Should I follow my fiance west when my life is on the East Coast?

I find I'm quite happy on my own, and I really, really don't want to move.


Cary Tennis
August 25, 2005 9:38PM (UTC)

Dear Cary,

I'm engaged to a guy I love, but he wants me to move across the country, and I just don't want to.

People who know me -- even those who know me very well -- think I'm confident, smart and all-around fine. The truth, which, until recently, I've done a great job of hiding from myself and everyone else, is that I'm really fucked up. For years I've managed bulimia, periods of excessive drinking, and severe depression, in such a way that the outside world never noticed a thing. Recently, though, I blacked out one too many times, and verbally attacked someone close to me. I went to my first AA meeting a couple of weeks later and, for about a month now, I've been finding a lot of interesting, familiar and hope-inspiring stuff there. All this is to say that, after years of hiding my problems, I'm at a point where I'm just beginning to face them.

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My fiancé asked me to marry him almost a year ago, under duress, after we'd been together for four years. Up to this point, he described marriage as a meaningless societal norm that he wanted nothing to do with. The unsurprising story is that after listening to this for a while, I started to freak out; he got scared that I was going to leave him, and we got engaged. The engagement has never felt very comfortable. When we went out to dinner after the ring thing, rather than being filled with joy at the prospect of being bound to the woman he loves, he was angry at the waiter and the other people in the restaurant and barely spoke to me. Since then, though we've tried, we've never really been able to have clear conversations about why we're getting married, what it means to us, and how it might be a positive thing.

My fiancé has big career goals in a big, lucrative field that is very hard to break into, and he's always said that he can't make plans for the future until his career is on track. This means that at 33 (him) and 32 (me), we cannot talk about when we might have children, though I definitely want them and he sometimes says he does, too. On top of that, in the past year or so, he's been losing hope in the career he wants and has replaced bravado and predictions of wild success with bitterness and complaints of being treated unfairly by the world. He often takes his anger about this out on me, saying that I couldn't live the way I do without his support. This is not true. Though I get paid very little for teaching, pursuing a Ph.D. and writing the novel that I'm about to start shopping around, I support myself. This is in spite of the fact that he makes six times as much money as I do at the day job he hates. In calmer moments, he has admitted that he resents me for "getting to do what I want to do" while he works.

One of our big conflicts is that my fiancé has to move to the West Coast if he's to pursue his career in the way he wants to, while my work often brings me to Europe. For now, we live on the East Coast, where we're both from. Over the years we've agreed, in our hysterical way, that we would move when my teaching obligations on the East Coast were fulfilled. That time came and went and my fiancé, steadily complaining about his job, made no plans to move or look for work on the West Coast. Finally, fed up with living in a state of limbo, I took a teaching job on the East Coast for this coming year. I suggested to him that he go out west to set things up for us and that I would join him later, but he hasn't made any plans to do that. The vague idea is that we'll get married this year and then move out west together. The more I think about it, though, the less I want to go. It is very likely that I'll be offered a longer contract at this new job when the year is up and, secretly, I'm dreaming about taking it. I could stay near my friends and family, near the publishing capital of the world, and I could continue to travel easily to and from Europe.

Right now, I'm halfway through a month in Europe without him and I'm quietly having the time of my life. I'm not drinking, I'm going to AA meetings, and I'm spending my days working and playing exactly as I want to. I have a lot of questions about my future right now but the one about the move feels the most urgent. The more I think about it, the clearer it seems to me that this Western city is just too far out of the orbit of the life I want for myself.

I'm thinking of telling him that I can't move with him, but the thought makes me feel terribly guilty. I mean, he's stuck with me during my bouts of bulimia and depression and he's been on the receiving end of a lot of my alcoholic idiocy, too -- not to mention that we often have a great time together, and that we love each other dearly.

What do you think? Is it selfish of me to put my foot down about the move or is it completely stupid not to?

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Coastal Divide

Dear Coastal Divide,

I would suggest that for the time being at least you not move. It's sort of a truism among recovering alcoholics that we not get into new relationships or make large, life-changing decisions in the first year or so of sobriety, but it's not just that. I'm not very rule-based when it comes to how you get sober. The main reason I suggest you not move is that I hear you quite clearly saying you don't want to move. I hear you saying that, away from your fiancé, you seem to be doing what you want to do, and you are quite happy. You have a clear idea of what is important to you, how you want to conduct your life and where it's possible to do that successfully. You're saying you don't want to move.

So it's possible that while you have a good time with your fiancé and you're bound to him and you love him, you and he have incompatible life ambitions. That's not an easy thing to face, drunk or sober. It's not the same as having incompatible personalities. It's more troubling, in a way, than just not getting along. If you weren't getting along you could just have a big fight with him and call him names and stay angry at him long enough to make it seem reasonable and right that you just call it quits. But ambitions and a life plan can seem so much less material. People will say, If you're writing, can you not write in L.A.? (I'm taking a wild guess that the industry you're referring to is the entertainment industry. I could be wrong, but I enjoy guessing.)

But it's clear to me that you simply don't want to move. This presents a difficult conflict. You may have to simply tell your fiancé that you can't move with him to the West Coast and let the chips fall where they may. If he's got to move to the West Coast then perhaps he will do that. What I mean is, stick to what is working right now. Don't try to solve all the problems that arise. Simply stick with what's working: staying sober, being true to your dreams.

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There is much more that could be said. It would be natural for you to find it difficult to tell people what they don't want to hear. It may be nearly unbearable to contemplate losing your fiancé. Yet if you concentrate on what you have gained, which is, after all, your life, you can get through this period and be ready for what comes next.

My advice, again: Don't try to solve all your problems at once. Take them one at a time -- and leave a few for your fiancé to solve on his own.

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