Relationships and the roadEditorial
For many reasons, singers are rock stars. They live large-than-life professional lives, and their craft becomes their whole world. Like rock stars, opera folk also travel a ton for their work; artists like to stay busy, and the busier they are, there’s a good chance that they’ll be away from home more. One of the huge sacrifices a singer, conductor, director, etc., makes for their career is a stable, “normal” personal life. Singers have relationships, families, friends, of course, but being away from them is an unavoidable part of it.
In my own experience in leaving loved ones at home while I travel for work, it can be about compartmentalizing. On the one hand, I miss home, and I want to stay connected via Skype or phone or text. On the other hand, it can be painful to remind yourself that you’re away, and when you add significant time zone differences, it can get even more difficult. Diving head-on into the work is a great way to stay positive and be productive. So, communication can dwindle and intimacy can feel like it’s slipping away.
Let’s take opera singers and romantic relationships as an example. If a singer is dating/engaged/married to someone whose work doesn’t require travel, the first source of tension can be about “choosing gigs” over their partner. Without being in the industry, it can be difficult to explain the difference between taking local gigs that are unsatisfying, and taking away gigs that are professionally fulfilling.
If both parties are singers/in the industry, there’s a tacit understanding about the need to travel. That can foster intimacy and empathy in a couple, knowing that there’s mutual respect for each others’ careers. With two working singers, though, there are two professional calendars; that can hack away at the chances to spend time together over the course of a season.
Meeting new people is part of the job, too. The professional bonds made over rehearsals and coachings can grow into friendships, and they can grow into something more. Singers who play romantic leads can turn theatre into reality, and it’s no wonder; there’s a shared task between them, a huge love of their work, and a good amount of free time after rehearsal that can be spent getting to know each other over dinner and drinks. It’s way better than being lonely, and it makes me wonder vaguely about the possibly higher rates of open relationships among artists.
Even if there’s endless respect for each others’ careers, working away from home means that you will have experiences without that person. You can tell them about the incredible show you sang, or send photos of the beautiful cities you visit, but it will never be the same as having them there with you. Not only that, but you will have these experiences with other people. By this I don’t necessarily mean to say you’re going to cheat on your partner. It’s true, though, that being in a show can create fast friends out of strangers, and since everyone’s a tourist, it’s common to explore new things together. So, your partner didn’t get to hear you sing so well, plus you visited the Uffizi or the Eiffel Tower or the French riviera without them.
When you return from a gig, it can be odd. There’s a feeling of “did I really just go there and do all that?” Travel invigorates me, and returning home to see the person who couldn’t travel with me reminds me of this feeling of separateness, of having grown without them. You have so many stories, and so many of them are had-to-be-theres. Your partner may listen and laugh sincerely; when this happens four, five, ten times a year, though, experiences with colleagues can start to outweigh those you share specifically with your partner.
There’s no answer to the problem. All the artists I know who spend time away from their loved ones tell me it’s hard, it’s awful, and it completely sucks. It’s absolutely one of the checkpoints in the career, filtering out those who really don’t want to live from airport to airport. For those who make it work (plenty over multiple decades), they’ve had their relationships tested multiple times. Distance and alienation, turning to not-your-partner for support and bonding, racking up your life’s best memories while away from home; maintaining any semblance of routine and stability in this kind of context is just plain hard. At its very worst, it can feel false, insincere.
Sometimes I think that artists get to live a next-level type of life. They’re forced to learn to really communicate with their loved ones, and I think it can speed up the process of realizing whether or not a relationship is going to work. They spend significant moments of their lives (auditions, performances, etc.) essentially alone, and they learn quickly how to get along with themselves. Artists also have to make real, tangible sacrifices in order to do their job, and early on in their career they’re presented with dilemmas about their happiness. Do they want to sing more than see their family regularly? Do they want to conduct more than be there for weddings, birthdays, new babies, and family tragedies? The big decisions in life come up quickly for artists, and they can hurt, no doubt. At the very least, artists are luckier than your average travelling businessman, because their work is better when they feel. Artists, although I find it wholly unsatisfying, there’s always the option to pour your sad into your work.