When my boyfriend and I boarded our flight to Los Angeles — a trip that would mark the end our lives in New York and bring him closer to his new, dream job — he had pink eye in one eye. By the time we landed, he had it in both eyes. We planned to drop our bags in our new apartment and have a celebratory dinner somewhere in our new neighborhood. This was, after all, the start of our new life together. Instead, I spent the first night of our “next chapter” frantically Googling urgent care clinics open past 8 p.m., rushing to get him a doctor’s appointment before his insurance expired at midnight.
This was the inauspicious beginning of what I’d previously considered the ultimate “romantic” leap: picking up my life and relocating for the person I loved.
This was the inauspicious beginning of what I’d previously considered the ultimate “romantic” leap: picking up my life and relocating for the person I loved. I was wholly unprepared for feeling so out of sorts so suddenly, and I had no idea that a little bacterial conjunctivitis would soon be the least of my concerns.
We made the move because he got a job offer that checked two major boxes: it was a position that fulfilled a lifelong dream for him and could support us both for at least a little while. But nothing else about it made sense. We had only four crazed weeks to give our notices at work, break our lease, and find a new apartment on the other side of the country. Though I loved my job at a major women’s magazine, I knew the old cliché was true: if the shoe were on the other foot, he would have done it for me in a heartbeat. And so, I sat in a windowless conference room with my boss, telling her I felt like a bad feminist for doing this. For quitting my own dream job to support my partner in pursuing his. With a knowing smile, she assured me that I was no worse a feminist than anyone else. “This is just what happens in serious relationships,” she said.
And just like that, my decades-long career as I’d known it was over. I went from being a senior editor to a “sort of freelance, but still kind of figuring things out” writer. So in the weeks before our move, I practiced the conversation I dreaded most in the mirror. “And what do you do?” some imagined partygoer, inevitably very successful, would ask me.
“Nothing,” I hypothetically replied, going a little dead in the eyes.
While work-life balance is difficult to strike in almost every profession, digital media’s long hours and non-stop news cycle is especially all-consuming, and I quietly worried that my job had become a placeholder for my personality. Even though part of me wanted a break from the burnout, I was terrified of who I’d be without my job title. Deep down I knew, even before we left, that my boyfriend’s world was about to get bigger, and mine was about to get smaller.
We did everything right: we organized going away parties, packed our things, and talked about how we’d manage our new financial situation (we both agreed that until I had a new job, he would pay for my health insurance). We scheduled Skype calls with friends, and put both our names on the lease for our new place — but all of the logistical planning wasn’t enough to brace ourselves for the uncertainty ahead.
Days after we landed in LA, with my boyfriend’s eyes still red and itchy, two more bad things happened: I developed a weird strain of eczema that took several pricy out-of-network doctor visits to cure, and the city experienced one of the most oppressive heat waves in recent history.
My boyfriend and I had been together for almost four years, but I thought that heat wave would break us. We tried to escape the 117 degree temperature at a movie, but when we stepped out of the theater our reprieve ended. The wind washed over us like a scorching flood of air when you open up an oven. When I exhaled, the breath on my face was colder than the air around me. It felt alien, like you instinctively knew your body wasn’t meant to function in an environment as extreme as this.
We didn’t have a mattress or an air conditioner installed yet, so we faced a long night of exasperated fighting over where to position the bucket of ice by the fan so that it might actually do something besides blow hot air in our faces. (A trick our neighbor offered when he heard us arguing.) For the first time in our history, we were shouting at each other, and the physical discomfort of our surroundings stoked our individual discord. For him, it was the rising anxiety over starting a new job on a TV show in a few short days. And for me, even though we’d only been in LA for a week, my homesickness and doubt began to feed the seeds of a depression that was taking hold.
There was a momentary ceasefire when I noticed our cat becoming sluggish and unresponsive. We both panicked and I was close to tears before my boyfriend went out for more ice in the middle of the night. We locked the cat in the shower, where the tile and ice helped us create a makeshift cooler, until day break. But neither one of us got more than an hour of sleep, when the temperature mercifully dipped down to the low 100s just before dawn.
Between the heat, his pink eye, my eczema, and an ill cat, it felt like some tortuous relationship version of Escape the Room — a test to see if we had what it took to withstand the worst of ourselves after four comparatively calm years together.
During our first month, the inconveniences kept mounting until they felt like the 10 plagues. The gas company couldn’t turn on the hot water for two weeks. We had cockroaches. I got stung by a bee taking out the trash, and the sting got infected. The movers were delayed. Everything that could go wrong, went wrong. For those first few weeks, I just sat in our bedroom, the only eventually-temperature controlled room in the house, and felt myself slip away.
I was lost. I had been given this gift of a new adventure, and I felt like I had nothing to show for myself. I sobbed on my boyfriend’s shoulder, unable to explain how I felt I’d failed both of us. I felt mind-numbingly proud of watching him achieve his career goals, but the internal dissonance gutted me in a way I couldn’t have anticipated. And even though he was a dutiful and loving sham-wow, there’s nothing he could have said that would have made me feel at home in a place that was still so unfamiliar. No one tells you that love is just one small part of being happy — on its own, it’s never not enough.
But little by little — so slowly I couldn’t see it happening — I started leaving the house. I went to the gym. I started writing about things that mattered to me, and began making my own money again. When a few other writers in the area I’d never met reached out to grab drinks, instead of being too scared to tell them I did “nothing,” I went. I made jokes and I laughed at theirs, and slowly started to believe that there’s more to me than what I do for a living. It seems like such an obvious fact, but when you’re doing nothing, it’s easy to feel like nothing.
I made a promise to myself to try to go out and live my imperfect life just a little bit every day, even when the siren call of my bed begged me to nap the afternoon away. But each time I came back from doing that one small thing, our once plague-ridden apartment started feeling more like a home.
Now, six months later, I still don’t have it all figured out, but it’s become clearer and clearer why we did this in the first place. I have the time to sit and have coffee in the morning with my boyfriend before we both start work. We explore new restaurants, museums, and beaches together, and he patiently waits while I photograph every sweeping view and sunset that somehow still mesmerizes me.
I still wonder if there’s anything I could have done differently, any way I could have seen that it was going to be so hard. But how do you prepare for feeling hot in a heat wave? Cold compresses and fans only do so much. You have to trust that the fever will break. You have to trust the person next to you. You have to trust your first instinct. Because when you take a leap, you can’t always predict where you’ll land.