I never thought I’d become that girl.
You know who I’m talking about. The girl who packs up her life and moves across the country for a guy. The girl everyone whispers about after she leaves the room, “How could she leave everything she had — for him?”
I was raised on those age-old fairy tales that follow the same plot line: Girl is alone and seemingly miserable, girl gets saved by Prince Charming, girl and boy live happily ever after. And even though these stories seemed romantic, from a young age, I knew that something seemed off. I couldn’t believe that this girl ― the one who was said to be perfect in every way ― couldn’t save herself.
I guess you could say that I was a feminist before I even knew what the word meant.
As the eldest child in a traditional Greek-American household, I was forced to be. I couldn’t stand it when tasks weren’t split equally among my siblings and me. Why did my younger brother have to only take out the trash (a two-minute task), while I had to wash all the dishes? It irked me that my parents seemed so progressive in most regards but that when it came to gender, their decisions never added up.
Whether it was the chores I was assigned or how far from home I could ride my bike, I filed those situations away. And time after time, these slights created a foundation for me to become the most independent woman I could.
As I grew older, I prided myself on my ability to defy expectations based on my gender. I moved to New York City at the age of 18, completely financially independent from my parents. I decided to major in finance at a business school filled with prideful men. (“Pretty girls majored in marketing,” they said.) I broke up with my boyfriend of five years because I needed to find myself. I spent four months backpacking alone through the South Pacific at the age of 21.
Most important, I understood that I didn’t need a guy to save me.
So when I met the most amazing human being at the ripe age of 22 — one who embraced and actually encouraged my independence — I knew I had stumbled on the real deal. At the time, I was at the height of my freedom. I just landed a big finance job in New York, moved into my big-girl apartment in Chelsea and had enough disposable income to actually enjoy happy hour. I couldn’t imagine why most of my girlfriends were scouring New York’s streets for a guy when it seemed way more fun to enjoy life on your own terms.
But then again, I had never been in a relationship with anyone who made me feel as whole as I did when I was with Dupi.
From the beginning, Dupi and I were true equals. We started out as friends at New York University, and years after our less mature relationships faded into the background, we fell for each other fast. We quickly went from sharing a drink at a bar to delving into our dreams for the future. He shared my zest for life and pushed me to want more. In our first two years of dating, we traveled to over 10 countries and countless cities together, ran marathons and climbed mountains.
When we were together, it seemed that nothing could slow us down.
Yet the stress of everyday life in Manhattan began to weigh on us, and we decided to move to Brooklyn. Together we began building a more sustainable life. We traded cocktails for early morning coffee dates and decorated our apartment. But as soon as our life together finally began settling into place, we were faced with our biggest decision yet: Dupi received an amazing job opportunity in San Francisco.
Should we stay or should we go?
Both of us felt quite stagnant in our jobs, and it presented a huge opportunity — and a huge risk. In my mind, this decision was a no-brainer for Dupi. It offered a complete upgrade from his current position and the added benefit of experiencing a new city at a pivotal point in his life.
But for me? Moving cross country would leave me seemingly stranded — no job, no friends, no plan. All I would have was him. And that was never a position I imagined myself in. I would never be that girl.
My immediate reaction was to push the choice away and pretend this decision wasn’t one I had to make; I had to stay for my career and my family, I told myself. Although deep in my gut, I knew better. Dupi and I grew up 30 minutes from New York City and lived there for our entire adult lives thus far. Our families weren’t going anywhere. And heck, we were only 25; our careers were just budding.
Moving cross country would leave me seemingly stranded. All I would have was him. And that was never a position I imagined myself in. I would never be that girl.
The only thing holding me back was the fear of discomfort. The fear of the unknown.
And the more I thought about it, the more that I realized Dupi needed me just as much as I needed him. Although he was the one starting a new job, this was the first time he would ever be more than a short drive from his family, his friends and all that he had known. We both would know only one soul in San Francisco: each other. As much as my ego was freaking out about this move, I also knew that I would have to be just as strong.
We would be going on this adventure with each other, not for each other.
And so after many days crying myself into oblivion over the things I’d miss — from my favorite Brooklyn coffee shop to the L train — I finally decided that I would go on my own terms. Dupi and I braced for this brand new adventure together.
As we began the moving experience, packing and selling and organizing, there were times I was gripped with fear. What would I do when I arrived? Was I stupid enough to leave everything I loved for the instability I was about to face? What if I hated it? What if I caused something to happen to us?
These questions were often left unanswered, quieted by the part of my mind that decided to go in the first place. Then they would arise again, and Dupi would then do the quieting, even though he was just as unsure as I was.
When we arrived in San Francisco, only two months after the opportunity was put on the table, Dupi and I were equally confused by our new surroundings and what the future would hold. It was an adventure of a lifetime, for sure. But being in a new place with the one you love makes all the fears disappear and surround you at the same time. And I realized there was nowhere else I wanted to be than with this other human, figuring out life together.
If I told you that the moment we arrived, all the pieces fell into place, I’d be lying. Of course I felt a twinge of insecurity each time I was asked, “So why’d you move here?” Since I’m a terrible liar, I could never figure out a better answer than “My boyfriend got a great job out here.”
Before leaving New York, I had this idea that being a strong, independent woman meant that you didn’t make sacrifices.
But quickly I got my footing. Within a few weeks, I jumped full force into my blog, which I viewed as a mere passion project in New York. As I began to grow it into a sustainable business, helping other women figure out the weird, confusing parts of growing up, I began to find that independent confidence that had gone lurking for a while.
Every day, I woke up feeling uncomfortable but on fire. I was in a brand new city with the love of my life, building a business that helped others live their best lives too. I began to feel almost guilty that I considered not moving just because of what others would think of my decision.
And being in a new place pushed me to do things I never would have done living in my comfortable Brooklyn apartment. I forced myself to attend awkward networking events, meet friends, go on hikes and spend time alone. Since everything felt scary, nothing was actually as scary as it first seemed.
Even though it has been only a year since that fateful decision day, I feel Dupi and I have increased our potential tenfold. Trust me, there were times that we would look at each other after a long day, thousands of miles from our old home, and ask why the heck we did this crazy thing. We spent countless hours comparing everything to New York, the homesickness almost rolling off our tongues.
But discomfort has a way of propelling you into a world that you would never have imagined — if you let it. The more I grew into my own strength, the more I realized I didn’t ever need to be that girl, no matter what life decisions I chose to make. Before leaving New York, I had this idea that being a strong, independent woman meant that you didn’t make sacrifices. That you did everything on your own terms, no matter what. But as I continued to push my boundaries, literally and figuratively, I saw that being a strong woman, a strong human, meant that you derive that power from the inside.
Moving 2,572 miles from home with Dupi showed me that we humans can hold many identities at once. And if we are only one part of ourselves, we will be closed off to the adventures that life presents. One can be independent, loving, soft and strong at the same time. We don’t need to choose.
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