I went back and forth on how to write about the first year from an emotional perspective. I decided that I needed to be true to my feelings in the moments, but I could also provide some additional perspective a year in and hopefully much wiser. This has been a year of major changes. As an adult I have experienced this level of change only two other times in my life. In 1989, I got married and became a mother in the same year, and in 2001 I moved my entire family to a new state and started a major new job, all at the same time. I mention this to show that I am not a person who turns her life upside down frequently. I admire people who do that, but that was never who I was. I strove for stability and “normalcy” and consequently did not make bold moves or take many risks. (Facts in evidence regarding her marriage to me notwithstanding. – Lee)
So please take my emotional arc in that context. If you are a different type of person, many of the things I struggled with might not even be an issue. Or you may have other challenges that weren’t even on my radar.
For the purposes of this post I am not going to discuss the emotions experienced during the “get-ready” phase, although many of those emotions carried into the year, especially the early months. I recommend that you read my Becoming Full Timers Step-by-Step page for that perspective. Instead I am going to start when we went on the road. One of the outside things we were dealing with was being brand new empty-nesters. This is not an insignificant change for couples, and it was one of the reasons we decided to go on the road in the first place, but it was very difficult dropping our daughter off for basic training and then turning right around and going on the road just three months later. (Reflections on Being an Empty-Nester) Here’s the thing; You would think all of the “new” would be a distraction, and it sort of is, but the underlying feelings still have to be dealt with. So we were going through perfectly normal feelings around our last child leaving, but instead of dealing with them in a routine environment, we were dealing with them while simultaneously dealing with this big life change. Some people are fans of that. They think you should throw as much change as possible in at the same time and deal with it all at once. I understand the idea and maybe for some it even makes sense, but I will say in retrospect I wish we would have had a little more time between when she left and when we went on the road. Lee would vehemently disagree, with me on this one. He hated being in the house once Kay was gone and would say going on the road was the best way to combat that. (That’s true, but in our case, Tracy traveled a lot for work, and that had it’s own kind of continuity for her. For me, the three months between when Kay left home for Basic Training and when we hit the road was brutal. After 25 years of having at least one person in the house who either wanted to kill me to death or hug me to death, walking into a dark, cold, empty house when Trace was out of town was nearly unbearable. – Lee)
Once we were on the road and the initial euphoria died down, we both started grappling with the fact that this lifestyle requires Compromises. (I was actually unfamiliar with the concept, and had to Google it. I’m still not convinced the idea will catch on, so I’m not getting too attached to it. – Lee) We had done a tremendous amount of research and we knew intellectually there would be compromise but it was tough for both of us to actually deal with it. I know we were greedy for everything in the beginning. We try not to be greedy people as a general rule, but the new freedom and finally being out there went to our heads a bit. We wanted what we wanted and we wanted it right now, and those compromises that kept coming up bothered us more than they would under normal circumstances. Lee was never much on compromise to begin with (true) and I think this might be one of the biggest changes I have seen in him. If you read his comments from the linked post, he really did feel that way, but now he seems much more philosophical about things. He should probably jump in here. (You’ve got this. I’ll jump in if you start to go off the rails. – Lee)
I was also dealing with Living Outside of My Comfort Zone. In my experience, which I grant is somewhat limited, most full timer couples have one person who jumps into the life completely, and another who is slower to acclimate. I definitely was the slower of us and although Lee was very patient, after several months I really needed to come to terms with the fact that this was my choice and I had to own it. This was really tough for me. Not because I like holding others accountable, but because it created a bit of a safety net for me emotionally. Once I faced it head on, I had to start really pushing myself to learn all aspects of the full timing lifestyle. I am still not 100% where I want to be on this one, but I am miles ahead of where I was even six months ago.
Simultaneously we were working through maintaining relationships while on the road. I will say that my family relationships have actually improved since we started this lifestyle. My family is spread throughout the U.S. and this has given us the opportunity to spend more concentrated time with some family members than ever before. Friendships are a bit tougher though. First of all, neither one of us was really good at having couple friends. We both had very strong connections with people we worked with but never really hung out with many couples while we were raising kids. So if you are a person who has strong friendships prior to going on the road this may be less of an issue for you. For us it was a whole new skill set we had to learn. In Pondering Friendships on the Road, I talk about how new this was to us and how we often struggled because frankly we weren’t very good at it. The big lesson learned for me, which I still come back to on occasion, is first you have to be OK individually, then as a couple, and finally with a group of people. Everyone has stuff they are dealing with, especially in the early days, and going through it in front of an audience can be tough. That being said, I wouldn’t trade the support system we have built for anything, and I truly don’t know if I could do this without the friends I have made. (I would trade the whole lot of you for cash, or even a decent discount on our data plan. – Lee) They are one of the best parts of this new life for me and although Lee needs the social interaction less than I do, he really values his friendships with Bill and Greg in particular. (Don’t let it go to your head, guys. Our data plan is really expensive. – Lee) And I really want to give Bill some credit here for making that happen. Not many guys will pick up the phone and call each other, but Bill has consistently done that with Lee. Sure, the conversations are often about mechanical stuff, but I know they both really enjoy having someone else in the same situation to bounce ideas off of and those phone calls have deepened their friendship. The Class of 2014 as formed a tight group; we all read each others blogs, are friends on Facebook, and text each other when something big is going on. We keep in touch, we show we care, and when we are close to each other we make sure we get to see each other, which happens more often than you would think. The secret really is going to some trouble for the people you care about. It doesn’t require a ton of effort, but it does require effort, and it is so worth it.
As Lee and I were working on being better friends, we were also dealing with our Changing Relationship. All this change has been tough on us. I have always believed that we would go through these changes whether or not we went on the road, but becoming full timers placed our relationship into a pressure cooker. We have experienced more turmoil and intensity in one year than we had in the prior 10 in aggregate. I know we are not alone in this and if you are thinking about being a full timer please understand that to a greater or lesser extent this WILL happen. You can’t put two people into a 400 foot space, with constant newness and challenges, and not expect some conflict. Conflict is not always a bad thing though. Constructive conflict can lead to growth and positive change which can strengthen a relationship. Destructive conflict can lead to damage; sometimes irreparable. We have experienced both and thankfully much more constructive and destructive, although it didn’t always feel that way at the time. In the last year we have had only two very bad arguments that led me to seriously question our marriage. I am telling you this because I really think its important that you don’t underestimate how tough this can be, and what you might be putting at risk. Again to be extremely clear, I believe those issues would have occurred whether or not we decided to full time, but full-timing brought those issues to a head. They had to be dealt with and not under ideal circumstances. That being said, we made it through and I absolutely know we are stronger on the other side.
One of the positive results of those arguments was me taking a really hard look at Changing the Way I Define Myself. For us, and this is absolutely not always the case, the old rules don’t always apply. We don’t always want them to apply, because choosing this lifestyle was as much about personal freedom and change as it was about geographic location. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like we completely changed personalities overnight, but this is an opportunity to become different and better, and throw off some of the constraints of our old lives. I will say that Lee has done so much better than me in this area. He has held steadfast to the idea that he doesn’t need to adhere to the old rules anymore. I on the other hand hate leaving my comfort zone and those old rules may be confining but they are comfortable. So this one is absolutely a work in progress and I am curious to see what happens here in Year 2. It’s a major reason I finally decided to leave my job. The job was part of the old life and had the old rules, and I really need to try this without those constraints. In A Very Big Step, I talk about why I came to that decision. I am only a couple of weeks into my new life and it has been pretty intense so far, but I am working through it. I will absolutely say though that in retrospect I am so glad I had the job in Year 1. It really helped me to have that structure and normalcy amidst all the other change. I know many people don’t have that luxury, and I am extremely grateful that I did.
So what do I think overall at the end of Year 1? Well, if courage is defined not as the absence of fear, but continuing in the face of fear, then we showed courage. Do I wish I could have handled certain things with more grace under pressure? Absolutely, but overall I think we did pretty well. We had so many amazing moments and some truly challenging ones, but on balance way more good than bad. I keep thinking about a conversation I had with Howard and Linda at dinner one night about how tough things could sometimes be and Linda asked me what would I do if I went back to that other life. I was truly surprised by the question so my answer was very honest. I said, “I am ruined for anything else.” They just smiled, because they got it. We have done more fun and adventuresome things this year than we had done in the previous 10 years, and I am totally serious about that statement. Once you have lived this life, a more conventional life suffers in comparison. Will it be forever? Well, forever is a long time. For right now, I am trying to live in the moment and do better in Year 2 than I did in Year 1. And since a picture is worth a 1000 words, here is some of my favorites pics of Lee and I from this year. And since I am terrible at faking pictures (and Lee has never bothered to fake anything) this is really how we were feeling in the moment.
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