One of the real drawbacks to planning a major life change more than a year in the future, is that you have a lot of time to reflect on the decision. A year is a long time and really provides an excellent opportunity to talk yourself out of whatever you are planning to do. In our case, the inner fear started during our nightly walk. My darling husband was going over what he would take and what he would leave behind and he mentioned his shop full of tools.
“You know,” he blurted out, “it seems like every single time I feel like I’ve finally settled, I have to get rid of everything again and start over. This will be the third time I’ve gotten rid of all my tools!”
“So don’t get rid of them,” I replied. “Nobody’s saying you have to. We can put them in storage.”
“That’s not the point,” he argued, his frustration evident. “It’s just that every time I feel stable, the rug gets pulled out from under me.”
Aha! This wasn’t about the tools. “This is different,” I tried to explain. “We’re planning this together.”
“I know, but it’s just that I’ve finally felt for the first time in my life that I have a real home and now, once again, I have to move.”
We lapsed into silence while I thought about this. While Mark and I shared pretty similar in-flux living situations when we met and have established a wonderful, stable home, we have different ideas of what it means to be stable. I’ve owned several houses – all of them with fixed-rate mortgages – and this has provided me with a security I wasn’t even aware I had. For me the stability I craved was in the form of my relationship with Mark – and I certainly wasn’t giving that up. Nothing else really mattered to me.
Mark on the other hand never owned a house before we bought this one together, so for him the move seemed much more precarious. His entire adult life up to now had been a never-ending cycle of building a life only to have to tear it down again a couple of years later. The idea of renting again so soon after achieving the unattainable dream of owning a house was extremely difficult for him. Moving to the great unknown and leaving familiar surroundings, possessions and loved ones for what very well could be forever would be even harder still. It dawned on me now how much he was giving up.
“Maybe we should rethink moving and wait a few years when we’re closer to retirement age,” I offered. “Maybe now just isn’t a good time to upend our lives. What if this whole crazy idea is simply me wanting to run away because I hate my job?” Fear gripped me as that last sentence rolled around in my head. What were we doing? Why on earth would we want to leave everything we had worked hard to achieve? After all, we were pretty lucky – my job paid well and we had enough money and small luxuries to afford us a pretty comfortable life with a modest retirement fund. We could afford a couple of vacations a year and still lived within our means. If we stayed I could continue working until we paid off the last of our student loans and continue to save towards retirement. Maybe it would be better to plan this move ten years from now…
He stopped and took my hands in his. “Stop. This wasn’t just your idea. It’s mine too.”
I nodded. “Yes, but are you sure we’re doing the right thing?”
“Absolutely.” He started walking again. “I have something to confess, and I need you to remember this carefully. I’m going to have days where I have a lot of anxiety. I need you to remember that some days it’s going to be the fear talking. Don’t let it get you worked up. Otherwise we’re going to talk ourselves out of this.” He sighed. “I shouldn’t have said anything. Next time I’ll keep my thoughts to myself.”
“No,” I shot back. “I want to know if something worries you. That way we can figure out a solution together and deal with our fear together.”
We continued to talk, moving the conversation away from giving things up and onto planning the logistics of travel. Along the way, we both realized that having a definitive plan of where we were going and how long we would be at each stop helped alleviate our fear. We both acknowledged that there will be days when we are terrified, but that owning that fear and talking through it could keep it at bay. I learned two things that day: fear is a contagious disease, and that the best remedies for it are definitive plans and honest communication.