On Moving In Together

Independence isn't something you lose

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.

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  • Amanda L

    I’m glad you feel ‘more like (you) than ever before.’ I also moved into the home of my (now) husband’s previous marriage. There were definitely ghosts there for me, but after awhile, we did make it into OUR place.

    I think when it comes to having someone else help you do the things you used to do on your own, the question becomes ‘Do I reciprocate that help?’. If you just take, and don’t give, then something is wrong. If you are helping each other live a smoother, easier life by taking on something that is easier for you to do than for for the other, than you are building a solid foundation for a relationship.

  • Anon

    But I already live in the mountains.

    This. I think in part we fell in love because I had just landed in a place I had been actively pursuing for a decade, into a job that I loved more than anything I had ever done. How could I not then meet the partner of my dreams?

    And then…graduate school and getting a “permanent” job for him, thinking being apart is worth it because it it temporary. Having all of our attempts to move him here fall through despite our willingness to take cuts, and realizing that this has shifted to indefinite. No perfect situation lasts forever, and my job undergoes some seismic shifts while I am not looking, or perhaps I make a few startlingly bad decisions. We decide we can’t keep doing this, and then we do a wedding instead, and it is easy to sublimate the stress into the planning with my partner and my family miles away.

    And now…I hope we have the grace to handle this like the original poster. Being together really is that important. But I am struggling with getting excited for an uncertain future, when I am still grieving the mountains.

    • Ann

      My husband has never understood my grief for my home, my mountains. I willingly moved across the country, I offered no complaints about moving near his family. I have caused us to move again, to a new city, even further from my home.
      He was baffled when I weeped over the loss of my car–the one piece of home I hauled with me all over the country.
      He smiled the first time I took him to my mountains, into the wilderness, because he saw what breathing that air does for me. He didn’t understand, but he tried.
      He gets nervous around any heights and is intensely protective of me, yet I love perching on top of a mountain, feeling small and fragile, a speck in a barren environment.
      He grew up not far from the lush Appalachians but my mountains are like the mountains in the picture here. I miss them deeply. I miss the feel of the granite beneath my feet, the spectacular glow of the stars through the thin, dry air, the sent that I have found no where else in the world.
      I grieve for my home, where I came from, while at the same time being excited about the new home we are building. It’s hard, but worth it.

      • Class of 1980

        I think for some of us, “place” is extremely important to our sense of well-being. I’m that way too.

      • “…when I weeped over the loss of my car–the one piece of home I hauled with me all over the country.” Maybe this is part of the reason why I cannot let go of my ancient car….

  • kate

    this was written beautifully. loved it

  • Jana

    Great piece. I have always been stubbornly independent and was afraid what that would mean for me when I moved in with my boyfriend (now husband). But I agree with you, it’s nice to have someone else that you can depend on and share responsibilities with. He mows the lawn, the water the garden. I wash the laundry, he folds it. I always used to love having my own space, but now I like coming home to the man I love. :) Life is good.

    • Class of 1980

      I think some of the fear is the fear of losing the ability to handle things without another person. We love having help, but fear we’ll get too soft. ;)

      But as I said above, no one can be independent forever unless they live their ENTIRE lives in perfect health and with plenty of money.

  • Bets

    “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.”

    That is comforting to me, too.

    This is such a poignant piece of writing, I’m right there with you mourning the loss of your stone cabin and your mingled spices. I’m glad you’re finding peace, and maybe new ways of independence in your new home together.

    “Is my worth as an individual, as a woman, tied up in my independence?”

    This makes me wonder if men fear or mourn the loss of their independence/identity in a relationship, or if this is a fundamentally female dilemma because we’re supposed to “act like a girl” by settling down. As women we’ve had to work hard to find independence, because traditionally women’s roles never encompassed the kind of independence we were lucky enough to have. It seems to me that this is such a deeply personal, female fear, one that my partner can’t share in. Or can he?

    • Sara P

      Just speaking from personal experience, I think my boyfriend is much more afraid of losing his independence in our relationship than I am. Maybe it’s a different kind than what you are talking about here. And maybe it helps that I have some experience with losing myself to a previous relationship, or maybe it’s because I’ve never been the kind of independent the OP is talking about.

      Interesting thinking – thanks.

    • Lauren from NH

      That’s an interesting question. I think it would depend on the person, but I think men feel it too. Though there were a lot of factors, I think that fear of loss of independence played into my partner’s past resistance to getting engaged. For some reason our culture likes to paint marriage as uncool, confining, soul crushing like it saps all of your mojo and you become all depressed and dried up and boring. Some people love to whip out the 50% divorce rate and say what’s the point? The point is many people are happier when they have someone to share their life with to start.

    • Alyssa M

      I would say it’s a fear all genders can have, but maybe different versions of it. It seems to me, just from my experiences, that more men fear the loss of freedom whereas more women fear losing their identities. It’s a whole lot of socialized baggage, and I’m sure doing a lot of generalizing, but it’s what I’ve perceived.

      For me it’s helpful to remember that independence and dependence aren’t the only options. My relationship has been a part of my life since i was barely more than a child and we’ve gone to both extremes in that time. Cooperation is a nice compromise between the two.

      • Class of 1980

        “I would say it’s a fear all genders can have, but maybe different
        versions of it. It seems to me, just from my experiences, that more men
        fear the loss of freedom whereas more women fear losing their
        identities. It’s a whole lot of socialized baggage, and I’m sure doing a
        lot of generalizing, but it’s what I’ve perceived.”


    • Class of 1980

      Personally, if I look at my fears of being in a relationship, it’s the fear of losing control of what I want for my life. Been there; done that.

      Not being able to choose what location to live in, what type of housing, and especially overall lifestyle is an exercise in frustration. But that’s where choosing the right partner comes in. Two people having vastly different lifestyle desires is going to be hell. Two people on the same page is going to feel much smoother.

      Being older, I am increasingly in a position to choose, and know better than to link up with someone wanting something completely different. So, yeah, most of us desire connection, but it has to be the right connection. That said, I’d certainly made some concessions for someone who hits most of the right notes.

    • I think men fear it too. When I moved in to Eric’s apartment and we were having a stupid fight about his bedspread (SOOOOOO not about the bedspread), I was reminded by more than one person that moving in together is hard/scary for men. Because they’re really finally giving up the bachelor lifestyle.

      In reality, he had always lived with a roommate and I had lived alone several times and lived far more of a “bachelor lifestyle” than he did. Not to mention, I had moved across the country to date him, and now I was moving into his place, which I wanted to feel like OUR place. (Hence why I wanted us to get a new fucking bedspread.) The idea that I needed to be sensitive to the fact that HE was scared (and shouldn’t expect that sensitivity in return) was completely gendered and total bullshit. So I completely agree with Alyssa’s comment that we all have socialized baggage! I just get so frustrated when men’s is treated as somehow more valid than women’s.

      • Class of 1980

        But did you get the new bedspread? ;)

        • We compromised and put a duvet cover over the bedspread! (Which he still had to be convinced to do. “It’ll get too hot under it now” was his claim.) Then last year, the bedspread was totally tattered and we went to Target and bought a new one with no real discussion and no mourning on his part. I was like “Hello!? I thought this bedspread was irreplaceable! NOW you’re willing to let it go without a fight?!”

          • Class of 1980

            Because the fear was gone. ;)

      • JDrives

        Is it EVER about the bedspread?! :)

      • Amanda

        It’s definitely not fair when women say things like that. Sure, he gets to have his feelings, but so do you. It’s sort of interesting that men’s feelings are prioritized in these situations, when they are the ones who supposedly don’t feel.

    • Sarah

      I don’t have an answer to your question, but I can say that it kind of depends. My husband was more freaked out about me moving in than I was because at the time I had a job and he didn’t. There were a lot of ironic/self-aware “sugarmomma” jokes that highlighted how deeply uncomfortable he was with the idea that a woman had to take care of him financially for a while. As a feminist he tried to be cool about it and get over it, but as a man with plenty of sexist baggage, it was still there.

  • Sara P

    Such beautiful writing. Thank you for sharing.

  • a really beautiful piece of writing that applied so much grace to a situation so many of us face. making a decision to share your life with someone, live together, get married, or both, is difficult for someone who has forever identified themselves as “the independent one”. but finding someone who loves and appreciates that independence and embraces you with honesty and encouragement enriches your life in more ways than you can imagine. compromise is necessary, yes, but it’s so worth it. thank you for this!

  • emily! beautiful post. (I say your name like that because now I know who you are from open thread!) your mountain place sounds dreamy by the way, but so does your new home ;)

  • Class of 1980

    Most humans were never independent until modern conveniences and services allowed it to be so. Now, our culture has made an obsession out of it to the point that people question their own desires for connection.

    I do think it’s wonderful for most people to live alone for a portion of their life. You get to know yourself and what works for you. But, beyond that, there can be diminishing returns, especially if it means never knowing the experience of interdependence … which is a talent just as much as independence is.

    I feel you on leaving the mountain house though. ;)

    • Violet

      Yes, I think “independence” meaning “doing all the things” is not necessarily something that is practical (build your own home, grow your own food, perform your own root canal, etc.). Independence meaning not having to take others into consideration when making a life-altering decision is a bit trickier. But I’ve found, it’s so, so worth it.

      • Class of 1980

        Yes. Also … independence is highly subject to good health and money. You’re really on a high wire without a net when you’re by yourself.

        Should your health or money situation falter, you will find out quickly that you need other humans, whether that is a partner or family or friends.

        Total independence is a myth. We only have it in varying degrees for finite amounts of time.

    • Nicole

      I love this article, and I also love your comment, Class of 1980. Spot on!

  • Sarah

    I had a really hard time leaving the busy San Francisco bay area after college, hated living in a suburb for grad school, and didn’t know what to think about moving to Sacramento for my first big-girl job. I still missed the bay area but was happy living on my own and working downtown right near the state capitol. Still, I wanted to end up in the bay area again. Every time I visited SF or Berkeley I would get this twinge, this yearning. Throughout my relationship with my husband, I still figured I’d end up in the bay area again – with our without him. But then I moved in with him. And then we got married. And then we bought a house nowhere near downtown (but still not a suburb. We are, like it or not, urban snobs). We love it. The last time I was in SF for work, instead of staring out into the bay, wishing I lived in an overpriced studio, soaking up the city’s energy and yearning to be a part of it, I just thought to myself “I want to get back to my husband and my home.” It’s not what I imagined, but it doesn’t feel like a compromise. It just feels like home.

  • ElisabethJoanne

    I had the same feelings with regard to our first joint bank account. Also, when we finally opened the account, it felt like such a big relationship step even though we’d been talking about it for months and even though it was a small amount of money.

    My husband moved in with me, and it was so hard the first few months. I felt like I was under siege.

  • Erin E

    What a lovely, lovely piece. Emily, I hear you on the fear of losing your independence and the *identity* you had as an independent woman. I continue to work on that. And the mountains vs. city debate is one that rages profoundly in me as well. I keep telling myself that nothing is permanent and (knock on wood) life is long. Maybe after some years of suburban life you’ll find a way to all move to the mountains all together – or maybe find a way to split the time between the two places. I’m not quite certain how it will look for you (or for me), but the choice isn’t always “If I take this path, I will never, ever walk another.” If you want them to, I think the mountains will come back to you and your new family somehow.

    • JDrives

      “but the choice isn’t always “If I take this path, I will never, ever walk another.” If you want them to, I think the mountains will come back to you and your new family somehow.”

      Yes! This. I wish this for you and your family, Emily. Thank you for sharing your story with us.

  • This is a great post, so well-written. I think a LOT of women struggle with this and then feel guilty about it. (Meanwhile, men are EXPECTED to struggle with this. Ugh)

    One thing that really jumped out at me was this: “I can understand moving for a job,” said my single, mountaineering female friend, “but for a boy?” I understand that moving “for a boy” is far more loaded for a lot of people, but, generally speaking, I’m not sure why a job is always seen as the right reason to move. A job can let you down. A job isn’t going to necessarily commit to you long-term. A job can seem like a good idea and then turn out to be a bad one. (Even a dream job!) I get frustrated by the persistent idea that a job is a better, or more noble, reason to take a risk than a relationship.

    • ElisabethJoanne

      I’ve been reading a few essays lately about (non-romantic) friendship, and how we ought to recognize that as a reason to move, or not. It’s part of valuing relationships over money – which everyone says they do, when it’s put that way, but when it comes down to particulars (“I turned down the promotion that would have required me to move across the country, because all my friends are here”), we give people the side-eye.

      • EF

        My best friend and I are RIDICULOUSLY close and it’s really hard on us to live an ocean apart. But we made a list of cities we could both someday live in (and which ones my partner is fine with) and hope to all be in the same place someday. Maybe we’ll even do the whole co-op living thing. But I totally support the idea that friendship, true deep friendship, is a great reason to make decision with.

      • Ali

        I moved across the country to be where my best friend lives b/c she is my family. I didn’t have anything keeping me where I was and I was miserable without her.
        But you would not believe the crap I took from people for that. I just quit mentioning it b/c I got tired of the incredulous looks and rude comments.
        _I_ value our relationship that much. I am very lucky that I have that. Other people don’t understand it. That’s fine. I’ll just be over here, being happy w/ my bestie who is the only sister I’ve ever had.

  • Laura C

    Only five containers of cinnamon and three of cumin? Pshaw, that’s nothing — we must have that many containers of turmeric, each missing only one teaspoon, just because apparently every time I cook with turmeric I think we don’t have any and buy another container.

    • ElisabethJoanne

      For my husband and me, and lots of our friends, it’s books. We have 3 copies of Plato’s Republic – 2 in identical Collected Works volumes, and a stand-alone different translation.

      • When some (now married) friends of ours moved in together, you could tell it was serious-business because they gave away their duplicate copy of The Lord of the Rings (the full box set). We ended up with it :D

        Also /nerdalert. ;)

        • Erin J.

          The first thing my partner and I did when we moved in together was merge libraries. We kept some doubles, usually for sentimental reasons. This summer, shortly after becoming engaged, we donated the second set of The Lord of the Rings. :)

          (In our case, we had multiple undergrad copies of Candide, The Prince, and Cicero’s speeches to deal with.)

    • JDrives

      So guilty of this with ginger. I keep finding more new containers! We must have half a dozen in various stages of use.

    • Amanda

      I used to have this problem, so I like telling people how I solved it. I wrote up a list of all my spices, marking how many of each, and pinned it to the cabinet door. When I run out of something, I put it straight on the shopping list, so the cabinet list doesn’t get messy. Now, if something is written on the cabinet list, I know I should keep looking at those identical bottles until I find the darn thing.

      I am probably way more excited about this system than I should be.

  • lady brett

    this is lovely.

  • Melissa

    I love this, Emily! I love the dilemma bound up in spice jars. The writing is beautiful and probing and the difficult questions, well, yeah, they are difficult questions. Seventeen years ago I left the mountains to follow a relationship. It’s been a good relationship, but I still mourn and miss the mountains. I wouldn’t change the story, but, gosh, you do get me thinking. No easy happy endings for those of us with hearts in the hills and bodies on the plains.

  • Lisa


  • This is lovely lovely lovely. Thank you for opening up. I definitely hear you on the “I am bombarded with information I haven’t asked for” front. You gotta do you.

  • tea_austen

    Oh, Emily–thank you for this. I saw myself in so much of it (I have never run a chainsaw in a wildfire, but I am sure my life is poorer for it). But the independence, the mountains, the wanting to be able to carry your own damn kayak. I get it.
    Thank you. I needed that.
    I haven’t gotten there myself, but sometimes I think letting go of a little of the independence might be the bravest thing we can do.

  • “We consolidate our spices and I wonder how I will get my portion back if I need to.”

    I know I will face this worry if I fall in love again someday, and I may just have to live with two vacuum cleaners or two whatever until I feel safe enough to let go as necessary.

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