I started to feel like I was living two different lives: One as the committed mom and one as the jet-setting photographer, all the while seriously doubting I was doing either well.
Mr. Louise is in Hawai‘i right now doing important PhD-achieving things.
For the next few weeks, it's just me and my ghost cat. So to the naked eye, and the skeptical public, I am living alone. This is not a new thing.
A few times a year, Mr. Louise has to go to do research things or PhD things in Japan or Hawai‘i. Sometimes it's a week, sometimes it's a few weeks, sometimes it's a few months. A few times in the past, it's been me who has been called away to work in another city for a while. This is our normal, this is how my husband and I do our careers.
And yes, it's not my favorite part of our relationship, but it also doesn't overly distress me. Sometimes, I really like it. I think Mr. Louise does too.
As too very independent introverts who cherish our alone time as much as we cherish the times we have with each other, our time apart can serve as a chance to do a sort of an "introvert's cleanse." I see it as getting to have an uninterrupted period of time (punctuated by "socializing breaks" with friends) to completely charge my batteries and get all the weird solitary things I like to do out of my system.
- Sometimes I enjoy moving around my apartment in near total darkness. It makes me feel relaxed and cozy. And because I'm a vampire.
- Pretend I'm the star of a cooking show and "teach" my "viewers" how to make such dishes as quesadillas.
- Sing bluegrass and old-timey country music so beautifully that I MAKE MYSELF CRY. Nobody can see this ever.
- Use one dish, one spoon, one cup for the entire day. Whereas I'll do anything to wash fewer dishes, Mr. Louise has no problem using ALL our cookware just making dinner.
- Not that weird a thing, but have hours of silence in my home. Mr. Louise likes background noise. He's the type of person who turns on the TV, then opens a book. I need aural rest. Hours of silence make him antsy. One of us always ends up having to "deal" with the other's sound issues. In our shoebox-size, studio apartment, it really is either one or the other.
I'm sure Mr. Louise has his things he likes to do when I'm not around. While saying goodbye to each other at the beginning of a two-month stint apart is one of my least favorite parts of our life, I find comfort in thinking about the TOTAL CONTROL I will have over my surroundings for a while.
But something I've noticed that is happening more and more frequently is the overwhelming concern that friends — even acquaintances or strangers — shower upon me when my husband leaves.
It's not that I don't appreciate it. To an extent.
Friends and family emailing or calling me to see if I'm bored or lonely is fine, I feel loved, cared for. Most of the people who know me well, know that I sometimes veer to extremes. Without another human in my home, I can happily stay in my apartment for a week and not think much of it. Sometimes I really do need that reminder to stop staring at my computer/Netflix/biography book, and GO OUT AMONGST THE PEOPLE.
And for that I am grateful.
However, sometimes the concern goes to a place that feels heavy-handed. Like disbelief?
"How are you doing?" is a perfectly valid question. If I tell you I'm "Doing OK, just have a ton of work to do, but am really looking forward to the hot sauce I bought with the angry, winged donkey on the label," I'm probably not crumbling in a corner somewhere from loneliness.
My friends can move on from there and ask me about the hot sauce.
But more and more I feel like people have been pushing the question. "Really? Really? I'm just worried about you. Not having Mr. Louise around must be SO HARD. Are you OK? Are you? Are you? ARE YOU?!"
How could you not be crying somewhere with a box of chocolates?
(Fun fact: I'm just not that excited by chocolate. Or ice cream. Give me a pizza.)
Is it because I'm getting older? Is it because Mr. Louise and I are like old Mallard ducks who've been together for longer than some people we know have possessed pubes?
Do people worry that this old Mallard duck lady has forgotten how to swim around and eat pond bugs on her own? (Though I will admit that a lonely Mallard duck BREAKS MY FREAKIN' HEART.)
The other day, a person whose been a decent acquaintance-bordering-on-real-friend for a couple years, really got on the worry train. "Be SUPER CAREFUL going out. Be really careful in the subway alone. Do you go out at night? Are you sure you're OK? You tell someone where you're going when you go out right?"
At first I thought he was kidding. He was not.
Uh... contrary to popular belief, I have ventured beyond the confines of my compound without a chaperone once or twice since Hong Kong was industrialized. And while I tried to see beyond my annoyance to get at the nugget of concern he had for my well-being, I couldn't help but say, "Who do you think I am? I wear trousers at least once a week!"
Other people, mostly acquaintances and sorta-friends, have expressed repeated concern over "How lonely you must be," or "Are you depressed?" or "Do you get nervous being alone so much?"
Yes, I miss my husband from time to time. I miss making fun of the Food Network with him, I miss having him talk to me when I wash my face so the demons won't possess me. I miss making up 90's TV shows while we're out and about ("Pastor Lawyer M.D." was a our latest creation). But I'm also really good at being alone.
And honestly, I go out alone in the city far more than I do with Mr. Louise. When I'm on my own and alert, I'm a lot more aware of my surroundings than I am when Mr. Louise is distracting me with the theme song for "Pastor Lawyer M.D."
Sure, the first time Mr. Louise moved to Japan for a year and I stayed in Los Angeles, I was afraid; afraid that our relationship wouldn't survive the distance. I cried, I was depressed, I read Twilight. But that was eight years ago, and he wasn't Mr. Louise then – he was Guy Louise Was Dating. I can understand if somebody saw me that first time and thought, "She is not OK."
But many periods of being a long-distance duo later, and Mr. and Ms. Louise are solid. I've grown up a lot. I have a lot more confidence in myself, in our relationship — which has grown out of being apart from my husband.
I don't think I present myself as especially dependent on Mr. Louise or anybody. Shy perhaps, but I don't think my brand of reserved translates to timid or "helpless."
And yes, I do recognize that unfortunately, as a woman in a major city, there are dangers that exist for me that don't exist for men. I do appreciate that people want me to be safe.
But the pressing, "ARE YOU SURE YOU'RE NOT GOING TO SUFFER AN EMOTIONAL IMPLOSION???" questions make me curious: do men get this much obsessive concern when their partner is away?
I genuinely want to know.
When I was working in St. Louis for a winter, I asked my husband if friends and family were checking in on him constantly, afraid that he too had picked up Twilight.
Nope. People asked if he missed me, and when he said yes, they'd say something like, "Sucks, dude," and move on.
"Did they ask you if you were 'sooooo lonely'?"
Nope. A couple of his man-friends asked him if he wanted to do "Guy's Night" type stuff, but that's it. It was a non-issue.
Huh. So is it me? Do people just like me more?
Or is there still some sort of idea that women are "a mess" when their man is away, and that men are cool with their aloneness, even "relieved" that the "ol' ball and chain" is away?
Of course, some people — of all genders — do get very sad whenever their partner is away. I understand this, and can sympathize. You are not a less capable human if you get lonely, sad, or depressed when you're apart from your Mallard duck partner. We've ALL been there.
I just wonder about the assumption of women being less capable of being alone than men.
Have you experienced any of the above? Has your partner? Is the level of "Aloneness Concern" different for you versus the concern for the man-people in your life?
Maybe you're a man who has more trouble being alone than the women in your life?
In the mean time, if you need me I'll be crying in the dark as I sing a twanged-out version of "Theme from Pastor Lawyer M.D."