I always say I'm really good at being alone.
When my husband is super busy in PhD-land, and I'm busy doing my thing writing, job searching, working at my part-time job, or binge watching every awful horror movie I can find on Netflix, I can go for days living life much like I did when I was single, a hundred years ago.
The only time I'll see my husband during these busy times is briefly at night when we convene for a quick meal, or an episode of "Chopped." I'll say goodnight to him, "tuck him into bed," then continue to putter about the apartment doing more writing, TV watching, and interwebbing well into the night.
We're both OK with this arrangement. In fact, we like it. He gets his stuff done, I get mine -- in our own ways, on our own terms. On our official "day of rest," Saturdays, we have each other's undivided attention, without the encumbrances of work. We try really hard to BE TOGETHER when we're together.
Sometimes our friends and family ask if we get lonely for each other, if we crave a more "9 to 5" existence. Yes, we miss each other sometimes, and we send each other the text messages relaying the more interesting parts of our days, but I think we both get so wrapped up in what we're doing that "loneliness" doesn't really fit into the equation.
But there is the comfort of always knowing the other is nearby. Knowing that there will be somebody to curl up with at the end of a long day, knowing that there is always somebody there on our side. We lean on this privilege. However, there is very likely a very long break from this on the horizon.
You see, my husband is very likely moving to Japan for a year. Maybe two. And the likelihood of me going with him is growing slimmer by the day.
My husband needs to go to Japan to do field research in order to write his dissertation for his PhD. There's a small chance that he will get "The Big Grant" that covers the expense of a spouse while living there, but even if he gets this grant, I'm not sure I'll go.
It's complicated, but the long and the short of it is, I don't know if I'm ready to put my life and career on hold again.
When we moved Hawai'i, two and a half years ago, it was for my husband's PhD. Nobody forced me to come here, my husband even said to me, in all honesty, if I told him to stay in Los Angeles, our previous home, he would stay. He'd already lived in Japan for a year before, and though we'd made it through that experience, our relationship actually stronger for it, it was a really difficult year. But how could I, in good conscience, stop him from pursuing his dream?
So we moved to Hawai'i. I chose to come here. I was burnt out at my old job, I was recovering from a major illness, and I needed a change. Besides, who wouldn't jump at the chance to live in a Hawai'i for a while?
But it was hard. I left behind the life I'd built in LA, on the mainland. My friends, my career, my family, my contacts -- all of those personal connections I'd created over the years are now thousands of miles away. And as much as I thought I'd be OK with it all, that my knack for getting by alone would keep me buoyant, it was incredibly hard. For the first time in my life I felt isolated.
Sure, I had my husband, and I was and am happy for that, but I've learned over these couple years that in order for me to be a complete and balanced person, I need more.
So as his school year draws to a close, and small grants and acceptance letters for programs in Japan begin to come in for my husband, I'm confronted with two divergent paths to follow: go to Japan with my husband, or go back to the mainland alone to be with everyone and everything I hold dear -- except my husband?
If I went to Japan, it could be an adventure. How many people get a chance to live in a foreign country, potentially on the government's buck, with the person they love? I've been working with some Japanese artists while in Hawai'i, so I wouldn't be entirely without professional opportunities, and since we'd be just outside of Tokyo, I'd have a major city -- with all it's splendid chaos and energy -- at my fingertips. As I'm sure you can understand, some of this sounds very enticing. But I cannot escape the fact that I'd be there in fulfillment of my husband's dream, not mine.
Japan, as fascinating and wonderful as it is, has never been on my personal agenda. Los Angeles, my home, the place where my I blossomed personally and professionally, has been.
And yes, I know you can never really go back to a place. Time trudges forward, people move on, but the things I put on the back burner to come here, a lot of MY dreams, MY aspirations, are still rooted in there.
A friend of mine revealed to me last year when I was staying with him while on the mainland, that he and some of my other friends were seriously worried about me shortly after I moved to Hawai'i. He admitted that he had never seen me so lost. "You've always been so driven, with purpose. But talking to you in that first year, it was like everything stopped for you."
He was right. It certainly felt like I lost all momentum. The thought of going through that again terrifies me. But if I go to Japan, knowing what I know about myself and the slowness with which I adapt to new places -- never mind a new LANGUAGE -- that loss of forward motion is very possible.
My gut is telling me to stay stateside. Eventually go back to LA. Continue on the track of jumpstarting my career. Things are on the upswing for me right now, and part of me knows I'd be a fool to leave.
But am I ready to live alone again?
That year that my husband lived in Japan, and I lived in Los Angeles was at times heart wrenching. My career flourished, but I longed to share all the good things with my husband. And while I know many married people live apart, and do quite well, I have yet to hear anybody say they prefer it that way. I know I'm capable of it, but I don't WANT it.
It wouldn't be forever. In the grand scheme of things, one or two years is nothing. That year that my husband and I lived apart feels so insignificant at this point. Plus, we'd see each other over the holidays, hopefully. But I can't help remembering the acutely lonely times, and I dread experiencing them again. Is a little bit of loneliness worth a year or more of potentially feeling like my life is not my own?
So obviously I'm having a hard time figuring out what I want. In all reality, the choice may very well be made for me. It may be flat out impossible for me to move to Japan, even if I decide I want to.
I know I'm ridiculously lucky to be confronted such problems -- go to Japan or go to LA, or even stay in Hawai'i. I have options, I have choices. But in looking at the year ahead, and the uncertainty that either option presents, I cannot help but feel an immense sense of trepidation.
Just when I felt like my life was getting back on track, it's about to derail again.
Have any of you ever had to make this kind of decision? What did you decide? Have you ever had to live apart from your partner for years at a time? Are you doing it now? How do you cope?