From an email I wrote to a friend on June 10, 2011:
I don’t want to argue with you about moving somewhere for love. Your experience in that has obviously been different than mine, and by different I mean yours hasn’t resulted in disaster, sadness, and heartbreak. It’ll take some serious convincing for me to do that again.
If you’ve ever been in love then you know that when you’re absolutely sure about someone you can change everything in your life for them. It can make you out to be a liar. You say one thing, believe it, make proclamations and pronouncements, and then something comes along that forces you to embrace your own contradictions. But that’s all right. Strong men also change their minds.
I’ve written about this before. About how it’s easy to confuse running away from something with running toward something. We have a natural inclination to act in order to cause less pain in our lives. If given a choice we would rather run downhill than on an incline.
If the real story is in the numbers, my ratio of moving to get away from a relationship versus moving somewhere to keep a relationship going doesn’t tell a very attractive tale.
Lou Reed’s “Oh I do believe if you don’t like things you leave/for someplace you’ve never been before” was a guiding mantra in my 20s.
Just as alcoholics talk about how the geographical cure never works to break their habit, it’s the same for serial monogamists. Leaving a place just to break up with someone really isn’t fair to what the place has to offer you. You might have accomplished a lot more had you stayed. Running away seems easier than staying and fighting, but it’s not always the best choice.
And now to be moving to a foreign country for someone I love! The anticipation of moving to a new city is often better than the reality upon arrival. Add to that the thought of a waiting companion and the anticipation is doubled.
Yet there is the one aspect of this that interferes with the prospects of starting a new life where no one knows you. Moving somewhere with or for someone who knows you means you can’t reinvent yourself. You’re not starting clean. You’re not able to hide who you are from all the new people you meet.
Maybe that’s a good thing. I’ve met my share of travelers and expats who disparage or hide where they’re from, and those people are hard to trust. To abandon your home, to deny your childhood and your upbringing is to deny a crucial part of your personal history. When you’re moving to a new place for someone you’re forced to own who you are.
This is a lot about “owning it.” Aside from a ring, what more of a statement can you make that you’re committed? “I’m going to cross an ocean for this.” I guess you just get sure. After all the mistakes, all the times you’ve done people wrong, all the selfish decisions, you decide to say yes and really mean it. And it’s not because you don’t want to lose someone, or because you’re tired of being single, or because you’re afraid your time’s running out. I’d rather be alone than be with the wrong person. It’s just that you become so sure of someone and the possibility of a life together that you quiet down those deviant voices and confront the fear of it not working out. It’s when you decide you want to build something out of your life instead of only starting things you don’t finish.
There comes a time when you have to stop believing in the men you read in your 20s. Miller, Hemingway, Fante, Bukowski—strong writers, bad with women. Not role models.
You have to confront the cowardice within you that says hold out for the person that can save you from yourself. That person isn’t out there. There isn’t anyone who can do that. It’s better to make the decision to stay and love someone. About all I can hope for in life is that the people I love know that I love them. That I’m doing all I can to treat people as well as I can. The noble struggle is to find a way to love someone. To really love someone. To get beyond yourself far enough that you can actually care about another person more than you care about yourself. Once you do that you can start building something beyond your own selfish life.
It’s trite to say love keeps us together, but it’s also true. Without it I don’t think we would have any order in our lives. Families couldn’t exist. It works like a binding agent, keeps men at home, distinguishes us from animals.
The other night I had dinner with a friend and she shared her current opinion on dating.
“I tell my friends to avoid men between ages 28 and 32,” she said. “Too many issues.”
We talked about how men my age go through this stage where they’re not happy with who they have become or their place in the world and they compensate for that dissatisfaction in a lot of ways. Drinking. Other women. Being generally noncommittal and self-serving. She’s right. We do all of that. Most of it’s driven by fear. We get to this point where we’re afraid we’re losing our vitality. And our charm. And our hair. A lot us go through our “I’m going to get my kicks while I can” days. We try to have sex with the whole world.
But like the Hold Steady’s Craig Finn put it in “Soft In the Center”:
You can’t get every girl/you get the ones you love the best…I know what you’re going through/I had to go through that, too.
I’ve spoken with a lot of men older than me who say you don’t know meaning in your life until you have your first child. We wait until we’re older to get married and start families. That gives us men more years to act like dogs—we can always get married when we’re 35. But setting an age when you’re going to be “ready” is also another way of saying you don’t want to grow up until you decide it’s time. All through my 20s, when people would ask me why I wasn’t married yet, I would say “I’m not ready. I don’t see myself getting married until I’m 35.” It’s a terribly unromantic way to live. It’s limiting. I’m done with that.
Before I moved to New York my friends that had lived here told me “you’re a good guy. The girls will like you. You’ll do well there.”
When I got there I heard from more than one woman a variation of the same lament. “It’s impossible to find a decent guy in this city. They’re all just waiting for the next hot thing to walk around the corner.” I’ll admit I found myself thinking “this certainly works in my favor.” And I could have capitalized on that for all it was worth, but that wouldn’t have been much. I’ve never been interested in living a clichéd life. I’d choose one sure shot at love over all the women in New York City.
Still, I miss the city. I had a great time there. Made good friends, worked a fine job, tasted some high highs. I came there knowing that it would take some time to crack into the culture of the city and my life only improved the longer I was there. A city life grows over time. But it also grows hooks, too, and the bigger the city the bigger they grow. I feel like I got off easy. I left for a new job, a new life, and a chance at making something bigger than myself.