A crisis that travels right straight to the heart of modern marriage and parenting. (Scorpions and Centaurs/flickr)

Dear Steve,

My husband and I have two children and live in Boston proper. He wants to move to the suburbs (for the schools and a yard) and I want to stay in the city (for the urban environment). Our kids attend one of the top-rated Boston public schools.

How can we decide what to do, where to go, and when?


City Girl Stuck


Dear City Girl,

Your questions travel straight to the heart of modern marriage and parenting. Especially in what I suppose I must call “the greater Boston metropolitan area” which I would prefer to call “the Northeastern Balkan States of Mutual Antipathy and Tiresome Complaint.” What I mean, of course, is that everyone in this area pretty much thinks the city they live in is the best place ever, and every other city is crap, even though (taking the long view) we’re all living the same basic retail environment.

But there is this basic crisis that a lot of couples face, of whether to stay closer to the urban core or head out to the convenience of the dreaded suburbs. And I’m sympathetic with your position.

I lived in East Somerville for a dozen years and when we discovered that my wife was pregnant (and what’s worse, pregnant by me), we suddenly had to decide where to live. Because my bachelor pad, with its tiny bathroom and chips of candy-like lead paint, was not going to cut it. My whole thing was that I was a “Somerville guy,” and I wasn’t moving any further out, except maybe to Medford, which was a bit further out, but which felt scrappy enough not to count as the suburbs. So we looked at a bunch of places, including what appeared to be a drug den in Medford (I’m basing this on the gold-plated Jacuzzi and the spent casings in the basement). I personally liked the drug den. My wife did not. The last place I wanted to settle was Arlington, which I viewed as some kind of Stepford Zone where cool people went to breed and die.

Your questions travel straight to the heart of modern marriage and parenting.

After three weeks of frantic searching, we were sent a listing for a little house in East Arlington and, at the tail end of a long day of looking at other places, our scumbag realtor reluctantly drove us by.

My wife, who was not enjoying being pregnant, who was, I think, in a kind of low-level panic at the thought of cohabitating with me and another child for the rest of her life, fell immediately and profoundly silent. She walked from one bright tiny room to the next with a queer expression on her face. And, when she was done with all the rooms, and the backyard, she turned to me and said, “This is our house.”

To reiterate: my wife was pregnant. And: the baby was mine.

So I said … well, I forget exactly what I said. It probably involved some weasely attempt to impugn the town of Arlington, and to make it clear that I was a Somerville Guy, and did we really want to end up in a place where the drone of lawnmowers was going to drive us crazy and we couldn’t even see the Boston skyline, as if I’d ever spent even a single moment of my life staring at the Boston skyline.

But here’s the thing, City Girl: My wife really wanted to live in this house. I could see it in her eyes and her body and in her soul. Yes, I could deny her this house. I could make her live somewhere more in keeping my own fraudulent hipster-boho sense of myself, but then she would be miserable. And that meant that we would both be miserable. (Because, see, as a fraudulent hipster-bohemian, it’s kind of my job to be miserable.) So I basically capitulated.

Your situation is more complicated. There are older children at issue. And so on. But the basic rule for me, when it comes to marriage, is pretty basic: Who wants it more? Or, to put it more negatively — as is my wont — who is going to be made more miserable? That’s what you’ve got to figure out.

But the basic rule for me, when it comes to marriage, is pretty basic: Who wants it more?

The best piece of advice I can give you in meantime is to think deep and hard about why “city life” is important to you, and to ask your husband to think deep and hard about why he wants to move to an outlying area. (“City life” versus “school and yard” feels pretty pat.) Maybe there are suburbs that have some of the attributes you’re looking for. Or maybe there are adjustments you can make in your current situation that will assuage hubby’s concerns.

My hunch, though, is that if you make a great big list of plusses and minuses, and survey your friends and allow your kids to chime in and run an algorithm, it’s still going to boil down to the same basic question. You and your husband have to decide which one of you is going to take one for the team. And you both have to make your peace with the decision. The common term is marriage.

But hey, what the hell do I know? I live in the suburbs.

Steve ♥

Okay folks, now it’s your turn. Did I get it right, or muck it up? Let me know in the comments section. And please do send your own question along, the more detailed the better. Even if I don’t have a helpful response, chances are someone in the comments section will. Send your dilemmas via email.

Tags: Advice, Family, Relationships

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