How to deal with an insane commute


I usually leave work at 2:30 to pick up my kids. But on days when I ditch the kids and work to go to the farm, I allay my guilt by staying at work well after 2:30 so everyone will think I stayed late. I call the farmer when I'm on the road because I always leave a little later than I say I will and he never believes I'm on my way until I am.

I have written before about how insane it is to have a long commute. In case you’re wondering, the average commute in the US is 25 minutes each way. Newsweek describes the population of people who travel at least 90 minutes each way as “extreme commuters”. That is me, twice a week, on farm days.

Before I leave work, I line up five calls at twenty minute intervals because if I don't get a lot done on the drive then I question whether it is responsible for a woman who struggles to find time for her kids and career to also have a boyfriend ninety minutes from civilization.

I wonder a lot if the guys at work know how often I go to the farm.

When I lived in Los Angeles, I had a 50 minute commute each way, and I had a panic attack on the 405. So I know a bit about long commutes. Mostly, that they are impossible. So I try to pretend I’m not actually doing a commute. I make a list of stuff to think about and tell myself it’s thinking time. I do Kegel exercises and tell myself it’s Pilates time. (Because most of Pilates is Kegel-based anyway. Really.)

At the one-hour point there's a gas station. It used to be, when my company was out of funding, I wouldn't buy gas until the last minute. And I worried that I'd run out of money before I got myself home.

That actually happened once, I took the farmer's credit card to get home. And he didn't blink. Because we both know that I take home 25 times his salary but he always has more money than I do.

I used to stop at the gas station to put on makeup, when I was nervous and trying to win him over and showering extra, because farmers are nuts about being clean. (Way more than city people because, let's face it, city people never get dirty if the standard for dirty is working knee-deep in pig manure for a day.) At the beginning I was clean and fresh-faced and stopped at the hour point to put on makeup.

After a while, I just touched up makeup from earlier in the day. And now we’re close enough that he takes me to the free dinner from the seed manufacturer on farmer appreciation night. So now I just stop at the gas station to buy staples, like Power Bars, which I need to eat for breakfast when I need comfort food. The farmer says I'm addicted to carbs, but I noticed that when he has to deal with anything beyond the farm—like my kids, or me having a crisis —then he eats carbs, too.

So I pick up three Power Bars, in case he wants one, and the woman at the counter asks me again, “Where is your farm?” I know she knows. She's already asked once. So I give her more information, which I know she's looking for because the farmer has told me that people in the country don't ask directly for what they want.

“I have my own company in Madison,” I say. “I come here to see my boyfriend.”

“Oh. What kind of company?”



I check myself out in the bathroom. I want to look hot. I just don't want to do a lot to get there. And I pee. Because what if the farmer wants to have sex right away when I get there?

He rarely does. But peeing at the gas station is my expression of my hope.

I get back in the car and listen to music. The transition is important. If you have a bad commute, your bad mood permeates your whole mood after the commute. I am determined to not let that happen. So the gas station stop is a separator. I have to rest there so the last 30 minutes is all that counts toward the post-commute mood.

The last 30 minutes to his house is through rolling hills hiding large corn fields and small vegetable gardens, and every driver who passes by me waves like I’m a neighbor.

I have been talking all day. The farmer has been quiet all day. So when I pull up the dirt road, I go straight to the porch, lay my head on his lap, and I listen. I listen to his voice above the wrestling wind through the tall corn stalks. He reports chicken and cows and hay for thirty minutes while I rest.

And then Moby Dick. He's reading that. He tells me about Ahab's antics from the three nights since I have been there. I am stuck on the fact that Ahab got crazier and crazier chasing his whale and he spent his whole life in transit, looking for it.

I tell him my commute is insane.

We go running in the hay field. He serves steaks as finger food. We sleep on his bed on the porch, sort of under the stars.

In the morning I tell him again that the commute will never work.

He tells me he sees we’re at a big decision point in the relationship and he needs time to think. Alone.



How long?

Just a week.


How about six days?

We make a plan. And I set off for the commute to work, wondering what will happen next.

He leaves me with two dozen eggs, some just-ripe squash, and a bite mark on the inside of my thigh.

94 replies
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  1. Bonnie
    Bonnie says:

    Some people go for walks to clear their head. Doesn’t work for me; what works is driving. But I live in NYC and don’t own a car. I am wishing I had a farm to drive 90 minutes to, but I’m sure it would get tedious quick.

    I’m going to take a ZipCar and drive around the Hudson Valley today, I think. I just worked all night so (after a nap) I can take the day off, guilt-free. Maybe.

  2. M
    M says:

    Hoping that everything works out for you. And that whatever “happens next,” you know that you are a good and inspiring person.

  3. Carol
    Carol says:

    “How to deal with an insane commute”? I think this article should have been entitled “Insane commutes – just don’t go there”. I don’t see any how-to-deal tips.

    I know you love to share and all P – but the bite bit is definitely TMI.

  4. Van
    Van says:

    I have about an hour commute to work and boyfriend out in the-middle-of-nowhere, so I really relate to this. I’ve cut our visitations to the weekends only (I spend the night) to maintain my sanity. As for work, looking for apartments nearby. All long drives are monotonous but at least you have a scenic commute. I can’t take an hour of gray highway and bad drivers much longer…

  5. Lis
    Lis says:

    I understand. I have an hour and 20 minute commute to a job that I love. I also am dating a farmer who lives in the other direction from my house and work….therefore making the commute longer if I choose to stay with him. We also are at a deciding point…but I think, what is there to decide? He can’t leave the farm. The decision is: how much do I love my job, am I willing to continue driving this far, or do I give him up. On a bright note for you: it is possible to grow numb to the communte, to a certain extent. It also usually is possible to eek out a workday at home at least once a week.

  6. sophie
    sophie says:

    Man, PT, sometimes you gotta just quit THINKING so much about life. Just live it.

    You and the farmer are back together, you love him, things are going well for your business – these are all good things in your life that you brought up in your 9/11 post. Now you’re bemoaning the commute and you don’t think it will work. Are you ever happy?

    When else can you have 90 minutes to yourself during the week? All to yourself? Just DECIDE that you’re happy. And BE happy.

  7. J
    J says:

    I know you love the farmer P. And I respect that. I’m sure he’s a great guy. But the way he deals with relationship issues just gets on my damn nerves. Just in case you are inclined to forget: you aren’t always the ‘crazy’ one, the wrong one, or the one who needs to make a change.

    • c.
      c. says:

      I couldn’t agree more. I’m sure he’s a great guy, and we’ve all got our baggage…but the Farmer drives me nuts! Is he in or out? He’s GOT to make up his mind!

  8. Editormum
    Editormum says:

    Snarky stuff first: the bite mark thing is WAY TMI. Keep that stuff to yourself, because when you share it, it sounds like high school locker room bragging. And few people really care to know what you and the Farmer get up to in your most intimate moments. ‘Nuff said.

    Long commutes: I’ve always anchored my life around home. My boss teases me that I live my life in a ten-minute radius. And he’s mostly right. I like to drive, but not when I’m leaving the office. After a tough day at work, I just want to get home already.

    But I do take a few long trips regularly, one to a martial arts class 45 minutes away (biweekly), and trips to various martial arts tournaments that may be anywhere from 2 to 4 hours away (monthly). The answer is books on CD. I’ve “read” thousands of pages over the past several years, in 15-minute to 5-hour increments. You can read fiction or non-fiction, or even listen to college-level lectures or the entire Bible, all from the driver’s seat. And it’s a lot safer than talking on the phone while driving … which is likely to get you in a wreck sooner or later.

    And yes, routines are important. On the multi-hour trips, we always stop at each hour mark, even if it’s just to run twice around the car to stretch our legs. We also have “traditions” for places we stop to eat, take bio-breaks, get petrol, etc.

    As far as the Farmer and the relationship: Don’t over-think it. If you are both happy and enjoy being together, then it may be that a twice-weekly long commute will work for you. I know many people who have these kinds of relationships, and they work well for them. (I’d go nuts, but that’s me.) Good luck.

    • Bethany
      Bethany says:

      Please stop the calls while driving. A friend of mine always wants to talk while she’s commuting (90 minutes) and I always tell her I value her life over our chatter.

      If you don’t value your life, please value the lives of other drivers on the highway, kids in those cars or wandering onto the roads (if not a highway), and the animals that you probably don’t want to hit because they’ll hurt your car. has lots of articles pointing out how dangerous driving while phoning is–even with a bluetooth. Plus, in many states, it’s illegal.

    • Liza
      Liza says:

      It’s only dangerous if you’re an idiot that can’t talk on the phone and pay attention to the road at the same time.

      Next think you’ll say is that its great for her to publicly admit that she talks to her kids in the backseat while she’s driving, because that is SUCH a big difference.

      *rolls eyes*

      • anonymous
        anonymous says:

        “It’s only dangerous if you’re an idiot that can’t talk on the phone and pay attention to the road at the same time.”

        Everybody thinks their the one that’s not an idiot. This is doubly true for driving.

        “Next think you’ll say is that its great for her to publicly admit that she talks to her kids in the backseat while she’s driving, because that is SUCH a big difference.”

        Children in the back definitely *are* a distraction, just a less avoidable one. Also, passenger in the car are somewhat aware of what’s happening on the road. If traffic increases, or an unusual situation occurs, they adjust their conversation appropriately. (Of course this is less true of children.)

  9. Chris M.
    Chris M. says:

    “… it sounds like high school locker room bragging” LOL, editormum, I thought exactly the same thing :-).

    Penelope, you have write thought-provoking articles, and that’s why I have you in my Reader, but indeed, some things you write are just irrelevant, TMI, and sound like they were written by one of those people who are not accustomed to anything, so when they get a little something they feel the need to brag.

  10. KateNonymous
    KateNonymous says:

    I commute 45 minutes each way, but it’s by bus. So I don’t think of it as commuting time so much as reading time. An hour and a half of it a day! Actually, it’s kind of a luxury.

  11. SCF
    SCF says:

    You are a business woman, of all things you should know is that there is a cost benefit to everything. Sheez. The farm and the farmer are good, it takes time to get there – just be OK with that. Seriously.

  12. Angela
    Angela says:

    Here he goes again: as soon as you and the farmer start getting closer, he pulls back/ pushes you away. Isn’t he alone most of the time? Can’t he think then? You gotta be tired of this.

  13. Grace
    Grace says:

    This is so well-written. I loved it and I love hearing the co-existing of opposites work with you and the farmer. The last sentence is still ringing in my ears. Regardless of the commute, sometimes it’s nice to be away, to escape and let the silence cover you…Love this post, Penelope.

    • MeredithElaine
      MeredithElaine says:

      I, for one, do not need the visuals that creep into my head with all that TMI. I don’t want to have images like that of my FRIENDS, let alone some random internet chick, who is supposedly giving career advice.

      If you got some, yay, you got some. I think it’s enough to say “Yay, I got some.” I don’t need to know that anyone has a bite here or a scratch there. That just calls to mind how exactly those marks GOT THERE, and really…I don’t that.

      • Erica
        Erica says:

        Those of you saying the bite mark is TMI – what PT wants is attention and hits. So the more you tell her you hate getting TMI about her sex life, the more she’ll post about it. If you want her to stop, your best bet is NOT to comment on it. Won’t work either, because the internets are full of people who will go eww in your place. But at least you’d be helping your side instead of hurting it. I’m just saying. Me, I like the saucy details.

  14. skywind
    skywind says:

    It does make the story, even if it is a little “out there.” And you’ve certainly written about racier stuff than that!

    • J
      J says:

      I’m with you Skywind- I think the majority of the TMI folks may be new readers? Cause if they think this is too much, they ain’t seen nothing yet (or read some older posts)

  15. Matt Secor
    Matt Secor says:

    I’m stuck on a minor point in the article: Can the farmer really be making 1/25 of your salary? I hope that’s an exaggeration.

      • M
        M says:

        In another post, Penelope said the farmer made $15000 last year, putting her at a $375,000 salary. Not unheard of for CEO salary + speaking engagements. Plausible.

  16. JennR
    JennR says:

    A year and a half ago I went from a 3 minute commute to a 30-45 minute commute each way (ugh). A good friend of mine, who is also a mom, warned me that I needed to be careful to pay attention to my mood when I got home so that the commute stress wasn’t the first thing my kids experienced from me. For her, she needed just a few minutes of downtime before dealing with school issues, etc. That has sometimes been what I need too – mostly as long as I have the right music and I make sure that I DON’T rehash work stuff that stressed me out, I find that I’m very eager to get home and leave the rest of the day behind me. But it really takes a conscious effort.

  17. Sabrina
    Sabrina says:

    I had a hellish commute from Northern Virginia to Baltimore, MD for about a year and a half and this is what I tell anyone who contemplates that insanity: “The first three weeks are fine…. and then you’ll want to kill yourself.” That’s really how quick a commute can turn from tolerable to menacing.

    But I’m interested to hear from you, someone who is so watchful of research on happiness and quality of life, how you can reconcile the a horrible commute and the statistics that accompany that (weight gain, for example) with this relationship? Like I (also) always say, as someone who rationalized criss-crossing the globe for a relationship — ridiculous things seem like a good idea when you’re in love.

    • LDR
      LDR says:

      Lucky you. My bf and I have to travel (by plane) 15-24 hours each way, a few times a year, just to see each other. We would love to trade places with your proximity to each other! So you see, it’s all relative.

  18. Lisa Morosky
    Lisa Morosky says:

    I quit my job because I was sick of the hour commute all the time. Getting up at 5am, getting home at 7pm. Screw that. Now I work for myself, and from home, and I’ve never been happier.

    But if you have incentive to commute (like farmers), perhaps it’s a different situation. ;)

  19. H to the Izzo
    H to the Izzo says:

    You are a great storyteller. I was so along for the ride with you while you stopped at the gas station, mentally prepared to see The Farmer, and your head in his lap, listening while he talked. Please write more about this. I really enjoyed reading it.

  20. Ben
    Ben says:

    One hour commute? Ninety minutes twice a week? I live in Maryland so I feel like I might be biased but one hour seems pretty standard to me. Personally, I have a 180 minute round trip commute by train. Its not fun but you know, some sacrifices are worth it.

  21. Ev
    Ev says:

    Puritans:) the story’s fine, the last sentence is not TMI, it’s a classic one-liner. And it works without overshadowing the entire article.

  22. sari
    sari says:

    Just a word of caution: Mercury is in retrograde. Big decisions aren’t supposed to be made in this period of time (until September 30). That is, if you believe in astrology at all, which I didn’t, until I realized that every time Mercury was in retrograde I had major communication issues.

    My partner just asked for a week to ‘think about it’ also. Whether there’s good or bad news at the end of the week, I’m right there with you.

  23. Dave C.
    Dave C. says:

    The answer is simple – get a motorcycle – no phone, no distractions, you have to pay attention to what you are doing, you have to get your head into the driving, so all the workday issues fade away. I did the reverse of your commute in the link, I went from San Diego to LA (well, Irvine actually) for 3 years – 60 miles each way and didn’t get tired of it until near the end of that time (had something to do with the too-often 36 hour days also…) I traded it for a 30 miles each way commute that I didn’t have problems with either. Traffic jams? At least in California, lane-splitting is the answer. While everyone else is creeping along, I lane-split and am home relaxing in half the time.

    I know people that do the “everything within 15 minutes” thing. One guy I work with sat down with a map and drew a 10 mile circle around the office, then only looked for apartments within that circle – works for him, but it would make me feel restricted. Then again, I think nothing of hopping on the bike and riding 50-100 miles to dinner. That same idea is not nearly as appealing in the car.

  24. How to write a BC post
    How to write a BC post says:

    How to write a Penny Trunk parody:

    1. Confess something or at least pretend to confess something that one might usually hide (ie. deceiving employees about how much one is working) and do so casually.

    2. Toss out some something dubious, false, or at the very least counter-intuitive, but state it as established, uncontestable fact that is fully supported by research. Preferably make this claim about something people are emotionally attached to like children, marriage, sex, or happiness. Make the reader feel uninformed by adding flippant rhetoric (“This makes sense because” or “Really.”) as if to say, “…which intelligent people all know.”

    3. Choose as a subject one of the following: 1) Insecurity 2) Sex 3) Machiavellian rationale for life choices 4) Dysfunction 5) The antithesis of a commonly accepted truth/aphorism 6) Pop psychology, personality assessment, or generational stereotyping 7) Optimizer/Entrepreneur as misunderstood hero including anything about New York and especially claims about vast sums of money flowing in from VCs and out through yoga pants, haircuts, and other elite-enlightened essentials

    4. Go out of the way to link to previous tangentially related, equally shocking/titillating posts. Liberally.

    5. Condescend to other lifestyles in a sneaky way by treating them as essentially different and cementing them as “other.” Rural living, small town living, medium town living, and really any non-New York living people go well here. Make sure to do it subtly, talking about how people in small towns can’t ask a direct question, for example, but do it in a way where, though the people are clearly different from the optimizers, you’re not explicitly stating a value judgement. Leave that part in the nuances.

    6. Occasionally write sincerely beautiful, genuine, and heartfelt posts of exceptional quality and real value.

    Overall, I’m a fan of Ms. Trunk by the way. Just sharing some thoughts on her style and her shtick.

    • Sinead
      Sinead says:

      Oh how I laughed “How to write a BC post” – could you write a guest post for Penelope? It might help her break out of her formulaic ways … and keep me laughing. Thanks for posting.

  25. Tzipporah
    Tzipporah says:

    “I listen to his voice above the wrestling wind”

    Can’t help wondering if this is Freudian slip and not just a momentary vocab lapse…

  26. Alice Bachini-Smith
    Alice Bachini-Smith says:

    “He leaves me with two dozen eggs” etc-

    That’s a Freudian slip, right? Because you’re the one who drives away, so it should read,

    “I leave him, with two dozen eggs, some just-ripe squash and a bite mark” etc. (It would be perfectly clear where they all came from!)

    (I didn’t take the time to read all the comments above, so apologies if 24 other people already said this.)

    I do hope the farmer can find a farm manager rather than having to sell the place to marry you. Or what about getting a pilot’s license? That could work! :-)

  27. J-Mo
    J-Mo says:

    Bite mark first (let’s get that out of the way). TMI – yes, but at least you got some, honey. (I never thought I’d write that).

    Commute. You have a choice. Keep commuting and make it work for you (schedule the calls, listen to the radio, take up a language or yodelling and use it to practise). Or change the schedule so you work at home (the farm) one day a week and can stay two nights in a row. (Think of the petrol you are using!). Change how you work even more radically (I thought it was your company, what do you care what your workmates ?employees? think?). Ask him to commute once a week to share the effort. Or end the relationship. You say “the commute will never work”. What are you really saying? Do you want him to make the decision? No wonder he keeps taking these breaks! You aren’t saying what you mean. Having said that, these I need time to think breaks are tiresome. What does he mean? I don’t want the drama anymore?

    I think, with respect, you two need to communicate better.

    Here endeth the sermon.

    • former farm girl.
      former farm girl. says:

      You must not know much about farming. Farmers can rarely get away overnight. The livestock needs to be fed, watered, etc. On rare occasions you can get a neighbor to do chores for you. But a weekly committment is asking way too much. That would be like you asking a collegue to do your work for 3-4 hours a night after they put in their own 12 hour day. Not gonna happen.

  28. T. Rousey
    T. Rousey says:

    This is going to be really random I know but I’m ok with that and hopefully you are too. If not I know you’ll blog about it lol! But to put it simply you’re a really intriguing person and I’d love to get to know you! Email me sometime if you’d like…

  29. Rohan Patel
    Rohan Patel says:

    Another disappointing article. You seem to be “show” more abt your lifestyle than work-life issues.

    I dont see any tips on how to deal with long communte. Looks like all ur interested in was to tell abt ur relationship with this farmer and how desperate u r to have sex with him.

    Worst article that i’ve ever read …

  30. Claudia
    Claudia says:

    I have a 60 min communte time on the way to the office and 90 mins back. I live downtown and I work in the first suburb outside the city limits (21 kms). That’s a crazy commute. That it takes me 90 mins to go back 21kms home on the train and the bus. I get up at 6am and I come back at 7pm only to keep working on my side business.

    I wish I had a boyfriend in a farm in the middle of nowhere after only 90 mins (drive 90 mins in here and you still see tons of cement).

    Enjoy the guy, enjoy the scenery (I listen to conferences on my mp3 player) and let him look after you.

  31. maggie
    maggie says:

    what a beautiful, lyrical, sweet sweet story.
    not the part about the commute – the part about the farmer.
    your commuting strategy is good.
    but the way it seems you’ve learned to go-with-the flow with the farmer? better.
    people sometimes comment on here that farmer stuff isn’t job-related. and, well, true – on some level. but really, both the farmer stuff and the other stuff seems to carry the same theme, about figuring out and going through the process of being assertive about who you are, and brave about going after what you want, and creative about getting there. doing things your own way. for me – i’m a little bit younger than you – this is exciting. so thank you.

    and good luck with the next 6 days. i hope it’s not too stressful to wait…

  32. Craig
    Craig says:

    My work is 25 miles away via clogged suburban roads. During the summer I can get back and forth in under 60 minutes. After Labor Day, however, reality comes down hard. If I leave at a civilized time like 7 AM, it takes me a good hour and 15 minutes to get to work. If I leave work at 5:30 PM, I will get back home around 6:30 or 6:45 PM. And if it snows, even lightly, forget about it. Last winter, it took me two hours and 30 minutes hours to drive the 25 miles home. I can’t say I love the commute, but some have it worse, and I am thrilled that I even have a job.

  33. froggyprager
    froggyprager says:

    I like the post but agree it is not really career advice or advice on commuting. It sounds like you are looking for some advice about what to do given that the relationship is gettting serious. It sounds like a wonderful but though situation. Since you open up your life for all to read, I have some thoughts on your Green Acres life:

  34. Lien
    Lien says:

    I really don’t see a problem. Just deal with it. Everything worth anything is worth the work. Everybody commutes, everybody has relationship issues. why is it a problem for you? just say it’s not, and be done with it. there are so many more imporant issues to deal with when it comes to work-life balance.

    My hubby and I used to spend 8 hours (round trip) and a border patrol check to see each other over weekends. Those 8 hours were the sweetest with anticipation and hope. I married my Farmer Boy, I live on his small farm and I commute 3 hours a day (round trip), which is a small price to pay for a great paycheck and peace at home. Here is an article from another commuter

    just remember, people have done it. you can either do it or not. decide whether it’s for you or not and live with your decision.


    • Dave C.
      Dave C. says:

      duh! If she can leave the center of the universe (New York) for the hinterlands of Madison, why does the location matter at all? I thought with the proper connectivity, we are supposed to be able to work from anywhere in the world, right?

      (says the guy who can’t work from home because connectivity isn’t allowed to some of his work)

  35. Russ
    Russ says:

    I too used to commute 75 minutes each way for 4 years. I got used to it though, but noone appreciated Fridays more than me. I also worked a job with a 3 minute commute and I understand totally.

  36. Ken
    Ken says:

    Saw your tweet about going to court. Wisconsin’s public case site shows eviction?

    Everything going okay? Maybe now is the time to move in with farmer.

    :: fingers crossed ::

  37. Diana
    Diana says:

    He only sees you twice a week and he needs time to think… alone? Red Alert!

    This guy is either already married (to the single life – or his farm) or he isn’t really that into you.

    Lots of people make fun of your posts or believe it’s all an act. But regardless, you talk about what it means to be a woman, often an insecure one, and a lot of us can relate.

    Don’t chase some guy that needs space. It’s been tried before. If he never makes the trip to see you, you are his “pizza” delivery girl!

    • Annette
      Annette says:

      I have to agree with Diana. Something about this relationship doesn’t sound right. Tread carefully, and protect your heart, P!

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