Moving: Progress or Regress? part 2

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Last week I discussed the decision-making process I went through in choosing to move in with my girlfriend, and I hope that you could see echoes of your own cognitive approaches to heavy decisions. I wanted to make it clear that the decision wasn’t easy, and that my requirements and desires were being addressed in the choice. I needed to elucidate the process for you, because I planned to share with you this thing that has happened when I have shared the news with others: I have been ridiculed for it. I thought about it for a time, and decided what I believe is going on. Perhaps you’ll chime in as well.

What would you say to me, were I to tell you in a conversation over a drink, that I am moving in to the downstairs apartment of my girlfriend’s duplex? Keep in mind that I am 37. Here are some of the responses I have had:

“Well, that sounds like you’re moving forward.”
“She’s keeping you in the basement now?”
“She won, huh?”
“Finally joining the rest of us stiffs.”
“I guess we know who’s calling the shots.”

Now, not everyone talks to me this way. Some folks congratulate me and wish me luck. Some of them even mean it. But the comments above and others like it have prompted me to shut my mouth about it.

There’s a peculiar pattern about those comments. They all come from a single demographic: middle-aged, married white men. Men that fit into the classic stereotype of the bread-winner milquetoast father and husband whose wife controls the household and to a degree, him. Ideas like the “To-Do List” that she writes for him, the one room where he is allowed to decorate as he pleases i.e. “Man Cave”, the withholding of physical intimacy based on her whim which he must not challenge, even at great personal difficulty, etc. It’s an antiquated gender role that isn’t quite out of prevalence in the US, coming after the male-dominated home stereotype of the 50’s and before, but before the more modern equality-based models.

These men who deride me when they hear that I am giving up my own place to live with my girlfriend all grew up believing (and consequently still believe) that the right and normal course for an American man is to marry and become a domestic slave. A man whose only respite is when he can get away from the wife, into the garage, or out drinking with the boys, or other activities that she scarcely tolerates. A man whose spare time is spent working around the house at her bidding, on jobs he does not believe need to be done. A man who desperately wants sex but is only given it once in a long while when she deems his recent behavior (see: housework) rewardable.

This is the situation they looked for, found, and now struggle with. They believe it is fitting. They perpetuate it. And of course, they see it as appropriate for everyone else, too. And as they say, misery loves company. They delight in projecting their own deplorable situation on another male, because it confirms the validity of their choice to put themselves into awful circumstances.

But I do not believe it is fitting. Thankfully, neither does my gerlf. She and I plan to approach things from a position of equal footing, and to respect each others’ needs, plans, and desires as being of equal importance. Supporting each other, rather than limiting each other. I have found, partially because of the derision I’ve experienced when sharing the news of my move, that such an equality-based approach to cohabiting is not just what I’d prefer, but it is actually a hard boundary for me. I become angry at the suggestion I might do otherwise. And I wonder if this points to my own childhood. Did I flinch when my mother handled my father’s sincere feelings as trifles? I am unsure.

Perhaps it is the fact that one approach reflects love, and the other reflects resentment, and the fact that I see this makes me sensitive to suggestions that I would accept the latter in the guise of the former.

How does this reflect your own living situation? Are you and your partner on unequal footing, even if you planned to be otherwise? Did you ever date someone considerably younger or older than your own age and find their values in regard to living together were skewed compared to yours?

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Moving: Progress or Regress?

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So I’m doing a thing next month that has been a long time coming. Though I have my reservations, I’ve decided it is the thing for me to do: I’m moving in with my girlfriend.

I’ve always been fond of living alone. I had no siblings, and when I went off to college I hated the idea of sharing a room (and didn’t, for the most part). I had to share a home with others for much of my lengthy six and a half years at school, but not a room, not almost at all. When I moved to New York I shared my place with the girl who moved here with me, and the crucible-effect was a part of why we split not long after. Since then a few important ladies have come to live with me as romance bloomed between us, and left as it wilted. But I am still here, in this apartment I moved into more than thirteen years ago.

Next month I’m trying out another domestic pairing of the romantic kind, but this time I’m moving in with her.

This apartment I’ve inhabited for a third of my natural life has a heavy weight of memories in it. Hard to face, impossible to uproot. Since my best friend and canine companion Blake died in March, it just hasn’t been right. I had never set foot in the apartment without him prior to that. Even on the day I arrived after driving 5 days, in the middle of bitter January 2004, he and I fell asleep on the floor under a single small blanket together.  He was a part of my home, and what’s left is incomplete. Add to that the work that my . . . we shall say “motivated” . . . landlord has done on the bathroom and kitchen, forcing me to move out of them and cram my things into the rest of the apartment, and my home becomes a place where I feel unwelcome. An interloper. Every day I come home and I don’t even know which workmen have been in there. They handle things they have no business handling. They break things. They have even stolen.

But as uncomfortable as my home has become, the discomfort is still not why I’m leaving. I’m leaving because my gerlf and I have been together for almost two and a half years, and the relationship hasn’t deteriorated at all. No dealbreakers. No major upsets. No ebb and flow of doubts and hopes. Its simplicity is its strength, and now it has stood the test of time. Well, some time. A considerable amount.  And it is the norm, the done thing, to try living together when you’re in a relationship.

She’s a home owner, which changes things. Dating in your thirties is a different ball game than in your younger years. Where fashionable disillusionment, occasional willful irresponsibility, and uncertainty about future prospects were chic in your twenties, romantic in a classical way, and even sexy, they smack of immaturity and stagnation in your thirties. Things like that must be no more than infrequent meanderings into indulgence, sitting atop an established set of life-circumstances. Money. Job. Home. Security. Rather than exulting in an ongoing level of hardship due to consistently shying from responsible decision making, we build a situation than can withstand such deviations, as long as they come in moderation.

In addition, sharing her mortgage and utility bills will be markedly cheaper than paying my own, to the tune of three grand a year, and twice that per year soon based on rent projections for my apartment. It makes financial sense. Also, more amenities await me there. I’ve been a laundromateer for so long, it feels like I never quite grew up in that respect. Folks over 30 in laundromats smell of a bad life decision or two, don’t they? I’ll be able to join the great self-laundering adult crowd once I begin cohabiting with the ladyfriend. And of course there’s the simple fact of trying out our relationship in a home-sharing situation. It has not been tested against this challenge, and it’s worth a shot, as the potential reward could be grand.

But one of the biggest reasons why moving in there seems do-able is that her home is split into two, with the downstairs being its own complete apartment, and the tenants she is renting it to are leaving. I would get my own complete apartment, right in her home. This takes off the pressure of sharing a home to a great extent, allowing me to set up my own space once again, in a new location. For those of us (you, perhaps?) who attach themselves to their living spaces, this is huge.

And I am one of those, no doubt. My home is a centering space. A jumping-off point from which I launch my life like an assault on my goals. I need it like clothes, food, and water—a place that is solely mine, where I am alone, comfortable, and able to think. To relax. To watch cartoons and eat pizza and not bother putting on clothes to do it. Privacy. Without such a place, I am never comfortable. And my stress level rises and rises.

So, the decision to move is going forward. I told my landlord. I started planning. I don’t even intend to move back into my kitchen after he finishes work there. Just going to keep receding, until nothing is left.

But there’s a thorn in my side as I go through these motions. Something to do with the way that other people are reacting to this news. That’s why I’ve composed this journal-esque blog entry for you this week. I want to know what you think about this kind of life choice. What would you say to me, were we discussing it over a beer after work?

Next week I’ll unpack the feelings of animosity that my coworkers and friends have lent a hand in creating, and talk about the way that our reactions to others’ choices reflect on ourselves.