Consider This is a column focused on how important elements of a woman's life look in single life and in marriage. This week, we're considering the experience of moving as single and married women. One single woman and one married woman have written essays, to be published on different days. On a third day, they respond to each other's experience. Read the single woman's essay here and their responses here.
I’ve always seen moving as a grand adventure. Growing up, my family moved several times, and though I hated to leave my old friends, I created rich new friendships wherever we went. I even enjoyed the move we made right before my senior year of high school, relishing the opportunities afforded me at my new school and the sweet memories made with my family along the way. Yes, every move had a small sense of loss, but there was always so much to gain.
So when my husband announced that he got a job offer in another state—as I was changing into my hospital gown prior to the C-section that would bring us our first baby—it felt like we were on the cusp of another great adventure. We’d been hoping he’d find something before our daughter was born—and we made it, with just an hour to spare.
Fast forward through a very blurry four weeks, and we were loading up our life in the Midwest to move a few states away. Or, more accurately, my husband and his dad were loading up our belongings in the pouring rain and a temperature that was unseasonably cold for May, and my mother-in-law and I were sitting in an empty bedroom in two camping chairs, trying to keep the baby happy, warm, and fed.
This move with my husband, it turned out, did not have the luster of adventure I had been looking for. Aside from when we moved in together after we got married, my husband and I had moved just one other time, and it wasn’t even across town—it was just around the corner. Now, with a one-month-old baby and a cat, we were making our first big move to a small town neither of us had even heard of before he applied for the job.
Somewhere in the back of my mind, I had the idea that moving far away with another person would be easier than moving solo. But moving, like so many other things, brings out the best and the worst in people. Combine that with having a new baby, and you can see the storm clouds rumbling.
When expectations don’t align
One problem we encountered was a lack of communication. On the day of the move itself my husband would give an estimate of when he thought we’d hit the road. As that time approached, I’d change our daughter’s diaper, nurse her, and prepare her to hit the road, so we’d be ready to go. The time came and went, with no updates, until I finally asked my husband how much longer it would be. This, we repeated, with my frustration mounting higher each time. I saw his lack of communication as disregard for me and my needs; he probably saw my frustration as ingratitude for the fact that he and his dad were carrying all our boxes and furniture down a flight of stairs in the pouring rain and strategically organizing everything in a trailer that ended up being too small.
We also had different definitions of what “done” meant. After he said he was done loading the bathroom, I walked in and counted seven items still lingering. At that point, my postpartum hormones still raging, I started throwing out items left and right. The broom, the garbage can, maybe a lamp—I just wanted it all GONE. At one point, I handed the baby to my mother-in-law, shut myself in that same bathroom, and cried.
This, I learned, is not an unusual experience. Some of our items, including a piece of artwork my husband had had for years, simply would not fit in the trailer. So, we called one of my best friends, an old roommate of mine who lived down the road. She agreed to store a few things in her spare room until my husband came back that summer to take his grad school exams. Her mom was visiting, and as I vented my frustration (NOT how I envisioned my last interaction with a friend to whom I had already said an emotional goodbye), her mom told me about the time she and her husband moved in together. They had agreed to have everything ready to load, so she had all her possessions in neatly stacked boxes. Her husband, on the other hand, hadn’t packed a thing. We shared a good laugh through my tears, and I realized that “done” doesn’t mean the same thing to everyone.
I could put a positive spin on this and say it was “a learning experience.” And sure, it was. But it was also brutally hard, and there have been many times when I’ve wondered if we made the right choice, making this move.
Having a family doesn’t mean you don’t need friends—and finding community can be hard
We moved closer to family, but “closer” does not equal “close.” We’re a full day’s drive from my husband’s parents, and 16 hours from mine, so our kids only get to see their grandparents, aunt, and uncles a few times a year. There’s no “let me pick the kids up for the afternoon,” or “we’ll take the kids for the weekend,” because we live too far away for that. In our efforts to get closer, we also left behind the support system we’d built over the years—the community of friends who had grown to feel like family, and who could have stepped in when we were struggling, or whom we would have trusted to babysit so we could go on a date.
But then, I remember our options were limited; this wasn’t a decision we made lightly, or even much of a decision at all. This was the one and only offer, and it was for a good job. Sometimes, that’s the way life goes: the best option is also the only option, and we simply have to move forward and make do with what we have.
Making new friends here proved to be a struggle. It’s a small town where a lot of people were born and raised, got married, and had their own babies, with no plans of ever leaving. There’s a sense of shared life story, and shared connections—and though I realize that’s not always a good thing, depending on whom you ask, one thing is certain: if you’re not from around here, it’s easy to feel like the odd one out.
And because people are so established, it’s also easy to feel like my friends don’t need me in the same way I need them. They can walk around the corner and have coffee with their sisters, or drive down the street and spend the afternoon with their mom. Similarly, it’s been hard to find other couples to spend time with.
But the very thing that has made it difficult to connect with some people—not being from here—has made it easier to connect with others. We met another couple who moved here the same summer we did, from the same state, and discovered the close family-to-family relationship we’d been craving. We celebrated Fourth of July together, and New Year’s Eve. We even developed a babysitting swap: we’d watch their kids so they could go on a date, and they’d return the favor the next month.
How our move has built our family
Still, there have been some good things from this move, and though I have to look hard to find them, they are there. For one thing, my husband and I learned to rely on each other in new ways. In those early months, with no friends around and a new baby to care for, we had to rely solely on each other. The experience of the move, itself, also brought me closer to my mother-in-law—the real, raw me came out with all my tears on moving day, and she comforted me and said she understood. As she told me about what she felt after moving to the United States. from Europe, I knew she meant it.
Moving to a new town has also been a way for us to forge our own path as a new little family. We don’t get to bring our kids to our old favorite places, but we have discovered new favorite places together—places I know our kids will look back on with nothing but the fondest memories. Through their eyes, I get a fresh perspective. Our daughter has no memory of the town where she was born; we’ve lived in this little apartment as long as her three-year-old mind can remember. Our son was born here, and that simple fact also adds an element of sentiment to this place. To them, our apartment (about which I have endless complaints) is their safe haven, and the nearby park is paradise.
My husband and I have also had to learn to talk about our needs in bigger ways than before (and in bigger ways than our definition of being “done” emptying a room). He’s said before that he can see us staying here for several years; I’ve been ready to leave since year one. He’s perfectly comfortable living far away from his parents, while I cry over the fact that we’re so far removed from mine. More and more, I see how much I need my mom, particularly now that we have kids. Had you asked me a year ago how close I’d like to be to my parents, I would have said within four hours—close enough that we could do long weekends, or get there within half a day. Now, I’d love to be in the same town, though I’d settle for an hour’s drive.
And though my husband has agreed that another move is a good idea—mostly for my sake—he’s in no particular rush. There’s a tension between our desires, and that tension can take us to ugly places: my continued focus on moving sometimes leads him to feel like he can never please me. I sometimes take his lack of urgency as a lack of care for my needs and desires. We’ve had to learn to compromise, and come together, but it’s something we still struggle with and will continue to work on.
For now, a compromise means renewing our lease for just six months, rather than committing to a full twelve or being non-committal with a month-to-month option. It means settling in a little more where we are—we’ve stopped putting off certain home purchases and have put just a little more time and money into our decor. We’ve started being more proactive about calling the leasing office for repairs (like a door that has been sticking for well over a year), rather than simply tolerating them because we won’t be here much longer. We’re often amazed at the improvement and end up asking ourselves, “Why didn’t we do this sooner?!”
Though we don’t own our home, and likely won’t own one for at least a few more years, putting more care into our living space has helped us take ownership of where we are. That’s a lesson we’ll take with us wherever we go next. But more than that, it’s a good parallel for marriage, I think: when we put care into it, investing in bringing out the beautiful and taking time to mend the flaws, we take more ownership of it. And in so doing, we embrace where we are, who we’re with, and what we can accomplish together.
Do you have reflections on the moving that you'd like to share? Tell us here, and your response may be published by Verily at a later date.