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20 March 2024

At 32, I am only just getting over the concept of time difference

M— is away for a month. Two weeks today, by the time you read this.

By Pippa Bailey

There are many advantages to dating a musician. For a start, it’s undeniably attractive. I weekly live out my teenage fantasy of going home with the boy in the band. On reflection, that’s only one advantage. The disadvantage is that his work often takes him away from home. Usually it’s short haul: a night in Wales, a weekend in Seville. But this time M— is away for a whole month – 32 nights to be exact; not that I’m counting – in Canada. As I write, it is three weeks today until our reunion; two weeks today, by the time you read this. Three more weekends. Two more issues of this magazine to send to the printers. OK, I’m counting. Counting in every way that makes time feel shorter, more manageable.

I’m making all this sound like I am sad and pathetic, wasting away without him. But really, I’m doing fine  – surprisingly so, in fact. They say it’s harder for the one left behind, but at least I have the familiarity of my home, the rhythm of work, the comfort of family and friends, the routine of sleep and cooking and exercise. I would rather be in London, without M—, than in Canada, moving hotels constantly, sharing a room with a virtual stranger, eating on the go, and performing the same show every single night – not least because it involves him playing Albert Lee’s “Country Boy”, surely one of the hardest guitar parts ever written, while I can just about manage the six chords of the White Stripes’ “Apple Blossom”. I am happy enough, ticking off the days in my own little world, in the knowledge that there will be many more to come in ours.

I’ve done all this before, strangely, because when A— and I started dating, six or so years ago, he was abroad for a month, every other month. Back then, he worked in oil and gas, and I worked at the Mail on Sunday; we were the most hated couple at any dinner party. I found that experience far more challenging. It was still early days for our relationship, with all the insecurities they bring but without the excited anticipation of seeing each other. Harder, too, because although I had my fill of friends and family while he was away, I had to share him with his in the four weeks he was home. I had all but forgotten this period of my life, which feels as though it belongs to someone else’s, until, searching my email inbox for something else recently, I found the work timetable he sent me so I could plan my diary around his.

At least the time difference was easier then: Egypt, where A— worked, is only two hours ahead of the UK; on Vancouver Island, the most westerly part of M—’s tour, he is seven hours behind. I know that at the age of 32 I really should have got over the concept of a time difference, but, still, I cannot quite comprehend that by the time he wakes, I have already done seven hours of work; that his update on how the show went each night lands on my phone at 5.30am UK time. It leaves us a short window, mid-evening here, when I am home from the office and he is not yet at the theatre for soundcheck, to speak on the phone, to share the mundanities, triumphs and tribulations of our days.

Our parting was made easier by his having to shave for the show, which has a 1950s, rockabilly sensibility. (I have long advised friends dating bearded men to make sure they see them clean-shaven before they commit, so they know exactly to what jaw line they are promising till death do us part. I suppose it’s only fair that at some point I should suffer my own advice.) Easier, too, by being able to wave him off with the words: “See you in Nashville.” For our reunion in early April will also mark the start of a two-week holiday. After a few nights in the country music capital, we will be driving through the national parks of Tennessee, North Carolina and Virginia – with plenty of hiking opportunities to balance out all the pancakes and biscuits – to Washington DC, and finally New York. After 32 nights of pure personal space, we have chosen to reacclimatise to each other with an intense 16 nights of none. What could possibly go wrong?

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This article appears in the 20 Mar 2024 issue of the New Statesman, Easter Special 2024