I'm writing this post as The Bear puts in another 6-day, 100-hour work week. Nope, that wasn't a typo. Boyfriend works loooooong hours. And even though he made this "lifestyle" very clear to me from Date #2 – something along the lines of, "Do you really understand what you're getting yourself into?" and I read myriad first-hand accounts (this book and this book are good, if you're interested), I don't think I fully understood just what dating a first-year resident really, truly, actually entailed until that first morning his alarm went off at 5 am and I blearily watched him don his scrubs, grab his coffee, peck me on the cheek, and go.
Let me tell you, it’s more McLonely than McDreamy up in here, ladies. Some truths:
1. You'll have more time than you know what to do with.
Medicine is a jealous mistress, my friends. Your partner will spend almost one day out of every single weekend working. And let us not even discuss the tragedy known as "nightshift," a cruel two-week period where the amount of time I see the Bear amounts to the brief minutes we share a bathroom, brushing our teeth – him, before bedtime, me, just having woken. Super-sexy, you guys. But I digress. My suggestion (and really, this applies to everyone, no matter what profession your partner): Fill your life – with friends, with furry three-legged cats, with books, with travel, and when you're reunited because his shifts have lightened up? Think of how interesting you'll be.
2. He still needs space.
Not only that, but when he walks in the door after a grueling shift and you've been anxiously waiting for him to come home so you can fill him on idle work gossip, he's not always up for it. Don't take it personally. It's not because he doesn't love you and isn't interested, it's because he is so physically and emotionally drained that he needs time to decompress. I've learned – okay, I'm still learning – not to hound him the moment he walks in the door. (My mantra: No big shares while there's still blood on his scrubs.) Let him have his space, get some food in his belly, and then start the conversation. Or save it for his day off. This practice is still hard for an untrained, overeager puppy like me who wants to emote every feeling every second she feels it. But it's also taught me the importance of self-control and not immediately sharing your every stressor with your significant other simply because it feels good to dump your grievances & aggravations on someone else. (Why DOES it feel so good?) But it's hard. I'm still working on it.
3. Always have a plan B.
Oh, you had dinner plans at 8 at that brand new Mexican place? Ahhhh, well, guess what? You're ridin' solo now, my friend, because at 7:58, a patient in the ICU crashed and he'll be there for at least two more hours doing paperwork. My suggestion: Always have a Plan B or start enjoying meals by yourself – I swear, sushi tastes better with a good book! Or start a blog. Or get a cat. Or call me, because I'm probably available.
A note on vacation time: First-year residents get 2 two-week vacations. But don't make the same mistake we did and take it a month into residency. (To be fair, it was my sister's wedding and we didn't have much a choice.) But still, learn from us and spread those two week vacas out or those hospital stretches are going to feel like for-ev-er. Repeat after me, in the Sandlot voice: FOR-EV-ER.
4. You're never first.
If you're a needy person and/or require immediate gratification (who? me?), this is a very hard thing to get used to. Your needs & wants, both physical and emotional, take a backseat to the patient(s) the majority of the time. What I've found to be helpful in managing expectations is to simply have no expectations. I've disappointed myself far too many times at this point that I now view any extra time he can spend with me as a bonus. That being said, it's important that when you two do have time alone that he is fully present – put the medicine talk on hold (unless he has a really juicy or horribly gory story to tell you and let me tell you, doctors have the BEST stories) and connect. Whatever connecting looks like for you. For us, it's wine & a piano bar. Or wine and Netflix. Or wine and…more wine. You get the point.
5. The payoff is in the pride you feel.
Last night, I walked in on the Bear practicing stitches. He had a how-to video queued up on his computer and he was trying over and over again on his practice stitch board (is that what they call those things, asks the non-medical professional?) – to get them perfectly precise. After a 7-day week where he clocked 100 hours, he was still bettering himself, still putting in time to be a better doctor. I smiled and watched him until he got it right, because to watch someone you love do something they love? That's the good stuff.
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