Q: My partner and I have recently been discussing moving in together. We first discussed moving across the country together (which we are still planning to do in eight months), but thought perhaps we should preempt that by working our cohabitating lives out for a few months prior. Thus, he thinks I should move in with him in May, four months before we go on this cross-county adventure (simply because my lease is up in May and his is up in August).
And while the cross country adventure seems like a total piece of cake and exciting, every time I look around at my studio apartment (WITH A CLAWFOOT BATHTUB, ARE YOU KIDDING ME?) I cry at the thought of leaving it. On one hand, my relationship is the most important thing in my life. On the other hand, I am an East-Coast-escapee (namely, I lived in Manhattan for five years after college in Washington, DC, and then escaped to Montana to try to launch a writing career and, okay if we’re being honest, get out of the mind-fuck that is the NYC dating scene) and there is a firmly ingrained sense of if-you-want-to-make-your-life-
I feel somewhere deep down the symbolism is me grieving a loss of this pinnacle of singledom that I always held like a carrot in front of me, prodding each choice, shaping my goal-setting, so that ONE DAY, I could be financially independent, work from home, have no debt, AND LIVE IN MY OWN APARTMENT. And, oh hey, I got all that, AND NOW I HAVE TO LEAVE IT. THE FUCK?!
Anyway, the question is, am I a total nutjob for feeling like I am going into panicky breaths over leaving my single life? And if not, how did you all tone the anxiety down enough to see through the forest that, “Hey, being engaged/living together/getting married to this lovely person is worth more than all the clawfoot bathtubs in the world.”
A: Dear Lauren,
You’re normal. Not even a little bit of a nutjob (at least not as far as this is concerned). No matter what decisions we’re talking about here, it just makes sense that picking one path means you’re not choosing another one. And sometimes you can get pangs of sadness over that road not taken. Normal, non-nutjob stuff right there.
The independence that you nurtured and developed for yourself in the last few years isn’t contained in that little apartment. You’ll still get to be an amazing, independent lady even if you are partnered up. You’re still going to reap the benefits of that self-discovery and growth, they just might not be bathtub-shaped benefits (right now, at least). I’m not disregarding the feeling that you earned these lovely things. But, I am saying that the deep-down independence is the reward in itself, not just the means to it.
Just like all the other major choices you make in life, being in a relationship is a trade-off. You moved to Montana and escaped the crazy NYC dating scene, but you also probably gave up ninety-nine-cents-a-slice pizza and amazing craft cocktail bars. Embracing the new stuff is exciting! Leaving the old stuff is pretty sad. And the feelings you have about the one side of it don’t negate or even necessarily impact your feelings about the other.
In talking about this with the staff, we realized we all experienced this shift from singledom into relationship in different ways. So, here we present you with the buffet of experiences and perspectives provided by the APW staff:
Girlfriend. Can you get a three-month lease extension? That’s a serious question. You’ve got the rest of your life, presumably, to cohabitate, and only a few more months to enjoy your clawfoot bathtub. I’d get on the phone to your landlord if I were you. There is no reason to preemptively move in together before a cross-country move, if you ask me (and I’ve done it). You’re going to work out living together when you’re stuck with it, might as well take a few extra clawfoot baths (is that a thing?) while you can.
For the record, as much as I loved David, I only moved in with him because we moved across the country, and even then I went kicking and screaming. I suggested getting my own place in San Francisco, where I imagined I’d like a similar setup to what we had going in Brooklyn: our own places, a few blocks away. Most nights together, but space any time we wanted it. Sadly, David pointed out that I didn’t have a job, nor did I have any money to speak of, so getting my own place was probably not going to happen. I never regretted moving in, but you only get your young single days once (well, presumably). It’s normal to mourn for it, and it’s reasonable to want extend it for as long as you can.
Also, side note, for all that I didn’t go down without a fight, we loved living with each other from the get-go, which I hear is less than common. In short, don’t stress over seeing how great moving in together is now. It will eventually be great, and you can notice it then.
I STILL miss my little studio on Ocean Avenue; it was perfectly sized for me, and I painted it a lovely indescribable moss green color and hung a canoe paddle on the wall, because I got to decide how to arrange everything just the way I wanted it, including a strange canoe paddle as art. I remember it very fondly now, what a lovely respite from the outside world it was. Even though it was far away from the subway and the building was filled with weirdos. Oh, and there were those neighbors with the bedbug infestation.
Anyway, K moved temporarily into that studio when her lease was up, and we waited out my lease before we found a place of our own. It was totally worth it, because we saved so much on rent that I finally could pay my credit cards off, but neither of us loved the close quarters or the limbo. When we started looking for our own place, I had some sadness amidst the excitement, too (so much that at one point I had to lie down with an eye mask while our stuff was being moved from the old place to the new place). Rationally, I wanted a bigger place, something closer to transportation and friends and a Laundromat, and I wanted to make a home and relationship with K, but I also wanted to hold onto the feeling of making my own decisions and having my own space, and I had this imperfect little space with all my history held in it, and I was worried that I couldn’t have it all.
But you can get pretty close. It helped me to identify which pieces of singledom were the ones that felt like the hardest to give up. For me, that was physical space and independent friendships. Which is why we found an apartment where we could both carve out separate space, and why we both maintain and prioritize separate plans (even with friends that we share now) that are distinct from date nights. That makes me feel secure, which makes me a much better partner.
Because we’ve been together forever (twelve years and counting), most people would never suspect that I spent the first two weeks after I moved in with Michael crying myself to sleep. I was not unlike you. Even though I had been in a relationship for a super long time, I still made sure to cultivate a very “Single Maddie” lifestyle: we went to colleges six hours apart from each other, I lived on my own in Manhattan, I traveled to far-flung countries without any means of communication for months at a time, etc. etc. etc. The entire time, I had been building toward a life that, for all intents and purposes, didn’t really involve Michael. (He was never going to live in New York. Period, end of story.) So even though I knew we would end up together, it never crossed my mind that I’d have to make a choice: Single Maddie Life, or Together With Michael Life. So when it came to pass that I had no choice but to give all that up and move in with Michael after college (it was the recession, there were no job prospects, and my only other option was moving back home to Maine), it felt a lot like I was sacrificing everything to be together.
But here’s what I’ve learned five years later: it was less about what I was giving up and more about moving toward a life that I hadn’t pictured yet. Before moving in together, I kind of felt like life was a puzzle. I had the picture on the box to guide me, and I was just working toward making the pieces fit together so that they looked like the box. But after moving in together, I didn’t have the box anymore. Just pieces. And it was scary. Because how can you justify choices if you don’t know that they are taking you in the direction of the future you envisioned for yourself?
At a certain point, if you really want this for yourself, you’re going to have to let go. And it’s going to be scary, and sometimes you’re not going to know if you made the right choice, and you’re going to mourn for what you left behind, and that’s all totally okay. Sometimes it takes a while to figure out how the pieces fit together. But don’t make the mistake I made of thinking about it like a sacrifice. Building a life with someone is more like an exchange. You’re trading in your single self for a self you don’t know yet. A self that has the potential to be, possibly, even more awesome than the self you are now.
Also? Nobody said you can’t have a clawfoot bathtub in your next apartment together.
Team Practical, how did you mourn the independence of being single? What did you do to ease the transition from one awesome phase of life to another?
Photo by Corey Torpie (APW Sponsor)
If you would like to ask Team Practical a question please don’t be shy! You can email Liz at: askteampractical [at] apracticalwedding [dot] com. If you would prefer to not be named, anonymous questions are also accepted. Though it really makes our day when you come up with a clever sign-off!