Are you the leaver or the left?

Ian has been away this week and I have had a bit of time here on my own. Visitors who come from the brightly lit city and look out into the velvet dark up here often ask if I mind being here on my own. The answer is not at all. Our neighbours at the farm are seconds away even though we cannot see them from the house and I don't mind being alone by the fire or snuggled down in bed.

For the last twelve years or so I have been the one to go away. It is curious now to find myself the one who stays at home.

So what is the difference in how it feels? Well, going away is a strange mixture. If you have children there is always a little bit of guilt (or even a lot!) no matter how well looked after you know they will be when you are gone. My children were in their teens by the time I was spending weeks away with work and didn't seem to mind too much. Perhaps they even liked the fact that I wasn't hanging around checking if they had done their homework and trying to encourage them to talk about their day. But there was always a bit of me that felt guilty about driving away on a Monday morning, leaving their care to my husband, not guilty enough not to go, obviously.

And then there is an odd lightness, a sort of relief. You are leaving behind all the minutiae of home life: the unpaid bills, the unwashed laundry, the shopping lists, the teetering piles of ironing, the cat to take to the vet, the insurance quote to find. You are not there so there is nothing you can do about it. If you stay in a hotel there is nothing to do at all except unpack your bag and look at the minibar. I never liked hotel life, the meals on a tray from room service or eating on your own in a hotel restaurant pretending to read a book, though both of those were sometimes better than finding yourself eating with people you didn't care for in a fug of drink and jollity. It wasn't always like that of course. Sometimes you found yourself in a beautiful city with locals who took you out for great meals with interesting people and allowed you to pretend for an evening that you too lived in Barcelona or Lisbon or Amsterdam. It was a far cry from changing beds or taking the bins out. There is an excitement, an energy in leaving home with your bag and going out into the world.

But very often being away from home for work contains vast tracts of time where the strongest emotion is boredom. Business travel gives you hours hanging around in airports, sitting on trains, having an evening to kill with nothing to do other than mess about with your presentation. And travelling is tiring too, even though it is sometimes hard to see why it should be if all you are doing is sitting on a train reading a report and drinking coffee.

Being in touch while you are away is tricky too. You already feel disconnected and if you don't ring and talk to your family you begin to feel even more distant and disorientated. But ringing can be a minefield. You find that your daughter is being bullied or your son is ill. Your partner is clearly struggling with the twin pressures of work and home and you suddenly can't talk about the success of a meeting or an enjoyable meal out without feeling uncomfortable and somehow disloyal. Or you are having a miserable time in a cheap hotel with sticky carpets and a client who stubbornly insists on the impossible and they are all clearly having a great week. You can hear them laughing in the background and you struggle not to feel sorry for yourself and left out.

I think if I had stayed home for years I might feel differently about staying home now. It is odd to be the one left holding the fort. It is disconcerting to find that the jobs of ringing the builder and renewing the road tax and finding a new dentist which you blithely said you would do are messy and hopelessly timeconsuming and frustrating with hours wasted hanging on the phone, listening to a chirpy girl telling you how important your call is to them. I never used to have time to do any of that so I didn't.

There is always a small sense of being left behind when the person who is leaving goes out of the door. You look at the dishes and the laundry and suppress an internal sigh. But then you remind yourself that you don't actually want to get on the train. You can go and walk round the garden, sit at the computer and read blogs. It is entirely up to you what you do with your day. And having an evening to yourself is actually rather wonderful. I have always liked it - no sound but the fire, no television, a glossy magazine or a new book or a shiny laptop hour. I like getting into bed by myself and stretching out on the cool sheets.

That enjoyment lasts for the first night but if I am by myself much longer the attraction fades. In a few days I am longing for company and conversation and a warm body to hug in the bed and someone to laugh with at Armstrong and Miller.

So just for now I think I like to be the one who is left. I like to be the still centre of the turning world, feeding the cats and sorting the chickens out and hanging up laundry and watching a thrush eating berries in the yew tree for long quiet minutes. As long as next week I can get in the car and drive away.

Are you the leaver or the left?


  1. As someone else who lived this life, departing on regular business trips both all over the UK and Europe, I can identify with so many of the observations and reactions in your post. I used to find the trips addictive. If I didn't make one every week I became bored - though usually they were day trips (I even did Madrid and back once in a gruelling 22 hour day). But you have identified and highlighted so much here that I am wanting to say 'yes, yes - absolutely.' So I am a leaver - even now - though the trip rate has much declined these days.

  2. Im a leaver. I go to Michigan every summer and leave my boyfriend in North Carolina.

  3. What an eloquent post this is. It really shows me (single woman, neither leaver or left) just what it is that I am not experiencing in my solitary existance.

    Independence can be grand, and I could write pages and pages on that notion. Yet, there is something so, so much more enriching to a lifetime, that has given the addition of having that other person there, or not there.

    So much to think about. So many generations of women were always in the left category, it is only withing the past decades that we've had that choice, and been able to see what it might be to be the leaver.

    Oh, how I do run on. Thank you for this post. xo

  4. What a diverse experience you have shared.

    I used to be the leaver. But I never enjoyed traveling very much. Almost always on work, which left me tired at night.

    Now, if anything, I'm the left. Which means I have the house to myself (or myself and the dog[s]). Suits me just fine, thank you. Get lots done; not have to fit into any one else's schedule.

  5. After a working life of being thew leaver I have, for some years now, been retired on ill health and am 'the left'. I prefer it but would like it even more if I were still able to drive and get away every now and then. I guess we all want to have our cake and eat it.

  6. I am always the 'left' which sounds horribly close to 'leftover' and makes me feel a little like the half eaten cottage pie in the fridge.

    However, I have just enough recollectin of hectic working days and business trips to know I'm onto a good thing really. And, of course, leaving would also mean leaving the garden and the children, which should really only happen at about 7pm when a glass of chilled white wine and very good friends are at the other end of the journey...

  7. I am usually the left but, right now, I am the leaver. I am currently in Budapest nursing my mother who decided to have some surgery done. It's very hard. She's not young and the surgery has been major with a few complications. My husband is at home and these 2 weeks will be the longest we've been separated in 15 years of marriage. We're not enjoying it at all. While mum was in the clinic I was racing round taking photos of interesting architecture and blogging like fury, but sad that he wasn't with me to share it. Since mum's been out of the clinic I've not had the time to blog. We're back home next weekend and I can't wait...

  8. I've been both, and both were fine, up to a point. As you said, after a while, or depending on circumstances, things begin to feel different, and it's a relief to change over.

    But for me, after noisy family life followed by some years of having lodgers to help me afford this house, nothing beats the feeling of opening my front door and knowing there's going to be just me and the animals, to live quietly and calmly together, doing what we please. I suppose that might feel very different if family life had been more harmonious, or lodgers less obvious! But the way you describe your time alone sounds blissful.

  9. Since I've never had to travel for work my only experience of leaving has been for pleasure, as a release. I'm doing just that next weekend, it feels great! Mainly I like to be at home but with the possibility of running away when I want.

  10. PS I meant to comment on your last post which was so lovely, but I forgot. Your stories of life at home are always so enriching and inspiring, partly because you have a nice home environment but mainly because you are a great writer :-)

  11. Definitely one of the left - on the rare occasions I managed to be a leaver I felt as if I were being let out of school early, off on a spree.

    However, I'm more than happy alone, in my own surroundings doing things at my pace. I can remember many years ago when A. had gone to work and the boys were at school coming home to silence so profound that it roared. Wonderful.

  12. I do both. I leave, for work or errands, and I am left sometimes. Each has its advantages, but I think I prefer being left. As long as it is not permanently!
    This is a thoughtful post, thank you!

  13. Fennie - I know what you mean about the addiction but I think I have broken it now!
    Michelle - wonder if you like it?
    Frances - what a fascinating and thoughtful comment. You are so right that it is recent development for women to be anything other than the left.
    Rob - know what you mean about how tiring travelling is, although I have never really understood why when you generally sitting down!
    SS - certainly for me to be able to drive away occasionally is pretty important.

  14. Hey,

    Just found your blog - EXCELLENT!

    In relationships, I have always been the "leaver". I ditched almost every boyfriend I had, and was utterly devastated by the one or two that beat me to the punch. Which prompted me to leave more quickly the next time... a never ending circle, UNTIL I finally met Mr. Right and got married! Whew - finally off the "leaving" train.

    When I was a flight attendant, leaving was the business... three day trips, four day trips, over and over until I was sure my cats forgot what I looked like and my houseplants were dead. Happily, those days are behind me now and I have my own little cottage to live in and I work 15 minutes away.


    - M

  15. elizabethm wrote: "Rob - know what you mean about how tiring traveling is, although I have never really understood why when you generally sitting down!"

    Interesting point, elizabeth; it does have an answer.

    The problem is called "static fatigue." It is the problem of "just being there," and having to do something.

    Prime example -- bomber pilots in WW2 (the first group studied if I remember correctly). Sitting in one seat in a plane for hours, flying to and from the target. Or airline pilots today, about three-quarters of whom will nod-off on a long flight (according to one study I read). Or people on very long road trips.

  16. LGF - you are so right, we are lucky to have the chance to stay put!
    Mrs Jones - been following your time in Budapest, hope you are home soon, sounds like you need to get back.
    Rachel - we share the love of the silence then. I do need some noise for contrast but if I had to have only one it would have to be the calm.
    Sue - I do know what you mean about leaving for pleasure. I am off next week and looking forward to it hugely.
    Mountainear - profound roaring silence! love it, have it here quite often too.
    Dimple - good to have both, I agree, and what you want changes from time to time.
    Marcheline - thanks for visiting. Oh yes I remember the dead houseplants and the angry cat and the sense of a house unlived in!

  17. funny; i am the leaver, usually. i hate being left, even though i enjoy my alone time.

  18. I agree with Frances - your post is eloquent and I really enjoyed reading it. I am a leaver, because my other half stays at home while I work (he's still in bed when I leave - aarrrgghhhh), but I do come back each night, which isn't quite the same as being away for weeks, and doesn't involve a mini-bar or pretending to read books in hotels.

  19. Thanks Elizabeth for the visit. Slow is always good in my mind. One is reponsible for one's own life and if you don't change it...

    Your latest post, a very eloquent and put together blog as lal the readers before me have said. I am probably the leaver in the family though to a very small degree as I downscaled my job several years ago to be more at home after work with the family. I've never regretted it. There is some excitement some misses now and then, but yes, been there done it got the t-shirt and it don't fit any longer...


    Take care, I love reading your posts albeit slow inbetween due to work and study demands but I get there


  20. A fascinationg and thought-provoking post that deserves a better response than I've got time for today so forgive me for simply saying 'thank you'.

  21. Beautifully written as always Elizabeth. A little bit of both here but neither on a grand scale. When I was working my job involved local travel only but I have made various journeys on my own over the years to stay with family and friends. Himself is still working but very close to home. He works twelve hours shifts so I have been used to long days/nights on my own over the years. I must admit that I quite enjoy having time to myself - not sure how I will cope when he retires :)

  22. Coming to answering late I have also had the pleasure of reading the many erudite comments.

    You pondering the question has made me think too. At first I was the leaver, then became the left and now am neither, togetherness is my happy lot. There is something to be learned, something to be savoured, whatever state one finds oneself in. The best thing is to be a complete person within oneself, able to enjoy both situations.

    Nobody said that they had left or been left for good;
    which is an entirely different kettle of fish.

  23. I think that we are half and half these days. Lots of coming and going. Yes, maybe we are about equal now.
    I don't mind being on my own for a good few hours. Night times would take a bit of getting used to.

    Nuts in May

  24. What an interesting question? I think I'd rather be the left every time. Love the feeling of pottering around uninterrupted, listening to what I like on the radio, leaving the breakfast washing up all day if I want to. In fact I find myself getting slightly disgruntled when I'm faced with an unexpected 'working from home day' - haven't you got an office to go to?

    I find I develop a sort of OCD on the rare occasions I find myself travelling away to work. I find myself dialling the dog-minder and asking them to check I haven't left the immersion on, the tea-time friend to check they're still expecting my son for tea, the neighbour just to run round and check I haven't accidentally left the back door open...

    Yes - left, left, left every time.

    Another great post, EM.

  25. This a a wonderful post. I am the left but after reading this the bit of me that wishes to be the leaver has quieted. I couldn't do what he does, not now.

  26. I am the leaver and have been for the last 16 years. My job involves living in other peoples houses for 5/6 days a week, coming home for 24/48 hours for three or four weeks at a time. This past year I have begun to dread when I have get the suitcase out again and pack, although I love my job and the furfilment it brings me.
    Your post resonates with me over so much. The phone calls home, the guilt when you are enjoying where you are knowing my husband is home alone. There are no easy answers or solutions to this but I know that the time is coming very soon when I have to cut back on work...or do something else. I want that cosy feeling of coming home on a daily or near daily basis, shut the door, kick off my shoes and get on with the small details of the daily round.

  27. Interesting that I've just posted about the latest round of work travel. These days I'm a leaver and I find the leaving very hard. I like to be home, miss my Great Dane and the pleasures of my own kitchen. For the first 25 years of our marriage I was the one left, as TGD was in the Air Force and would be away for weeks and months at a time. I'd rather be the one left than the one leaving.

  28. I know I say this often...I can't help it, as you, so eloquently and with such pertinent perception, always, always manage to voice those exact echoed feelings! Brilliant...Oh and I guess I’m a ‘left’ except when I’m a ‘leaver’....

  29. Rob - "static fatigue" - it has a name! Now I feel entitled to feel it.
    Laurie - I do know what you mean. Even though I have come to enjoy being the one who is left I do hate the actual business of being the one standing at the door waving goodbye.
    Fran - big bonus if you can come back at the end of the day!
    LG - I agree, you lose some excitements but not enough to be worth bothering about in the context of what you gain.
    Chris - thank you right back.
    Anna - ah, yours is a different pattern with the long hours of shift work. I think it is tricky. you need to adapt and quite enjoy some of your time alone for quite a long period and at some point it sounds as if you will find yourself losing that and making another adjustment.
    Friko - I agree, being able to enjoy both the ideal although requiring slightly different qualities I suspect!

  30. Actually, you're entitled to feel whatever you're feeling whenever you feel it.

    What you do with the feelings, of course, is an entirely different matter.

  31. For some reason you seem to have dropped off my google reader and my following list - I have missed lots of posts. Sorry about that, I must go back and read them....

  32. You are right about the long periods of boredom when travelling with work - it is seldom you are in a place you truly want to b.

    Ultimately I am a 'returner' - I like to travel but I love coming home even more.

  33. I haven't had a chance to visit for a while, and how I enjoy your writing. Your life is just about the complete opposite to mine so it reads almost like a novel for me. :<) I've never been the leaver. I mean, I've left with my family but never left them. Never been in business, never even had an outside job. I don't mind being left either. I like being in the house by myself. Somewhere I read that we are most ourselves when we are alone, and I think I believe that. Of course, I am an only child so I have always been comfortable being alone. Again, thank you for your beautiful posts.

  34. I agree with every word you have written Elizabeth. I have always been 'the left' but I can identify too with the feelings you describe, good and bad, as the leaver.

    There was a time when those two words 'being left' were the most painful in my life. All I ever saw was my husband's back. I could write a book on this subject, and hopefully will, one day. It all contributed to my illness. As the one always left, it is with the same excitement that you describe that I occasionally, just very occasionally, manage to leave.


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