Love and the Seagoing Life

When I met the new workboat group in March, someone asked me the burning question: you mentioned a boyfriend – how did you make your relationship work when you went offshore? To be honest, it’s very difficult, and I wasn’t with this one the whole time – I tried and failed countless times before I unwittingly stumbled upon someone who stayed. It’s hard even if you are lucky enough to fall in love with someone who returns your love without question. Worse is trying to make something work when you know it’s falling apart. It took me a long time to come to terms with the fact that some people simply couldn’t wait for me. And why should they? If dating someone who is never around doesn’t work, they have every right to move on and find an arrangement that will make them happy. There are plenty of girls with regular jobs and normal lives who are much more available than I am. What hurts is getting it into your head that something is wrong with you; but no one is to blame. “All is fair in love and war”, and sailors don’t get extra points for sacrificing their love life to their career.

History dictates that men go to sea and women stay at home. If those men have sympathetic girlfriends or wives who are willing to manage without them when they go away, it usually works out; I’ve seen many healthy relationships span decades of seafaring. But communication is a vital key, and when that breaks down there are plenty of distractions and temptations to lead us all astray. For some (talking about both men & women here) it’s hard to justify staying and trying to make it work when they feel that the distance has created a rift in their relationship. And I feel like divorce is so common in this industry because tradition-minded men often marry thinking it’s what they’re supposed to do, only to realize later that they hardly know (or can’t stand) the person they married.

For me and women like me, traditional gender roles get turned on their head. I face a different set of problems and rules. I’m independent and stubborn, and I’ve discovered that a lot of men really resent those characteristics. Some guys feel let down by a woman who would be so cold hearted as to leave them to go to work. Some don’t want to relinquish the role of provider; I once dated a guy (a sailor, no less) who seemed to take my ambition as an act of defiance, and did his best to crush my spirit. Many just lose interest and stop calling. I learned that the only thing that would work for me was someone who could cope with my going away, because I’m not changing anytime soon.

It was also difficult for me to admit I didn’t like being alone; I was proud and tried to stand on my own for a while, but eventually realized I did want someone to care about me, someone to come home to, and I had to balance that need against other things in my life. I met my current boyfriend a year ago – I adore him and I’m humbled and delighted to say that the feeling is mutual. Past experience told me that the relationship wouldn’t survive my job, and I was reluctant to get involved, though the attraction was easy and obvious right away; but in spite of my best efforts to deny it at first, I couldn’t help myself – it’s been just what I needed. It literally took months to realize that I had to snap up a good thing while I had it.

Long-distance relationships tend to be exceptionally difficult, but it helps if your plan includes eventually being closer to home. And you get to know each other better in the meantime because you talk a lot, or ought to. My advice is, make it a point to communicate. Red flag if the lines of communication aren’t open from the start. Talk – about everything – and if something is bothering you and you can’t get it into words, try to get it out there and don’t stop trying. Expression takes practice. And good luck – you’re going to need it 🙂

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