We’ve obviously made a large jump in our narrative here and I won’t go back to a play-by-play recount of how we got here. I’m still amazed, in spite of the amount of talking, visioning and working things out between Jeff and I, how completely different the experience of living together is from the ideas I had.
Every week, I’m reminded how important it is to talk things through with your partner. So many times my experience of an event turns out to be the direct opposite of Jeff’s. Things I say and intend one way, he hears very differently. Though today I’m glad to write that, although we had a few close calls, so far we have circumnavigated the cliffs and shallows of our journey.
My experience of Jeff and I moving in is strongly influenced by the family I grew up in. My parent’s marriage of 42 years settled only in the last few years in a more relaxed companionship and I remember my teenage years as marked by extensive fighting. The most unnerving for me was that my parents had only two or three fights that they replayed over and over again. I had vowed that I would never participate in such self-inflicted torture. My sister’s divorce several years ago is also still fresh in my memory. When she separated from her husband, what she remembered most and held most strongly against him were not recent transgressions. Instead, it was events 15 years and three children earlier when they first moved in together that were foremost in her mind. These are just two reasons why I wanted to get the moving in with Jeff right. And I found out how hard “getting things right” can be and how wrong you can be when you want to get them right your way.
But enough of the analysis for a moment and back to what happened. Before we packed the first boxes, Jeff and I had talked a lot about how we wanted to handle the move. From the beginning, an important decision was that we would move into a new place together rather than moving into either of our places. The result was that for a little over one week we were paying rent on three apartments. Sounds rather extravagant for two guys. That’s where our practical side wanted to keep this period short. My own emotional side wanted to keep this even shorter. As I moved only a few blocks and we kept most of my large furniture, it had started to feel like I was moving by myself. That’s not at all what I had in mind. I also knew how much work moving would be, having moved only two and a half years earlier. So I had asked a friend of mine to help me pack my apartment and had hired movers to get the bulk of the furniture and the packed boxes out of the apartment on one day. While this was the practical approach, it was also quite dramatic.
On moving day I had three workers take my apartment apart box by box. Not even the totally hot leader of the gang could distract me from the feeling that I had cut off my foundation and was tumbling head first into the unknown. Which of course, I was. Only Jeff agreeing to stay with me on moving night in the new apartment helped ease my panic. After all, how could he not be there, when I was cutting loose from the old place while he still had his apartment to go back to?
This feeling of groundlessness pushed me to make unpacking and decorating the new place my priority in days after my moving day. But suddenly Jeff and I found ourselves in a relationship with moving jetlag. I was unpacking in the new place, while he still had to pack most of his things in his old place. I offered several times my help in packing his place. Which by the way, I checked with Jeff just after reading his last column. Each time he declined, said he would much rather do this himself and that he would ask my help, if he needed to. That was the time my business trip to San Francisco came up. And to be honest, my remark that the trip could not have been better timed was really truth poorly disguised as a joke. I just needed a break. A few days in a neat hotel room without the need of navigating countless boxes or the urge to organize yet another drawer went a long way to re-establish a sense of balance. When Jeff picked me up at the airport after four days out of town, I was the happiest man I could imagine coming home to my man and to our place together.
We spent the next day, Sunday, packing up the rest of Jeff’s belongings. Jeff still had to do a lot of sorting out in his bedroom closet so I offered to pack up the kitchen. The kitchen was only large enough for one, if that, and there were no big decisions to be made. Pretty much everything was to come along. Easy I thought. I know how to pack. Today I will confess that I interpreted the “everything has to come along” not as literarily as Jeff had meant it. Although, in my mind, I mightily adjusted my standards of what could be reasonably moved and what should be thrown out. It wasn’t until weeks later that Jeff was able to tell my about the sorrow he felt about the “good friends of his” previously residing in the lower reaches of the kitchen cupboards who I had not let make the trip to the new apartment, but had abandoned to the dumpster. I admit I knew at the time that Jeff was too distracted to intervene and took advantage of his state to weed out the collection. However, I did this being totally clueless about how big a step this was for him and how much distress it caused him. For inflicting this distress I’m truly sorry.
After all that sweat and emotional work we both had poured into creating our place together, it really hit me when Jeff one evening in bed after mentioning that he had finally figured out what was wrong said: “this is just like your old apartment. The only difference is that my name is on the mailbox.” I thought it couldn’t have been more different. Not the least of the differences was that all of his belongings were stacked in boxes around us. Yes, I was ahead in the unpacking, but together we had traveled far on this path. Much later we sorted some of those feelings out: I thought he had second thoughts about moving in because he took more time to move and unpack than I did. In turn, he thought there was no space left for him because wherever he looked, my stuff was already there. Two well-intentioned people who love each other dearly suddenly deep in the swamp of crossed communication wires.
I seriously doubt that ten years ago I could have found my way out of this swamp. Ten years ago, Jeff might have just bailed at the thought of it. So if you asked us today how we did manage to talk each other off the proverbial ledges, I’d say being a bit older helped. I guess hormones aren’t quite raging as relentlessly in our bloodstreams anymore and that allows us to hang in there rather than slam the door and run screaming into the night. For my own part, I had a chance to learn a lot about myself, about the family I grew up in and to do a lot of work with my sister to get a new perspective on my teenage years. Years of therapy must be good for something after all.
While I still ask Jeff to read my columns before I post them, he now sits on the other side of our office. I’ll go to bed with him tonight and will give him a sleepy hug when he heads out for work at 5:30 a.m. And I’m starting to think that that’s what love is all about.
This series of posts was first published in 2006 and 2007. Jeff and Rolf are now happily living together. For those of you who have missed it the first time around and for everyone who’d like to read it again, here is the full story line in an updated format.