Sometimes my wife Tunga and I are apart for week or even months, especially when she travels home to see friends and family in Mongolia. When she's gone I know she’s having a wonderful time, but I love her and it’s hard to be apart from people you love.
Reflecting on why it’s hard, I’ve come to think there are two big reasons: we miss being with people we love and it can be lonely being alone.
Luckily, these are both very normal feelings and there are a lot of healthy things we can do to address both concerns. Also, as luck would have it, I’ve been surrounded by people with great suggestions that I would like to share with you here.
Here are six ideas that might help being apart from someone you love.
1. Write to Them
This seems simple but I forgot about it until Evan, a good friend and mentor, reminded me. Write to the person right now, before you are even apart. If you send the letter ahead of time it will arrive shortly after they arrive, or perhaps they will find it after you leave if you are the one going somewhere.
When Tunga and I first started dating while I was in Mongolia with the Peace Corps I went back to the U.S. for over a month to be part of my sister’s wedding. I wrote Tunga a letter for every day I was going to be gone, 45 in total, and even had a scavenger hunt, little candy and hand-drawn maps thrown in there. I gave them to her in a big bag with a number on each letter. It took a few hours to do, but she loved it and it was worth every minute.
The day Tunga left was emotional which, as my best friend Jonathan reminded me, is a really good thing. If I wasn’t emotional something would be amiss. That same day I was greeted by an email from Leo at ZenHabits who wrote about how to be alone. It’s a wonderful post and in it he basically says being alone is a great time to sit back and reflect. Think about your emotions, where you are feeing them, allow yourself to really feel them.
I don’t know about you, but when I am about to cry or I feel like a wave of emotion is coming up through my chest I usually push it down. I hold it back. I sniff, I snort, I open my eyes wider and try to pretend the sun is too bright. This always works wonderfully of course and never backfires, gives me headaches, makes the tears gush even more later, makes me look and sound ridiculous or any of that.
Our emotions are a window into a deeper part of us and an opportunity, not an enemy.
3. Talk to Someone
Friends are a true gift. They understand us, are there to listen to us ramble about whatever, and they are especially helpful at emotional times when we think we might be over-reacting or we feel crazy.
We aren’t crazy. What we are feeling and thinking is normal and something our friends will help us understand and appreciate. When I talk to people I love they not only help me make sense of what is happening, they also help me talk through a way forward.
After taking some time to reflect, breathe and meditate, talking to a friend who makes you feel great can be a perfect thing to do.
4. Think of the Positives
One of my favorite sayings of all-time comes from my dad: what a great opportunity. No matter how good or bad something may seem, there is always a great opportunity in there somewhere. Maybe this is one of the only times in your life you will be free to travel alone again without responsibilities, or perhaps this could be when you finally master that hobby or put the time into that personal goal you’ve had for so long. Being alone can be a blessing if you choose to look at it this way.
If it’s hard for you to see why it is positive, find someone positive you trust and ask them this question: why is this a great opportunity for me? You might be surprised at what you hear.
5. Share Something Small
Writing letters is great, but small acts of connection are wonderful too. Sending photos, emails, texts and making a phone call or Skype call go a long way in letting the other person know how much you love them. Look at old pictures and send them a photo of you together. Share a photo of where you are or something fun that happened today.
Better yet, my friend Jonathan created a shared dropbox folder for he and his wife which allowed them to easily share photos and videos with each other. It’s convenient and also casual. They uploaded things almost every day, at random times of the day, and he says he loved it so much he checked it every morning just to see what she was up to. It’s a sweet and easy way to stay connected together without feeling like you are constantly pinging the other person every hour of the day.
6. Plan Something Fun
Planning can be a lot of fun. This can include making fun plans for you or the person returning with things like a countdown, chocolate, flowers, champagne, renting a place somewhere or a bunch of balloons from the dollar store. It can also include planning a fun trip for yourself with family or friends while someone is away. Personally I try for all of the above. Adventures for everyone!
I hope these ideas are helpful and make being apart from someone you love even just a little bit easier.