Monday, September 10, 2007

Future with a capital F.

Okay, in keeping with the "serious posts about real issues" theme present among a bunch of my regular blogs recently, I have a whole stream of consciousness set of thoughts/worries/considerations that have been floating around my mind recently.

Getting married leads to a lot of thoughts and confusion and wondering about the future, and the rest of your life. Ultimately, knowing that I love Torsten and will share my life with him serves as a rock, a solid, known thing that anchors a whole lot of unknowns. But it makes me wonder about a lot of things that used to seem very far away, very "I'll cross that bridge when I come to it," and now that I'm getting married and thinking about two people's futures (not to mention our future children's futures), that bridge has started to feel like it's really looming close.

First of all, where we want to live has become much more of a question. I was born in Massachusetts, grew up in North Carolina, went to college in Massachusetts, and spent brief stints through internships or study abroad in Toulouse, Dakar, the Hamptons, and DC. I've lived in DC since I graduated. In terms of practicality, DC suits me--it's about a five hour drive from my parents' house, which means that they're close enough that they can easily come visit for a long weekend, but far enough that I still feel independent. It's a nice city, interesting but still with a bit of a small-town feel, with low buildings and lots of trees and residential neighbourhoods. It's expensive, but not as expensive as New York, and it's very diverse and multicultural. There are lots of jobs here that appeal to what I like. I really like my new job and would like to stay in it for awhile.

But I don't want to live here forever, and neither does Torsten. Based purely on weather considerations, I don't want to go back to the South or to New England. If we stay on the east coast, I think it would have to be somewhere mid-Atlantic-ish, basically between DC and NYC. And we both want to live in or near a city. So basically DC, New York, or Philadelphia. And while I like all three of those cities, none of them really calls to me as a place where I would love to live. In general, I think maybe I'm just sick of the east coast.

I don't really want to live in the middle of the country either, although I love Chicago. I'm not sure I could take the winters there, and I'm not sure how much I would appreciate being so far from the ocean, even if they do have a giant lake. Really, what all of this boils down to is that Torsten and I would love to live on the west coast. Specifically, California. Specifically, San Francisco.

And that's where all the confusion comes in. We're planning to get married in DC in fourteen months. I do not want to plan a wedding from afar. I just got a new job, and I like it a lot. So the tentative plan is to stay in DC until after our wedding, and then reassess. But who knows? Maybe something will come up, maybe something will change--like our building is supposedly on the market, and if it sells and gets converted to condos we might have to move, and if we have to move, would it really make sense to go through the trouble of finding a place here in DC and moving there when we could just pick up and move to a place we would prefer to be in the long run?

Really my question is, when does the long run start? I always viewed my life in terms of casual, impermanent decisions, like oh, maybe a couple years here, then a couple years there, then maybe we'll see. And now that I've made one permanent decision, it's all sort of flowing into more permanent decisions. And it would be nice if we could raise our kids in one city, so we wouldn't have to pick up and make a big, traumatic move that would uproot them from their schools, their friends, and the communities that they know. If we need or want to do that at some point, of course we will. Kids move and it doesn't ruin their lives. But if we're living somewhere we love before we have kids, it would be great to have kids there and stay there for a long time.

So, assuming we stay here in DC until the wedding. Then does it really make sense to pick up and move all the way across the country right before the time when we might start trying to have kids? I have a small immediate family and so does Torsten, and it seems so wrong to move across the country and then have kids when their whole extended family will be so far away. I know my parents will be sad to have so much distance between them and their grandchildren. But it's my life, and Torsten's life, and we don't want to stay here forever. So we're going to go.

And speaking of children, we know we both want them. I would like to be pregnant and have our biological child, but I think once will be enough. So assuming we're both fertile, we think we'll have one kid and then adopt the second. If we're not fertile, I'm totally with Black Sheeped--I am not interested in the time and agony of infertility treatments. While it would be an amazing experience to be pregnant and give birth, and while it would be fun to see a child who has genes in common with us and our families, I'm not so set on it that I would spend time and emotional effort and tons of money insisting on having my own child when there are so many kids out there who need parents anyway. I already feel guilty even planning to create just one child myself. Can you really justify creating a child to live on a world that might be destroyed by nuclear war or climate change or any other such horrible thing that we now have the technology to instigate? Can you really morally justify forcing someone to live who had no choice in the matter, who might not have wanted to experience the world but will be forced to because that's what you decreed? Can you really justify creating this child and spending resources on it when there are so many kids who have few or no resources dedicated to them?

Of course you can justify it; everyone has the right to reproduce and have that experience, and it's societally accepted to do so, and while it's great to adopt if you feel it's right for your family, it's not something that people should feel morally obligated to do. But I do think adoption is right for our family, and Torsten agrees, and given that, there is definitely some guilt surrounding our decision to at least attempt to create another child in the world.

And then the flip side of that is when do we have these kids? When do we start trying? How much time do we want to spend just together, building up savings, moving forward with our careers, traveling, sleeping late, enjoying just being with each other, before we move forward with the decision to change our lives permanently? We both like the idea of being young parents, and while I'll be 24 when we get married, Torsten will be 30, and he's already freaking out about the idea of being really old and not being able to play sports with our kids because his knees will have given out by then. And of course he's being melodramatic about it and he knows it, and there are so many fantastic parents we know who didn't have kids until they were in their 30s or even later, and he knows that, but his feelings of wanting to have a child while he still feels young are still valid.

And what if we decide that we want to start trying to have kids at some given time, say in 2010, and then what if I get pregnant earlier? What will we do and how will we feel about it? I can't imagine that we would really, seriously consider having an abortion, but what if I were to find out right now, this month, that I was pregnant? I'm only 23 and I just started a new job and I'm still building my career and we're still living in a small 1-bedroom apartment and we still aren't financially where we want to be before we have kids and we still aren't married yet and my god, it just feels too soon, way too soon, which is why we would never plan to do such a thing. But if I'm pregnant, you know, I'm pregnant, and my parents had my sister and me when they were still struggling financially, and it was fine, and really you don't have to be rolling in money for your kids to be happy, and I know we'd be competent parents and we would love our child and it would have a happy, well-adjusted life, and that's so much more than most kids could say, so of course we would go ahead and have the kid if I got pregnant now.

And plus, that whole maternal instinct/biological clock thing is definitely happening with me, because I love love LOVE babies and when I see one, I want one, and I go crazy over baby clothes and I read all sorts of blogs written by parents and I so so so want to experience that too. And I look at baby name websites all the time and Torsten and I have semi-agreed on a name for a future daughter already. So having a baby now would actually satisfy a craving. But I know, I know, I really know that it's too early and that it will be so much better for everyone involved to just force my maternal yearnings to wait for a couple years. But then the other question is if I got pregnant now, would we still wait until November 2008 to get married? Would we feel the need to get married in a rush? Would we be doing it because of silly societal norms that don't really apply to our lives? Would we care about the opinions of anyone who would be judgmental about such a thing?

And speaking of getting married sooner, sometimes it seems like it would be so much easier to just go down to the courthouse next week and get legally married, so that we can have one insurance plan and Torsten can go ahead and get his green card now instead of having to go through the process of renewing his visa, which he will have to do next year before we get married so basically it will be a lot of time and hassle and money to renew a visa that will then be used for all of two months before we get married and he gets a conditional green card. In so many practical ways, being married now would be so much easier for both of us, and really, marriage is a legal thing, it's a status in the eyes of the government, and even though we in the US conflate legal marriage with religious or spiritual marriage, they really can be totally separate things.

But then I think about how we would definitely have a wedding anyway, because I want a wedding, and how I really want that moment in front of all of our friends and family where we put the rings on each other's fingers and vow to love each other for better or for worse, I want that to be the moment that we become married, that it becomes legal and official and permanent. I don't want to feel like a fake and I don't want to push our wedding up because I really want to get married in the fall, and this fall would be too soon and feel like a rush and many of our far-away guests would not be able to make it on such a short notice, and I'm really comfortable with our November 2008 date. And we both want to be getting married for only the right reasons, meaning love and the desire to commit our lives to each other, and to go get married for boring tax and insurance and immigration reasons would be the most unromantic thing ever, and even though I am in general a practical person without much concern for romance, some things are sacred even to me, and one of them is my marriage and how it will be formalized and celebrated.

And then, after the wedding, if and when we move, how will that affect our jobs? And what kind of careers are we going to pursue? Torsten knows what he wants and what he wants happens to involve high-paying jobs that require lots of hours. But neither of us wants to be that family where the father is the breadwinner and often doesn't make it home from work in time to see the kids, and the mom is at home doing all the work and being resentful about it, and the couple never gets to spend any time together. We don't want to be work-obsessed and we don't want our jobs to define our lives. But that kind of job is the job you have to get to succeed in Torsten's chosen field, and it's not just about making money, it's about doing what you love and what you're good at. So how will we balance those things, especially because I think I'd like to keep working, at least part time, once we have kids? Or maybe I would like to take a couple years off and then put the kids in daycare and go back to work. But it's not always so easy to go back to work when you've been out of the public sector for two years, and you're not up to date on the latest innovations or changes in the market, and you aren't always that marketable, and if you're not making that much anyway, do you really want to go back to that when there are other things you could be doing with your time?

And in the meantime, when I graduated college I wanted to be a book editor, purely that, in either a publishing house or a literary agency, but I ended up doing the nonprofit thing because that's what was available in DC at the time, and I wanted to live in DC, and also because I had all these qualms about book editing being some sort of selfish job that didn't do enough to help improve the world (I was an idealistic college student, you'll have to forgive me). And then I didn't like the nonprofit thing that much but then that turned out to be because I wasn't getting to do any real editing and also because the really technical health-related work that my old company did was just really dry and boring to me, and then now at my new job I get to do all this web stuff and I have a lot more editorial independence and creative power, and the angle we take on health is much more marketing- and community-focused and therefore much more interesting to me. So then now I don't know at all if I want to stick with the web stuff, or eventually move back to the book editing thing, and if I want to stay in the nonprofit public health thing, or go back to the for-profit sector and focus exclusively on books, and profit, and that sort of thing. And I think that both sorts of jobs are available in San Francisco, which is one reason why that city seems like a really good fit for both of us.

But ultimately, I understand that getting married doesn't mean that I somehow need to answer all these questions right now, and that a lot of these questions are what-ifs that hopefully will never need to be answered at all. And it's so good to know that Torsten and I will be answering the relevant questions together, and that no matter what choices we make, they will be our choices, and we will be together wherever we go. Right now, that's all we really need.


  1. All of that wonderful writing and yet I focus on this: you have agreed on a girl name? WHAT IS IT WHAT IS IT?

  2. WOW... that's a lot to ruminate on. I think my best advice is to take things as they come. One at a time. Get through the wedding before you make any other major decisions - planning a wedding is stressful enough without adding all sorts of other life decisions to it. Slow down and enjoy the ride! Things will happen when and how they're supposed to! Firm believer! :)

  3. I had a former co-worker who in the interest of getting her spouse on her insurance (I presume Torsten can't be your domestic partner b/c of his citizenship) did a civil wedding, but then did a *real* wedding when she could afford it.

    Might be something to ponder.

  4. as someone who has no experience in any major life events so clearly i totally know what i'm talking, i'm with the fanny :-) while it's tempting to try to plan everything out now (especially when you're trying to take what's best for future children into consideration), things WILL happen when they happen. and there's no point rushing a move to the west coast - even if you know that's where you want to end up - when everything right NOW says you should be in DC, right?

  5. This was so familiar it made me feel a bit panicked! It's hard to stop once you start writing it all down, right? Here's what I think, not that it matters: this summer J graduated, we got married, he applied for jobs, he got a job two states over, we had to buy a house, list a house, move, after the stress of just having had a wedding, etc. It was all super stressful--the moving and the wedding crazinss all so close together. And now that we're married, and here, we want some non-stressful time together to just be married. Even though sometimes I get the baby bug, I try to remember that now is a good time for us to just be together in our new environment. It's hard to cram things close together, I've decided, so maybe keep that in mind? Sorry this is so muddled! I guess I'm trying feebly to say, I agree with fanny that slowing down and enjoying the ride is important. It's hard to remember that. :) And of course, everything will work out fine.

  6. Wow. Quite a post. As far as when to have kids...We tried to have a perfect little timetable set up. A health scare came, and we reassessed. What we came up with: You can plan all you want. There will always be reasons that you think it IS time to have children, and there will always be reasons you think it's NOT time. Sometimes you just have to throw all those reasons aside (within reason), and go for it. Timing is never perfect, but I've never heard anyone say (after the fact), "We really should have waited a few years". When it happens, it WILL be the right time. :)

  7. You are STRESSING ME OUT.

  8. I'm with Tessie wondering about the name. As for everything else, it'll all work out. It seems overwhelming (I was overwhelmed just reading it), but everything really does shake out in the end. Of course, I'm 36, have 4 kids (on purpose, and WHOOPS! methods), so I have a lot longer "looking back" timespan.

  9. Tessie and JMC--I'm sorry, for the moment that information remains classified. But eventually, it will be shared. I swear.

    Swistle--Sorry! If it's any consolation, I'm stressing ME out too.

    Everyone--You are all so sane and helpful and calming. Thanks.