This is my second go at this, at living with the person I am dating. We aren’t married, we might be eventually, but there’s no promise and there’s no ticking clock on it. Just cohabiting and splitting the rent.
I remember my first time around moving in with someone, and though I felt supported by my family and friends on the decision, I still felt unsure of what expectations to have of myself. I especially did not know how else to really “test” the future of the relationship besides the next step of moving in together. “How else can you really get to know someone?” people would say. It’s true, and we all know it’s true. Even our closest friends may not know all of our strangest habits, the rituals we perform in the secrecy of our room, apartment, or otherwise private living space.
So without making this a diary of my actual current relationship, I thought it would be interesting to collect some of the major questions or concerns I would express to anyone looking at this next step. Twenty-one year old me would have loved to read a list like this, but of course, I didn’t even think of googling it. These are conclusions I’ve come to, and in no way do I think I am done learning all the lessons there are to learn from dating, cohabiting, and truly sharing a life with a person. If this is helpful in any way to someone, I would be incredibly happy. If you are reading this just out of curiosity on my viewpoints on cohabiting, then you are most welcome here as well.
Questions to ask or consider of your partner and yourself:
Does your partner ever annoy you? This may seem harsh, but this is the reality. It is unlikely your significant other will ever not annoy you. Whatever or whenever it is, you should have an actual conversation about it. If it’s something big, then make sure you have enough time and a low energy space to talk things over. It may be something small, for example, I hate whistling. Absolutely cannot stand it, makes me cringe, makes me eyes tense up. This is usually a shorter conversation I have, but I make it clear. I know it’s illogical, I know it doesn’t bother other people, but it really bothers me. Most people do okay changing behavior to not whistling around me.
Do you have fun in the same way your partner does? This is an obvious place to start, and an important thing to consider. What is a Friday night to you? How much time do you need to decompress after work, and does this require you to be alone? Depending on how much time you are already spending on a weekly basis with your partner, you may not even know each other’s habits by the hour like this. It’s a worthwhile conversation to have, not just to compare lifestyles (and lifestyle goals—is your goal to have more time for going out to dinner, or is this not a priority?) but to see if your idea of shared time together matches up with your partner’s.
Can you both finish an argument? Somewhere I read how important it is for someone to be good in an argument. By this, I don’t mean the art of arguing, or being able to manipulate words into a win. I mean: Can you keep being an active listener even in the most upsetting argument? No one is perfect, but analyzing how you individually argue and how your relationship arguments tend to go will be crucial in creating boundaries within a shared living space. Do you usually need an hour or two alone to cool down from an argument? How will you handle this when every room you have is also your partner’s room? If it feels awkward to talk about worst-case scenarios like this, perhaps a shared living arrangement will not be the best arrangement. Unless you are moving into a castle that could temporarily be split in two.
Expectations of domesticity. Gender roles aside, someone will be making dinner. Someone will also be cleaning dishes. Honestly I wouldn’t recommend any couple move into a place without a dishwasher. It’s just a set up for dish-arguments, and nobody wants those. Get a dishwasher, divide the chores, done. I think the food arguments– who buys groceries, who cooks, who clears the table– end up being defined by schedules. When you and your partner are on different schedules, it’s easy to make assumptions about what “could” be completed by the time you get home. No matter how you want to divide things up, you’re going to have to talk about it. There may be agreements in writing, or even a little whiteboard on the fridge where you can trade off making dinner. Something that has taken me a long time to learn is that no matter how small, petty, or awkward I think the conversation is going to be, both parties (myself and my partner) tend to benefit when the conversation happens before and not after tensions flare.
Along the same topic, another line I’ve often heard is to pick your battles. I mentioned how I hate whistling above. I can fully own that this is a small thing I make big by being completely incredibly unreasonably enraged by it. (Ahhh!!!) If I also ‘hate’ ten other small behavioral things my partner does, I will have to pick which one or two I truly cannot deal with. I’ve found if you throw too many rules (also known as expectations) on a partner, they will not only feel overwhelmed but will also feel unmotivated to change because my numerous requests will begin to feel unreasonable and un-tiered. Whistling I hate, towels on the floor I hate, but T-shirts folded “incorrectly”? I can live with that. Hangers going in different directions in the closet? I can live with that.
Finally, a point that may seem so obvious it’s not worth mentioning… Rent money and worst case scenarios. Getting that two bedroom two bath, or renting that small house with a yard may seem do-able when both partners pitch in a part of their paycheck. But what happens if someone wants out. To list all the numerous ways that money, yearly salaries, and rent can effect the power dynamics within a relationship could easily take up a few pages. Instead I’ll leave it at this: Consider what you both will do if it’s not working.
Decide on a plan now. Decide who ‘really’ owns the couch, who would stay and who would find a new place. Being on the extremely strict grad student budget, I knew there was no way I could be comfortable taking on the extra financial responsibility of a two-bedroom apartment. I would be unable to make the rent myself should the worst case scenario happen, and I would be very unhappy in an environment where I was forced to get a Craigslist roommate when I would prefer solitude.
Living by myself without roommates has been an amazing experience. I really enjoyed painting my apartment, figuring out the furniture, and being in total control of organizing my kitchen. But for me, for right now in life, the many perks that come with being in an equal partnership (I call it my 50/50) I can ‘live’ with giving up some of that control in exchange for someone who understands when I want to sit on the couch listening to the same song for three hours straight, who doesn’t care if I take twenty minute showers, who will read drafts of my stories, walk Meeko when I work late, and even, sometimes, make me dinner.