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What Living Together Can Teach You About Your Partner

For one couple, cohabitation was a lesson in giving each other space
by Marla Miniano | Jun 26, 2017
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I’d heard all the horror stories.

I don’t remember how my boyfriend asked me to move in with him, and when. All I know is that one day, it was understood that we would no longer be renewing our leases on our respective apartments, and that one weekend would be set aside for house hunting. It didn’t make sense to finally pool our resources and make the big cohabitation leap, until suddenly it did. Why were we renting separate places when we were always hanging out with each other anyway? Wouldn’t it be nice to no longer have to worry about whether or not the other person got home safely? Wouldn’t it be nice, simply, to wake up together every day?

Still, the horror stories flashed through my head. I knew a couple of five years who broke up a few months after they’d started living together. A friend of a friend warned me about piles of dirty laundry and stacks of crusty dishes, and how a toilet seat perpetually riddled with pee stains can slowly chip away at your sanity. Another friend bluntly put it, “Mag-aaway kayo. Make sure you’re ready.”

I felt that I was. We both did. And for the most part, we were right. We would be kind to each other, we promised. Take things one day at a time.

Last December, we moved into a two-bedroom apartment that fit our collective, accumulated junk perfectly, with just enough room to spare. It came with a quaint, airy kitchen and a built-in breakfast counter for two, and in the mornings the windows flooded the whole place with warm, golden light. It seemed like it had been waiting patiently for us.

I, too, waited. I waited for the fighting to take over. I waited for the bickering over household chores and grocery lists and time spent in the bathroom. By the two-month mark we hadn’t clawed each other’s eyes out yet. Was it safe to breathe a sigh of relief? By the three-month mark we were engaged—the proposal was one for the books, literally, taking place in a library in Singapore and ending up with us getting kicked out for making too much noise. Back home, when the fights did materialize, they weren’t about cooking and cleaning and taking out the trash. They were fights we would have had even if we hadn’t moved in together, and fights that were ultimately necessary in getting to know one another. And since we were sleeping under one roof, they had to be resolved sooner rather than later (by sneaking into the guest bedroom where the other had previously, dramatically stormed off to at the height of the argument, mumbling an apology, then snuggling sheepishly underneath the covers), because what was more jarring and disconcerting than being angry at someone who lived in your own house?

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Full disclosure: this story was supposed to be a listicle, a dossier of cohabitating do’s and don’ts written by a woman intended to remind the men who visit this site to put their used bacon briefs in the basket, to offer to clean the bathroom once in a while, and to WIPE DOWN THAT DAMN TOILET SEAT, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD. But this woman got defensive. Won’t a list of what to do and what not to do sound pretty much like nagging? Because a nagger is one of the last things a woman wants to be known as. A nagger calls to mind unflattering images of a stereotypical wife in a daster with her hair up in rollers and her panties in a bunch, one hand on her hip and another brandishing a rolling pin. A nagger is a sore sight and sound. And a nagger is often ignored. That’s why she doesn’t stop nagging. It’s a vicious cycle.

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I don’t want to be a nagger. Which is why I didn’t write the list. Which is why, when my fiancé and I finally figured out a household routine that works, we let things fall into place quietly. A routine means you never have to constantly remind or be reminded. A routine means it’s automatically understood that when one person cooks dinner, the other one will scrub the pots and pans and haul the garbage out. A routine means you’ve synced your internal schedules enough to be able to spend as much time as you need getting ready every morning and still get both your asses to work on time. A routine means you can go home, plop down on the same bed, and do your own thing in peace, whatever it is that relaxes you after a long day—usually Netflix for him, online shopping for me. A routine, as prosaic and unassuming as it may seem, means you gather enough room to let each other breathe, physically and emotionally. And how do you build this routine? You take care of each other. I wish I had more complex advice to offer, but maybe that’s really all there is to it. You make an effort to take care of each other until it comes naturally. Until it feels like home.

I was ready to live the horror stories. I was ready for the piles of dirty laundry and stacks of crusty dishes. I was ready for the fighting, the raised voices and slamming doors. What I wasn’t ready for was the irony that sharing a space would teach us, gently, gradually, but masterfully—the way warm, golden sunlight streams into our living room every morning—to give each other space.

Well, that and waking up to a stewing fart trapped in a blanket. But let’s take it one day at a time.

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