Moving house seems to be part of the adjustment to married life. Over the past week I’ve received a bunch of submissions from women describing how geographical moves have led them to periods of reinvention. Is it harder to adjust to life in an unknown place as a newlywed than as a single woman? It sounds like it. But maybe it depends on who chooses the destination. Many women describe living in places they would never have picked themselves but have gone to because of their husbands. Today’s two posts reflect this theme. Alice Bizri is currently up in Ithaca coming to terms with the quiet and the cold, while across the ocean, Alison Øgreid is adjusting to life in Norway without a job.
I live in Ithaca, New York. Not really by choice. Well, somewhat by choice. I married a man who was planning to go to graduate school, and Cornell was the only one he got into. I was hoping for Chicago or Boston, but we came to visit Ithaca in the early spring, for the preview weekend, and it seemed pleasant enough. Ryan gave up on his University of Chicago application once he realized he didn’t want to study what they had to offer, and he didn’t have any interest to begin with in MIT. Stanford would have been too easy-we both wanted a change and had already been living in Palo Alto.
At least Ithaca in March seemed different and exciting: It was snowing. Everyone, once we mentioned where we were moving, raised their eyebrows and made comments like, “Whoa! You’re gonna get used to winter!”
My former roommate, Matt, looked at me across a dinner table one night and said, “What the hell are you going to do in Ithaca ?” The question he was asking wasn’t what kind of a job I was going to have. It was really more “How on earth are you going to be happy in Ithaca?” Matt and I had lived together in a very active house with four other “young professionals” who spent most weekends in San Francisco, going to music shows, art openings, bars and restaurants-or else we were outdoors camping, hiking and biking. And while Ithaca is a beautiful place, filled with plenty of outdoorsy stuff, the “scene,” as it were, is rather on the quiet side. It is quiet and suburban and surrounded, for at least an hour in each direction, by, well, nothing.
In short, it is nearly perfect for my husband, a quiet, introverted engineer who loves backpacking and hiking. He was the first man I dated who wasn’t a social, outgoing musician, painter or photographer. Bars and music shows are usually too loud for him, and while he enjoys having a few beers with friends, it’s not something he needs in order to charge himself up. He doesn’t get antsy like I do, stamping around the house, saying, “Come on, let’s do something.”
In the same way people were surprised that I was moving to Ithaca, people were initially surprised that I married someone like Ryan. I’m sure there was a similar sentiment among Ryan’s friends-he once told me that all the other girls he’d dated had been “squares.”
But it was really for the best. My close friend Nikki said to me, fortuitously on the night he proposed (before he’d proposed): “He grounds you, and you get him out and about. It’s a good combination.” And of course, as much as I dislike living in Ithaca (Matt was right), I wouldn’t trade living here with Ryan for living elsewhere without him.
I used to be horrified when I found out that people had moved places because of significant others. I just thought it sounded like the worst reason in the world to move anywhere. Move for your own reasons, I thought, not someone else’s. I once said this to a friend of mine, who had been living in Manhattan for several years having pointlessly chased a girl there. He said to me, “It’s as good a reason as any. I certainly don’t regret it.” With that attitude, ready for a change, but before I’d ever thought of marrying him, I said to Ryan that if he was going to move somewhere for graduate school, I’d come along. I had no designs on a marriage proposal-I had never even pictured myself married. I just wanted an adventure and I was in love.
When, after living here for a month or so, I discovered how much I really hated Ithaca, I cried. I cried and I lay around feeling sorry for myself. Finally, I decided to get on with my life and resolved to remember that moving to Ithaca was a decision I made for my own reasons as well as for Ryan’s. It’s what keeps me from being resentful, although sometimes I do, semi-jokingly, yell (usually when trying to make flight reservations or something else made equally difficult by Ithaca’s lack of proximity to anything): “Why the hell do we live in this place?”
Alice Bizri is a horse trainer and PR consultant living in Ithaca, N.Y.
Before I was married, I imagined that actually being married would have me feeling something I didn’t already feel in my long-term, committed relationship. I was sure that, although I always saw marriage as a serious step, it would also end up to be something more than that.
I was right.
After our marriage, my husband began applying for jobs in his home country, Norway. We lived in Switzerland at the time and both felt we could be ready for a move.
When he got the first job he applied for, a dream job in a more interesting position and in a better sector than his prior job, we began seriously considering moving to Oslo.
We visited. I thought it was a nice city. All I could see myself needing to imagine living there was a warmer jacket.
He put in his letter of resignation. I didn’t renew my contract with my job.
The next thing I knew, he had moved to start the new job, and I was left with a mattress, two huge suitcases and a cat in an otherwise empty space in Geneva. And the next thing after that, I was on a one-way ticket flight to Oslo, Norway, just ten days shy of the shortest and darkest day of the year. That was seven months ago.
In the past seven months, I have become proficient in Norwegian, met several people I think will be lifelong close friends, learned to cross-country ski, ran a half-marathon above the Arctic Circle on the longest day of the year, and experienced the wonder of Norwegian summers (nights of barbecuing in the parks and beaches-yes, beaches!-until midnight).
I don’t know if I would have agreed to move if we had not yet been married. With my current state of unemployment, I think I would have felt like a burden, an outsider. Instead, I feel we are stronger because both of us work hard to make sure the other one is feeling supported.
There have been hard times. We have to survive on one income. I have to battle some inner demons about my self-worth as the non-earner and keep myself mentally stimulated (easy enough-just try reading Norwegian all day every day!). January and February were awfully cold, awfully dark, and on some days, just plain awful months. Sometimes I go crazy that I can’t get a better variety of English books, find dill pickles, or fully express myself to any given person on the street. However, I look at what this move symbolizes-our new life together-and how I have grown as a person and a spouse, and I can’t imagine going back.
So marriage has indeed wrought change in my life.
Signing that marriage license and standing up in front of my friends and family while looking into my partner’s eyes and saying “I do!” changed me from seeing us as a couple to seeing our relationship as a partnership. I feel safe shaking up my life for us. I have been using my husband’s ATM card for seven months, and soon I will get my own card, but for the same account. I feel lovely going through the steps of Norwegian bureaucracy-getting my work permit, social security number, health system registration-all the while sure that I won’t have problems because I’m one half of a married couple. It might sound anti-feminist, but I am pleased to daydream about “my” future and see it instead as “our” future: where we will live, what we will do with our friends, where we will spend holidays. I don’t mean to say I have abandoned my sense of self, but like Allison Yarrow’s feeling that her name change preferenced “family first,” I agree that that has happened to me too. And I love it.
Alison Øgreid is a former project assistant at UNESCO in Geneva and is currently working on a shopping and eating guide to Oslo, Norway.
Photograph by Photodisc/Getty Images.