Liesl, Miranda, and I are a rather traditional nuclear family: living on our own (well, once with two dogs, more recently with one, sadly soon to be none), without any relatives within thousands of miles. It wasn’t always that way, though: for four years, Liesl and I shared a house with our close friend Jordan. And for the first six years that we lived in this house (starting from when Miranda was four), Miranda was extremely close friends with a family that lived two houses down, to the extent that, some weekends, it seemed like she spent more time with the Garcia-Tobars than she did with us. I wouldn’t label either of those groupings as extended families—in particular, there was never the same commitment between them and us that Liesl and I have for each other (and had for several years before we actually got married)—but there was a constant undercurrent of casual intimacy and togetherness.
Neither of those groupings lasted, however: Jordan and I took academic jobs on the opposite side of the country when we got our Ph.D.s, and the Garcia-Tobars moved to Crete. Both friendships are going strong—Jordan visits the Bay Area frequently for conferences and knows that we’ll happily drive over to pick him up for dinner on a moment’s notice, and the Garcia-Tobars recently moved back to the Bay Area with Miranda and Vi picking back up like they hadn’t been apart. (Skype video calls are great for staying in touch if you’re half the world apart from each other!) But it’s not the same as having them be right there without even thinking about it.
Which isn’t to say that we don’t have lots of good friends, and lots of good friends living nearby! I don’t make friends particularly easily, but we’ve been living out here for 13 years now, and there are several people we’ve met in the interim that we quite enjoy spending time with, that we care quite a lot about. (And, for that matter, several friends from our prior lives who have moved out here, too.) Also, so much of my life for the last several years has been spent online that many of the people I feel most drawn to live somewhere else entirely: there are certainly several people that I really wish I lived closer to so I could just spend time with them making dinner and chatting.
At any rate: if we wanted to spend every weekend hanging out with friends, we could. The thing is, though, we don’t do that. Not that we’re recluses by any means (though that tendency is pretty strong in me!), but there’s effort involved. We have to make plans, to pick times in advance, to compare calendars, to plan a meal for everybody, to (generally) pick a game to play to provide a social context. I enjoy the results, but it’s an active choice, an active effort. And it lacks the casual intimacy that we had when we were living with Jordan: we’d know we’d see each other on a regular basis, we’d cook food together, we’d hang out together and chat about what was on our minds (and we wouldn’t worry about not seeing each other if we were busy for a few days!), our lives would permeate in ways that only happen to me with Liesl and Miranda these days.
There are, of course, people outside the family that I see on a regular basis without having to make an effort, namely my coworkers. And I’ve been very fortunate in where I’ve worked since moving out here: I’ve always had coworkers that I’ve quite enjoyed spending time with. In general, though, work is work and home is home, and while sometimes I do socialize with coworkers at home, contact at work doesn’t generally translate into a blurring of boundaries.
Part of that is an explicit strategic decision on my part. Startup culture generally involves spending quite a lot of time at work, including during activities that would normally be family / social occasions. (Meals in particular.) The problem that I have with that is that it doesn’t augment my family interactions, it instead supplants my family interactions: every dinner I have with my coworkers is a dinner that I’m not having with my family. (Unless, of course, I invite coworkers home, but that’s not what I’m talking about here.) And that is a tradeoff that I refuse to make.
And part of it is my introverted tendencies: too often, given a choice, I’ll eat lunch by myself at my desk rather than with coworkers. I don’t actually consider this a good thing, and I shouldn’t have given into this tendency nearly as often when I was at Sun, or when I was at Playdom. I started getting better about eating communally at Playdom (and playing games over lunch sometimes certainly helped); fortunately, at Sumo, there’s a strong presumption that everybody eats together (and the smaller company size makes a huge difference, it’ll be interesting to see how that changes as the company grows), and that’s helped me be a lot less actively antisocial. (Again, playing games helps; there too, I’m curious to see how that will change as the company grows.)
In general, coworkers within Sumo are surprisingly close to each other, but there are of course stronger and weaker interpersonal ties within the company. I’ve been particularly fascinated recently with one trio of colleagues: the three of them have been quite close for a while, and now the four of us are finding (I think a bit to all of our surprises?) that I seem to fit rather well into that group, too. So the result is that, over the last few weeks, I’ve been spending a lot more time with them than I had been doing with friends and coworkers, with much more of an undercurrent of an assumption of togetherness than I’m used to over the last several years.
I’m still trying to navigate this, and figure out what it means to my life. Just considering the four of us: a group of four people has a lot of subsets, and in this particular case I think all but one or two of those subsets has its own distinct character. I’m still the newcomer to the group, and my evenings and weekends are (I think?) significantly more constrained than those of the other three; I very much enjoy hanging out with them at the end of work days (my work days, which don’t always end at the same time as theirs) or in stray bits in the middle, but it’s not exactly clear to me where I should be blurring boundaries in my life to help ease this process.
In particular, one boundary is between them and between my actual family, namely Liesl and Miranda. (And Zippy!) I imagine Liesl and Miranda would get along well with all three of them, but I’ve only tested that so far with one of them; probably I should drag the whole trio home at some point to figure that out. (We’ll all be getting together over Thanksgiving, at least, I’m certainly looking forward to that.) Of course, dragging home three people makes the house rather more crowded than dragging home one person, and who knows how Liesl would feel if I made a habit of that; but it’s something to talk about, not something to shy away from in fear.
So: the groupings that I’m part of are in an abnormal state of flux right now. And maybe the sign that I see this as abnormal is, itself, a bit odd—this kind of give and take would have been completely run-of-the-mill when I was in high school or college, say. But it’s been quite a while since either of those are the case; I guess thinking about this doesn’t make me so odd, then, or at least doesn’t rank too high in the grand scale of my idiosyncrasies? But that’s the short term; my family ties are changing on a longer scale as well.
Because: Miranda turned 12 this year. When she turns 18, she is presumably going to head off to college. I certainly wouldn’t try to predict exactly what the future will bring, but right now it’s a reasonable assumption that we’ve spent two-thirds of the time that we’ll ever spend in close proximity with her.
Which is bittersweet: Miranda is a wonderful, wonderful person, but of course she’s a wonderful person who is going to make her own life, who isn’t going to be tied down to Liesl and me any more than we’re tied down to our own parents. Concretely, what it means is that Liesl and I are going to have space to fill in our lives in the not-too-distant future that we’re not at all used to having to fill now.
All sadness about Miranda’s distantly impending departure aside, I’m not at all worried about this: Liesl and I very much enjoy spending time together, we’re hopelessly in love with each other in ways that don’t depend at all on Miranda’s mediation. And having a bit more freedom to explore that sounds nice!
I am curious what will arise out of that freedom, however. How much will we use that space to deepen ties between the two of us (doing the sorts of things we used to do when we were dating, perhaps?), how much will we use that space to deepen ties with other people, how much will we use that space to figure out more who each of us is as an individual?
And it raises questions that I’m not at all used to thinking about. We’ve been living in Mountain View since before Miranda was born; we like it here a lot, and one of the reasons why I’m glad that I left academia is that it let me set down roots sooner rather than later. Recently, though, I’ve been surprised to realize that my roots here aren’t quite as deeply set as I thought: I imagine that we’ll be here indefinitely, and certainly we’ll be here for as long as Miranda is living with us, but there are other cities that I miss, and for that matter I miss the idea of big city life at all to some extent. And there is one particular luminous city that has its hooks in my brain to an extent that I should probably confront at some point; it’s a city that Liesl enjoys visiting but doesn’t feel the same visceral pull towards that I do, which makes exploring that particular attraction a bit more, uh, interesting? than it would otherwise be. Also, as I said above: some of the people I’ve felt closest over the last few years are people I largely know electronically, which raises another set of possible tensions to explore.
A long way off, and I’m certainly not spending too much time thinking about any of the details of how our life will change once Miranda is gone. Liesl and I have done a very good job of constructing our life together so far, and whatever happens in the future will be something that I’ll welcome with open arms. Everything flows, nobody steps into the same river twice; but those rivers have their own coherence, are networks with their own wonderful strength and power.
This post has not been revised since publication.