Moss & Cactus

Dear Sensible Midwesterner,

My husband and I are contemplating a move from Portland, Oregon to Tucson, Arizona. I am drawn to the move out of a sense of adventure (the desert!), to be closer to both our families (cousins for my son to hang out with!), and cheap real estate. Mostly, though, the idea of moving came up because my husband is kind of miserable here. He grew up in Arizona and the rain is brutal on him. He’s always felt isolated here. He works remotely from home for a European company and doesn’t get out much to meet new people. The weather here exacerbates the feeling. We have a beautiful old house (that needs a ton of work) in a desirable neighborhood (restaurants, shops, bars, vibrant night scene! drunk people, trash, parking problems!). The issue is that our kid loves it here, our house (sick as we are of its issues) turned out to be a remarkably good investment (and I do kind of love it), I have a low-paying job that I actually love, and walking and riding my bike everywhere is really important to me. In short, while Portland hasn’t been great for my husband, it’s been pretty good for the rest of us. That said, what’s not good for him isn’t great for me. It’s hard to live with someone who struggles with depression. There’s no guarantee that moving will make him happier but I worry about him growing old in a place where he feels isolated and depressed. I also would like my son, an only child, to grow up with an extended family around him and that’s not something he’ll ever have here. So, what would a sensible Midwesterner do?


Moss & Cactus

Dear Moss & Cactus,

Full disclosure: I went to college in Portland. I love it and take every chance I can to visit. I also know it would not be a good place for me long term. Those six months of gray every winter were harsh on me and my psyche. I have real empathy for your husband on that front. It sounds like you do, too.

You don’t mention how old your child is, but assuming he’s pretty young, that he loves where he lives is as much a reflection of his happiness at home as anything. If he’s happy there, he will probably be happy with cousins in the desert, too. For that reason, a sensible Midwesterner wouldn’t factor the fact that he loves Portland into the decision too much.

So on the pro side we have your husband wanting to move, you being okay with moving, extended family in the area, a house you can sell and make money on, and cheaper housing on the other end. On the con side… you’d be giving up a house you love but that needs work, a job you love but pays poorly, and the ability to bike everywhere.* I assume you have some friends as well, so we’ll throw that in the mix. That’s not nothing. It’s also not everything.

The sensible thing to do, as you seem to know, is to look at the overall balance of satisfaction versus misery. Unless it seems reasonable to ask your husband to find a job that gets him out and about whether the weather cooperates or not, or you think there are other ways to address his misery that he hasn’t given the old college try, his desire to move seems much stronger than your sort-of desire to stay.

Lucky are those who are buoyant and manage to fall in love with another similarly jolly person. In my observation, however, most couplings involve at least a bit of opposites-attract, or, if nothing else, one person is simply more resilient and less easy to phase faze than the other. You, my dear reader, have more reserves to call on and seem, from your letter, to have a lovely zest for life, as evidenced by your ability to see moving to the desert as an adventure.

It’s a lot to uproot a family for one person’s mood. But depression, seasonal affective disorder, and misery are not moods, and the longer they go on the more intractable they are.

I can’t help but wonder if there is a way to give this whole “I’d be happier in the desert” theory of your husband’s a test run. A three- or six-month trial, perhaps? With rentals on both fronts?

In short, the tone of your letter reads like this to me: I know the best thing to do is move, but I’m not 100% it’s what I want to do. To which I say: You don’t have to be completely on board to jump in. How cold could the water be? My guess is that you’ll be fine wherever you land, which is how the sensible roll.

* I don’t know Tuscon at all (I was there once), but I imagine there are neighborhoods where one can construct a life that isn’t completely car-dependent. Why, the Sunnyside-Elvira neighborhood has even produced a map of its fine cycling routes [].

5 thoughts on “Moss & Cactus

  1. I am a Tucson native. Tucson prides itself on being a “bike friendly” city. While the weather isn’t always conducive to biking, there is decent infrastructure for biking. I think you’d find the local culture to be similar in some ways to Portland. I have experienced a stream of people my age (mid 20’s) moving from Tucson moving to Portland and vice versa.

  2. I love you. I love your advice. Thank you for this very sensible blog! Which is very well-written and a pleasure to read! However, it is “faze”, not “phase”. A “phase” is a temporary thing you -or a project – go through (temporary time period), “faze” is kind of like “amaze” in that it’s a feeling one gets (or doesn’t get); perturb, put off, unnerved or unsettled.

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