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I'm Married But I Feel Single

I keep reminding myself that everything is temporary.

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Illustration of a husband leaving for work while wife is lonely in the house by herself.
Chiara Ghigliazza
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It happened late one night. I let my teenage son drive us home on his learner’s permit. A tire blew out. He swerved frantically. On a busy highway. At 11 p.m. My first instinct was to call my husband. But he was 3,000 miles away. This was our norm. I was a married, but single, parent much of the time.

My husband and I joke that we’ve been married for 30 years but have only lived together for 20 of those years. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. The day after we got married, he left to complete his training at the FBI Academy (an unexpected twist that occurred during our wedding planning). I found myself back home, living with my parents and sleeping in the same bedroom I had grown up in. I was a newlywed, but suddenly alone.

I didn’t know it at the time, but this experience would set the stage for our marriage. As an FBI agent, my husband’s job often took him to distant places for extended periods, while I stayed behind with the kids. There were career opportunities that were just too good for him to pass up, so I was often on my own.

It was shortly after we settled into our first home together that my husband was sent off on a 60-day assignment. The dog and I fell into a routine of lonely nights lounging on the couch sharing spoonfuls of peanut butter. Over the next few years, before we had kids, this would become our routine. I quickly became resentful of his traveling. Although much of the time it was strictly work, there were meetings in party cities like Vegas and Miami. He was busy with work while I was busy waiting for his call. So, when the phone call finally came, sometimes not until the next day, I lashed out. I believe my anger was fueled by jealousy. I felt deserted. And yes, I occasionally also felt suspicious, which (fortunately) was unfounded.

Once we had kids, it only got worse. I would get downright angry when he told me he had a trip coming up. So, he stopped telling me until the day before he was to leave. He’d swear he had told me about the trip but I think it was really his way of avoiding an argument. My jealousy got the best of me. I wanted to be able to travel to great places, dine out every night, sleep in hotels, and escape from my toddlers. It didn’t feel fair.

On September 11, 2001, he was overseas. I called him in a frenzy telling him he needed to get home. He was not exposed to the panic in the U.S. media. Should I go pick up the kids from school? Should I keep them home? Were more attacks coming? I needed the man of the family to protect and guide us. But he didn’t feel the urgency I did. He would remain overseas for three more months after volunteering to work the case from abroad. He is nothing if not loyal.

Don’t get me wrong. He’s a great husband and a great father but simply chose a career that kept him away from home often. And I was very proud of his dedication to his job and his country. I know that military families are separated for much longer periods of time, and it’s a lifestyle I certainly empathize with.

He returned home and we settled back into family life. But soon, he was offered another position that required him to move to Washington, D.C., far from our home in Florida. I tolerated it because he was climbing the (government) ladder, which meant more money and more prestige. He came home at least once a month and the kids and I “went to visit Dad” as often as possible. We made the most of this lifestyle.

As the kids got older, my emotions subsided and stress replaced jealousy. (Looking back, I think it was a maturity thing.) My son, who was always a straight-A student, let his grades slip. I suspected it was because his father was gone so often. I panicked and quickly enrolled him in counseling. It turns out, it was just teenage apathy and had nothing to do with the separation. But still, raising teenagers without my husband around daily was exhausting — mentally and physically. When he was out of town, I took his place at baseball games and golf matches. And piano and dance recitals. And ER visits for broken bones and asthma attacks.

Fast forward a few years and we finally hit our stride as empty nesters. My husband retired from the government and we were living in California. We were loving our carefree lifestyle and just enjoying our time together, picking up for last minute weekend getaways or spending long lazy weekends binge-watching. Then, my mother had a stroke and I found myself moving back to Florida to help take care of her. Once again, we’d find ourselves racking up frequent flyer miles and comparing calendars to get together. But our marriage is stronger than ever.

The busyness of raising kids was a good distraction and helped pass the time, but being a solo empty nester is definitely lonely and has a new level of stress. Recently, I had to make the grueling decision to say goodbye to my beloved, dying dog. I swore I wouldn’t be able to do it alone, but I had no choice. And then I installed a new garbage disposal all by myself (yay me!). I recently realized that my nightly glass(es) of wine was a crutch, just a way to fill the time. So, I’ve challenged myself to dial that back. Nights and weekends are not easy, but I keep reminding myself that everything is temporary. Someday soon, I know that life will settle down and we’ll be together again full time, free to enjoy our empty nest.