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Why I Moved for Love by Amy Spencer
A few years ago, my friend Leslie moved to Milan to be with a man she loved. I remember envying both her romance and her guts to make such a big change. But I also remember thinking, “Please let me meet someone in New York…I just love it here too much to move for love.” Wow, how things change.
In a way, the decision was easy, because I love this guy more than any man I’ve known. But I also believe that love alone is sometimes not enough to pick up and move a life you’ve spent years building. (In fact, in one previous long-distance relationship I had, it wasn’t.) Here’s why I knew, without a doubt, that this time around, a relocation (or, should I say a re-love-cation) was right for me.
Yes, moving meant leaving it all (my friends, my family, my apartment) and starting fresh (new phone, new email, new gas, new bank). But when I pictured Gustavo’s smiling face looking at mine, I just thought, “Yep, he’s worth it.”
My friend Nicole Gregg felt a similar moment of clarity before her move from Manhattan to New Hampshire to be with her then-boyfriend Zack. “I just knew,” says Nicole. “I felt like this was the right thing to do. It was this, or…actually, there was no ‘or.’ I think if you’re going back and forth and back and forth trying to decide what to do, it’s probably not right. It’s like when you’re really unsure about the outfit you’re wearing. If you’re questioning it so much, you probably shouldn’t wear it.” Nicole was sure. She moved to Portsmouth and married Zack a year and a half later.
When I first started dating Gustavo, he was living in an oversized raw-space loft in downtown L.A. just a few blocks from Skid Row. While perfect for a painter who needed space for large canvases, I wasn’t feeling the whole drug-infested neighborhood thing; I wanted a walking neighborhood like the one I was leaving. So, to make me happy, we found a little house in Venice, just a short walk to town and a bike ride to the beach. And to keep him happy, we factored in the cost of keeping half of the loft as a workspace and renting the rest.
To me, both of us starting fresh in a new place was vital to making my move work. Now, instead of feeling like I’m encroaching on his pre-me life, I feel like we’re on an “us” adventure. Sure, some things around town are old hat to him (“Trust me, these are the only fish tacos worth eating”), but the house we’re living in is new to both of us (“Hey, check out this bizarro closet!”). I’m not just making his life mine; we’re making our own life together.
Because I knew that — regardless of the relationship — I would be able to make a life for myself in my new location
A few years ago, I had a long-distance relationship with a guy in South Beach, Miami. One weekend, over some eggs Benedict on Ocean Drive, I considered what it might be like to move there. That is, until I picked up a local paper to check out the real estate and noticed something else: Instead of seeing ads for the very things that I loved about New York — the theater, literary readings, art openings, small films — I found ads for dance clubs and beach parties. Ultimately, though I loved Miami, I had to admit I wouldn’t be happy living there.
My friend Jessie had the same revelation about moving out of New York recently. Like me, she used to be a full-fledged city girl: afternoons full of brunches and bargain shopping, and nights full of parties and cocktails. Then she met a country boy who worked with horses on a ranch. Being with him, she says, “was non-negotiable.” And because Jessie was ready for a change, she happily offered to flee the city for a small town in Virginia—a town they started fresh in together. “I didn’t think he would be very happy in the city, but I was ready to move out of New York,” she explains. “I didn’t want to go out for drinks anymore. I was at the point where I wanted a garden, I wanted some dogs, I wanted to mow a lawn.” She now has all of it—and come June, she’ll also have a husband.
The way I see it, if a couple’s plans for the future aren’t in sync, a big move won’t suddenly change all that. Sure, an exciting move might distract from your differences for a while, but eventually the music stops, the disco lights shut off and you’re left with a big, square, bare room you don’t know what to do with.
This is just the dilemma facing a fashion-forward woman (I’ll call her Bianca) whom I met recently. Bianca told me her dream plan is to have a loft in New York, an apartment in Paris, and a job that takes her all over the world. Her new boyfriend, however, just high-tailed it out of the city for a job in Utah with a ski company—and wants Bianca to join him. His dream plan? To buy a cabin an hour from town for a quiet life in the mountains. “I didn’t realize how different we were until now,” she said. “I like the city, he likes the snow. I like fine wine, he likes cans of Pabst on the back porch. If either one of us moves, we’d only be living the other’s life instead of our own.”
In Bianca’s case, their dream plan is to move in different directions. In my case, Gustavo and I are moving toward what we both want: a similar future. And that’s why I knew it could work. Perhaps a couple doesn’t need to want the same things right now. But eventually, those basic plans should merge. Otherwise, someone is probably shifting who they are as a person—and that’s a move backwards by any standards.
Because I was willing to get creative with my career
Now, I’m lucky. Because as a writer, I can work from anywhere with an Internet connection. I know that plenty of people have to quit their jobs entirely in the move for love. But the important thing is this: Can you or can you not make your work “work” in your new town? For instance, I’ll lose a few clients—like local magazines I used to write for—by moving to the West Coast. But I can also use the move as an opportunity to expand my experience with new clients and different types of jobs.
Nicole, however, had to be even more creative with her work. “I was a casting director for a film company in New York. So when I moved to Portsmouth, I was like, Hmm, now what? And then it hit me: This town is perfect for a film festival.” It has taken Nicole five years to really make it work, but the last New Hampshire Film Festival attracted over 3,000 attendees and drew film submissions from 31 states and 15 countries. “Instead of focusing on the fact that there weren’t any opportunities for work here, I saw the opportunities as endless,” she explains.
Because I knew we were in it for the long haul
I like to gamble on the little things in life. I’ll head to a new movie without reading the reviews. I’ll wait on line at a trendy restaurant without knowing if I can get in. I’ll even get on a plane without a hotel reservation already booked at my destination. But when it comes to the really big stuff, I like a sure bet.
It was only after Gustavo and I had started talking about a forever-future that I brought up the idea of moving. I liked knowing while I was packing that a wedding and family was in our cards (well, not as much as my Mom liked knowing…). It turns out it was all coming sooner than I thought: Gustavo proposed three days before we flew out of New York. It was even more assurance I was doing the right thing.
Because, if it came to it, he was willing to move for me as well
Though I was up for the adventure and the challenge of moving to a new place, and Gustavo couldn’t wait to show me around his sunny city, the clincher for my decision came one evening over Roquefort cheeseburgers in the West Village. “You know,” said Gustavo, “that if you really hate it in L.A., I’ll move back here with you in a heartbeat, okay?” In that moment, he gave the same reason I’d started with: The relationship, above all else, was worth it. Following through on my decision turned out to be pretty easy.
Amy Spencer has written for Real Simple, New York, and other magazines.
This article was originally published in February 2007.