When I read this post by Sarah Cassanego, I was suddenly hit with a lighting bolt of revelation: we’d never had a conversation on APW about deciding where you want to live as a couple. There are so many aspects to this discussion: the (terrible) job market, schooling, location of families, urban/suburban/rural preferences, weather, real estate markets, rental markets, if you even have the choice to live together, and just luck of the draw. And then there are the ways people think about it. When are you settled down? Do you want to settle down? Since having a baby, I’ve noticed that people have started to refer to us as “settled,” even though we never made a particular announcement of being settled. So I’m throwing this out to the crowd: how do you approach this question?
My husband and I grew up in cities that are 2,283 miles apart. According to Google Maps, it would take you thirty-three hours to drive (thirty-four hours in current traffic) or 764 hours to walk between our two hometowns. (Somehow the walking route includes a ferry. I’m curious about that.)
D and I met in California, where he grew up and where we both went to college. As soon as we realized our relationship had long-term potential, the question of Where became a regular topic of conversation. If we were going to commit our lives to each other, Where would those lives be led? Both of us have close emotional ties to our families and our hometowns, and yet there was no possible way to bring them geographically closer together. It may still be one of the most irrefutable truths of our life together—our two hometowns will never be less than 2,283 miles apart. (We have been trying for years to get a physicist friend of ours to seriously devote himself to teleportation research. Until that happens, we’re stuck with our current geographic reality.)
We made our first big decision about Where when we got married. We still had no idea where Where would be, but we decided that we would figure out the answer together. We decided that among all of the people and places we hold dear to our hearts, we would hold each other the dearest—and then go from there.
When we got engaged, we were still living minutes away from where we went to college and where D grew up. Soon after we got married, however, we moved across the country so I could attend graduate school. I was the instigator of the move, choosing a school in a different state instead of one in close by, but I felt strongly that it was the right choice for me and for us. D agreed, although perhaps not quite as strongly at first, that striking out on our own would be good for us at the beginning of our marriage. We would navigate the world together, figuring out how to move to a town where we knew nobody and land on our feet.
And we did just that. Our striking out was at times lonely and stressful, but we did navigate the world together, and learned a lot about ourselves and each other by having only each other to lean on. Two years after our first move, we moved again, this time from the southeast to the northeast, so D could attend graduate school. And again, we navigated it together and relied on each other.
From move to move, the question of Where tagged along. For as surely as we knew that it was the right time then for us to move around, test the waters, and try out something new, we knew the time would come when we would want to stop moving, put down some roots, and build a family and community. So Where was always with us. Sometimes we talked about it so much we drove ourselves and each other crazy. Sometimes we let it lay dormant for weeks or months at a time. But it was always there, as we knew it would be from the moment we decided to get married.
When D started thinking about his plans for after graduation, the question of Where began to loom ever larger. Once he graduated, we would both be done with school forever (so we contend, at least), and the rest of our lives would begin. With that acknowledgement came more specific conversations not only about Where, but When. We talked about a lot of factors. I asked that my hometown be put on the table, even though I knew we would probably decide it was not the right fit for us. So it was on the table for a while; not long, but long enough for it (and me) to feel heard. We talked about the fact that New England (our current location) is cold, and the fact that we do not like the cold. Such concerns may sound trivial (and definitely make us wimpy in the eyes of hearty New Englanders), but it turns out the weather matters to us. Glory be the day I wear long underwear to work for the last time. Out of the wheat and chaff of those conversations came the biggest factor for us—being near family. After living away for four years, we realized we did not want to have to get on a plane to see our parents and siblings, especially once we have children of our own.
Which brings us back to those 2,283 miles. There is no way for us to live near both families—and we made the decision to be okay with that when we put wedding rings on each other’s fingers. But if we want to be near one family, that narrows the options for Where down to two. One day, we were sitting outside, enjoying a pleasantly warm summer evening (I will admit that sometimes long underwear is not required here). Our old buddy Where sat down for a beer, and for whatever reason, that day we both felt ready to tell him (her?)—California is our Where.
That was in the summer of 2011. By the time D’s graduation rolled around in June 2012, we had decided to stay put a little longer, to see out good professional opportunities neither of us wanted to pass up. So although the question of Where had been answered, both Where and its buddy When lingered in no-man’s land.
There they stayed, until this past November, when we were sitting on a Bolt Bus riding along a frozen highway from one cold northeastern city to another. As we watched the barren trees fly by, we asked ourselves and each other, “Why are we still here?” We reviewed all the reasons we had been over so many times before, but they resonated less profoundly than before. We finally looked at each other with almost giddy excitement and asked—what if we turn when into now (or at least, soon)?
You have probably picked up on our pattern—it took us several more weeks of wading through the pros and cons before deciding that we could, indeed, turn when into very soon. It meant a particularly difficult professional decision for D, but we made up our minds, and turned our sights west.
We are still a few weeks away from the move, and the decision often feels like one we make anew each morning (just like marriage, in a way). I think it always will, particularly for me. Not that I plan to start each morning by reviewing all of the pros and cons and making the decision all over again. (That is no way to live in a marriage, or in a life. Plus, I have had those days, and they are absolutely exhausting.) But for me, this decision will always be associated with some sadness, because it is very likely a permanent move 2,283 miles away from my family. Some days, I feel like I cannot do it. It is a physical feeling, a heavy weight on my chest, that I cannot do it. I cannot be so far away from my mother and sister and nephew, from deciduous trees with their green leaves, from the seasons, from the flowers of my childhood and my grandmother’s childhood and her grandmother’s childhood. Then I remember all the reasons why I can and will do it, and that D will be by my side with every step. I may have to make the decision every day—to make my life a good one, to live my Where and When with joy and appreciation for all my many blessings. Not the least of which will be the absence of long underwear from my wardrobe.
Photo by APW Sponsor Jesse Holland