Giving it up to get it back

Posted on November 3, 2008. Filed under: deciding, reality, the goal |

I come from family of strong, independent, self-sufficient women.  Mostly educators — and all well-educated — my people believed in smarts, creativity, and the value of a solid job to protect against the uncertainty of life, losses, and relationships.  I learned their lesson well, choosing a career with transferable skills (IT project management) in a growing industry (healthcare) and graduating from a state school without debt (thanks in large part to scholarships and the aforementioned career’s tuition reimbursement).

Relationships, though, require different skills and lessons.  I’m guessing this is obvious to many of you, but it wasn’t to me.  {This will be a brief interlude into my first marriage, but I promise I’ll come back around to what it means for me now.}  So, without actively trying, I insulated myself and my career in my first marriage.  Essentially, he could do anything he wanted and I would support it as long as it didn’t detract from the “trajectory” of my life.  Move to New York?  Sure!  I can work from there and my company will actually benefit.  Take some time off because you can’t find a job you like?  Absolutely, in fact, I’m pretty sure I suggested it.  Doesn’t affect my career, and I count on my own salary to handle the bills anyway.  When we divorced, all of this worked out very well for me because except for the emotional trauma, my life didn’t change much.  Same job, same opportunities, same apartment, same public life.  I was safe.

Except, of course, that — leaving aside the details and nuances — I think that’s why we didn’t last.  I wasn’t willing to give any of “me” up in exchange for “us.”

Here’s my theory: you have to be willing to give up some of “you” (actually, the thing about you that you most tightly grasp) in order for a relationship to work.  In practice, you might not ever have to go through with it, but you have to be willing… and the other person has to be willing, too.  See, if he has my best interests at heart, and I have his, then balance is restored and all is right with the world.

It first occurred to me not long after we bought the house in which we live together.  We’d been debating (okay, okay, arguing) about which home improvement project should come first, upgrading the kitchen or adding a bathroom.  I was all about the kitchen, and he wanted another bathroom.  No big surprise there, given that I’m the one who cooks.  That discussion did not end well.  Not long after, we had the same debate, but this time I really wanted him to have the extra bathroom and he really wanted me to have a better kitchen, and it was a great discussion.  Same outcome (we put it off because we are SO not at the point where we are ready to take on projects that big), different experiences.

On a much bigger scale, we’ve been talking about our future and a potential move.  As someone who’s lived in four cities in five years and twice as many apartments, I don’t mind moving, and my career is the one that will eventually require it.  I long ago accepted that my children won’t be within shouting distance of my family, and that executives at my company move to where the opportunities are.  The mister, though, loves this city.  He’s lived around Knoxville his whole life and planned to raise his kids here, near his parents.  It’s a scary dilemma and one that was almost a deal breaker when we were dating.  I can’t guarantee that I’ll live in one city for the rest of my life, not without making some difficult career choices*, and he’s uncomfortable with the idea of moving every two years.  We agreed that we would deal with it when the time came, when I was offered a job that was too good to pass up, even though it would mean moving.  Neither of us was particularly happy, but it was enough.

I’m on my way home from my second business trip in two weeks and I’ve had an epiphany.  For this man, for the kids we’ll have together and the life we’ll share, I will make career changes.  To be able to raise our kids near their grandparents, live on our street in our neighborhood with our friends, build memories in our house and on the property where we married… I’ll adapt my career if I have to.

But I’m betting that if that fabulous work opportunity comes up, I won’t have to pass, because he loves me and believes in me and he’d move across the country with me.  I would give it up if it wasn’t right for my family, though, and be happy with the choice.

And all is right with the world.

Your turn.  Did you have to be open to giving something up to make your relationship great?  Do you agree with me that it has to be reciprocal?

* To put this in perspective, I work from home and can probably continue to do that in the foreseeable future as long as I choose my jobs carefully.  I’m lucky in that I have the option to find roles that allow this kind of flexibility, even though it’s not the greatest thing for my productivity or happiness — I get lonely, and the big jobs that help you stay ahead are rarely remote ones.  Staying in Knoxville could mean missing out on some great opportunities for big executive-level jobs.


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    I’ve been there, done that, got the t-shirt (and divorce papers) to prove it. Here I am again, pledging my life to my (new) love with eyes wide open (and heart racing) knowing full well how emotionally traumatic this can end… and doing it anyway.


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