Girl Talk: How Commuting Killed My Relationship

“The commute is killing me,” I said, tears streaming down my face.

My live-in boyfriend Jeff looked at me, puzzled. I couldn’t blame him. The way I behaved when I got home from work every day was, well, puzzling. After a 12-hour work day as a high school teacher and a two-hour commute home through bumper-to-bumper Los Angeles traffic, I arrived home every night in a rage. On the worst days, I would push through the door of our apartment like a tornado, slam it shut, scream at Jeff, run into the bedroom and cry like a five-year-old. This is embarrassing for me to admit, but it’s true. I should probably also mention that I am usually a fairly calm, only occasionally histrionic person. I was not behaving like myself.

Researchers at Umea University in Sweden just released a study which found that couples in which one partner commutes for longer than 45 minutes are 40 percent likelier to divorce. Why? Because if you are commuting, you are not connecting. All of a sudden, the demise of my relationship made sense.

After a very long, stressful day, getting into the car for what I knew would be another long stretch of stress on the freeway elicited a feeling of hopelessness and anxiety in me. I felt sub-human sitting amongst the gridlock. There, I had time to stew over my day. To think about how difficult my job was. About how dissatisfied I was. I felt like my life and my youth were erasing themselves before my eyes and I was sitting behind a dashboard and allowing it to happen, day after day. My daily experience reminded me of the music video for REM’s “Everybody Hurts” where a bunch of sad people get out of their cars and walk down the highway because they can no longer endure the gridlock. At stoplights, I wished someone would just do it so I could follow.

During my commute I tried listening to music and making phone calls. I even listened to Deepak Chopra audio CDs to distract me. But nothing made the feeling of dread go away, or helped the anger I felt over so much time wasted.

Jeff tried different approaches to get me to calm down once I was home. He would pour me a glass of wine and play my favorite music. Sometimes, he would go for a walk to give me some space. Nothing worked. Soon, Jeff and I stopped connecting in the same way we used to. I fell asleep at 10 p.m. while Jeff watched movies on the couch alone. We stopped talking about our days with each other in the same way. My sex drive died. The joy we shared as a couple was dwindling.

Eventually, I made like Michael Stipe and walked away from my life in Los Angeles, away from the job, away from Jeff, away from my car—and far away from the two-hour commute. It was a painful decision, but one that led me to a much happier phase of my life. Now that I am living in New York, sans two-hour commute, there is no trace of the angry woman behind the wheel. I am the cheerful subway rider flipping the pages of my book or rocking out on my iPod.

When people ask me if I miss Los Angeles, my response is always the same: “No way. Commuting ruined my life.”

While I think ending my relationship with Jeff was ultimately best for both of us, I’ve often wondered if our relationship would have faired better had we lived in another city or if had I worked around the corner. Was I just immature and unready to be a good partner or did my commute contribute to the downfall of my relationship?

Today, I read an article over at Slate.com called “Your Commute is Killing You,” that gave an answer to this very question. Researchers at Umea University in Sweden just released a study which found that couples in which one partner commutes for longer than 45 minutes are 40 percent more likely to divorce. Why? Because if you are commuting, you are not connecting. It cuts into your time to do things that make you happy as a human being. Another study done at Harvard found that a long commute time is directly correlated to feelings of isolation. All of a sudden, these studies made this chapter in my life history make sense. These studies suggest that my commute was indeed killing me, and maybe even caused the death of my relationship with Jeff.

I wish I could go back and have back all those hours I spent grinding my teeth in gridlock. I can’t. But I know this now: if I am so lucky to have to the opportunity to have a man in my life like Jeff again, I will make sure I don’t waste our quality time sitting in my car.

Photo: iStockphoto/Thinkstock

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