Real friends care about me. Not what my husband does for a living

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Deb Russo is a FIFO wife of the offshore kind. Her husband works on oil rigs and vessels. Typically, he does a four-week-on and four-week-off roster. They've lived their entire 14-year relationship like this. Initially Deb's husband was in the Navy, then he shifted to work in the mines and did the 28/7 roster (Deb's least favourite!) With this offshore roster, though, she wouldn’t change a thing.

Once upon a time I made friends easily. Now it’s a different story.

I can still talk to anyone, really. But there are friends, and there are friends.

Small talk isn't the issue. (I'm actually quite marvelous at it.) It's what comes after small talk that's tough: I struggle; they struggle; we both look at our feet for an 'out' before one of us sidles away meekly, hoping the other won’t notice.

I was having coffee recently with a friend whose husband also works away, and she revealed that she thought FIFO was making it harder to make friends.

'Hmmm,' I thought, 'could that be true?' I've never really considered that our lifestyle could be making it tougher to make friends. I just thought it was a natural thing that happened as you got older, and didn't have the opportunity to forge those intense friendships we all had at school or university and in the early years of work.

Perhaps FIFO might somehow be stopping me from creating intense new friendships or become truly involved in the school community?! It crossed my mind again the other day as I wandered the school oval from one group to another during my sons' sports day, happy to mingle with everyone but at the same time feeling quite disconnected.

And gradually I came to this conclusion: FIFO is to blame, and it isn't.

I do still have a few friendships that are deep and strong, but the reality is that my life is vastly different to others. I love my life. I’m busy, I'm fully invested in my family. And as a stay-at-home FIFO mum, making it through the day alive and sane is my priority.

I’m always open to making friends - in fact sometimes I worry that I push too hard and just surrender far too much about myself, far too quickly. But invariably, the person I'm trying to befriend comes out with something unintentional about FIFO, like the parent who said to me at a recent breakfast event: "You and your husband live two different lives!"

It wasn’t meant to be hurtful – just a statement. I tried to respond with humour, but there was really no point after that. So with their limited understanding, combined with my limited patience (and sometimes defensiveness) there's little hope of real friendships forming.  

Yet give me a fresh face of a random stranger and I will tell them my life in 30 seconds because I always hope that a connection can be made. I love to talk to people and hear their stories – if they decide to surrender too. Sometimes I get lucky: we both surrender information. And BAM, there we are. I have made the most unreal friendships that way, while others have walked away (looking for a discarded white jacket, I'm sure!).

Friendship is about give, take, understanding, accepting, borrowing cups of sugar and exchanging the care of children. It's not about where my husband works.


More columns from Oil & Gas Mum, Deb Russo:

Check out Deb's daily blog at and if you've got any questions for her, please click here.

And here's another oil and gas couple's advice on making FIFO family life work when you're working offshore