The Back-Up Plan
“Well, if things go to crap, I’ll just come back here.”
I didn’t even think about the words as I tossed them out. We were laying on the guest bedroom in my parents’ house in Nebraska talking about jobs in California. He became silent and I looked over at his closed face.
“What?” I asked.
“You basically just said if you can’t find a job in California, you’ll leave me and go back to Nebraska,” he told me.
“Well…yeah,” I guess I had said that, but I hadn’t meant it that way. “If I get hit by a bus or absolutely can’t find a job and lose all my income. If you’re faced with homelessness and unemployment, wouldn’t you go back to your mother’s house?”
“I guess. But you could move in with me.”
“Maybe, but we haven’t talked about that yet and I don’t want to assume. This is my safe place, where I’ve always known I could come back to if things didn’t work out. But it could be worth considering for both of us to move here. We could stay with my folks for a while. It’d be easier to find jobs.”
“I couldn’t live with your folks,” he said. “I don’t even like letting them pay for dinner. And how would it be easier? Show me the numbers.”
“Well, rents are half what they are in California and there’s 4% unemployment versus 12% unemployment.” I continued to list the benefits, though I don’t think he really wanted to hear them.
Of course, that’s not really what I meant. It would be easier for me, because Nebraska feels safer for me, because I know how things work in the place where I was raised. For him it would still be new and scary even as it provided me with emotional solace. But I was still blowing smoke because I knew there was nothing for me here – no doctoral programs, no teaching jobs, no room for advancement or growth.
He talked about his family and his love of the ocean. I again pointed out that he was asking me to give up exactly what he was trying to keep for himself.
“But there aren’t any jobs for you here,” he pointed out, finding the gaping hole in all my logic.
“I know,” I conceded. “I don’t really plan to move here. It’s just that this was the last place where I was able to live the kind of life I want to live. I miss that. Now, it seems like I can either do what I want to do or live how I want to live, but not both. Maybe we’ll be able to find both in Northern California, but that seems really risky and kinda scarey. It’s nice to have a back-up plan and I want to know that I could include you in that back-up plan – that you’d at least consider it.”
“I’d consider it,” he conceded, but I think he would fight it tooth and nail first. I suspect we’d be living with his mother before mine, if things got really bad.
He kissed me and we made up, then went downstairs to watch Big Bang Theory with my father. We spend four days visiting my family in Omaha. We went to the zoo and safari park and took the long drive to downtown Lincoln, where I’d lived the last six years before moving to California. Much had changed but much was still the same and I was disappointed we weren’t able to stay longer, to linger in all my old haunts. It was a grey and windy day, but people were still out on the downtown streets. I have missed that.
I have these strong competing desires to live how I want to live and do the work I want to do and have the relationship I want to have. And no matter how many times I remind myself of the Second Noble Truth, that doesn’t seem to help me find a solution. Instead, I’m just trying to be in the moment, not get hung up so much on the past and the future, and understand my own reactivity during these difficult conversations.
And they always seem difficult. When Colin and I talk about the future we have not only competing wants but competing approaches. I pursue many avenues at the same time, tracking many possibilities, considering many options, with plans upon back-up plans upon back-up plans. Sometimes they’re hard to track and seem to jump out of nowhere, and what seems remote and nebulous to me sounds concrete and set when I explain it to him. In contrast, he seems more focused, with two simple goals: find a better job and move closer to the ocean, preferably north. We’re learning, conversation by conversation, and it’s helped me to be present and notice what things trigger my emotional reactivity. What are my sore spots and how do I respond when poked? Likewise, what are his sore spots and how does he protect them?
This month, I’m trying to visit UC Santa Barbara and Claremont to meet the faculty and hopefully make a favorable impression on the folks who will be reviewing my application. I need to start writing essays and circulating them for feedback, gathering letters or recommendation, and over winter break I’ll begin applying for jobs in record numbers (if my dream job doesn’t come through – please share the merit!). What is nebulous now will become more solid as rejection and acceptance (I hope!) letters start arriving next spring, but nothing is guaranteed. Living in the present helps keep that anxiety most in its place – the future – and I can’t live in the future, so the trick is to remain calm now and mind how I talk about that future affects the people I love most. Wish me luck!