The friends I’ve made in Houston fall into two distinct categories — the single people who rent apartments in the area inside and around Interstate 610, otherwise known as the “Loop,” and the young married people who buy homes. Most of my friends are in the second category and there is no overlap between the two. None of my friends here have children yet, but the first step from marriage to family seems to be dogs, which leads to the necessity of a yard and house. However, the thing about being young and looking for a house in Houston is that you don’t really look in Houston. Homes in nice parts of the city easily start at $500,000. Those of us who aren’t making bank by working for one of the many oil companies here instead look in the suburbs — for example, Sugarland, Katy, Cypress, or where we ended up, Pearland.
When Eric and I started dating in Tulsa, we both lived in student housing on our university’s campus. We became engaged before my last year of school, and during my senior year we rented a house together nearby, in an area that I never would’ve considered without him because it was the “shady” part of town. It felt grown-up and somewhat unconventional coming from my traditional background, to be living with my fiancé, but I never was comfortable in our renthouse. It may have been the rats that plagued that neighborhood (we named ours Oreo after he devoured a full package of Oreos left on the counter one night), or the fact that I awoke on the morning of my 22nd birthday to a gunshot from a domestic dispute down the street. When we made plans to move to Houston two months after our wedding, I was excited to move on to the next stage of our life. I was also apprehensive at the prospect of living near one of the largest cities in the United States.
Compared to Tulsa, Houston was overwhelming, and the Interstates we had to take if we wanted to drive into the city itself were terrifying. We knew we couldn’t live in the city, because the houses were too expensive and apartments didn’t offer enough room for the high-energy dog we’d adopted in Tulsa. After the long process that buying a house entails, I comfortably settled into the suburb of Pearland, where I could drive to the grocery store or the movie theater without facing city traffic. Occasionally, Eric and I drove into Houston for a change of pace, but he always did the driving and the city was so massive that I had no sense of where anything was. It still felt foreign to me.
When I got a job in the city, it took a week or two of very stressed driving, but I finally started to relax. I got to know the Houston landscape along with the unique stores and restaurants there. Suddenly, I saw the distance between my house in Pearland and the energy of Houston as a disadvantage. I was jealous of my single friends and their city apartments. Since I’ve never lived in an apartment myself, I felt like I was missing out. My friends who live in the city always seem surrounded by so much life and energy. They can be spontaneous without driving for 30 minutes. They can go home on their breaks to walk their dogs or eat lunch. They have easy access to restaurants besides suburban staples like Chili’s and shops besides Target. While my friends with apartments are jealous of the square footage of my house, I’m jealous of their easy access to the things I’ve grown to love about Houston.
While I envy my friends the faster pace of their lives in Houston, part of me accepts that apartment life isn’t something I’ll try for myself. I married someone who is big, tall and loves his space. We have two dogs now and one is a Siberian Husky who’s taken over our backyard. She would be miserable without it and we would be miserable without her, and honestly, seeing my family so happy where we are makes our house feel like home to me. I don’t love our neighbors, but I know that we would have neighbors in the city and that some of them would be just as obnoxious as the grass-height sticklers in our homeowners’ association.
The truth is that if I wanted to, I could be living in an apartment right now. Part of adulthood is making choices about the lifestyle you want. I chose to live in a suburb with my husband because I want everything that a life with him promises. Settling down in a house that can hold all of our stuff, our dogs and maybe eventually a baby feels more permanent than a place where a lease expiring and rent going up could mean we would move again after only a year. That feeling makes our house in Pearland the first place that feels like home to me in a decade of more transient living before and during college. In spite of my fantasies about what life in the city could be, I know the reality would include losing the feeling of stability that I love about this place. There are precious things about our life in Pearland and anytime I want to go out for drinks downtown, they’re only an Interstate drive away.