In this week’s installment of Romance At Sea we are going to talk about what happens next. The “Happily Ever After”. If you missed the first couple of weeks we had Dating On Board, taking a look at what dating on a cruise ship is like and the second week we talked about what it was like to live onboard a cruise ship together. For anyone that knows the song, first comes love, then comes marriage, then comes… trying to figure out your careers between countries, cruise ships, and a contract-style work schedule.
I don’t put “happily ever after” in quotations to be negative, sarcastic, or pessimistic, but rather to indicate that there is so much more to life than when Cinderella marries her Prince Charming (which, can we all be honest is unrealistic, she didn’t know anything about the guy other than he was a Prince and a good dancer.) There’s a reason most romantic comedies end after the main couple gets together/kisses/gets married. The after part is far less exciting. Deciding careers and jobs… based on properly funded retirement accounts? Blurg. Who wants to watch that?
Falling in love on a cruise ship is great. Just because it’s easy to romanticize the nights of glitz and glam, and adventures around the world, it has complications just like falling in love anywhere. In normal life, you might make the choice to move across a country when your partner gets a new job. Or, you take a job you don’t love quite as much to be able to be around your partner. Sometimes you straight up quit your job so you can see them more. Love is not actually an easy fairytale (curse you, Disney!)
The “Happily Ever After” of ship life has some bonus complications to it. More often than not you are from different countries. So, which country are you going to live in? Movies like The Holiday touch on it for a hot second and then decide it’s a non-issue with a happy little dance party at the end and pretty people looking lovingly at each other. That’s not reality! Should they choose easily which country to live in, how often are you going to fly home to the other person’s country? How much will you put in your budget yearly for that? International plane tickets are not inexpensive. Then, think about all that airport fun, time. Yay! And, while plenty of people (after every election, not just this past one) say, “if so-and-so wins, I’m moving to_(insert country here)_” I am here to tell you that moving to another country is not actually that easy. Even just being married to someone from another country is not actually that easy.
In the movie Made of Honor (ad) they do not go into all the residency requirements and how much all those various visas cost for our fair leading lady, do they? No, they don’t talk about how much fun figuring out the tax laws and financial repercussions of moving countries, or having assets in multiple countries, or getting to learn about how to file US taxes as “married filing separately” and that you can’t do that online if your spouse doesn’t have a Social Security Number of Tax Identification Number. Or, if you are from the US and you don’t have a full time job and your husband is from a country with universal health care (or in his case the NHS) so he does’t get insurance through his job but you still need to have insurance and can’t just get on the NHS because you still live in the US part of the year and don’t want to pursue residency in the other country because you have to be in the country a certain number of days and your husband will be gone to work for a good chunk of those and you’d rather spend that time while he was at sea in the US with your family? They don’t talk about those things, do they?!
This year and next year have for many exacerbated those bonus complications. Bonus points this year if you weren’t married because then you got to deal with travel bans, closed borders, and all sorts of other fun travel related restrictions thanks to COVID. And, if you didn’t happen to be onboard with your spouse when cruise ships shut down and your partner/spouse was stuck onboard you might have found yourselves apart for 6 months or more. (Thankfully I was onboard, you can read a bit about that here.)
And, for fun next year the category of “Spouse-on-Board” that I’ve been in to sail as my hubby’s +1 has been revoked, either for the whole year or until normal sailing begins again. That means at least 3 months apart, at least twice next year. The Love Boat (ad) doesn’t tell you about all this.
Alright, so you get through the “which country will you live in” (both? sort of?) and “all the tax implications” (still working on that one) and you figure out health insurance (I use GeoBlue). You made it through the first part of the pandemic and have mentally geared up for next year when you can’t sail with your hubby. Let’s talk about the rest of it.
The biggest other part for us has been balancing careers with seeing each other. There seems to always be something that puts the ship-couple in a situation where their hand is twisted and then make that choice. Whether it is getting an assignment on different ships, or one having to work 9 month contracts while the other works 3 months on and 3 months off. At some point it seems, you end up in a situation where you choose either spending time with each other or each of you having a career onboard. For me it was when I asked my corporate supervisor about whether I should go for a promotion. She knew I had gotten everything I could out of my current position. She reminded me that, “If you switch jobs you’ll have a different corporate supervisor, you won’t have any seniority in your position. Your husband is assigned to the ship doing Grand Voyages, right? Yeah, if you get a different job you’ll be put on a different ship. So, you can go for a promotion and sail without him or stick with your job and sail with him.” It seems those situations always creep up one way or another. So, I shifted from working onboard to sailing as Spouse-On-Board. My life onboard, from why I was onboard to where I could go onboard, was literally defined by my husband, his rank and position.
One thing I wasn’t ready for in this transition was how many opinions people would have and how stereotyped I would be sailing as Wife-On-Board. I know myself and my own worth enough to know that other people’s opinions – specifically people that don’t know me at all – doesn’t matter. However, having these things told to your face on a regular basis can be… less than fun:
“The best job on board.” (When I would really love to have an actual job onboard. They don’t know it but they are throwing all those rejected job applications right in my face.)
“You did so well to land an officer.” (I didn’t “land” an officer. Seriously people? Also, he did well to “land” me, too!)
“You’re probably, what? Almost 30. Yeah, that’s about the time that women give up on their dreams and realize it would be easier to just get a husband.” (Not worth responding to)
“So, you must have been a stripe chaser.” (Have you met me?!)
“I wish my life was that easy.” (Ohmygoshpleasereallyjuststoptalking)
“Must be nice.” (Grrrrr)
“You’re opinion doesn’t matter because you aren’t crew.” (Well, frankly, your opinion doesn’t matter to me because you are a gossiping toxic human)
“If I was you I would be so bored I would kill myself.” (Then, it’s lucky you aren’t me, isn’t it? P.S. Only boring people get bored.)
Adapting to Wife-On-Board life has taken me awhile to get used to. At first those things stung more than they do now. It’s a wicked mental head game to play with yourself when you grew up thinking of your own career. I’m sure I judged those people (predominately women) that put their careers on pause, or hiatus, or left them altogether before I became one myself. But, gosh, it’d be nice if people would stop judging other people.
WOB life is certainly not all bad. Those comments really make it sound worse than it is. There are sometimes other challenges like where he thought he could go ashore but then he couldn’t because of an inspection or something going wrong. It can be a lot of togetherness (especially for him) when he’s been at work all day and then I’m just right there when he’s done work. I’ve found the best way to enjoy WOB time is to have a good friend and, especially on the long voyages, make friends with some of the passengers. Sit and have breakfast with the ones you know won’t complain about everything all the time, or if they do it’s for a very good reason (yes, that is how I choose my passenger friends). The past few years I’ve been lucky enough to have a few great friends sailing around the same time as us. It works out well because they’re also in the kind of “no-man’s land” that is being a WOB. You aren’t technically part of the crew and you aren’t technically a passenger either. Friends make it better.
Our plan, aside from this COVID adventure, has been for me to sail with him for right now. I don’t think we have it figured out yet and I don’t think there is a “right” way to do it. Each couple figures out what works for them, and what works now might change in a year as life and circumstances change or maybe even just as we evolve and change as people.
There might be a time that I get a “normal” job on land. That will mean I won’t be able to go sail very often (in normal times) and will mean more time apart. If I ever get a job onboard again it might see us on different ships. Either way you look at it unless I’m going to sail with him (and some of the times, even then), we have signed up for long-distance love at least some of the time. If you have kids and one stays home they’re largely acting as a single parent for months at a time while the one on the ship misses out on all of that time with their kids. Think you have it figured out which country you’re going to live in as a couple? Now, think about living their with kids while your partner is away at sea.
Figuring you’re going through a long distance bit, you get to contend with the challenges of that. Ship’s internet is notoriously eh-hem “challenging”. Those little moments of life that you might experience or tell your significant other about can sometimes get lost in the “it’s not important enough to mention”, or “we’ve only got 10 minutes to talk”, category. Coordinating time zones can be incredibly hard – and likely involve someone waking up in the middle of the night to chat. Big side note on this: technology is incredible. I might complain about it when it doesn’t work, but being able to send pictures to each other, message each other, call each other, and video chat with each other is huge and incredible, and while it can expensive is totally worth it.
There are some upsides. Let’s not get all negative here. During normal times I get to sail with him nearly the entire time he’s onboard. We’ve been to something like 30 countries together. When he’s not on the ship we get literal months off together. When we have kids those months that he will be home he will be there 100%. There is a (aside from COVID times) mostly secure job and income providing for the family. Most likely those kids won’t know what life living paycheck to paycheck is like, or not be sure if the mortgage or electric bill can get paid that month. There are some solid good parts to it, too.
Sometimes this particular life is having dinner on the beach in Bali and sometimes it’s waking up at 3:00am to try to get 20 minutes to talk to each other only to have the internet cut out.
We don’t have this life all figured out. Does anybody? Everybody’s life has challenges, and this is not to say that ours are any more than anyone else’s. And, yes, the challenges I described are nearly all “first world problems”. We have food in our bellies and a home to live in. We know we can pay the mortgage next month and there are a million ways our life is amazing. I don’t discount that for a second and I am so grateful that I have the opportunity and the privilege to work to build a life that works for me and for us.
I suppose my goal was for you to get a little insight into the realities of “happily ever after”. To maybe have you look at the people that work on the ship differently as you realize some of the other challenges they have going on. Part of why traveling is great is you get insight into another culture. That creates empathy, compassion, and understanding towards someone other than yourself and something different than yourself. I hope today you got to travel a bit into our lives.
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