My boyfriend is a submariner in the Royal Navy. He spends chunks of the year 60m underwater and I have no idea where. During that time, we can’t speak. I can send him up to 120 words in telegram form but he has no way of replying. His mum and I split this allowance so we can send 60 words each. He will likely be working six hours on, six hours off for the entire 90 days (or so) that he is away. What he does and where he goes is so secret, the majority of the crew on board won’t have a clue where they have been. The submarine remains underwater the entire time.
For the one left behind, it becomes a challenge in being patient, particularly when dealing with the common dialogue of “When’s he home?” – I don’t know. “How’s he getting on?” – I don’t know. “Have you heard from him?” – No. “Has he emailed?” – No! “Where is he?” – I don’t know.
You get the idea.
The cycle of emotions is intense but then you learn to adapt and to settle into routine. I send my 60 word message to him on a Sunday evening reflecting on the week that has been, signing off “Miss you, Love you” which doesn’t quite convey what I so desperately want it to. You find yourself wanting to punch the television when you flick through programmes and hear a bride weeping about three weeks without her man on ‘Don’t tell the Bride’. Its difficult not to roll your eyes when the girls are complaining their other half hasn’t text since the morning.
You hold onto memories of the weeks that ran up to patrol, all the snatched moments, the country walks and the impromptu days out. Of course that is what having a submariner in your life does, it makes you appreciate the time that you do have together. You learn to make the most of the down time and cram it full of moments that will keep you going through the long days of patrol. It makes you even more proud of them, for the job they do that 9 out of 10 people have a no real idea about nor could cope with.
At home, other wives and girlfriends of those on the same crew connect with each other to create a network of support across the country. You know who is having a bad day, you share news with each other that you wish you could share with him and you celebrate the little victories (plumbing skills for the win!). Admiring those that are being both mum and dad to their children whilst the submarine is away and picking up comfort, and wisdom, from those who have been married for thirty years and to whom this is old hat. They understand, they don’t pretend it’s easy and they’ll put up with your rants!
It forces better communication between you as a couple, to discuss separation, to vocalise emotions. To deal with the tears. It encourages old fashioned romance – this time I sent him off with a journal full of “Open When…” letters and photos of fun times. He arranged, to my surprise, for flowers to be delivered once he had gone. A reminder that he loves me and that he is thinking of me.
So to all of you who stand with a submariner, I’m proud of you! It’s tough and its emotional but we get through it and it makes us stronger – as individuals and as a couple.
Here’s to the end of patrol and the wonderful feeling of being reunited with someone who you can’t live life to the full without.