merchant mariner families

...a highly unusual, sometimes maddening,
but mostly comical way of life.

April 09, 2013

staying afloat

     Ok, so I was going to write something amazing this week, but then I read something even better and just had to post it as soon as possible!  Lindsey, an incredibly articulate woman who just happens to be a mariner spouse, has graciously agreed to be the first of many, I hope, to share her wit and wisdom in a series I'll be calling 'In The Wheelhouse.'  It's your chance, and mine, to hear a different voice from Mariner Land, and in this particular case, one a little less snarky and a lot more sentimental!  Thank you so much, Lindsey for agreeing to be the first and I can't wait to meet you...


lindsey & matt

There is something romantic about being in a relationship with someone that goes out to sea.  In the beginning, you can easily picture the two of you running down the docks in perfect harmony with some climax building soundtrack to receive that long awaited embrace after months of being apart.  A famous, professional photographer could just happen to be hanging around and manage to capture the two of you in this passionate moment that will surely become an iconic image for all mariner spouses to come. When your sailor leaves again, you ascend to your widow’s walk atop your spectacular 19th century North American coastal home as the wind floats through your hair, just like the cover of a newly released, steamy romance novel.  (I was always 15 pounds thinner and 10 times hotter in my versions of this scenario.)  But, while the fictional rendition of the comings and goings of the mariner lifestyle might be enticing, deciding whether or not you’re cut out for the in-between parts can be daunting.  And though I hesitate to offer advice as our relationships are likely as different as our mariner’s schedules, what I can extend is experience from my own numerous mistakes and accidental successes.  So, what experience would I lend a fledgling mariner relationship?
     Independence is important, being comfortable alone and having an identity outside of your relationship will only aid in your ability to manage long stretches of time apart.  If you need physical and emotional validation from your partner on a daily basis, it might be a rough go of it, however, I do believe independence can grow and evolve over time.  I was closing out my 20s when we became an “us” and in the beginning, more terrifying than the thought of being alone was thought of being alone…with me.  The last six years gave me a lot to really get to myself and the true extents of my limits.  I even learned how to jumpstart a car from a YouTube video.  Self-five!  Things will happen, Beady’s Law demands it.  There will be trials and tribulations and there may be no one there to help you.  The only way to beat it is to be prepared and be confident in your abilities to independently solve problems or at least your ability to find someone that can.  You might just be amazed at what you can do when you have no other choice.
      Make their schedule a part of your life, but not your whole life.  I have always disliked the term “work widow” as it implies that I have lost something or am being deprived in some way.  I feel quite the opposite.  I choose to see our time apart as an opportunity to just be me and not be somebody’s other half for a while.  You have the choice to spend your time apart waiting or you could spend your time living.  I live each day apart with high hopes that I can come up with a home story to rival one of his sea stories.  I have yet to succeed, but I always have a good laugh trying.  I also love to read, it's my favorite activity and coincidentally, one that requires time alone.  Seize the opportunity to indulge in all those hobbies/activities your other half might not enjoy as much as you. For me, you can embarrassingly insert a Gossip Girl/Vampire Diaries marathon on Netflix and many, many more equally guilty pleasures here.  Don’t judge, you know you've got some embarrassing music hiding on that iPod!
     Embrace the butterflies and euphoric feelings of new love you'll experience over and over, every time your mariner comes home.  Never having the chance to take your love for granted is a unique opportunity. Take it!  The arrivals and departures might not always be scenes from the next Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan movie, but look forward to those moments instead of hanging on to the sad parts. I still get just as giddy and nervous about picking out just the right outfit for Matt’s return as I did when I packed for our first weekend together.  Nine times out of ten, he arrives after I go to bed but the process remains the same.  I never tire of being on a perpetual first date; the flirty text messages that start the minute his tug enters U.S. waters from Canada, the anticipation of yet another first kiss, and the illusion that I magically get slimmer since he’s missed every sweaty hour I spent on our treadmill in his absence.
     Accept that you won’t always be accepting.  Like any other relationship, you will likely do or say the wrong thing at some point.  I have regrettably picked a fight and given the silent treatment the day/night before Matt has left for a month long trip.  Thanks to limited shipboard communications and a little stubbornness, I couldn’t apologize for days.  The agony of waiting and all of the sleepless nights were punishment enough for us both.  A month to cool off, a little forgiveness, and we moved on, but I’d be lying if I said I never did it again.  (I did eventually learn my lesson and now I only pick fights when he arrives home.  Kidding!)  And there will be resentment.  I've cancelled and rescheduled a vacation three times, it never happened, although I have high hopes we’ll still make it there someday.  I have uttered the words “If you weren’t gone all the time I could...finish school faster, get a haircut, go on vacation”.  In the end I was able to do all of those things.  Matt being home wasn’t the solution; I just had to find another way.
    Never ask them to choose between you and their job, you will likely be severely disappointed with the outcome.  It seems like a no-brainer since ultimatums are probably never a good idea in any relationship, but I’ve watched it happen so many times.  I get it.  Who wants to come second to the sea and an inanimate object made of steel?  But I absolutely believe there is nothing sexier than seeing the person I love completely in his element.  Matt spent his whole life working to get where he is today because he loves everything about boats and being on the ocean.  He is the amazing man he is because he goes to sea, not in spite of going to sea.  I’m awesome, too, but not THAT awesome.  (I watch Hoarders to make myself feel better about my messy house, so clearly, there is room for improvement in all this awesomeness.)  For me, this is really a choice between a life with this amazing person or a life with a miserable man and his perpetually untucked sheets...I’m not picking the sheets.  If anything, his marriage to his work has inspired me to fulfill my own passions and find that same level of contentment.
     Don’t let others dictate what your relationship should look like.  Many will feel obligated to remind you of how different or odd your life is, how they could never imagine being apart from their spouses that long, and they’ll do it right to your face.  Sometimes it will be a lack of understanding, sometimes jealousy, and sometimes it will just be because they don’t know what else to say.  Never forget that you are the stars of your own relationship reality show, everyone else is just the supporting cast.  I emphasize the word support because that is exactly what those closest to you should be.  But should you feel vengeful, even if just in your head, remind them how refreshed you feel after you've just slept alone in a King size bed…for a month…diagonally.
     Most importantly, just because they aren't there doesn't mean they can't be a part of every day. You don’t have to become Martha Stewart every time they leave, or create your version of everything you’ve pinned on Pinterest, but keep them in your daily routine even if only in conversation.  Take a photograph the moment you thought about them and if you’re like me, you’ll fill a photo album in less than a week.  Write down a realistic date idea each day you wish you could be going out but can’t.  When they return, choose one and you have an instant wish come true.  Find creative ways to count down days for yourself or your kids, if you have them. Although not for everyone, counting down to a return home can be just as fun as counting down to holidays...more so if they are actually gone during holidays.  Have your kids draw a picture in a pocket size spiral notebook every day your mariner is gone, the possibilities are endless, admittedly, I haven’t done all of these things yet as it's an ongoing process and I can’t give away all of my secrets as my recipient is probably reading this post!  The takeaway here is that actively making them a positive part of your day takes just as much time as brooding over their absence and is ultimately more constructive.
    Remember, the only one that can tell you if you’re cut out for the mariner lifestyle is you.  I do believe that many people can survive it, if they have even just the courage to try.  If you do decide to hop onboard, be sure to fill the times between arrivals and departures with all the things that make you happiest.  Laugh about mistakes and hold hands across the rough parts.  Allow yourself to feel and be open about those feelings with your partner.  And it’s okay to be lonesome but you're never really alone, mariner families are spread far and wide across the globe so don’t be afraid to reach out to those in similar situations.  No matter how much it looks like someone has this life all figured out, we’re all still trying to keep our own boats afloat. 
                                                                                                             Lindsey Wright

Please feel free to add your thoughts to this below, we'd love to hear them!

Copyright 2013 Callie's Mariner


  1. That was a fantastic read. Thank you!

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. The more I read, the more it makes me smile, laugh and even tear up. I met my mariner about four months ago. As a single mom of two, I had finally accepted being on my own for the "forever." My Teacake came out of the clear blue, LOL. It has been intense, and this his second time gone since we met, it has its moments. I am always busy, teach full time, but there are those times I long to hear his voice and get his next email - NOW. =) I had the biggest grin the other night as seconds after I hit send, my email box dinged with his email. Simultaneous thinking! I guess that was my "under the same moon" moment. Thank you for this blog. It's been one of the best things I've found as I maneuver these new waters. =)

    1. You are SO welcome, Janet! I love reading comments like this and knowing there's one more person who's come aboard and can help the rest of us out just as we will help her whenever needed. Thanks so much for reading!