I did what I said I would never do. I agreed to move into his house—to leave the mountains and move ninety miles south to the city. To move into the building that had housed his previous marriage. I loved my wood and stone cabin with deer and elk in the backyard; leaving it wasn’t the future I had imagined. But after years of living alone in the mountains, I hesitantly agreed to move to suburbia.
“Are you sure you’re okay?” my boss asked.
“Maybe this is one of those tough compromises of mature love,” my mother said.
“I can understand moving for a job,” said my single, mountaineering female friend, “but for a boy?”
I was leaving dog walks in the woods, snowy mornings with a fire in the hearth, cold starry nights, and small town comfort. This was a big deal. Me: the independent woman who has never lived with a boyfriend. Independence is part of my adult identity. What is happening to that identity now, I wondered?
My friend and I joke about whites sales and soccer moms. She promises to tell me if I become a suburbanite. I promise I won’t. I don’t mention my concerns about losing my independence. I’m too scared.
We say that he just wants me to move in for my salad spinner and we laugh. His children are full of questions about who will get which room and what will happen to my furniture. I plan to store some boxes in his garage “just in case.”
“It will never feel like your house,” said a coworker.
“Let me tell you how my ex and I co-parented,” said another.
I am bombarded by information I haven’t asked for. I’ve become the dumping ground for other peoples’ big commitment failure stories. I consider not telling anyone else about the move. I wonder if I can move ninety miles away without anyone noticing.
“You can always leave,” she says. She is the fifty-year-old I’ve watched for years and hoped I would become. She has lived by herself her entire life. She understands that I might not want to live alone my entire life. She says I won’t lose my independence; it is like a branch on a tree, she says. Once it has formed it is always there. I am comforted by her analogy.
If I don’t do this, I think, things will never change. I picture myself gray-haired and holding conversations with my dogs, providing all of the voices myself.
I think it can work.
We fight on the day we’re supposed to move my stuff in the open truck bed. It’s snowing and I don’t want my stuff getting wet. “It isn’t snowing very hard,” he says. I tell him it is not the right day to move my stuff; he looks worried. I wonder if I am already stuck in my ways.
I cry on the day my cabin is no longer mine. He holds me and tells me we will come back to the mountains, this move to the city isn’t forever. I already live in the mountains, I think, but then I remember I can’t live in the mountains with him, not right now at least. I wonder if I’m a fool for leaving my wood and stone cabin with the deer and the elk.
He drives the borrowed pickup filled with my bikes, my couch, my bed, my kayak, my dining-room table. I drive his truck, plants inside the cab, cardboard boxes stacked high. It is a crisp autumn day as I cross the causeway, no longer a resident of this mountain town.
We organize. Between us we have five half-full containers of cinnamon and three of cumin. We consolidate our spices and I wonder how I will get my portion back if I need to. We hang the kayak in the garage; it takes two people to get it down. My plants love the warmth and the sun in his house; they immediately put on new growth. I think that is a good sign.
We precisely delegate duties: I do the laundry and pay the bills; he coordinates housecleaning and cooks the meals. I take his daughter to speech therapy; he walks my dogs when I’m at work. We open a joint-checking account. I am exacting about how much money each of us will deposit every month and what the money can be spent on. We take ourselves out to dinner and pay from the new account. He likes being the one to pay. I like knowing it’s partially my money.
I wonder about my independence. Is my worth as an individual, as a woman, tied up in my independence? Does it say something about me that now I’m willing to ask my partner to hang the pull-up bar instead of doing it myself? If I’m no longer doing everything for myself am I less of an independent woman? Am I now dependent on my partner? I bask in his help. I enjoying helping him. I enjoy being part of a team. I’m no longer overwhelmed by the chores of daily living. But a stubborn part of my brain holds out, saying I’m now conventional, no longer forging an independent life.
On the refrigerator, I hang a picture of myself running a chainsaw on a wildfire in an Oregon wilderness area. I was nineteen, working on fire crews, when asked by a fellow crew member, “Why don’t you want to act like a girl?”
The question has stayed with me over the years. Am I “acting like a girl” by moving in with my partner and his children? Is that bad? Have I lessened my integrity by living in a more conventional manner? I struggle with the sense that my independent female self is lessened by living with a man.
He comes home and I end my workday. I’m happy to see him, and I sit in the kitchen, talking with him and quizzing the girls on spelling words. I watch him cook dinner, and I think about the laundry, and the pull-up bar, and the bills. I realize I am writing more these days. I feel more like me than ever before.
Maybe it’s okay, I think, not to be so independent. I think about the deer and the elk, and the branch on the tree, and I think that I am the same woman that I was, only now I get to share spices, and laundry, and dinner with someone I love.