How to not live in the suburbs.
October 24, 2013 4:52 PM   Subscribe

My husband and I are at an impasse. Please help.

About Us: We are both 30ish and have been married about two years, known each other for twelve. We don't have children, but we'd like to have one in the next five years if all goes as planned.

Background: Before we moved in together (which was about 2 years ago), I lived in a tiny apartment in a major east coast city; he lived in the suburbs of a much smaller east coast city. I loved my apartment and the city, but a compromise led us to his house in the suburbs. On the whole, it was the best decision for the two of us. We both have great jobs here in the small city, and a lot of family and friends within an hour. Living together has been a joy.

The Problem: I cannot stand living in the suburbs. I hate driving. I hate taking care of a yard. I hate having too much space. I hate the quiet. I hate the dark. It just doesn't feel right.

Over half of our (not that big) house is empty, and it is creepy and uncomfortable. Yet, I have no desire to fill it: I hate shopping, I hate stuff, and I hate decorating. I also hate cooking (and so does my husband), which means that our beautiful kitchen is basically an unused showpiece. We are also both totally uninterested in making the house look nice on the outside. The grass is cut but there are no flowers, and no homey touches. I guess this would all be fine if I didn't mind looking at an undecorated empty house, but I can't stand it. Yet, I would never, ever want to spend my free time gardening or decorating (and I don't want to spend money to pay someone to do it either -- I'd rather go on a trip or two). I long for the days of a 600 sq ft apartment with fully functional space and not an inch to spare. In those days, I felt like the city was my home, and my apartment was just a place that held my clothes. I still treat my house like that, but it isn't working.

I desperately want to move to the city -- not the big city where I was, but the smaller city where we work. I would love to downsize and buy a 2 bedroom apartment downtown and be able to walk to work, to restaurants, to cultural events, etc., and not have to worry about caring for a house anymore. My husband is really not interested though; he thinks kids grow up with yards, in suburbs, and he's really not budging on this. To be fair to him, this is also is a place where families don't typically live in apartments -- the downtown area is fairly young and mostly single. He's looked at a few apartments with me, but he's always commenting that the kitchen or something else is too small, at which point I remind him that we don't actually use the kitchen. (We love trying new restaurants... downtown). My personal theory is that he is trying to make us the traditional suburban family that he'd like us to be, instead of embracing the people that we actually are. And I really don't know what to do about that.

We've compromised on many, many major life decisions in the past 5 years, but there just doesn't seem to be a middle ground here. So what do you think- is there something I'm not seeing? Is there a way to show my husband that an apartment could be awesome? If all else fails, can you help me love the suburbs?
posted by snarfles to Human Relations (45 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
This is not a criticism, but this is an issue that most people try to figure out before they get married for this exact reason. What would happen if you printed this question out, gave it to him and said, "This is what I am struggling with right now. Will you be honest with me about WHY you want this? Is it because you are trying to make us something we currently aren't but you want us to be?"
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 4:55 PM on October 24, 2013 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: Just to be clear: we talked about where we would live extensively before we got married. I grew up in the suburbs, and I thought I would be ok moving back. This was my fault. Also, he knows all about my feelings on this issue. He just doesn't want to move into the city.
posted by snarfles at 4:57 PM on October 24, 2013

Could you rent out your current house and move back to the city temporarily until you are ready to start a family?

If you could afford to buy a place in the city then you could have an investment property in the future when you move back to the suburbs.
posted by Youremyworld at 4:59 PM on October 24, 2013 [25 favorites]

Five years is a long time, and children can really change how you feel about space, gardens, and eating at home. This is not a decision you have to make today. But it sounds like you really do value urban amenities - have you and your husband thought of unloading the house (as a rental or simply selling it) to live in the city until you do have children? Then, when you do have a child, you can re-evaluate where is the best community for your family to live. It may be that you need to live in a different city that has walkable neighborhoods of single family housing.
posted by stowaway at 5:00 PM on October 24, 2013 [8 favorites]

Can you afford to rent a pied-à-terre in the city, where you could spend occasional weekends/weeknights? That way you could both get some of what you want.
posted by hapax_legomenon at 5:00 PM on October 24, 2013 [3 favorites]

Does your city have any neighborhoods with single-family houses? If you explore outside the downtown business district, you might be able to find a house that has some of the things that match your husband's vision (house, yard) while still being a lot closer to some of the things you love in the city. A smaller freestanding house or townhouse seems like a possible compromise between your current suburban house and your ideal one-bedroom apartment.

Do you have any friends or co-workers with children who live in the city? Where and how do they live? Can you and your husband take any inspiration from them?
posted by mbrubeck at 5:06 PM on October 24, 2013 [13 favorites]

I don't know what city you're talking about, but most cities have neighborhoods that are quasi-suburban (in terms of having residential streets, houses, etc) but still part of the city (walkable shops, restaurants, etc.). For example, you might find a funky neighborhood where you'd rent part of a row house and still have a little yard. To me, this would be a compromise between a the typical suburban house and a totally urban apartment with no yard and no distinction between residential and commercial zoning on the street. I know it's not exactly what your husband idealizes, but maybe he can see it as a compromise.
posted by third rail at 5:06 PM on October 24, 2013 [28 favorites]

Could it be that you're in the wrong suburb and you could move somewhere where you could have a small home with a yard while being able to walk to shops and restaurants? Such places exist. (Though, unfortunately, I think they tend to be expensive.)
posted by hoyland at 5:06 PM on October 24, 2013 [5 favorites]

Does the small city near you have a residential section? I live in a big city (Philly) and I know several people who raise their family in the city by choice. They could live in the suburbs, but like you just prefer the city. However, they universally live near the better schools in the city (out public school system is terrible, so they may actually attend private/charter schools), they live in houses with a tiny yard and no extra space, and they live in neighborhoods with other families raising children.

So I think you need to do your research and find out if there's an area of your city that provides the same amenities and lifestyle that you would have in a suburb for your future kids, but that would still have access to the kind of lifestyle that you enjoy.
posted by DoubleLune at 5:11 PM on October 24, 2013

"we'd like to have one in the next five years if all goes as planned."

Why not live in an apartment downtown until you have kids, and then when they are 1 or 2 years old (ready for their own bedroom and a yard), move back out? A house will feel a lot less empty with kids around.
posted by amaire at 5:14 PM on October 24, 2013 [6 favorites]

there just doesn't seem to be a middle ground here.

Doesn't your small city have close-in neighborhoods with small postage-stamp lots and row houses or little Sears bungalows or postwar capes? I've never lived anywhere that didn't have that and it's a pretty common way to compromise.
posted by headnsouth at 5:15 PM on October 24, 2013 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: So I think you need to do your research and find out if there's an area of your city that provides the same amenities and lifestyle that you would have in a suburb for your future kids, but that would still have access to the kind of lifestyle that you enjoy.

This is the last thing I'll say and then I'll drop out of here. There actually are 2 or 3 great neighborhoods like this where we would both agree to live but the available houses/condos/townhomes are way, way out of our price range. Maybe one day...
posted by snarfles at 5:15 PM on October 24, 2013

You could probably find a cheap house close to the amenities you want in a gentrifying neighborhood. However, you're more than likely going to have to put a lot of work into the house.
posted by girlmightlive at 5:21 PM on October 24, 2013

My husband is really not interested though; he thinks kids grow up with yards, in suburbs, and he's really not budging on this.

Could you seek out some people raising families in your city, and start introducing him to the idea that people grow up in cities and don't turn out to be gangbangers or whatever it is he's worried about?

Other "slowly immersing him in this idea" ideas:

- Do a little research on city school districts and educational opportunities. I grew up in a rural/exurban area, but in junior high I started running into kids my age who lived in the nearby small city. They all had access to amazing opportunities that don't exist in small towns and went to schools that offered things even the fancy private school serving my small town couldn't dream of. This is probably more true of things for older kids and teenagers, but I bet the city has better offerings if you're looking at Montessori, Waldorf, and stuff like that.

- Is there a part of the city where young families tend to live that is more like what you're envisioning, or a compromise between suburbia and downtown urban? You can live in a city and not live in the stereotypical shoebox apartment in a concrete jungle landscape.

- Visit the many family friendly activities and resources that likely exist in the city. Museums, the zoo, expansive urban parks and rec facilities, whatever. This is another area where growing up in a city gives kids huge advantages. Especially look at places or programs geared toward families.
posted by Sara C. at 5:22 PM on October 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

This is the last thing I'll say and then I'll drop out of here. There actually are 2 or 3 great neighborhoods like this where we would both agree to live but the available houses/condos/townhomes are way, way out of our price range. Maybe one day...

Are you absolutely attached to the idea of owning your own home? If not, could you afford to rent a townhome in one of these neighbourhoods?

Has your husband ever lived in a city? It could be that he is just a little afraid of the unknown. If you sold or rented out your house while moving into a rental apartment for a couple of years, he might find that he actually loves the convenience of the city.

(I totally get where you're coming from... I grew up in the suburbs, but I just would not want to raise my daughter there. Luckily my husband and I are on the same page on this one.)

posted by barnoley at 5:23 PM on October 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

What about the idea of being in a smaller house/condo/apartment in a walkable suburban area as someone else mentioned? The East Coast is pretty great for this, since so many of the suburbs are actually old towns (and weren't built strictly to be suburbs). The cost issue may be a problem there, too, but it's worth looking into.
posted by lunasol at 5:33 PM on October 24, 2013

There actually are 2 or 3 great neighborhoods like this where we would both agree to live but the available houses/condos/townhomes are way, way out of our price range. Maybe one day...

If it's really true that the only neighborhoods in your city where people tend to raise children are way out of your price range, you might want to think about how realistic it actually is to relocate. Especially if the only way it would be affordable is to downgrade your standard of living.

Which might be why your husband hates every apartment you look at. I'd be bummed, too, if my spouse wanted us to move to a smaller, crappier home in a bad school district where our kids wouldn't even have friends to play with, AND we'd be paying more for the privilege. And I'm all for urban living and raising kids in the city.
posted by Sara C. at 5:33 PM on October 24, 2013 [16 favorites]

he thinks kids grow up with yards, in suburbs
I don't know where you live, but there may be some areas closer in to town that are not as suburban. We had a baby and moved to a duplex, and I stayed after the divorce and raised our son really close to downtown. The nearest cross street is really busy and dangerous, but we were in a little pocket neighborhood that even had a small park. The houses have small lawns and driveways. There may be an old neighborhood that isn't trendy, but that may be gentrifying. Spend some time on your own driving around and see if there's a less suburban area that would work for both of you. The income from the duplex made it possible for us to manage the mortgage, and made it possible for me to stay on when we split.
posted by theora55 at 5:47 PM on October 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you can't afford the residential neighborhoods in the city, what about a small town, as opposed to a suburb?

I currently live in a small city, in a house with a large yard, in easy walking distance of everything. I have kids and I am glad every day that I am not raising them in the suburbs, where I think I would be miserable. If we HAD to move, I would be inclined to look at small towns rather than suburbs -- they tend to be more walkable, and generally more affordable than big cities. You still would probably have to contend with a yard but your house would likely be smaller.
posted by xeney at 5:57 PM on October 24, 2013

My personal theory is that he is trying to make us the traditional suburban family that he'd like us to be, instead of embracing the people that we actually are.

It seems just as likely that the person he actually is is a person who likes to live in the suburbs. And if that's the case, this is a question of "how to compromise," not "how to get my husband to come around."

I like snickerdoodle's suggestion of a middle ground. For most people (though not all) the calculus of city vs. suburbs changes a lot when kids are around. In your current state, if somebody's loud and annoying in the apartment upstairs from you, it's just an annoyance. Three years from now it's going to mean fuck fuck fuck I just got the kid to sleep after an hour of rocking and you woke him up you fuckers! Etc etc. So renting out the house now and living in town pre-kid seems like a great idea. Maybe at the end of it your husband will feel like "I love it so much here, let's try to make a go of it in the city with a kid and then kids in this 2-bedroom apartment." But you have to be open to holding up your end and accepting it if he wants out once the kids come. And who knows, maybe you will too! Lots of people move out of the city, most of them ungrudgingly; more typically, they feel like the city is a great thing they've had enough of.
posted by escabeche at 6:09 PM on October 24, 2013 [6 favorites]

You look at your current house and it feel way to big for just the two of you. But he's probably looking at that two bedroom apartment and thinking "what if we have more than one kid?" Can you compromise by downsizing to a smaller house (but still in the suburbs) and put the extra cash towards renting a place in the city for the weekends?
posted by matildatakesovertheworld at 6:10 PM on October 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

On the kid front, cities are crazy freaking expensive.

Have you looked into daycare? I don't know where you are, but for where I am? Infant care in Boston and anywhere the T touches is $2,000/month in a center and about $1300 for an in home. Can you afford a three to four bedroom apartment in the city while also paying those daycare costs? We couldn't.

And I don't have a yard, living in my small city near Boston, but it'd be so awesome if I did. "Go play in the yard!" "kids, go outside and do something."

If you are serious on the kid thing, you need to look at your finances carefully, because kids are expensive. Cities are expensive. You might have to pick unless you make some really good money.....and my goodness, public schools! You couldn't pay me enough to put my son with autism in a Boston or New York City public school. If they wouldn't lose him before the end of the day, he'd slip through the cracks in no time. School systems are not a small matter when considering where to raise children.

My husband would love to live in the middle of nowhere. I could never do that and if I hadn't had kids would have been happy in Boston forever. So we moved to a small city with access to both by public transportation and easy driving. We both win. Find a place where you both win or decide what you want more --- the city or your husband. And don't have a child before you figure that out.
posted by zizzle at 6:46 PM on October 24, 2013 [4 favorites]

Has your husband ever actually given the city a fair shot (meaning: with you, living the lifestyle you currently lead) or is he just saying he won't like it, in the same way that a kid does with an unknown food? I think he needs to be fair here and give it a shot for a year -- call it your little adventure. Convince him by putting together a budget showing how much it'll cost in rent and eating out and generally enjoying the city. Point out how you will save money by not having to drive and pay for parking as often. Reassure him that if he hates it after a year you will move back to the suburbs.

A year is really not a long time, in the grand scheme of things.
posted by joan_holloway at 6:47 PM on October 24, 2013

And when you have a kid? All that empty space will disappear. You'll have more stuff than you know what to do with. There won't be a single empty corner anywhere and you'll really wish there was. Stuff accumulates at exponential rates when a kid is involved....
posted by zizzle at 6:49 PM on October 24, 2013

Best answer: he thinks kids grow up with yards, in suburbs, and he's really not budging on this.

I am like you, but I'm going to focus on this part of the question. You're describing someone who claims to love the suburbs and that kids need yards. Well, what kids don't need is depressing brown expanses of uncared-for grass and a cold, empty house. You don't have to be the one to shop and decorate and garden; if this is his dream, he can do this. Maybe it's really his job to get cracking and make this house more homey, because it sounds really depressing right now, and there's nothing kids are going to find healthy or delightful about that.

If he doesn't want to do this, maybe he doesn't really want to be in the 'burbs either - because the kind of place you have comes with lawn care, landscaping, and home upkeep responsibilities. Also, if a big kitchen is important to him, maybe he should be doing the cooking.

It just sounds like you're the one tasked with making his dream come true. That doesn't seem right. If he's not willing to invest time and effort in improving this place, why the heck does he want it?

I can only recommend counseling here. You're unhappy, and it's not crazy and not a small thing. I would be too - I detest the kind of trackless, unconnected suburb it sounds like you're in. Wanting a walkable, community-oriented place to live is not insane. You've got two different visions for where your lives are going, and that's got to get reconciled, even if the upshot is you compromise by moving to a small town or an outlying neighborhood.
posted by Miko at 6:58 PM on October 24, 2013 [46 favorites]

So the two main reasons you give for wanting to move back to the city are
-- Living space: suburban house is too big, hate taking care of it
-- Transport: hate driving around, miss walking places

The thing is, that these are the two aspects of your life that are most likely to change (regardless of where you live) when you have kids. Having kids means boatloads more stuff to curate, more (and different) activities taking place at home and outside, and likely a bigger living space to fit everything in. Having kids means a lot more stuff to lug around, different destinations to lug it to, and a consequent rethinking of modes of transport. You write,

My personal theory is that he is trying to make us the traditional suburban family that he'd like us to be, instead of embracing the people that we actually are.

but assuming you're both on the same page with having kids, then "the people that [you] actually are" w/r/t living space and transport actually is going to change, big-time, when kids come along.

Now, you may change to a family who's still not suited to country life, and who'd thrive in a city. But you might also change to the "traditional suburban family" your husband seems to be envisioning. Since you don't know, and since you're financially invested in your current situation, then if there will indeed be children in the medium-term, it probably makes sense to do any moving on a provisional basis (like renting the house instead of selling it, or just getting a weekend place in the city, etc.). And plan on reassessing later, when you've got a clearer picture of what your long-term needs will be.
posted by Bardolph at 7:00 PM on October 24, 2013 [8 favorites]

Best answer: I grew up in the suburbs, and I thought I would be ok moving back. This was my fault.

Fault doesn't really enter into it; you're not a bad person for failing to accurately predict the future. And, moreover, you're not a bad person for liking to live in the city! Liking the city doesn't mean you're immature, inherently miserable (?!) clinging desperately to youth or faux-hipness, or lying to yourself about kids.

"Because that's what people do" is only a half step up on the Argument Quality Scale from "Because I said so." Which is to say, it's a failure of an argument. You are within your rights to expect more of an argument before you resign yourself to a lifestyle you can't stand.

Marriage requires compromise. You already gave up your entire lifestyle to make your husband happy! So now it's time for your husband to start doing some of his share. AT THE VERY LEAST, he needs to articulate his objections to you and not just say "kids mean suburbs and that is final." He wants a fancy kitchen but you guys don't cook: he needs to explain just exactly WHO he expects to do the cooking, and WHEN, before he can just say "this is why no city." And so on.

Don't people who live in cities shop, have stuff, decorate, and cook?

Well sure, but only if they want to. My place has no real room for "stuff" beyond the basics of furnishings. Decorating is somewhat extraneous--because the building itself is full of built-in detail that looks gorgeous without my help. HELL NO I do not cook, this kitchen has one square foot of countertop space, and why would I cook when I can get a week's worth of Thai food for $30 one block away?

In other words, in a small city apartment, all of this "advanced homemaking" stuff can be rendered fully optional without resulting in empty, sad rooms, a kitchen that is basically a monument to waste, and an unmowed lawn.
posted by like_a_friend at 7:01 PM on October 24, 2013 [4 favorites]

This question would be eighty thousand times easier to answer if you gave us a location. I grew up in the Boston area, specifically, in Brookline. There are a lot of similar urban/suburban towns around Boston proper that offer a good compromise between city living and the 'burbs. I live in LA, and I imagine eventually settling down in Eagle Rock, or South Pasadena, or maybe renting a place in Santa Monica because the public schools are really good. I know a couple people who got married and moved to Redondo Beach. Life happens.

My personal theory is that he is trying to make us the traditional suburban family that he'd like us to be, instead of embracing the people that we actually are. And I really don't know what to do about that.

I think your husband plans on becoming a traditional suburban family, and he has been showing this to you not-so-subtly. I know you're not really asking for marriage advice, but this is a big-time incompatibility. It's not your "fault," but it strikes me as a pretty big problem.

And if you can't afford to live in a decent place in the city, I'd have to agree with your husband. I am a city girl through and through, but I can't imagine being psyched to move out of a big house and into a tiny apartment while trying to plan a family. My family lived in a really small condo when I was kid, and my mom had to lug two toddlers down two flights of stairs, down the hill around the building, and down into the basement to use the coin-op laundry machine. Among other inconveniences. I really suggest looking for a cheaper compromise - somewhere where you can own a home or condo, live in an urban environment, and raise your kids. If you tell us where you are, we might be able to help a bit more specifically.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 7:20 PM on October 24, 2013 [5 favorites]

Could you move next to a major transit connector to the city? That way you could walk to the bus/train/subway and be in the city lickety-split, with no need for a car. Most of these areas have conveniences like shopping and whatnot as well.
posted by Null Pointer and the Exceptions at 7:34 PM on October 24, 2013

Best answer: I agree with Miko and like_a_friend and will add: 1) if you're not maintaining the outside of your home and live in a half-way decent neighbourhood, you're being crappy neighbours 2) if neither of you are actually doing yard work/home decorating/cooking etc... why (and who?) does he think is going to magically start doing this when there's a baby too?

Kids add more work - not less - and you're already not doing anything superfluous. He needs to start mowing the lawn and decorating the house and cooking regularly before you have kids (or make it clear he's expecting you to do this! in which case = counseling). Kids live in cities all over the world - it's fine. We're planning on starting to try in December, and we (both from suburban upbringings) just moved closer into the city to a more urban neighbourhood on purpose. I nannied and babysat in the Bay Area for years... feel free to memail me any Q's you or he have about kids in cities!

Also - part of the problem might be stigma. In NYC everyone lives in apartments and has kids anyway, and turns their closet into a nursery etc... where I grew up only poor refuge families lived in apartments. Maybe what he means is that in the area you live in now, families live in the suburbs. He may just need to not feel like an outlier - so finding a handful of other young families in the city, or finding a small city nearby that has that demographic could go a long way. Try going to city/urban farmers markets, and see which ones have lots of babies at them!

I also agree that there's a big difference between a high-rise crappy apartment with basement laundry, and a nice townhouse. We found an art-deco fourplex with a yard; our living room looks out over the yard and the laundry's outside but *right there*. It feels more like a small house, less like your typical apartment. We don't have to maintain a yard, but kids could play outside and we can still get take out, and all our neighbours are in the same young-family thirty-something over-educated creative professional demographic - we all sort of validate each other. I still would never live in an apartment in my hometown - it's a different demographic, different stigma, etc...
posted by jrobin276 at 7:37 PM on October 24, 2013 [10 favorites]

Like Null Pointer and the Exceptions - I don't know where you are, but I lived at Prairie Crossing for a year, which is super suburban but a one hour Metra ride into Chicago! They even have townhouses there now. Could you find something like that? Where are you?
posted by jrobin276 at 7:40 PM on October 24, 2013

There's a third way, which is to drop out of city-vs-suburb thinking and go rural.

Gently, with good access to a freeway to a good downtown. But.

I cannot stand living in the suburbs.

Totally empathetic. I had to visit a newish suburb the other week and was totally spooked. The endless identical scenery/housings, nothing but ugly housing, no people... I couldn't get out of there fast enough.

I hate driving.

Would it make any difference at all if you moved to a place with a cost of living that let you drive a 'dream car' sort of vehicle?

I hate taking care of a yard.

Lots of entropy in the countryside -- every storm is a 'What damage will I have to repair now?' event -- but, also, lots and lots of people who are good at these things and happy for casual work doing it for you at a good rate. It's not like in the suburbs where you would hire a service; it's more you go to the post office and ask who does the local driveways and then you're added to Bill's rounds and you're plowed regularly.

I hate having too much space.

Great! Because you can afford an absolutely beautiful small house in a rural area. Stunning. And new or newly extensively renovated and efficient and easy to live in.

I hate the quiet. I hate the dark.

Okay, admittedly my 'third way' doesn't really help out on that one...

It's not for everybody, but it seemed worth throwing out as an option. In the part of the country where I live there are a good whack of 'deliberate ruralists,' if you will, other city expats, and I have all sorts of interesting neighbours. Also farmer neighbours, and I like the farmer neighbours just as much.

In a splendid thoughtfully designed little house with good freeway or transit access you would have your city amenities not too far away -- I get to museums and galleries and the like more often now than I did when I lived right downtown -- zero suburban irritations -- a lovely place for kids to grow up -- etc

And cities change for people with children. Walking to restaurants -- ha! I used to do that constantly in the downtowns I lived in. I don't know a lot of families who can afford to eat out at nice places frequently. There will be all sorts of terrific events in walking distance that you can't go to because...well, if your kid is really little, you won't have the energy. Later on it's a big expense (babysitting) and a thing that requires planning instead of being a fun spontaneous thing.
posted by kmennie at 7:43 PM on October 24, 2013

Would it help you to hear that you're not alone? Upon reflection and your most recent update, my take on this is that it's not so much of a fundamental lifestyle compatibility as it is trying to negotiate a financial reality. It's not like you're out doing these urban evening activities without him all the time, right? So there's two or three neighborhoods you can agree on, but they are simply beyond your means. That's actually a really good starting point for figuring out the solution that works for everyone.

This is something that I think about a lot. I don't think it should surprise you to learn that there are lots of couples who are struggling with this question of where to raise a family. My husband and I live in Seattle. Before kids, we had a very active, urban-oriented lifestyle, with a one-bedroom apartment walking distance from restaurants, bars, fantastic city park, short commute, etc, you know the drill. And it wasn't that expensive for the two of us living in a one bedroom apartment. Now we have our daughter, we spend way more time at home than we ever did. We tried a 2-bedroom apartment for a while, but it was suboptimal for entertaining friends, so now we're in a little rental house. (Entertaining friends is key to having a social life after you have a family.) We've been looking for a house to buy. Of course we wanted to stay in-city, but we're pretty fiscally conservative so we prefer to keep our mortgage payment low. And we took a close look at what was going on with the schools ... and ... now we are looking in adjacent suburbs - these are older suburbs (built in the 50s/60s/70s) with great schools and a truly diverse population. Our urban friends without kids kind of look at us like we are crazy when we bring it up, but the reality is that we can't afford everything we want. Like you, we would prefer to travel, but we can't afford urban house, trips, and a child. So we're giving up the urban house. My hunch is that more and more people like you and me are going to move a bit out of the urban centers, and as a result the culture and feel of suburbs is going to change.

The big difference here between us and you, though, is that my husband and I don't have the house in the suburbs just yet. We're still looking. When we look at houses together, we are discussing together the pro's and con's of each and we both have input. Whereas it sounds like he bought the house before you were married (or even dating) and was looking far ahead to the days of having a family. It might not even be the optimal suburban house for him, for all we know. (I mean, he actually does go and look at the 2-bedroom apartments downtown with you! So he's not that resistant to the idea.) But it's the house you've got, and there are costs and stresses associated with unloading the house, so perhaps he might be hung up on that. It might not be financially feasible. But I think the problem here is that while you made the choice to live with your husband "in the suburbs" you didn't have a choice as to which house in which suburb. Keep talking about it together, go exploring. I think you guys can work this one out.
posted by stowaway at 8:53 PM on October 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

My wife and I bought a house WAY out.. lots of land... and the moment we settled in we HATED it. Two years later we bought a house in mid-town Phoenix. We are raising two kids there now and we've never looked back.

Living "in the city" is great for all the reasons you say.

The ONLY thing that sort of sucks is that there are not a lot of kids their age right by our house. The ages of the kids are very mixed (if there are any kids at all). In this day of Facebook and school mobility it hasn't been that big of a deal.
posted by cowmix at 9:00 PM on October 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

Why is it just you who has to do the decorating and cooking? That isn't going to magically start happening when kids are around and you have less time.

I live in the kind of place you might like. It's a 3 unit block/house - upstairs is a family with two kids, we share a back yard and they've built a playground up the back. I've planted a few plants out there, but otherwise they mostly have it to themselves. We're in the land of inner city apartment blocks, and I walk everywhere.
posted by Ashlyth at 11:20 PM on October 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

I have some relevant personal experience, as a parent of two kids, who prefers the city, but ended up moving to the suburbs.

One thing I specifically want to mention is that having kids did change our family's needs and priorities, but it didn't change my likes and dislikes. We use more space, the kids like the yard, there's less time/money/energy for going out and doing things, and hauling kids and all their gear to different activities requires a lot of driving. I still don't like taking care of a big house, yard work, being far from restaurants and events, or driving everywhere.

As luck would have it, I can also report on a transition in the other direction. After my ex and I split up, I moved to an apartment in a walkable neighborhood. It's still a compromise in lots of ways. I'd like to be in Seattle, but that would put a lake and a ton of traffic between home and my kids' school, so I'm still in the suburbs. There aren't as many other families with kids nearby as I'd like. My kids currently love their bunk bed, but we're a little squished in my two-bedroom. But you know what? I loooove my apartment, and I'm going to stay in it as long as I possibly can.

Anyway, I guess I have two bits of actual advice.

Short term: Even if you're planning on having kids in the future, even if you are pregnant this very moment, that doesn't mean that you need to have a suburban house, size 5T clothing, and a mini-van this week. Get that stuff when you actually need it.

Longer term: When you do settle on the location/lifestyle in which you'll raise children, it really is worth it to make sure it "embraces the people that [you both] actually are". I can confirm that providing all the traditional elements of a nuclear family household is not sufficient for happiness, and that this is true even if one of you is great at gardening, cooking and decorating. There's no Standard Successful Life. You have to make one that you personally like.
posted by Courage is going from failure to failure at 1:45 AM on October 25, 2013 [7 favorites]

Would it be worth it to talk to a realtor to help you guys find a neighbourhood in your desired city that would meet both sets of needs without breaking the bank? Maybe your city has some up-and-coming neighbourhoods that would work.

We lived in a small city home until our daughter was three. We then moved to the closest suburb to our city (we both still work in the city) because the house was bursting at the seams with the stuff a small child brings into your life.

I hated the idea of leaving the city, even though I didn't take advantage of the city-ness of it as much as I would have liked, especially once my daughter was born. While I lived near the subway line, my post-war neighbourhood felt more suburban than urban. I'm happy in my suburban house - the space that feels excessive now really is nice when you have kids.

If you really want to be in the city, you should probably do it before you have a child. Then you'll be more willing to make it work if you guys settle into your home and like the surroundings. If it doesn't work, you move somewhere else, either in your city or in a suburb. Nothing has to be permanent.
posted by melissa at 5:58 AM on October 25, 2013 [4 favorites]

Over half of our (not that big) house is empty, and it is creepy and uncomfortable. Yet, I have no desire to fill it: I hate shopping, I hate stuff, and I hate decorating. I also hate cooking (and so does my husband), which means that our beautiful kitchen is basically an unused showpiece. We are also both totally uninterested in making the house look nice on the outside. The grass is cut but there are no flowers, and no homey touches. I guess this would all be fine if I didn't mind looking at an undecorated empty house, but I can't stand it. Yet, I would never, ever want to spend my free time gardening or decorating (and I don't want to spend money to pay someone to do it either -- I'd rather go on a trip or two). I long for the days of a 600 sq ft apartment with fully functional space and not an inch to spare. In those days, I felt like the city was my home, and my apartment was just a place that held my clothes. I still treat my house like that, but it isn't working.

This doesn't sound like a problem with the suburbs at all, but with the specific house you've chosen. You'd probably have the exact same problems with a big apartment.

Why not live in a smaller, more practical house with a small yard?

That being said . . . look, I'm a country mouse and happily live in a rural/suburban area. But when my husband and I first moved into our apartment, I refused to decorate it because I assumed it would be temporary until we bought a house. Three years later, and it hasn't really been financially feasible. I hated our apartment, inside and out. Until I finally budged and started treating it like a home. I spent a small amount of money on some furniture, started cleaning and reorganizing, and within a few weeks had an apartment I loved. Now I don't mind hanging out here until we actually can afford our own house.

A home--apartment, house--will never feel that way until you start treating it like one and your refusal to spend a few weekends making this some place you're actually comfortable with is just going to compound your misery. You don't need to be Martha Stewart, constantly decorating and rearranging furniture, to make this a place you are happy. You don't need to be a typical suburban mom; your husband does not need to be Mr. Happy Homemaker either. But as I've moved into my thirties, I've noticed that everyone--including my Brooklyn-dwelling friends--are taking some pride in place and no longer using their apartments as transient closets. So I think that actually putting some effort into your current space, rather than digging your heels in and refusing to even really try when you know the undecorated space is actually making you miserable, is a worthwhile expenditure of your time. Even if you and your husband decide to move out to the city, a place you like to live in the meanwhile is worth it. Trust me.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 6:07 AM on October 25, 2013 [15 favorites]

I'd plan a meeting with your husband to discuss what it is you want out of your life. Think of it as an adjustment of the plans you made 5 years ago when you first moved to his house.

If you plan on having a child in 5 years...well, that's a long way off, and perhaps renting your house out in the suburbs, and renting an apartment in the city for now, might be a great compromise. You'll be in the heart of the action, but you haven't forsaken your house.

Now, I'd rather gnaw off my own arm than own another piece of property. You may lose money on the rental, but you'll be happy.

I'd rather sell the house, and plan on renting for the next 5 years. If you hate the house, I recommend this. It's only fair, you gave it a shot, now it's your turn.

Think about your actual lifestyle, meals out, no maintenance, walkable. These are what YOU like. See if you can blend his likes into this.

Perhaps move closer in, but not directly in the city. Get a townhouse, where the association takes care of the buildings and the yard. It can be smaller so there's less for you to deal with decorating-wise. They may have a playground, pool and tennis court for you and your eventual kiddo.

Another thing to do is to make your current place a home. One afternoon at Ikea and a weekend building some shit can make a HUGE difference in how you feel about your crib. You and your husband can ask a friend who DOES like to shop and decorate to help you (do it for you). Trust me, you have a sibling, parent, godparent or co-worker who would LOVE to do this for you. If you live in Atlanta, call me, I'LL do it for you!

You have options and they're not all A or B.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:08 AM on October 25, 2013

This was my fault.

I don't think so! You both made a decision that you thought was the best for your family and now it turns out it isn't working out as you had hoped. That is not your fault.

My wife and I did something similar, we moved to the suburbs and hated it. We were lucky enough to be able to move someplace we like better but we would never have known if we hadn't tried.
posted by shothotbot at 12:23 PM on October 25, 2013

I don't know which city you are in. But I wanted to say that my partner and I have had many, MANY similar arguments, because I love living in the city (no yard, walk to everything, small space means less cleaning, etc) and his ideal situation is living in the rural area (quiet, lots of nature, where everyone knows everyone, etc) and here are my thoughts.

5 years is a long time. No quiet long enough to buy a place, but maybe you can rent out the house and rent an apartment in the city. If he has not lived in a city, recently and with you, then he hasn't given it a fair chance.

Even when you have kids, they don't really run around until two or three years or age (at minimum). So you don't have to immediately move into a house when there's a baby.

If you have a house, you need to take care of it. At minimum, the necessary maintenance and the outside, aka curb appeal. My partner enjoys that, but when I owned a house by myself, I hired a gardener. If you're not taking care of it, hire a gardener. If hiring a gardener is cost-prohibitive, you need to rethink the cost-effectiveness of living in a house, because taking care of the yard should be a non-optional part of owning a house.

It could also be that your partner just hates moving, and is willing to find any reason to not move.

What we did is this: We moved downtown for a bit, and really enjoyed the aspects we knew we would enjoy. I found out that I hate hearing my neighbors walk around (though I have no trouble with street noise, even swearing loudly at 2am). And I needed a bit more space than a studio apartment. My partner found that he likes the convenience of walking to restaurants and entertainment. He hated not having covered parking for his motorcycle and not having space for woodworking.

Our compromise now is living in a house in a quiet neighborhood that is easily walkable to some restaurants and stores, and close enough to bus to some places we often go to. Our ideal compromise would be living in a similar neighborhood that is walkable to both of our jobs, but that is quite a bit more expensive than we were willing to spend.
posted by ethidda at 1:08 PM on October 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

My personal theory is that he is trying to make us the traditional suburban family that he'd like us to be, instead of embracing the people that we actually are. And I really don't know what to do about that.

It sounds, from here, like the problem is not a suburb/urban divide, so much as a "the type of family we want to be" divide. It sounds, again, from the outside, like you really enjoy being a couple, and he wants to be a family. Is the reason you don't use the kitchen much because he doesn't want to stay at home, or because you don't? Remember, this is a house he had before you even got there - he must like at least some aspects of it.

What were your discussions around marriage? Does he expect you to be a stay-at-home mom once kids come into the picture? What kind of house and family does he want to live in? Because it sounds like you really want some startlingly different things, and honestly even sounds like you may be pushing back a little against the idea of being a nuclear family with kids.
posted by corb at 1:11 PM on October 25, 2013

That said - I was you a few years ago. I have learned to love the suburbs, but it's definitely a different kind of love. It's an... older-me kind of love, with quieter pursuits. Now we actually have a kid, so some of that plays in, but for me I think some of my "NEVER LEAVE BROOKLYN" was a resistance to being That Suburban Person, rather than an actual dislike of the quiet or the space or the yard.
posted by corb at 1:14 PM on October 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

My personal theory is that he is trying to make us the traditional suburban family that he'd like us to be, instead of embracing the people that we actually are. And I really don't know what to do about that.

Well, presumably you're trying to do the same thing (return yourselves to the cityfolk that you were before you moved, instead of embracing your new lifestyle.) You each have a different view; now you need to decide what to do about it.

Let me preface this by sharing that I'm a lot like you. I bought into the suburbia thing when I got married, and I thought I'd love it, but I hated it and still do. I hate driving. I hate maintaining a lawn. Etc. etc., just as you've said. And now I'm single again, but I've either got to make the best of living here, or move into the city proper...which costs money and time. So I'm not commenting based on "how do you deal with a husband who doesn't agree to move to the city with you", but based on "how do you deal with living in the suburbs when you don't really want to." Oh, and I have kids, and raised them in this house, so I'll talk about that afterwards.

First: here are some of the successful things I've done, and am doing, to make this more livable. Your mileage may vary, of course:
  • I've killed my lawn, and am putting in drought-friendly landscaping that required very little maintenance...and I'm hiring someone to do that maintenance.
  • I've bought myself a nice car, so that I enjoy (a bit more) all the driving I do.
  • I've rearranged the furniture to make the largest spaces into smaller subdivided spaces, and tried to maximize the utility of them so that I don't have to "decorate" -- my bookshelves full of things and similar functional pieces end up serving as the decor (with a minimalist, modern bent that's compatible with low-decor living.)
  • I've spent some time getting to know my neighbors, walking my dog, and seeing how far I can walk to turn my non-walkable neighborhood into something that's sort-of walkable (sometimes I'll use a bike to expand my functional range.)
That doesn't solve everything, but it's helped. The other thing that has helped is time: two years in, I hated it more than ever, but 12+ years in I've mostly made my peace with it. Plus, it's nice living somewhere that I don't see roaches and rats running around all the time (they're there, of course, but in gardens instead of next to my foot on the sidewalk.)

Now, about the kids thing: when my ex-wife and I were planning for kids, we assumed bigger was better. So we got a big yard, and a big playset. We got a big minivan. We got a bedroom for each of 'em, and we remodeled the kitchen so that we'd have a great big kitchen to cook in.

And you know what? All of it was overkill. The big yard ended up great for big parties, which was nice, but most of the time the kids don't use it. The minivan was chosen to accommodate theoretical situations that never came up ("what if you, me, two dogs, two kids and my mother had to drive somewhere") and could have been mitigated with the second car if they had. The playset is great, but I've seen them have just as much fun on one half the size, and the one at the park is best of all because there are new kids to play with there. The remodeled kitchen is nice, but boy I wish it were half the size, because I only need half of it or less; the rest just collects clutter.

So: short version, there are things you can do to mitigate your dislike of suburbia somewhat, and there are compromises he can make to acknowledge that you don't NEED lots of [thing] to raise kids, or that if it turns out you do, you can make the transition then.

But of course the larger problem remains: you and he want different things, and neither of you will give up what you want. Plus, he's got inertia on his side, because you're already in the suburbs. This sounds like a great time to sit down with a marriage counselor, to see if you're really fighting for things that are dealbreakers for each of you, or if this is something else masquerading as that.

I say that last part because, while I was still married, I was very resentful that my ex-wife refused to consider moving back to where we'd come from, despite having promised to consider it once a certain milestone was reached. I was so unhappy because we couldn't go back, and it was her fault. And now, now that I could move back (as she's now willing, so we can both be close to the kids)? Now I don't really have a strong urge to go. So there's a data point.
posted by davejay at 2:53 PM on October 25, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks everyone. After thinking long and hard about this with my husband, the fact is that it just doesn't make sense to move right now. I hope that we can really work on saving up to buy in a more walkable urban-ish area, as many of you suggested. In the meantime, I need to suck it up and do what I can to be comfortable in my new environment instead of spending my time longing for the city. In that vein, we adopted a dog. So, walkable or not I'm out there anyway!
posted by snarfles at 8:18 PM on November 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

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