The fantasy: my partner Jacob and I move somewhere in the middle of nowhere. It's so cheap that we can easily live off our savings for at least a year. There's no cell reception and, ideally, no internet. We rent a cabin in the middle of the woods and write all day. There's a weekly farmer's market, and a restaurant filled with local charm for when we get bored. We finally have the time, peace, and space we need to write the way we want to. Our days are centered around simple movements; making coffee in the morning, picking basil for dinner, stoking the fire, kissing shoulder blades, flushing out paragraphs.
If my escape fantasy sounds like your nightmare, know that there's plenty more where that came from: the one where I live on a cheap island and finally become fluent in Spanish; the one where we move to Berlin and I wander the streets all day, scribbling notes and looking sexy and mysterious in cafes; the one where I take off without Jacob altogether, trying out other men and women around the world, only to return definitively committed to him once and for all, best-selling memoir material in tow.
Jacob is more practical. He, too, has dreams of writing full time, but these are his only requirements: a quiet room, time, access to yoga classes, friends to see a few times a week. It's going to take some convincing to get him to live in insolation. So I propose an alternative: let me live out the fantasy for just one weekend. We can go to upstate New York, agree to turn off our phones and wifi, and just write. Jacob tells me it's pointless and impossible to really test anything like that out in just one weekend. I tell him he's just scared to be without his phone, not because I think so, but because I hope he will want to prove me wrong.
As he drives us up to the Catskills, a fembot gives directions in German that only Jacob understands. With only an hour of the ride left, I decide to engage in some future-dreaming, one of my favorite escapist pastimes. I tell him how I want to keep traveling, eventually setting up a career where I can be paid to document experiences and explore the world.
"But if you're always traveling, you'll never be able to focus on your writing. The only way to get better at writing is to stick with it every day, to have a routine. So it depends on what you want. Would you rather travel all the time, or write a book someday?"
"I don't know. Both, eventually."
"Well, then, that's going to take commitment." Jacob has written two novels and reads more in a week than I do in a month. He's already lived abroad in Berlin. By my age, he was already married and divorced. The seven years of experience he has on me has made him oddly clear on one thing since the beginning: he chooses me. Commitment, he's realized after 20 years of dating, is the only way to find the kind of meaning he's looking for in a relationship and in life. He's getting his PhD by studying what constitutes erotic desire, and he's confident in his calculation that we are compatible in the long term.
In 100 Fuesse befindet sich Ihr Ziel auf der linken Seite. We pull into the North Branch Inn parking lot, and when we enter our room, I'm pleased to see that it meets my escape fantasy criteria. Rustic, but clean and upscale, with wood floors, calm blue walls, a king-sized bed, and an old-fashioned bathtub in the corner of the room. I am eager, to my own surprise, to get to writing.
I situate myself in the common area of the inn by a wet window, and force myself to type out an experience I had the week before at a nudist swingers resort in Jamaica. As it comes out, it feels like vomiting: a relief to have it out of my system, but nothing I'd want other people to see. I furiously tap, adding to the soundtrack of rain as Jacob reads across the room. A few hours later, I have 10 rambling pages, single-spaced.
"This sucks," I exhale. "But at least I did it. It's a draft." Jacob insists we consummate in celebration before dinner, and as I look at the large mirror placed next to the bed, I see a man who somehow manages to straddle the line between my fantasy and reality. How he pulls this off I can't exactly explain, except that he has always allowed me total freedom to explore any person or future I'd like. He never restricts me, yet he is fully committed. The only rule is that there are no secrets, even when it comes to desires unfulfilled. I've just returned from making out naked in a hot tub in Jamaica with another man, and he is happy to edit my story about it, eager to reclaim me. Every time I'm given the opportunity to test my loyalty, I am like a dog who runs away only to return in time for dinner. He is not so much my master as my home.
We go to dinner at the inn, where we sip on local cider, and take in the surprisingly metropolitan crowd. An average-looking man named Brad Pitt sings folk hits in the style of John Mellencamp, melting our skepticism by covering Van Morrison. As we order seconds of the homemade pasta with roasted ramp and carrots, I feel expansive, dreamy, buzzed.
I lean forward, fist under chin. "So, what do you think of this lifestyle?"
"Well, there's not much to say about it."
"Do you think we could live in a place like this? Look at how it made me write today. I mean, it sucked, but I did it."
"You don't need to live in the middle of nowhere to write. You just need time and discipline." His line, and sticking to it. Looking at a kid with glasses and a bowl cut eating pasta, the conversation moves to children, and whether we'd ever want to have them. I'm more ambivalent than ever before.
"You have kids, and you can say goodbye to all that traveling," Jacob says.
"Maybe. Some people with kids travel."
"And the kids become rootless and restless."
"Look, I grew up going back and forth between two houses every two days, and they were only a mile apart. And I'm more or less OK. What matters more is that your parents love each other — or at least you — and that they're happy."
"Yes, but your parents got very lucky with you."
"It's true. Look, it's not a commitment I'm ready to make for a long time, if ever. I could see it going either way, honestly. But if we did, I'd want it to be something we did to further our relationship, to make a family. An experience in life we decide to have together, but not because we're —"
"— Not because we're bored."
Full of dinner we return to our room, and soak together in the tub. I fall asleep holding him, and when I wake up, I can hear a heavier rain outside the window. Jacob gets up, and for a moment, I expect him to break his promise and check his phone. Instead, he grabs the New Yorker, and climbs back into bed. I rest my cheek on his chest hair, listening to his heartbeat mix with the downpour. This is sacred. This moment is sacred, and it's all I want. We wake up again two hours later, still entwined, the magazine cast aside. I don't move, for fear of ending the fantasy fulfilled.
I force myself to sit at the table and revise what I've written. It hurts. The disconnect between what I mean to say and what I know how to express is excruciating, but there is no way to go but through, unless I quit. I sit and force myself to revise, and three hours later I emerge, exhaling through my lips like a horse. Jacob looks up from his book, Death & Desire .
"This still sucks," I say.
"Why does it suck?"
"It just does. But at least I did it. At least I'm doing it." He nods.
We go to lunch at The Arnold House, and sit by the fire. Alone, save for one middle-aged couple sharing a cocktail, my mind turns again to the future.
"How do you imagine your old age?"
"I know better than to try to imagine something like that. It all depends on my health, whether I have a family, what my career is like."
"Yeah, but, like, when would you retire? And what would you want it to be like?"
"I don't know that I will even be able to to." Even Phillip Roth retired, but I have a feeling Jacob will never rest, will always need to keep learning, keep growing. It's why I love him, but suddenly, it feels claustrophobic in the empty room. I flash to him agonizing over his novel at age 75, both of us broke and frustrated after a lifetime of pursuing a craft we turned out to be mediocre at. He must see my face fall.
"I mean, we'll travel, but as you get older, you realize you don't need to escape so much to feel satisfied. You've been there, done that, and everywhere is not so different as it is similar. What matters most in the end is building depth in your relationships, in your work." I feel on the verge of tears. I get up and stand by the fire. He takes my hand, asks me what's wrong.
My spite surprises me. "A future with you sounds boring and limiting and claustrophobic." I hope he knows I don't mean it.
"Because I'm not done exploring, and I may never be. I want to experience it all. I mean, what are we doing? If the dream is to write, then why don't we move somewhere like here and do that?"
"We'd still have to work to live here. It's not actually that cheap."
"OK, then to another country."
"You really want to move somewhere where you don't speak the language or know anybody? Do you know how isolating that is?"
"I don't care! As long as you're there, I'm not afraid of anything. I want to experience it all. I don't want us to be pussies about our lives."
"We're not, and we won't be," he says, grabbing my waist. "I promise."
On the drive back home, I look at the wet forest and the murky sky and begin to cry quietly. I don't want to go back to the city. I want to run away, start a new life in a cabin. But there are other considerations. My good job, this good man. Commitments closing in on fantasies all around me. Jacob pulls over, grabs my chin with his hand, looks me straight in the face.
"You asked me how I envision our future? Well, I envision us growing old together. I want to build a life with you, a life that we're happy with. A life filled with adventure and meaning. Think of all the places we've already been. Aren't we having adventures? Don't you have freedom?"
I smile, nod through my tears. It feels good to feel this, even if I'm not sure what it is.
"Look at you, with your little head that fits in my hand. I love this little head." He moves my chin forward, kisses me. "What are you upset about, huh? Are you upset about that beautiful creek over there? Or this house overlooking the beautiful creek? Are you upset about how beautiful all these trees are?" I look over, and they're all so overwhelmingly amiss from my real, city life that I realize yes, that is what I'm crying about.
As Jacob drives us home in the heavy rain and fog, I close my eyes. I decide to trust he'll get us there safely, though I can barely see the cars ahead. Eyes shut, I think of him squinting, on alert, navigating on both our behalf. The least I can do is open my eyes.
"This isn't easy. You're a good driver."
"Yeah? You like how your man drives?"
"I do." I pick the music all the way home, and feel relieved when the fog lifts.
Some names in this story have been amended to protect the privacy of those mentioned.
Images: North Branch Inn; Rachel Krantz/Bustle