In Love? Your Next Step Might Not Be The Obvious One

unnamed-1Illustrated by Emily Turner.
Yesterday, I had what was possibly the greatest falafel of my adult life. I ordered the sandwich for lunch and it arrived with a small tub of garlic puree, which I tentatively smeared over a corner of pita. The sauce made my incredible sandwich exponentially more incredible, as garlic is wont to do, and so I went to town — and wound up with an historic case of garlic breath. (Worth it.)
By evening, it felt not-so-worth-it, as I sat in a post-work drinks meeting trying to speak without breathing. Half a pack of Dentyne Ice had not delivered the promised "40 minutes of fresh breath," and I couldn't wait to get back on the subway and head home where I could exhale and be alone with my garlic breath.
Just another totally reasonable reason why I don't live with my boyfriend.
In December 2012, six months into our relationship, I popped the move-in question. Harry was surprised, but it only took about five minutes of thinking about it before he was on board and just as psyched as I was. The new-place fantasy-shopping began immediately; we spent hours poring over Craigslist listings, saying ever-more-crazy things like, "Oh, but the fireplace is only decorative!" and "But where will the dog sleep?" (We didn't have a dog. We had a few fantasy dogs on PetFinder, but all we really had was a lot of love for each other and the desperate excitement all New Yorkers get when faced with a potential new apartment that isn't quite as crappy as their current one.)
I lived in a cozy fourth-floor walk-up with a skinny living room and two big bedrooms on either end. My roommate was great: responsible, friendly — and she had a life. We hung out from time to time and threw the occasional summertime rooftop party, but our schedules allowed us plenty of solo apartment time and privacy. It was great. But, still: NEW APARTMENT AAAH!
Harry's lease wasn't up until November, which made it even more perfect. That was almost a year away, and by the time we got there, we'd have been together for nearly a year and a half. Plenty of time to browse, work out logistics, and get used to the idea. As it turns out, it was also the exact amount of time I needed to freak the f*ck out.
A couple months after the suggestion first popped out of my mouth, I realized a few things: 1) I'd only been in this relationship for six months and it was great and all, but perhaps I'd jumped the gun; 2) Said gun-jumping just might be related to the fact that more and more of my friends were moving in with their long-term partners; and 3) Maybe a new apartment isn't enough to make up for numbers 1 and 2. Even if it has a working fireplace.
Still, I'd said it, so I would have to stick with it. I began making lists of pros and cons to convince myself that I was ready and had made the right choice. The pros list was always longer, containing compelling points like "Convenience" and "Money-saving" and "I love him." The cons looked pretty pitiful in comparison: "We go to sleep at different times." But, I just couldn't get past the con of my own panicked, pounding heart, reminding me over and over again that I just wasn't sure.
A slightly more rational person might have voiced all these concerns to my boyfriend, but not me. I was determined to work this out with my shrink and become super-sure by November 2013. The most I was able to share with Harry was asking that we table the fantasy-apartment shopping for a while because I was having some anxiety. In response, he got a little anxious himself — but with the great kindness and generosity he's always shown, he agreed we wouldn't talk about the move-in until we had to talk about it.
By New York real-estate logic, that meant our next conversation on the topic wouldn't happen until August-ish. So, I let it go — kind of. I realized that being truly present in my relationship was a lot more important than analyzing our every interaction. I knew I wouldn't really be able to get "ready" if I couldn't get a little more "in the now" first. And man oh man, did I try.
I took a Fearless Relationships course and began a new daily meditation practice. Being present was an Important Life Goal I'd always meant to tackle (but just let me finish this level on Candy Crush real quick — and catch up on Mad Men, and then worry about when and if I should have children, and then watch more Mad Men to calm myself the hell down.) But, being with Harry made me actually have to put down my phone and be present. It was great. For brief minutes, or sometimes whole days, I found myself able to get out of my head and into the moment with him — and the moment was pretty fantastic.
We took a road trip last summer: our first vacation together. You'd think a lifetime of movies and literature that depicted deep introspection incited by The American Open Road might have warned me off, but let's be honest — I was too busy planning my Instagrams to be worried.
Somewhere along Highway 1, my natural over-thinkiness kicked into high gear. On most trips there's a point when you and your traveling companion get irritated with each other, even if it's just slight. But with me and my boyfriend, I assumed anything short of perfection meant the beginning of the end. So, when we woke up a little tired and cranky after a night of less-than-perfect hotel sleep, I didn't see it as two sleepy people who needed to find some coffee; I saw it as doom.
unnamed-2Illustrated by Emily Turner.
That's when I realized I wasn't ready to move in. It's not that we were actually doomed by one lousy night of sleep, but because I was still crazy enough to make that leap in my head. Because we hadn't already had a handful of cranky mornings to get over. Because we'd never really had a bad fight to recover from. Because I needed time and evidence to know that we could get through bad days and awful days and regular, boring days. Because there are two kinds of people in the world: those who leap forward, assuming everything will probably work out okay, and those who spend their lives waiting for the other shoe to drop. Guess which one I am?
The moment I realized I was going to call it off, I relaxed. I had to worry about telling Harry, but that anxiety was infinitesimal compared to what I'd shaken off on Highway 1. He was a good guy. He might be bummed, but he'd be okay — and so would we. Of that much I was sure. Pretty sure.
"I don't think I'm ready to move in together," I announced, quietly, a week after we got back to New York. I was sitting on Harry's couch, watching him mix a cocktail. Harry mixes cocktails like Julia Child makes boeuf bourguignon: taking his time, checking herbs for freshness, and digging around for the bottle of apple-cider bitters. I'm the kind of mixologist who just opens a bottle of wine — but I guess that's what they call "balance."
He shrugged, "That's okay."
"Yeah. It would have been nice, but there's no rush."
"REALLY?!" And I jumped up like a goof and threw my arms around him. What a guy.
"Whoa, whoa, yeah. Really." And then he said the words that finished my freak-out for good: "I think we both just got excited about the new apartment."
He got it. Even if he didn't understand every single one of my over-thought thoughts, he understood that they were part of what made me me: his weirdo, lucky-duck girlfriend.
That was nine months ago, and since then I've had time to settle down without the ticking time-bomb of mandatory co-habitation hanging over my head. To be clear, it was me who hung it there. But, I needed help taking it down. You can never un-say something like "let's move in together," so I think it floats around in the backs of our minds, but we also have a lot going on in the here-and-now — and the now is good, so I'm going to enjoy it.
There's a lot happening outside of my relationship as well. I need my alone time, and I relish the fact that at the end of the day I have the option — the great luxury — of going home, closing the door, and flopping straight down on my bed to watch Call The Midwife reruns, trim my cuticles, and not worry about taking care of my garlic-breath situation.
I wanted to be ready for the move-in a year ago. But, wanting and being just aren't the same thing. I needed months of panic, followed by peace, in order to get to a place where the thought of living together wasn't so scary. Now, it actually sounds pretty great. I don't think it would be perfect — the fireplace might just be decorative, and we might wake up grumpy sometimes. We might even realize we don't like living together, and I suppose that would also be scary and awful. But, why overthink a hypothetical?
I'm rarely 100% sure about anything. If I insisted on zero doubt on every decision, I wouldn't be able to get dressed in the morning. But, I also know that I can take my time. I can freak out, calm down, and then Harry can take his turn doing the same. That's probably also what they mean by "balance." There's nothing wrong with changing your mind (and then changing it back, and then back again). If you find yourself with someone who rides out those changes with you, you hang on to them. It doesn't really matter where you hang your hat.

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