“I just… I don’t want you to think this means I’m not sure about us,” I said, blinking away tears and ignoring my body’s call to readjust on the tiny park bench. The winter air was piercing and I was sitting at an awkward angle, but it felt wrong, somehow, to acknowledge my physicality when emotions were running so high, like sneezing or yawning during a fight.
“I know, I believe you,” he said, grabbing my hand. This was not a fight. “And this is definitely the right decision. There’s just a part of me that wishes it weren’t, you know? I built up the idea of living together in my head and now I have to pack those ideas away. That makes me kind of sad.”
“Me too,” I said, a tear finally making its way down my cheek. “I’m mourning that vision, too.” A perplexing mixture of sadness and relief flooded my body.
“I’m also relieved though,” he said, as if peering inside me. “I’m glad we finally figured this out.”
It had been a long road to this conversation: about six months of should-we-shouldn’t-we-move-in deliberation and just as many 180-degree turns. I’d been proud of our ability to dance around the uncertainty — it felt mature, thoughtful, the opposite of impulsive — but I think some part of us both believed we’d come out of it saying, “Let’s do it,” instead of, “Let’s not.” But I was proud, too, that our deliberation had proved necessary, that it wasn’t simply a false show of proof that “we’d thought about it.”
The idea that we should move in together had materialized in the fall, as easily as an exhale: “Maybe we should think about getting our own place,” he’d said. We’d been watching a movie on my couch and jumping whenever we thought my roommates were approaching.
“Really?” I replied, genuinely surprised to hear my own thoughts voiced.
“Really,” he said.
After that night, we brought the idea up every so often, turning it around, examining it from different angles. The broad strokes were in our favor: Both of our leases were up in six months; we were serious about each other; we’d both lived with long-term partners before and liked it; at 28 and 31, we were hovering around the age society deemed it appropriate to shack up. After a while, though, those factors started to feel less like fate and more like a countdown on our willingness to take “the next step.”
At the time, we lived five blocks away from each other, a distance that felt minimal or unbearable, depending on the day. We’d make the trek back and forth several times a week, sometimes practically running to get it over with, other times zigzagging to make it longer. On one such leisurely walk, our locked hands swinging between us, I confessed that although I’d cohabitated with a partner before, I’d probably done so prematurely on a lovesick whim, and I was nervous I was doing that again.
“I want us to really think about this and not get swept up in how fun it sounds,” I said. We agreed to keep thinking.
In the coming months, though, a more pressing issue loomed in my mind: I’d always dreamed of living alone, and if we didn’t move in together, this would be my first chance. Intertwined with this was my desire to nurture my independent spirit — the one that brought me to New York in the first place, always pushed me out of my comfort zone, and historically took a backseat whenever I fell in love. I could feel it slipping. He already lived alone and had a large New York network, so this was purely my own roadblock, and I examined it to a pulp: Did I really care so much about living alone? Was I just romanticizing it? What if it was too hard, too expensive, too lonely? What if I was just scared of feeling trapped and this desire was an expression of that?
When I told him all this, he urged me to trust my gut, assured me he’d be happy with either choice and, in so many words, relinquished the decision to the more anxious party, also known as me.
Soon enough, though, my fantasies of living alone gave way to fantasies of tag-teamed recipes, friendly debates at IKEA and Sunday afternoons spent tangled on the couch. I started talking about how much light we’d get in our new place (a sun’s worth), how many plants we’d need (one million), and how much fun we’d have (more than we’d know what to do with). As one kind of future began to take shape, I tried to ignore the tangible upsides — the split rent, the built-in quality time, the combined assets – knowing they weren’t supposed to drive the decision. But they were almost intoxicating alongside everything else, and by the holidays, it felt like a sure thing: We were moving in together in May. I started to tell my friends and family the news.
But even then, he assured me the alternative was still on the table, and as much as I wanted to push it off, some part of me agreed to leave it. Maybe that was the problem with giving ourselves so much time to make the decision: We had so much damn time to make the decision. And as the next months unfolded, I used them to analyze my motivations like cells in a glass slide. Why did I sometimes still think about living alone? Did that mean I’d always regret not doing it? Was I rushing because I was in love, or our leases were up, or it just made sense? I’d never given myself so long to question something so openly and without agenda, and when I felt the rumblings of an inconvenient truth — that choosing to live together was the more convenient choice, and that I was wrapped up in the momentum of the modern romantic timeline that says go go go – I was so happy I had.
A younger version of me would have shaken my hesitation off and called it anxiety. But this time I listened closely and dared to change my mind. I went back on what I’d told myself, my boyfriend, my family and my friends. I made the choice that seemed, perhaps from the outside, to indict a relationship I had no doubts about. It felt so alien to me to be so unromantic. But as I sat shivering on that park bench, terrified I was hurting the person I loved, I was also overcome by an unfamiliar confidence. I almost couldn’t believe I’d listened to myself at a time when it felt so utterly inconvenient. Underneath all my discomfort was a beam of pride.
On the spectrum of serious life decisions, this one was nothing monumental. But I spent six long months studying the cards I was dealt, knowing exactly what hand most people expected me to play, and I didn’t play it. And as we cooked dinner together the other night in my cozy one-bedroom apartment, as we talked eagerly about exploring the brand new five blocks between our brand new places, it occurred to me that playing my own hand wasn’t quite as scary as I thought it would be. And in the end, it was just as romantic.
Illustration by Meredith Jensen.