merchant mariner families

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

August 20, 2013

a cautionary tale...

    Interview time!  I decided on a little twist this go round and met with a new friend, Jess, who actually never became a merchant mariner wife.  Oh, she's with her merchant mariner alright, but he's left the profession and is currently finishing up a degree in the fine art of litigation so he can become a maritime lawyer.  And here's the rub...I christen this 'A Cautionary Tale' for those of you currently involved with mariners and maybe toying with the thought that you might get them to leave their jobs.  Why?  No, it's not because I'm a meanie, and it's not because I'm feeling particularly salty today.  It's because Jess' story (and she'll be the first one to tell you this) is the exception.  As she so eloquently put it, "...the stars aligned, everything was absolutely perfect and right for Andrew to leave just never hear about that, it never happens."  

CM:  So tell me a little about you and Andrew.

Jess:  Well...we've been together for about 3 years, we're married, and have a wonderful dog named Betty.

CM:  When did you meet?

Jess:  Andrew had been shipping for about 6 or 7 years...yeah, I think he was in his seventh year of shipping when I met him.  He had to actually explain to me what a merchant mariner does, I'd never heard of the profession.

CM:  Did he have to rush right back to work after you met him?

Jess:  No...about a week after we met he had shoulder surgery that laid him up for 6 months, so we really got to know each other.  I'd say at the 3 month mark is when we both knew we'd be together forever.  And I never really thought twice about or actually considered what he did for a living, it wasn't something we had to deal with because it never came up, that is until his recovery time had ended and he was called back to work. 

CM:  And what was that like?

Jess:  Well, he called me on a Thursday or Friday and told me he'd be leaving that Sunday.  That's when it hit me and I lost it, I just lost it.  I remember I was at work and I left crying, I couldn't understand that he would be leaving just like that, you know?

CM:  Did you talk it over later that night?
Jess:  Kind of.  He showed up later that night, but I actually went out with some of his friends and got wasted, just trashed.  And I remember being so angry, yelling stuff like 'this is the stupidest profession in the world!'  But it didn't make a difference because he left anyway.  It was really rough.  

CM:  How did you cope?

Jess:  Not well.  I took on a new job for one, which had lots of stress, and that kept me occupied.   I also tried to get down as often as I could to meet his ship, which wasn't very often, but I still became very depressed. 

CM:  And Andrew?
Jess:  I think it hit him pretty hard, too.  I mean, we'd spent so much time together, getting to know each other, and he had experienced this everyday life with me, with us.  I know he started to feel as if the ship had become a prison.  

CM:  Obviously you were in love with him, so what were you thinking about this kind of lifestyle and fitting into it?

Jess:  I just knew I couldn't live this life and be apart from someone I loved so much for such long periods of time.  When I honestly asked myself if I could be the wife of a merchant mariner, I found the answer was an adamant 'no.'  It was scary and certainly risky to talk to him about it, but from a self-preservation point of view, I knew I had no choice.  Of course, I wasn't going to ask him to leave his job, that wouldn't have been fair.  And my mom, who's always been a great influence on me, had given me some wonderful advice.  She said, "Jess, you can't ever demand things of Andrew."  So I kept that in the back of my mind as I thought about what I would say.

CM:  So what happened?

Jess:  Ah, it was Easter and I was planning for everyone to be together for the weekend, Andrew included.  We were all together finally, it was absolutely wonderful and then he got the call that the ship would be leaving port early, I mean really early, like he rushed to meet the ship as soon as the phone call ended! 

CM:  So that was the final straw?

Jess:  Yes, I'd say that was the case.  Things just never got better and I think that's when Andrew broke, too.  
CM:  And then the talking, right?

Jess:  Yes, and I was very honest.  Not only did I tell him that I couldn't do this anymore, I told him I wouldn't be doing it anymore.  It was just too hard.  But the stars were aligned, our circumstances were far too perfect because in those 6 months that Andrew had been laid up from his shoulder surgery he'd taken the LSATs and had applied to several law schools.  He had a nice nest egg saved up from shipping and although he was still concerned about the financial aspect of this decision, I had the perfect situation in that I could support us while he went to school.  On top of that, Andrew had lost his good feelings about shipping and wanted to be home.  Absolutely every star in the sky aligned.   

CM:  And now things are just as they should be, yes?

Jess:  Yup.  Just right, just the two of us!

CM:  So from your unique perspective, what kind of advice would you give mariners, something that would prevent them from accidentally getting involved with someone who wasn't suited to this life?
Jess:  Um...well, they need to understand what the person they leave behind goes through and feels like for one.  Your significant other doesn't think this lifestyle is normal and may never feel that way.  Also, they should really spend more time with the relationship, I mean developing it.  They really need to be able to take that time, it's so important in determining a positive outcome.  I also think it would be extremely helpful, and have perhaps a better chance of working if the other person had some knowledge of Merchant Mariner Land.  

CM:  And what about their significant others?  What if one of them came to you with the same kind of anxiety, frustrations you had been dealing with?

Jess: I'd tell them that they have to be very open and honest with their feelings, especially in that lifestyle.  Bottling feelings up will definitely not help the situation.  It always leads to resentment and eats at you.  And to be honest, I know if I had continued on in our relationship with him away all the time...I would've cheated on him eventually.  That's why I think it's so important to talk to your mariner about what you're feeling, but in an open and rational way because they don't know what we're thinking.  They really don't.  

CM:  God, I love your honesty!  

Jess:  Oh yeah?  Well, here's my last, and most important bit of advice for them.  Don't think your mariner is going to leave shipping because it's not going to happen.

CM:  Oh, really?

Jess:  Yes.  My situation was really the exception and I know just how lucky we were.  The stars aligned, everything was absolutely perfect and right for Andrew to leave just never hear about that, it never happens.  As my mother said, you can't demand things of them, it's not fair or right.

Copyright 2013 Callie's Mariner