Living In Your Own Space When It Isn’t

When I moved up to Alaska, I moved in with my wife – who’d lived there for twenty years. Which I thought was awesome: I got a pre-made house, I got the good furniture, I got the kids.

The kids weren’t the problem.

The furniture was.

Gini was as kind as she possibly could be, but the house wasn’t mine. The TV wasn’t in the place I would have wanted it. We slept in a bedroom basement, which felt dank to me. The kitchen layout was – well, it wasn’t confusing, I could find everything, but I kept reaching for a knife and discovering it was in the wrong drawer.

We moved to Cleveland two years later, and arguments ensued. She wanted the television in the basement; I fought for the living room, and won. We debated where the bed should go. Compromises were made.

Our marriage got shortly better thereafter.

That improvement wasn’t entirely due to the move, of course – but it was a big part of it. When I was in Alaska, I was living in the results of a thousand choices I’d never had a vote in. That cabinet wasn’t to my tastes, the cereal was in a different shelf, the books were arranged wrong.

Added up, it gave me a weird and constant sense of alienation – this subliminal sensation that this was not my home, that I was intruding on someone else’s turf. And it wasn’t that Gini did anything wrong, she was perfectly happy to change stuff – but it felt silly, even trivial, fighting to shift the cereal to a new shelf when really, did that matter?

Except some of it did. Some of it felt like I was living in the aftermath of an election I’d never gotten to vote in. And it was a tiny feeling, but it was there all the time, like a prickling in the skin that never went away. And when we fought, I sometimes felt like I was on her home ground and what right did I have to face her down here?

And I’ve talked to other people who’ve moved in to long-existing houses, and they often felt that “someone else has marked this place with their scent” feeling. In the case of good relationships, that feeling eventually faded as, slowly, more choices were made together and the house became the result of shared decisions. In the case of bad relationships, well, their house was theirs.

And now I tell people who are moving into a place, or people who are having loved ones move in: Make some major changes right away, if you can. Give them a space that’s theirs, think of some shifting around you can do, give them some agency.

It makes a difference. It shouldn’t. But god damn if it doesn’t.

1 Comment

  1. Eve
    Dec 9, 2015

    I thought you were going somewhere with this about someone who starts dating a person in a long-established relationship, or moved in with an existing couple or polycule. You didn’t, but you totally could have. Same idea. 🙂

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