We have these friends. I’ll call them Maria and Mariah. I love them dearly. Yet I cannot help being the tiniest bit jealous of how they companionably, easily appear to be in agreement, at all times. “Let’s order Thai tonight.” “I was just thinking that!” “We LOVE the new restaurant with the rooftop microgreens garden.” They even share the same clothes, and they look equally good on both of them. Oh, how I long for your greener grass and micro-greens, Maria and Mariah! Because right now, K and I are going through one of our hardest conversations to date, and it feels like we’re using megaphones from either side of a waterfall.
“This would be easier if you’d just want what I want,” K said glumly from behind a cup of coffee in a little cafe on a grey day. And I agreed with her, and fervently expressed that I did wish I wanted what she wanted, and also wished SHE wanted what I wanted, and we sat for a minute, united in agreement in the midst of yet another long conversation about Where to Move.
See, we’re trying to decide when to leave New York, and where to go. This isn’t a new angst. Everyone knows that both living in and leaving New York is a unique difficulty. But it’s new to us, and now that we’ve entered the actual planning stages of our New York ending and Somewhere Else beginnings, our differences are starkly outlined. Though we’ve known that from the beginning, it doesn’t make the now any easier.
I’m the kind of extrovert that thrives in a small place. If you suddenly needed me to go organize a community garden on a remote island just off Newfoundland, I’d be on the next boat. This big fish loves a small pond, and I feel so lonely in this overcrowded city. I yearn for a front porch with an open door policy, for frequent and spontaneous dinner parties at home, and I have never quite managed to find that in New York, where if your friends live in the next borough on the wrong train line, you might see them once a quarter.
I spend a lot of time trying to shoehorn Brooklyn into a small college town, and that social calendar generally tends to exhaust K, who is quite introverted. She is the kind of introvert that likes being around a lot of acquaintances and activity partners while doing a lot of not-talking to them, and New York works pretty well for that. (One of my favorite things is watching her with one of her best friends, and while you can tell they’re having a total blast, most of what they’re talking about, when they actually talk at all, is sparse commentary about Romanian dead lifts.) I mean, I like activity partners too, I just like to verbosely explore the pros and cons of Gestalt versus CBT therapy while we’re powerwalking.
I have always known my time in New York was limited, and that I would soon be moving back to a reasonably sized New England town to live out my days with easy access to water and mountains, maybe a star turn or two on the community theatre stage, and a slower pace of life.
The only slight wrinkle in this plan is that I fell in love with someone who would not have picked that as her life’s dream. K isn’t wedded to New York, but worries that a smaller place will have a smaller queer community, thus increasing her visibility as a gender-non-conforming person. She worries she’ll stick out like a sore thumb, and be lonely on the Outside if we move to, say, a small coastal village. And her job, at the moment, requires a fairly major airport. Logistics aside, the vast, messy diversity of a city is a big comfort to someone who feels like they don’t quite fit in, since there’s lots of tons of people around all the time who also don’t fit in. And anyway, she hates winter, and especially hates camping.
So, do I suck it up and stay in this city where I feel like my light is slowly dimming? Does she give up New York’s companionable anonymity? Does one of us “win”? You see our dilemma. You may be asking why, knowing this about each other, we decided to go ahead with a lifelong commitment to each other if we can’t even figure out where to set down roots. I can only say that there are a million other ways in which we love each other, and take tremendous pleasure in each other’s company. And though I once wrote in my journal that my true love would be someone with whom I could paddle the 740-mile Northern Forest Canoe Trail, well, things don’t always turn out how you think they will, and you might end up doing a lot of day hikes with your true love instead.
We vowed to take the long view, trust that we’d figure the harder stuff out, and not be afraid to ask for help from our community or professionals if we ever felt like we hit an impasse.
I can’t give you a neatly wrapped ending to the story because we haven’t actually figured it out yet. It would be so easy if one of us could just decide to stay or go for the other. It’s damn hard, and I spend a lot of time reminding myself that Maria and Mariah are having difficult dialogues behind closed doors that we aren’t privy to.
But the good news is that we are so much better at this than we were. That this time between staying, deciding, and going has taught us a lot of grace, even though it doesn’t look how I thought it would. We’re learning, and forgetting, and learning again what the ebb and flow of our communication, our love, our marriage is, and testing out the balance between hers, mine, and ours. I can hardly articulate it, but it feels like we both lean on the marriage itself when we can’t find common ground. When someone makes a less than enthusiastic comment about someone’s mother, and someone leaves in a huff, we meet an hour later at our favorite restaurant. I’ll order the grits, and give her half, and she’ll put her hand on my knee the way she’s always done. We start over. And I think regardless of where we end up, that grace will serve us for a long time.