You have either decided on your primary skillset or it has decided on you. This has already happened.
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?
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.
Hello again and welcome to the second and final part of this topic. Last week I left you with some questions, the same ones I’ve asked others in person. They could be summed this way:
Why do you (and everyone else) fear death, and how does it affect your choices in life?
I think that it has to do with your goals.
My claim, in a nutshell: a person’s fear of death (not dying, but death itself) is inversely proportional to the degree to which they estimate they have accomplished their life’s goals.
What this means is that the more you do what you really want to do, the more comfortable you are with the eventual arrival of the end of your own life.
Widely, those who have seen their dreams come true do not fear death. But those of us who set aside their hopes and aspirations rather than actively pursuing them, foster and develop a deep fear of death, and I believe this is because they fear losing the ability to act on those dreams before it is too late.
The signs are there. The way they build defenses from even thinking about what they truly want in life, let alone actually making a plan to address those things. The way the elderly enter into a malaise leading to senility when they realize they are no longer able to do the thing that may make them happy. The way that so many people wither away mentally (followed by physically) once they no longer have a job or someone to take care of.
But I have also witnessed evidence in myself, and to me, this is the most compelling of the lot. In the last few years, I have seen my health decline. Not precipitously, but significantly. I am in my thirties, but I am beginning to sight the end of my life, be it in my sixties, eighties, or whenever (let’s hope a long time from now). The concept of my death becomes more real with the passage of time, and strangely, the penultimate loss that I can remember associating with it all the way back to my first understanding of death as a child, has waned.
Concurrently, I have seen some of my major life goals come to fruition: I graduated college with a degree in science in 2003. I wrote a book. Two, actually. I published one in 2013. I recorded an album of my own music in 2007, and several more since then. I taught myself to record and thereby took control of the entire creative process for a number of my projects. The first one that I helmed without assistance, start to finish, was released in 2015. I fell in love. Real, soul-jacking love, tore myself apart trying to survive its end, and did, barely. That was a few years ago. I moved to a new location and made it there, on my own, back in 2004. I locked in a dependable, lucrative career in 2015 that uses a portion of my training and skillset. In 2000 I adopted and raised a dog from a pup, gave him a long, happy life, and in a short time I will help him leave it behind. And I will endure that pain, and survive to find happiness on the other side, because I have learned how to do that.
Some of those are failures that I spun into a kind of victory, by handling the failure the right way. Seems like a cop-out, but it’s quite valid and in retrospect it is doubly so. One must give up to truly fail. Therein lies a wonderful truth we may rely on in our lives: the person who works toward their success with honest rigor cannot lose, even if success does not come. The idea almost sounds like political propaganda, but it is coming from a place far from there. Emotionally, the value of successfully working toward a goal is far greater than the value of successfully achieving that goal.
These accomplishments I’ve listed mean a lot to me, and this is largely because I set them as life goals before I undertook them, and when they came to pass, I recognized their importance and truly enjoyed the significance of their completion. To a large degree, the second part of that last sentence is dependent upon the first: you must declare your goal before you tackle it if you are to reap the full benefit of the accomplishment. There is a vital time element here. You must choose a journey before a journey chooses you.
Nowadays I have other goals. Some of them are improved repetitions of ones I’ve already tackled, but they’re there, and I am working toward them. They are not lessened by others that have passed. The creation, expansion, and maintenance of this website is one of them. But my point here is that I now see myself as having actually completed some of my life goals. What this means is that as an achiever, I am done with a portion of my life’s work. That fact puts me at peace, and it helps me cope with the fear of dying. My death, if it happened today on the way home from work, would not be metaphorically the same as quitting a book while still in chapter one. It would be chapter four, or ten, or something along those lines, if we wanted to extend the metaphor. I have accomplished something. And I am truly proud of that. That pride, that accomplishment, erodes the fear of death.
Death is an implacable foe. This is the only defense against death we can ever hope to have: to achieve.
Today I have claimed that the fear of death is caused by failure to meet one’s goals. Not as offensive as some of my prior claims, but possibly a very challenging one, depending on you.
What do you think?
Why do you think people fear death?
In saying “I want to”, you own the choice. You own the foresight, the labor, the accomplishment, the credit, the admiration, and the prosperity.
How would you respond to this hypothetical scenario?
There was never a moment when your machinations were slated to extend in significance beyond the end of your life.
Just as the bear who ate the poison berries will suffer the consequence regardless of how they smelled and looked and tasted, you must do the same for what you do.
It’s amazing the difference between saying, “I do X because I believe it is right,” and “I do X because it is right.”