My husband and I recently watched the 1967 film, Barefoot in the Park, where a newlywed couple, Paul and Corie Bratter, learn how to live together through the realities of marriage. One of their realities is living in a tiny, Manhattan apartment where the bedroom isn’t even big enough for a full size bed. My husband and I could identify. All of the time we have lived together, we have lived in cities: New York City and Washington, DC. That means we have lived in small – very small – apartments. In New York, our bedroom was big enough for a full size bed, but only if the bed was pushed up against a wall. There was only one foot on the other side. Our bedroom reminded me of one of my favorite kids’ books, The Cricket in Times Square. I felt like the cricket sleeping in a match box.
We had only a mini fridge, which we equipped with a child lock because one the cats had figured out how to open it. And our apartment was so hot from exposed steam pipes that we never turned on the heat. The only time it was comfortable was when it was 30° or below outside and the window was open. During the summer, unless we ran the window air conditioner all the time, which as graduate students we didn’t feel like we could afford, our apartment stayed around 80°. And just like the Bratters, we had our share of unconventional neighbors. The neighbor that lived above us had boxes upon boxes of old newspapers and hundreds of books on rows of bookshelves stacked a few shelves deep – my husband saw them once when we woke up one morning to find water leaking through our ceiling, and he went upstairs to find out what was going on. Another neighbor told us the books were organized by copyright date. I kept waiting for the building to catch on fire.
Even if you are not sharing one closet, one sink in a tiny bathroom, and living with three cats in a 400-some square foot apartment, being married has its challenges. But no matter how small the places we have lived, my husband has always given me space to figure out my fulfillment. He’s never made me feel like I couldn’t do something or that he wouldn’t support me in pursuing what I wanted.
As I wrote in Going It Alone, sometimes those closest to us are the ones most likely to hold us back from exploring a new professional identity. I consider myself lucky. Though I don’t think it’s imperative to have a close, supportive relationship to figure out fulfillment, having an advocate is always an advantage.