My relationship with Eric followed a pretty standard trajectory. Girl meets boy through a friend and the internet. Girl and boy video chat. Girl flies to Houston for first date with said boy. Girl finds a job and moves across the country three weeks later to be with boy. It’s a tale as old as time!
I know that when Eric and I first got together (and even now) the arc of our relationship seemed odd to some people. It also seemed terrifying. Risky. To most people, it’s good-risky, rom-com risky. But risky all the same.
But honestly? The beginning of my relationship with Eric was the least risky thing I’d done in the past three years.
Things Riskier Than Flying to Texas for Your First Date With a Guy You’ve Never Met in Person
- Flying to New York City for an internship interview at a fashion magazine.
- Accepting said internship.
- Finding a place to live for the first three weeks on Craigslist…sight unseen.
- Heading to NYC for the summer in 2007 without knowing a soul there.
- Cutting off all your hair.
- Entering a scholarship contest during your senior year in which one had to write an essay about the way gender and race were covered by the media in the 2008 election.
- Writing an essay that was not the kind the school was hoping for, but that is totally your style.
- Moving to NYC three days after graduation to use said scholarship to get a few more credits via an internship at SELF Magazine.
- Accepting a job as the accessories assistant at ELLE Magazine in August 2008 at a salary of $24,000 a year.
- Realizing in the winter of 2009 you’re not getting any closer to your goal of being a beauty writer for a magazine and that you are hemorrhaging money in the meantime.
- Leaving the “dream job,” ending your lease (and, subsequently, your friendship with your roommate), and moving home to Michigan to start over.
- Living in a small town in Michigan with your mom, grandma, and baby brother.
- Starting a new health-oriented blog that is not the kind people are hoping for, but that is totally your style. (Including—gasp! —swearing and references to your sex life.)
- Confessing your love to your best guy friend.
- Deciding to run a marathon even though you’re so not a runner.
- Getting a tattoo.
- Running said marathon.
- Beginning to work on a book and emailing potential agents.
- Telling the world you are working with an agent to sell a book.
- Telling the world that you’re ready to fall in love and that 2010 is totally gonna be your year.
I’ve never really considered myself the adventurous type. These things weren’t risks to me. They were just…what you do, right? So getting set up with Eric via a friend of a friend (who actually hadn’t met him in person either) was not scary to me. It was business as usual. Also not scary? The part when, after a whirlwind courtship that took place mostly over video chat and two extended “datecations,” I started looking for jobs in Houston.
On August 7, 2010, my twenty-fifth birthday, I packed up all of the belongings I could fit in my 1995 Blazer and set out for Texas with Eric by my side. Turns out, moving across the country still wasn’t the scariest thing I ever did regarding my relationship with Eric. It was moving across the city.
Since graduating from high school, I’ve been a bit of a vagabond. Right after I graduated from high school, I moved back to Chicago (where I was raised until my mom left my dad). I transferred universities twice. My poor mother has moved me all across the country so many times. She painted my Chicago apartment with me in the 95-degree Chicago summer heat. She got lost in Manhattan for hours driving one of those windowless 15-passenger vans from New York back to Michigan after dropping me off there. And then she drove back out to New York to help me move my stuff when I realized it had been real, but it was time to go home. But even when I wasn’t moving across the country, I was still moving. Leaving to spend the summer somewhere, pursuing new interests (and guys), hunting for jobs wherever I pleased…I was an object in motion. Moving to Texas was just staying in motion.
When I first moved to Houston, things were pretty open-ended. I was moving there so we could date. Even when I moved into Eric’s apartment several months later, it wasn’t really a commitment beyond the yearlong lease. But after we’d been living together for about six months, we started having serious (and often heated) conversations about our future and where we would live. First, we went through Houston vs. The Rest of the World. While I liked Houston a lot, I didn’t know that it had everything I needed. That said, I also couldn’t name a single city that was a better choice. I didn’t want to go home to Michigan, I didn’t want to go back to Chicago (where most of my friends live), I didn’t want to go back to New York, and neither of us really wanted to go to Wichita (where his family lives). I wanted to be all of those places, and yet none of them sounded quite right. I told Eric that to be happy in Houston, and okay with the things that meant giving up, I needed at least two out of three things to be really good: my job, my location (in terms of things to do and work opportunities), or my relationships (with family, friends, him, etc.). He had three out of three in Houston. I had…fractions of each. In the end, our compromise was that I would try my best to be happy in Houston for the next several months, to see if, with a little more effort, I could envision my life there; meanwhile, he’d do everything he could to help me be happier in Texas.
I hunkered down and wrote like crazy, and I made an effort to make friends; he supported me by doing extra chores and giving me the space I needed to prioritize writing, explore more of Houston, make new friends, and stay connected with old friends. And, surprisingly, it worked. Within a few months, I was feeling a lot more settled.
But then Eric started talking about buying a place. And even though I knew this day and this conversation was coming…I panicked. I wanted to rent a trendy apartment in the city where I could dream about my next big thing. Eric wanted to buy a house—a house in the suburbs, no less!
Eric made all of the good arguments for buying instead of renting, and I got them from a logical point of view. I knew that in the long run, it can be less expensive (or at least comparable) to buy. I got that it was a buyer’s market. I knew that owning property is seen as a sign of having “made it.” But while I could see rationally that these things were great, emotionally I felt that they were great for…people who were not me.
To a lot of people, Eric included, owning a home is a sign of stability and security. To me, it was riskier than anything I’d ever done, including repeatedly drinking tequila with a heart full of feelings and a cell phone within reach. I’d seen family members lose jobs and then lose their homes and was well aware of the ways the mortgage crisis had affected people. Paying more to rent was paying to be protected if the unexpected happened; if I lost my job or needed to be closer to my family, I wanted to know that I’d be able to do that. But I wasn’t as afraid of the unexpected and awful happening as I was afraid of the unexpected and amazing happening.
I’d accepted years earlier that it might take me a while to get to the point wherein I’d “made it.” I’d accepted that I’d have to struggle for a while. I’d accepted that I’d go where I needed to go and sacrifice what I needed to sacrifice in order to have the career I wanted to have. I spent my entire life saying yes to everything; when you’re a scholarship kid, that’s just what you do. You take every opportunity that comes your way because you know it might be your only shot. Suddenly I had to deal with the possibility that I might start having to say no to certain opportunities and trust that more would come along. In my heart, I didn’t see myself running off to New York any time soon but…what if I wanted to in a year? In five years? In TWENTY-FIVE YEARS? While committing to a person “’til death do us part” was totally fine by me, I could not get over the idea of a thirty-year mortgage. THIRTY YEARS!!!
When Eric said he’d be willing to look at houses for sale in the city (a pretty good compromise!), I was still frozen with fear. When I asked myself why the hell, after years of being pretty fearless, I was so damn terrified about real estate, it hit me that I felt about buying a house exactly the same way that Eric felt about getting engaged: that it was something adults did, not something we could do. In our hearts, we were already committed, but adding a public and legal element to that, through a ring or a deed, was really scary. I was patient as he worked through his engagement fears several months earlier…now it was his turn to be patient as I worked through mine.
Whenever I am faced with a big decision, I actually weigh the possible outcomes relatively quickly, asking myself two things: 1. Is this my only shot? and 2. If I’m wrong about this, will it ruin me and leave me unable to bounce back? And part of the reason I take so many risks is because the answer to the first question is almost always yes, and the answer to the second question is almost always no. (Because after your dad dies of AIDS when you’re thirteen, you kind of say, “Cool story bro,” to every other perceived worst-case scenario your mind can make up. Things that look like huge leaps to others, or even feel like huge leaps to me at first, are really not that big of a deal when I ask myself what is the worst that can happen.) So after asking myself these questions yet again, I trusted myself enough to know that I could take this leap with Eric, and that if I was wrong, I’d still be okay.
In the year since Eric and I moved into our house, I’ve gotten a lot of comments from friends and acquaintances saying that I just seem so happy. And I do…because I am. I suspect everyone thinks it’s because I’m engaged, but while being engaged is great, that’s not exactly it. It’s because of the house.
Now, I’m sure the fact that the house has wood floors so I can easily do lots of yoga without having to go anywhere has something to do with my recent glow. And I’m not going to lie: being able to decorate my space and make it my own makes me feel incredibly good. But it goes deeper than our (seriously glorious) paint colors. Because here’s the thing I didn’t know a year ago: putting down roots does not mean the end of your creative career…it can actually be the beginning. While I had been doing just fine in my career, after we bought the house, I stopped thinking about things I could do if I went elsewhere and just started getting things done here. Knowing I had a home base and wasn’t leaving it anytime soon gave me the confidence to push myself and lean the hell in to Houston. Bloom where you’re planted? No. More like fucking kill it professionally where you’re planted.
In hindsight, Eric and I could have completely avoided all those long, deep conversations about my fears about buying a house if he’d just told me what we were really doing: buying me an office.
For the past twenty-plus years, I’ve not been sure where I belonged, geographically speaking. I’ve always had a roof over my head, but something was still missing. And in the house that seemed so terrifying, I found it: the proverbial “room of one’s own,” which you simply can’t get if some of your shit is always in boxes.
Photo from Rachel’s personal collection (taken on her birthday last year)