looks a little something like this:
Anyone want to come over? I don’t know how I’ll finish all this by myself, so I’d sure love some company.