I've always envied those couples who say they've never spent a night apart during their marriage. It seems so romantic, particularly in this modern world, to be able to return to each other's side every night no matter where the day has taken you. Sadly, Jim and I certainly will never achieve that goal. We've spent many a night apart, not necessarily by choice, but simply by circumstance. For many years, his job required him to travel, sometimes for weeks at a time. And when I became more heavily involved in musical groups, I often traveled for outstate performances or festivals. So over the years, we grew somewhat accustomed to being apart.
I say somewhat, because no matter how many times we were separated, we always felt a rather disconcerting sense of emptiness - a strange disconnect with ourselves. There's an old legend about lovers, something about each person having another part of themselves that somehow splinters away during birth. The story goes that we are then constantly searching for our true love, the one person who is actually our cosmic "split apart."
Whether that's true of us or not, there is a very definite sense of emptiness about life when we're apart, a kind of cold space (like they say ghosts inhabit) when we're living in different places. There's no one to snuggle on the couch and watch reruns of Everybody Loves Raymond with me, no one to kill the centipedes that pop up occasionally in the bathtub, no one whistling incessantly while they're shaving, no one to sympathize with me when my boss is micromanaging things. And while we may not always be consciously aware of it, we've both noticed that life is simply more stressful without the familiar presence of our mate to act as a buffer against life 's vicissitudes.
Fortunately, in the past few years our separate traveling has diminished considerably. Last month when we went to Florida, I had to travel a day early, and that was the first night we had spent apart in - well, probably a year.
But I've been remembering those other times because my son and daughter in law may soon be separated for a while, the first real separation since the years of their courtship when they lived in opposite hemispheres. They're a close couple in nearly every way, both homebodies who like to spend most of their time together. Brian works at home too, with Nantana a quiet, comfortable presence in the house during the day. Certainly internet phones and email make long distance relationships easier than in the "old days," when we had to rely on land line telephones with exorbitant charges for long distance. But they can't replace the physical companionship you become accustomed to when you share life with someone. So I suspect if they do end up spending this rather significant period of time apart, they will feel a definite void in their daily life and routine, not to mention in their hearts.
Of course, there are benefits to missing someone. I can't deny the truth of that old adage...absence does make the heart grow fonder. You tend to appreciate someone more when you're deprived of their presence for a certain amount of time, and all those little irritating habits (like the aforementioned incessant whistling) become quite endearing when you haven't suffered through experienced them for a while. The reunion is always sweet, and it's fun to enjoy that honeymoon like feeling again, fun to recapture that sense of wonder you felt in the early days of your relationship when being together was like the greatest gift in the world.
But, remember the part of the marriage ceremony (at least the traditional one) where the minister says, "what God has joined together, let no man put asunder?" That's a powerful invocation to the notion of split aparts, isn't it? Finally reunited with that perfect other half, it seems such a shame to put asunder that perfect whole, to split apart for even a few cosmic moments. And so when I think of all the days and nights Jim and I have spent apart, I wonder if I'll someday regret them, count them as a huge loss in the grand scheme of our time together?
The strength of a relationship comes from the accumulation of experiences, good and bad. But life is defintely easier when both halves of the whole are one, when the ragged edges of daily life are smoothed by the presence of that one person who best knows how to make the pieces fit.