Living Together On a Cruise Ship

Continuing on with our journey of romance at sea, today we are going to talk about what happens once you decide you are a couple. In last weeks edition, “Dating On a Cruise Ship” we looked at what it was like when you first get those butterflies in your stomach. Today we’re going to look at what comes next. First comes love, then comes… living together in a cruise ship cabin for months at a time!

Before we got married I had a lot of passengers ask, “so, do they let you live together even if you aren’t married?” This was always a challenging question to answer. Sometimes the people asking had weighted it with the subquestion of “so the company let’s you live in sin?”. Sometimes they were just genuinely curious about crew life. The thing about ships: there is a finite amount of space. If someone that wasn’t meant to have a roommate is willing to have a roommate (like a spouse or significant other) that is, in a lot of situations, freeing up a cabin for someone else (there are some technicalities that go with this, but in general). So, yes, if you’re dating and want to live together, go right ahead. The other thing about ships: a cruise ship in general has people from 40+ countries working onboard. They practice a lot of different religions and have a lot of different cultural views. If you want to live together before marriage they aren’t going to get the onboard priest to come talk to you. Live your life how you want, just don’t let it affect your work.

While living together onboard is great, it’s different than living together on land. I have a couple of friends from ship life that have lived together onboard quite a lot, but want to live together on land in an apartment/house before they get engaged. I was discussing this with my grandma (as you do) and she couldn’t understand why they don’t just get engaged already, as she says, “they’ve already lived together on the ship and they aren’t getting any younger!” I am here to tell you that living together on the ship and living together on land can both be challenging, but they are challenging in very different ways.

Living Together On the Ship:

I can paint you a pretty picture of what living on the ship is like.

You have a room steward that comes to clean your cabin and change your sheets and towels, they clean the bathroom and vacuum the floor. You don’t have to cook or do dishes. You can go to the buffet for all your meals, eat downstairs in the crew areas, or for dinner or lunch on occasion you can request to eat in the main dining room or one of the specialty restaurants. If you don’t feel like leaving the cabin you can order room service (except at breakfast).

While onboard nearly everything is paid for, so you don’t have to worry about money. There is no electric bill to pay, no mortgage to talk about, no gas to put in your car, no car breaking down, no one has to get their wallet out at dinner time (aside from if you get wine). You really can go days or weeks without being worried about money, and certainly without even discussing money if you don’t want to.

What would you argue about? Everyone lives happily ever after!

There are definitely still challenges. Living together for months with the stresses of working 70 hours a week in a crew cabin? Anytime I watch an HGTV show and they complain that the master bath doesn’t have two sinks all I can think is, “you need to see our bathroom onboard”. Want to get in a fight? There won’t be any shouting as everyone in your hallway would know. Want to slam a door? Where are you going, the tiny bathroom? You figure out how to work through things quick when you’re sharing a tiny space. I might be able to paint it in a pretty picture but there are definitely still challenges. While cohabitating in a small space in itself can be tough (and yes, I fit the stereotype of taking up more closet space. He also has a set uniform to wear out and about on the ship.) I think the hardest part of living together onboard is when your work and sleep schedules don’t match up.

One contract, for instance, my husband worked the “dog shift” overnight from midnight to 6am, and how it corresponded with my work schedule was… challenging. The graph I made was for a sea day; however, on a port day I could often arrange to do more working hours in the mornings so we would get a bit of time in the afternoon together.

You can see on the graph that not only does our time off not overlap well, a good chunk of my time off in the afternoon (which was prime time to take a nap or go to the gym) was during his sleeping hours. Taking a nap doesn’t sound bad – until you factor in your alarm waking him up. Going to the gym doesn’t sound bad until you factor in the noises of showering and blowdrying your hair before going back to work. What ends up happening is I would watch something on my laptop on the couch or put noise cancelling headphones on (we have Bose (ad)) with an alarm set through them so it wouldn’t be too noisy. Now, I have a Kindle (ad) e-reader with an adjustable backlight and it is a game changer for times when he needs to sleep and I am well, awake. And, on the off chance I got off work early at night, my hubby would have to try to quietly get out of bed and not wake me up to go to work for midnight. It is… hard.

We never had any time to be out socializing together. That picture I painted of going to a fancy dinner and a show, drinking champagne by moonlight? That all goes away and instead you’re doing those things alone, or maybe with friends, but definitely not with your significant other. We could have lunch together, breakfast if I woke up at 6, and maybe an afternoon on a port day if I could arrange my schedule. It’s cohabitation but without really living your lives together. Although, still better than either being on different ships or one person being at home.

Now, before we think that the rest of the crew just leaves you be, you are still not immune to rumors. Go ashore with a guy that’s not your husband? Even if it’s your best friends boyfriend and your husbands best friend while they’re both at work and can’t go ashore? Nope, the officers on the bridge are going to try to make it into something. (To which my husband and the guys girlfriend responded with, “well, yes, they’re supposed to be bringing us back burgers.”) I’d like to think they’d get bored with it… maybe it was a slow week for gossip?

On the opposite side of the not seeing each other spectrum, what happens when your schedules do line up? You know those times when you get home and you just want to put on that TV show you love that your roommate/significant other/spouse hates? Okay, now live in a cabin on a cruise ship when you get back to your cabin and the person is always there. Those moments of alone time can seem fleeting. There are some days that going ashore alone is really nice because you can some time to yourself. This is also a challenge when I am sailing as spouse on board and don’t have a job to go to. I am literally always there when he gets off work. He’s good about it but we end up needing to build in alone time, or maybe I have a girls movie night while he has a beer with the guys. Needless to say, it can be a lot of togetherness onboard, but it’s nothing like the togetherness you can get when you’re ship people living together on land.

Note: My experience living and working onboard has been with the benefits and privileges of “Officer status”, like room service, a room steward, and being able to go in public areas in my off work time. Not every position onboard has those same privileges and benefits.

Living Together On Land:

When you are ship people living together on land most likely one of you is living in a new country and most likely neither of you are working, or if you are, it’s not full time. Being on land is supposed to be your vacation, weekends, and holidays all rolled into one. So, while on the ship you had less space to cohabitate you indefinitely had more time apart with either one or both of you working. Living together on land when neither of you is working is a great way to figure out if you’ll like each other in retirement. (Do that during COVID quarantine and you get to know each other realllly well).

The other parts of living together on land is similar to what everyone else that has lived with someone, be that a romantic partner or a roommate, has experienced. There are inevitable struggles and then hopefully a resolution to those struggles. Who does the dishes and laundry? Who cooks? Do either of you know how to cook? You figure out each others neuroses. Money becomes a conversation (and maybe a stressor depending on your situation) as you talk about how to pay the electric bill, internet, put gas in the car, pay the mortgage or rent and buy groceries. How do you divide up those expenses? In the advanced version you talk about your financial goals and what you want your life to look like.

You see how they value their friends and their families and what they put their time and money into. When something breaks you can to see how you both respond. Are you each willing to get dirty to fix it, do you want to fix it on your own, or do you call someone? How do they want to live their life? Are they going to be a good partner to navigate all the ups and downs with?

Both ways of living are an adjustment and take compromise, conversation, and cooperation to make work and none of us are perfect. You have lived together onboard, you have made land work… what comes next? Next week we are going to explore life as Spouse On Board and the tricky act of Balancing Careers.

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