When The Five-Year Plan Misses The Point

by LIZ (SINCE 1982)

Two weeks after our first kiss, my gent and I started apartment shopping. As someone who plans everything down to my breakfasts five years in advance, this was somewhat out of character for me.

“Have you thought about this, honey?” my mom asked when I called to tell her I was moving. “I’m happy that you’re happy, but what do you know about him? Have you really considered the worst-case scenario?”

I understood her hesitation. The previous year had seen me lose my housing with less than a week of warning, leave behind everything but what I could carry, and move to the first room Craigslist turned up within my bookstore-serf budget, putting a river and a ninety-minute train ride between me and the nearest of my friends. The ATM at the corner deli dispensed cash in $5 increments. My new digs came with a friendly neighborhood flasher and a police force who maintained that armed robbery was a logical consequence of walking on a well-trafficked street at 4:00pm.

I had started over in this place that felt nothing like a home because my relationship had ended, and in the ugliness of that ending I had had to scramble to find somewhere else to sleep. For once in my life, I had leaped before establishing a firm place to land.

And now? Why did I feel compelled to do something that looked a heck of a lot like repeating my mistake, taking another reckless leap—this time toward someone, rather than away? If this new and precious thing between us were to prove illusory or unsustainable, R and I would need to un-combine our books and our music, agree on custody of any shared possessions, and negotiate who would stay and who would go—all while we might be angry and hurt and not particularly wanting the best for each other. Still, I told myself, it was only logistics. I could figure it out; I’d taken the applied course in how to handle all of this. I had contingency plans upon contingency plans. I had flow charts. I could protect myself this time.

But thinking about it further, I wondered if a lack of planning had truly been my problem in the first place. I had made plans before: chosen a man who was great on paper, mapped out how our relationship would progress. I had insisted we wait a prudent two years before cohabiting, thinking of it as some sort of insurance against the kind of disastrous result well-meaning aunties predict for couples who “live in sin”; meanwhile, I had ignored every misgiving, every gut feeling during those years that might have told me we weren’t right for each other. Lying awake in my sad little sublet, listening to the kids fighting on the corner, I saw how miserably I had failed to protect myself in any way that counted. What kept me up at night wasn’t the loss of material goods or the disruption of moving out, it was the fact that my relationship was over: the feelings of anger and grief; the humiliating awareness that I should have known better; the bewildering sense that even though I wasn’t in love anymore I missed that love terribly; the overwhelming prospect of learning to exist in the world by myself again. And I realized that there wasn’t a flow chart in the world that could mitigate that risk if I continued to insist on following the arrows from A to B without acknowledging that I might not have accounted for every possible input. I had been dealing in theory, while ignoring the reality that even the most perfectly drafted plan can, and sometimes must, change when actually executed. I had been living according to decisions I had made years before at the expense of what my gut—my heart—had been telling me.

And so, when R and I almost immediately started talking about moving in together, I pondered the details that were inclining me so strongly toward a decision I never would have considered in years past. I told my mother that 1) after a year of friendship I did know many facts about R, but that what was relevant was the respect, thoughtfulness, and care he had demonstrated in even our smallest interactions from the day we met; and 2) that I had thought quite a bit about the worst-case scenario, and realized that it had very little to do with my housing arrangements, after all.

Three weeks after our first kiss, we signed a lease. I moved in resolving to keep my eyes open, to listen to both my head and my heart, and to make a little space in my plan for variables—maybe even for collaboration. Eight years later, in the same little apartment in Brooklyn, we’ve weathered our share of unforeseen challenges, from family tragedy to long-term unemployment. My five-year plan, no longer the rigid thing it was at age eighteen or twenty-two, has evolved into a shared plan for the future—one with plenty of room for growth, for change, and for the unknowns that we will continue to face together. And every day he shows me how right I was to take the leap.

Photos by the incomparable Monica of Hart & Sol East (APW Sponsor)

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