Objects in Motion

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

  1. Flying to New York City for an internship interview at a fashion magazine.
  2. Accepting said internship.
  3. Finding a place to live for the first three weeks on Craigslist…sight unseen.
  4. Heading to NYC for the summer in 2007 without knowing a soul there.
  5. Cutting off all your hair.
  6. 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.
  7. Writing an essay that was not the kind the school was hoping for, but that is totally your style.
  8. Moving to NYC three days after graduation to use said scholarship to get a few more credits via an internship at SELF Magazine.
  9. Accepting a job as the accessories assistant at ELLE Magazine in August 2008 at a salary of $24,000 a year.
  10. 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.
  11. Leaving the “dream job,” ending your lease (and, subsequently, your friendship with your roommate), and moving home to Michigan to start over.
  12. Living in a small town in Michigan with your mom, grandma, and baby brother.
  13. 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.)
  14. Confessing your love to your best guy friend.
  15. Deciding to run a marathon even though you’re so not a runner.
  16. Getting a tattoo.
  17. Running said marathon.
  18. Beginning to work on a book and emailing potential agents.
  19. Telling the world you are working with an agent to sell a book.
  20. 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)

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  • Wow, thanks for this. After 4 years in a new country… lately I am still not feeling fully adapted, and it is hard.
    Yes I have made friends. I am happy in the home we have built and decorated and I love my husband to pieces. I have done several internships and I have also worked (outside my field) for about 2 years, but I have been unemployed since last September and I really want a meaningful job in my field which seems so unattainable even if my diplomas are fully recognized, I passed the official language exam, etc… I am feeling very lost, and wonder if I am just entitled and spoiled for really wanting to work with animals or in a health related area. I could volunteer but I am just so tired of “working for free”… and feeling like a total social parasite even if I know I can contribute so much.

    • I am at 4 years in a new country too. I don’t have anything wise to say, but I just wanted to say I am here with you in a similar situation and understand that the process of fully integrating (especially working in your chosen field which I am still not doing either) is so long and can be challenging….

  • Riah

    Rachel, your posts are always awesome. I really like those two questions as a way of thinking about things.

  • KINA

    Gurl. Rachel, why are you always killing it? Totally relate to this, and will be revisiting this if/when manfriend and I ever buy a house. I share these exact same fears. I’m way more comfortable leaving the country, doing scary things alone and making impulsive decisions than I am doing what I perceive to be what I’m supposed to be doing as a good twenty-almost-thirty-something. You make me think I shouldn’t be and there’s some pretty sweet stuff on the other side.


  • This makes so much sense to me. I lived in the same house my whole life until I went to college and then between college and marriage, moved about 15 times. Tying myself to a person never scared me nearly as much as tying myself to a place and a job there. I always felt like buying a house would leave me feeling stuck and miserable. Then I married into the Navy, which suits my gypsy tendencies especially well. (I get to try out all kinds of places and the Navy pays movers to pack and move our stuff!) But knowing that it’ll be 15 years or so until we can stay somewhere for more than two years does give me envy pangs when I watch HGTV or look at home renovations on Pinterest. That house of our own sounds really appealing now that I know it’ll be a really long time until we can have it. But I also know that I’m more comfortable with the idea of putting down geographical roots now that I know I’ll share that place with my husband. We’re getting a lot of practice in learning to bloom wherever the Navy plants us.


    Sorry, just had my morning coffee and I’m having big, Texas-sized feelings. ;)

    I have a similar approach to questioning potentially risky choices. I ask if I can bounce back (and that answer is usually yes), and I ask, “will I regret not taking this risk if my cancer came back tomorrow?” Morbid, but it immediately puts shit into perspective.

  • Kelsey

    Happy birthday Rachel- lovely, thought provoking post. As usual :)

  • The first time we house-hunted, I seriously wasn’t ready. There were a lot of fears there, and a lot of compromises that needed to happen that I wasnt’ sure I was ready to make. In hindsight, looking at 80 houses before finally flat-out saying “I can’t do this,” was really not a grown-up thing to do.

    the second time we house hunted, two years after the first go-round, after a year involving 30% travel for my boyfriend-now-husband, after three cats and commiting to two road races, and after seriously committing to treatment for my chronic depression, we looked at four houses. We bought the fourth one we looked at. It was four weeks from offer to close (we were the mysterious people you always hear about that closed on time), and then three months from our move-in date, we got engaged. My house has made me exceptionally happy for many of the reasons you discuss. Add that it’s in an urban area, was built in 1904 and has the original woodwork, probably floors (hardwood every where but kitchen and bathrooms, which all have been rnovated), and tons of character (which helps make up for the built-in-1904 insulation weirdness), makes it even better. It was a big risk for me to buy a hosue with my boyfriend and it was scary, but it was exhilarating all at the same time.


      Can I just say your house sounds amazing? I am such a sucker for old houses with character. And renovated kitchen and bathrooms?
      I’ll just be over here, mopping up my drool…

      • Thank you! It’s a fabulous house and we love it! Funnily enough, I wanted a new tract house in the suburbs, and then we started looking at this older neighborhood we ended up in, and i fell in love with the neighborhood as a whole (I drove through it a lot for events the summer prior). Then, we found this house, which we almost didn’t tour!

        I tell my husband often “you’ve converted me to old homes.. this is your fault!” when I start talking about other old houses that I love.

    • KH

      I have to say this is my dream.. and what we’re currently on the hunt for. Sounds amazing!

      • Ooh! Nice! Ours is a “shotgun-style” two story, which is fab – especially with all of the cats we have! I hope you find exactly what you’re looking for!!

  • happy birthday!

    also, awesome as always. i don’t exactly identify – i am decidedly not a risk taker! – but “settling down” was the scariest thing i’ve ever done (not the house-buying part, i’d kind of been planning that since i was 6, but doing it *with* someone was definitely a shock to my system).

  • Lydia

    These are the sorts of fears that are hardest to identify and talk about, but which often hurt our relationships and selves most. Happy Birthday, and happy enjoying your awesomely brave decisions!

  • Sara W

    Wowzas! What a post! I seriously needed this, as things are changing with my career and I have been freaking out about it. I have a husband to back me up and a home base to feel safe, so I can explore and take risks knowing that someone has my back.
    Also, “Bloom where you’re planted? No. More like fucking kill it professionally where you’re planted.” is totally getting printed out and hidden in my cube at work. A great quote for motivation!

  • So interesting. I love the questions you ask yourself. I have no idea what I’ll do when the question of “settling down” comes around. Currently, my partner and I are living in NE while he pursues his grad degree, but after that. . .? It’s all uncertain because he doesn’t know what type of job he wants, we can’t predict what the job market will even look like for him, and who the heck knows what I’ll be doing at that point. I’m finally transitioning to a job I might actually keep for the next three years (I’ve only had short-term positions since graduating), and I can hardly imagine what three years at one full-time position looks like, much less finding a position. . .indefinitely.

    And to me, that’s the scary part. Move half-way across the country to a new city where I don’t know anyone and don’t have a job lined up? No probs. It’s only for five years. But when we face a move without an external timeline attached, I think I’ll have a Long Island Iced Tea of Feelings (credit: Lady Brett).

    • Long Island Iced Tea of Feelings–haha! Awesome phrase that I will start using immediately.

      • Lady Brett gets the cred for that one, via last Friday’s happy hour. Definitely a new entry for the APW glossary.

        (omg- APW Glossary!! Please?)


    Wow. WOW. It’s 3 weeks and 4 days to move-in day when–in order to be with the person I love–I’ll be moving to a city I don’t particularly love and starting a job I’m (irrationally) scared won’t have the opportunities I really want. This piece really resonated with me, and thank you so much for writing it, Rachel. I especially loved “lean the hell into Houston” and “fucking kill it professionally where you’re planted” – I am going to write those phrases down and tape them to the mirror!

    Also – happy birthday!!!

    PS – Your letter to Hillary was UH-MAZING.

  • Shiri

    I mean… “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.” How can I not love your writing?

    Happy birthday, awesome lady.

  • Anon

    I’m with you girl! When I bought my house, “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!!!” was running rampant through my head.

    Granted, I bought a house all by myself and that was terrifying in itself, “Am I not finding guys because I’m too picky, is that why I’m not finding a house either?! What if my Mr. Right comes along and doesn’t want to live in this town? What if I start to hate my job? What if I feel content now and I don’t meet new people and I turn into a crazy cat lady?” (I don’t even like/want cats)

    But my mom was the one that said, “It’s just paperwork. If something comes up, you just sell it. No divorce, no scarlet letter, you’re just not a homeowner anymore.” Thanks mom. It IS just a piece of paper that says I don’t have a landlord.

    AND…it helps that I just refinanced for half the length of the mortgage. So even my thirty year mortgage wasn’t permanent :)

  • Oh man, I can totally relate to this…. because I love moving and the premise of newness and consequently look for the next open door all the time, whether it’s a relationship, job or place. Even if I am happy. I don’t mind taking those types of risks because I tell myself it’s just a part of the journey. But a continual process of leaving rather than staying doesn’t result in personal or professional roots. That’s probably been the #1 issue in my twenties that I’ve tried to work through.

    To use a coined Rachel phrase, “the people (me) want options”!!!!!!!” I tend to hold fast to the logic that fulfillment involves possibility rather than commitment. Options make me feel safe and in control and powerful… but options also distract me from being fully present and devoted to my relationship, job and community. Basically, if I want the results of commitment–a partner, a home, a career–I have to put my feet down somewhere. The staying is what feels risky, not the leaving.

    As always, great post and thread of comments!

    • Even with a partner and three years to go in this spot, I think I’ll consider myself an adult when I stop thinking “Should I apply?” every time I see a local business that’s hiring. I’ve not yet had a position that felt secure enough to count on long-term, so I tend to keep my eye open for part-time work all the time (even though I hate juggling job schedules).

  • Emma

    I really relate to this post. My career took off when I bought a house and settled into the idea (though I did it on my own and moved back to my university city – I think it would have been scarier doing it with someone else). It’s really helped my creativity to have a home to work from and a stable base that I know will always be there for me.

    I love my house – the force of my emotion towards it really took me by surprise.

  • Shelly

    So I knew you were a Michigan girl, but Howell?!? Grew up right in the town next door to you, girl.

    I really resonated with the fears you talk about here. Agreeing to settle down in my husband’s hometown with the knowledge that those would be permanent roots….freaked the heck out of me. It took him a while to come to terms with being ready for marriage, and me a few years to come to terms with the idea of *the known*


      Howell? For real? My family is in Brighton, and my FIL teaches for Howell public schools. MI love!

      And permanent roots are terrifying.

      • Emily

        I’m from Howell! Always will have a special place in my heart; now I’m a Boston gal!

        My LIB and I are from different parts of the country, and we met in Boston. So I feel that staying in Boston is a pretty natural way to go. But we did have a period where we faced moving, and it was terrifying.

        I think the biggest solace is that you are making these decisions with your partner, your equal. In some respect, “Home Is Wherever I’m With You”

  • Steph

    Ahhhh thank you for this post Rachel. I am having a whole lot of feels right now about about my own impending move. Even though we are still renting, it feels like a huge and painful risk to be leaving my city life and moving to the suburbs. It doesn’t matter that hubby sucked it up first and spent 6 years living in the city with me, or that we are moving toward a group of friends (logically these things matter quite a lot), emotionally I just feel about 4 years old right now and just don’t want to give up what is familiar and of my own choosing. And even though our stories are different, I picked up on that feeling in this post, and it was helpful to read that you have come our happier on the other side for this experience.

  • Once again, Rachel hits nails on heads and does it with so much poise and excellent writing. In the middle of a pretty epic replanting decision, I’m finally coming to the point of just go, and commit. The Bay Area just keeps calling. Maybe it’s time to go, and not to “give it a shot” but to grow some roots and one hell of a successful business.

  • Breck

    Like so many others, I’m having a lot of feels about this. We’re exactly 3 weeks out from our international move, and I have to give notice at my job today. While I truly love moving around and am absolutely a say-yes-to-everything kind of girl, I think I’ve been using our impending move as a crutch to not really commit myself to things in our current location. This is definitely something I’d like to work on, since I think I’m really hindering myself personally and professionally.

    I am super nervous to give notice–send good vibes my way!

  • Jen

    Yep. This. I have flown to Europe and Thailand practically on my own, put myself through grad school for a not-great-paying-but-still-amazing job path, volunteer for rad feminist stuff in my free time and generally love doing awesome quasi-spontaneous adventure-type things. I’ve always *thought* I was the type who wanted to settle down, but when Mr. Man mentioned buying a house I sorta panicked. I’d be stuck in my hometown forever! With a mortgage! Only Grown Ups/Real People have mortgages and I just don’t know if I’m ready for society to view me like a Grown Up, with a mortgage and a 401k and a career and blah. Thank you for helping me see that it can actually be another grand adventure!

  • Crayfish Kate

    “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.”

    THIS. Thisthisthis. My entire life, summed up in two sentences. My FH & I are still renting, still shifting career-wise, and not sure at all where we’ll end up. I am terrified of being in a permanent location and possibly having to say no to future opportunities, and now I know why. Thank you Rachel – knowing you had the same feelings makes everything a little less scary. :-D

  • SLG

    Thanks for this, Rachel. I married a man I love like crazy, who already owned a home, in a town I’m not crazy about. Then we refinanced, at which point I had the OMG THIS IS THIRTY YEARS panic, from which I’m recovering.

    On the upside, it’s ours and I can start on those awesome paint colors. But it’s weird: I am paralyzed by it. I cannot pick a paint color or even pick out a dang rug. I think it’s the fear of Doing It Wrong, plus the fear of Doing It Wrong On A Tight Budget And Then You’re Stuck With It. But this is the home I share with my husband, so I want to make it ours, not just his. Anyone else dealing with the paralysis of trying to make that house you just bought into *your* home?

  • sallie.beth

    “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.”

    My shit is always in boxes. I decided to frame a map of every place I’ve ever lived and I keep having to buy more frames. And I’ve taken great pride in my gypsy soul until recently, when it’s started to feel like something is missing. Your post gave me a better idea of what might make me happy in the future (paint colors primarily but also the fact that I wouldn’t be leaving anytime soon). Thank you!

    P.S. “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.” Amen to that sister.

    • the exactly button’s just not enough.

  • “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.”

    I love this. There are so many things that I still have to remind myself are not for grown-ups or someone who’s more settled or people who have more money or are further in their careers (or or or …), but are possible for us, even if we still usually feel like we’re only pretending at adulthood and will be found out at any moment.

  • Teagan

    “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.”

    I thought I was the only one doing this. I am still at the point of saying yes to everything, taking any opportunity that gets thrown at me. It is scary waters to be treading, but it is wonderful to know that my husband is there for me when I get finally get home.

    Still, I can’t wait for the day when I can put down roots.

  • Kirstin

    Wow. Just wow.

  • Wow. I know this is the most random comment for this type an article, but the part about losing your Dad at 13 to AIDS. Well, ditto but I was 5 and it was my mother. Funny how those things shape you, for the better in some ways, even if we don’t always realize it.

  • Lauren T

    This is absolutely amazing and exactly what I needed to read right now. Thank you.

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