Freelancing while in a relationship

Danya and me at Pacific Northwest Ballet's opening night gala dinner in 2006
I have danced nine shows in one week. There have been stages harder than the floor of a warehouse. I've danced multiple pieces of choreography to the same piece of music every week for 4 weeks. All of these, among others, have been great challenges for me since I began freelancing. There are many difficult obstacles in one's freelancing career, but I still find one of the biggest challenges as a traveling freelance dancer in leaving my life partner for an extended period of time. It is just one of those things that doesn't get easier the more you do it.

One of the reasons I left PNB was because I felt the company didnt get to travel enough. Working 40 weeks a year in a distant city like Seattle, I felt like my feet were glued to the ground. As a hopeful student, I heard fabulous stories of dancers going on tour, seeing the world, and getting paid to do it. I worked hard to get into a big company that had a great history of touring. Being offered a job at PNB, a place that had a reputation for international touring, I fully expected to be visiting London, Hong Kong, and many other places. But after joining the company, touring barely happened more than a few times. While with the company, I traveled three times to the Vail International Dance Festival and once to the Joyce Theater in New York City. When I left the Pacific northwest, I figured that I might travel a little more since I was only tied down to a 22 week contract in Philadelphia. In typical fashion, when I ask the universe for something, I get exactly what I ask for, but in some completely ass-backwards way. I am not complaining, but freelancing full-time was not my expectation.

My first time visiting L.A. at the Getty Museum - January 2006
My partner and I met in Seattle back in 2005. He was visiting from his hometown of Los Angeles working on a political action committee. We were instantly enthralled with each other, but both of us refused to commit because neither of us wanted to do the long distance thing. After returning to L.A., we remained in close touch. He had a trip to Egypt and London scheduled (which he had already paid for) and asked me if he went on that trip if there might be a chance that I would meet someone else. I tend to be brutally honest and responded with a bold "yes." Well, long story short, he changed the dates of that trip (which he never actually got to go on) and booked 10 days to visit me in Seattle. At the end of that foray, he returned to L.A. a few steps closer to hooking me. Finally on January 28, 2006, 7 years ago, I agreed to commit to him if he would agree to move to Seattle within a year. Nine months later, as I often refer to him, Danya moved to the Emerald City and we started our life together.

Living in Seattle brought us many challenges that actually made our relationship stronger in the long run. From stifled careers to passive-aggressive friendships to a tragic accident that left Danya incapable of walking for 3 months, we survived together and our bond grew stronger. One thing that we never had to deal with was spending time apart. By the time that we moved to Philly in 2011, I believe the longest we had been apart from each other since Danya's move to Seattle was 10 days when I traveled to Israel on a Birthright trip. Moving to Philadelphia was a choice we made together. While we were happy to leave Seattle behind, I don't think we quite expected things to be the way they are today.

I remember back in April when I traveled to Providence on my first gig as a full-time freelancer, I wrote a status update on Facebook about missing my partner. He gave a supportive response and thrown in there was something along the lines of, "we are in a part-time long distance relationship." My heart sank into the pit of my stomach and I thought to myself, "how did I get here?" Once I came to terms with the fact that my current career track meant that we would be spending a lot of time apart, I started figuring out ways to help make myself feel close to Danya, even when I am halfway across the world searching for the Aurora Borealis.

My nightstand in Alaska
There are a handful of ways that one can make themselves feel closer to a loved one when they are too far to hold close. I am always sure to bring a photograph of my partner and myself together to put right next to my alarm clock. If I put it next to my alarm clock, it is usually the first thing I see when I wake up and the last thing that I see before I go to sleep. I also bring an item that my partner gave me as a gift. For instance, I love to cuddle myself to sleep. When I crawl into bed and he isn't there, it is too easy to start feeling lonely. As ridiculous or childish as it may sound, Danya gave me the gift of a stuffed sock monkey awhile back. Whenever I spend more than a week away from home, I bring the stuffed animal along with me to cuddle with before I go to sleep. I've never been one to sleep with a stuffed animal and I don't keep one in my bed at home, but when I travel this sentimental item helps calm and relax me before I go to sleep. It isn't a replacement, but it is comforting to know that his spirit is there.
Another photo I bring wherever I travel

One issue I have is that I am a constant worrier and get really anxious about the possibility of things that could happen, even if that possibility is unlikely. My friends think its a part of my Jewish blood, but genetics or not I am always worried that certain things are going to happen, like losing touch. In order to calm my worries, Danya and I always develop a plan before I leave town. For instance, I am writing this blog from seat 15A on my way to spend 3 months in Anchorage dancing with Alaska Dance Theatre. To ensure that we stay in the best touch possible, we have developed a plan to talk every evening before Danya goes to sleep (there is a 4 hour time difference) and to Skype once every weekend. We keep this plan loose, in the event that we are just too busy to talk. But the important part of this plan is that we have set an intention. Even if we don't have much to share with each other, we still get on the phone and talk for a minute or two. When you are used to seeing one another every day, it is easy to get into free flowing conversation. But when you are apart, the conversation tends to focus on what you have done during your day. If there isn't much else to talk about, there is no need to sit in awkward silence waiting to stir up conversation. If we have a lot to talk about, we spend more time chatting. But on days where we have less to talk about, we sum up our day and say goodnight. There will be more to talk about tomorrow and its not worth stressing that we didn't have much to share. As for Skype, having a visual conversation helps make me feel better when we've been apart for too long. Although you can't touch each other, you can at least feel like you are in the same room.

One particular challenge that took a bit more thought was missing important holidays, dates, and events with one another. For instance, Danya and my anniversary is coming up in 9 days. We won't get to spend this important milestone together. To make sure that we don't miss out on this special occasion, we moved the date of our anniversary ahead ten days. Last night, we went out for a nice dinner and went out dancing afterwards. Although we can't spend our special day together, it doesn't mean that we can't move it and celebrate on another day. Coming up next is Valentine's day. We clearly can't spend this holiday together and it would be odd to celebrate our anniversary and Valentine's day a few days apart and nearly a month prior to the holiday. So, we have already planned to celebrate Valentine's day with a Skype dinner date. Having some facetime on a computer doesn't only have to involve sitting at a desk, staring at one another on a computer screen. We are both going to make our own dinner and buy a bottle of wine and sit down at a table and enjoy each others company over a meal. Again, although we can't touch each other, we can still have the experience of being together.

Dan climbing atop a mountain of snow at Portage Bay, AK
The final way that I combat the emotional strain of being apart for such a long period of time is by bringing my partner along with me. This is not always an option, perhaps due to time or money. Prior to every gig I do, I ask my host family or hotel if my partner can join me for a few days. I have never been told no, but if I was I would be more than willing to pay for a hotel. My partner and I have a rule that he has to come visit me in the middle of any gig that I do if it lasts longer than 3 weeks. I feel very lucky that Danya owns his own business (Spaces Transformed - Professional Organizer) and has more flexibility to travel. For instance, during the 3 months that I am away in Alaska, Danya will be joining me for 3 1/2 weeks, smack dab in the middle of the gig.  This way we will spend a month apart, be together for a month, and then have another month before I return home. That sounds much better than 3 months of phone and Skype conversations. Since he owns his own business, he can work wherever his services are needed. His home and office organization business travels well and he is currently looking forward to working with clients in Alaska. I am very excited to have him enjoy this experience with me. It is almost like a mini-vacation/retreat.

Traveling while freelancing can make one feel lonely, moreso when you have to leave a loved one at home. Bringing sentimental items and photos, setting up phone and Skype dates, celebrating special days and holidays early and via skype, and bringing your partner along with you can make the distance more bearable. I love my partner and I love my job. I feel so lucky to have a partner that is so supportive of what I do that he is willing to let me leave home for, sometimes, months at a time. One thing that I was surprised to learn through all of this time apart is that the distance actually brings us closer. It brings about a stronger sense of appreciation, refreshment, and excitement when we are finally reunited again.

Savoring the moment and sharing a special dinner together

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