How to Cohabit Without Killing Each Other
Living with people can be really hard in general, but living with the person you’re in a relationship with offers up some very specific challenges – keeping the romance alive, negotiating touchy issues like money, divvying up household duties, etc. I’ve been wanting to write a post on how to successfully cohabit with your boyfriend/girlfriend, based on my own experiences. I’ve lived with four boyfriends – that actually sounds like quite a lot, seeing it in print – and the first three went something like this …
#1: The time I thought it would be a great idea to move in with my boyfriend who was 11 years older than me – and also my boss at the time. He turned out to be a womanizing drug addict and our breakup happened to also coincide with one of the most depressing times of my life.
#2: The time I moved in with a guy who I’d never really dated – we’d met in high school, hung out a few times as adults, then decided after I finished grad school we were obviously meant to be together and promptly moved into his 500 square foot apartment. When that wasn’t working out, we thought it might help to move across the country together to Portland, Oregon. And when – surprise! – that actually didn’t help anything at all, he packed his stuff and left while I was at work one day, giving me the pleasure of coming home to a goodbye note on the counter by the half-full, still warm coffeepot. Did I mention he’d texted me earlier in the day to ask what we should eat for dinner that night? It’s a fun story to tell now, but at the time, not so enjoyable.
#3: The time I moved to another city for someone I’d only ever dated long-distance, only to realize we were more in “like” than “love” with each other. This relationship wasn’t nearly as crazy as my prior two, and we’re on good terms now.
Suffice it to say I haven’t historically had the best judgment. When my current boyfriend, Justin, and I started dating, I was really gun shy about moving in, while he was a bit more optimistic than me, having never lived with anyone before. We waited about a year and discussed things in detail to make sure we were on the same page before we took the plunge – and I’m happy to report that for the last year and a half, it’s been going really well. So, to rephrase Kevin Hart, I’d like you all to learn from my pain. Here are some tips I think have made this fourth time a charm for me; I also interviewed my boyfriend to get his perspective as a first-timer.
Part I: My advice
- Before you decide to move in together, make sure you really date. Most of my prior live-in heartaches could’ve been avoided if I would have taken the time and patience required to date someone through several seasons and pay attention to any potential red flags. It’s easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of a new relationship, but it takes time to really know someone else.
- Take a vacation out of town together to get a sense of how you’ll deal with sharing a space.
- Talk about money! This one is huge. Will you split everything down the middle, or will one person pay more based on what you earn? Nothing breeds resentment faster than people feeling like they’re being taken advantage of or like the other person isn’t pulling his/her weight. I’m pretty crazy these days about budgeting due to some previous financial disasters, so I probably take this one a little too far, but I always want to be clear about money and the associated expectations.
- Hash out your desires about long-term relationship goals: Do you want to get married? Do you want kids? Justin and I share similar views on marriage and children. I don’t recommend moving in as a strategy to change someone’s mind on these issues.
- Consider waiting a while. My opinion is that moving in works best after your mid 20’s, when you have a stronger sense of who you are and are more likely to grow in the same direction as your partner. I changed so much between the ages of 18-25, I can’t imagine having dated the same person throughout all of that time.
- Talk about where you are going to live. If one of you is moving into the other person’s house, be really clear about how you’re going to merge your belongings. Make sure you feel comfortable with whatever decisions are made, because there’s nothing worse than feeling like you’re a guest in your own home or like you have to ask permission because it was his/her house first.
- Once you move in, continue to take time for self-care and activities, like you did in your single/non-cohabiting life. (See: my post on why you should always make time to date yourself.) But also: make time to keep dating each other! Don’t just become roommates.
- Be considerate, communicate, and meet in the middle. You’re not always going to get your way, but try to speak up about things that really matter to you so your partner knows about them.
- Breaking up when you live together is really hard. Obviously it’s doable, since I’ve done it three times, but it sucks so much worse than a normal breakup. It’s what I imagine a divorce would feel like. You’re ripping apart your home life, sorting through all of your mutual belongings, and most likely having to move to a completely new home and re-orient yourself. It’s not easy, so moving in is a decision I would think about for a while.
Ultimately, I believe most of the work in achieving a good home life lies in doing work on yourself – learn to fight fair, know and recognize your weaknesses, and don’t stop evolving as a person. My personal biggest lesson has been to realize that my feelings and problems are always my own responsibility and no one else’s. Not expecting my boyfriend to fix my mood or read my mind may sound like common sense, but it took me years to get here.
Part II: I got to interview my boyfriend (again!)
So, first of all, I like living with you. You’ve never lived with a girl before me, and when we started dating, you were pretty much living in a bachelor’s paradise. Were you nervous at all about moving in together?
J: No, not really. At that point, we were spending so much time together that the commuting was more stressful than the idea of moving in together. When you stayed with me, you were waking up early in the morning to haul out your bag of stuff, or I was running across town to get ready for work.
A big concern of mine was always being able to display my paintings and I noticed in your old apartment you had a lot of blank wall space, so I knew that would work out. It’s nice knowing that we now have a shared space where we can spend time together and still do our own thing, kind of like a home base.
What’s your favorite thing about living together?
I like being able to come home, relax, and have a home-cooked meal with you. It feels like we are building our lives together, and it’s nice to be able to wake up next to you every day.
And your least favorite thing?
*insert awkward silence here as he pretends he can’t think of anything*
Um, it sucked anyway when I lived alone, but I’d say having someone tell you that you need to clean up or do dishes is the worst thing. When you clean on your own terms, it can be kind of nice, but it feels like more of a chore when someone reminds you to do it.
In general, sometimes conforming to someone else’s needs can be challenging, but it just takes coming to a mutual compromise. Ultimately, I think that makes the relationship stronger.
Do you feel like moving in with me has changed the relationship in any way?
Yeah, it’s definitely brought us closer together. We adopted a cat together after we moved in, so now we’re like this little family. We also have more of an understanding of each other, beyond the front that people put on when they first start dating.
When you share a space with someone, it can feel weird sometimes. For example, you have to ask and make sure your partner is okay with you having guests over. But I don’t think those things have been a huge deal for us.
What practical advice would you give a couple who’s about to move in together?
Not giving up your life to move in with someone is important. By the time you’re 30, you’ve probably lived on your own for more than 10 years, so you’re used to your own habits. You have to understand that now you’re going to be in someone else’s space, and you’ll have to adjust to that person and meet in the middle. Like, you’ve very clean and organized and more of a minimalist, and I’m a hoarder of flea market scores and art inspiration. So I have to be able to have those things, but it also needs to not be overwhelming for you.
I also think if you can work it out, having a day off to spend time together is really good. That’s worked well for us.
Listening Party: Nic x Yen
This week’s music picks from my collaborative playlist with my friend Jenn; click here to listen on Spotify.
- “Meet the Frownies” – Mr Twin Sister
- “Bros” – Wolf Alice
- “Station” – Låpsley
- “Nightcall” – London Grammar
- “All You Had To Do Was Stay” – Ryan Adams
- “1999” – Active Child
- “I Can’t Sleep” – Still Corners
- “Being Boring” – Pet Shop Boys