"I promise you, I will never, ever want that wagon wheel coffee table."
My boyfriend and I are moving in together soon and while I am super excited, I also feel a little unprepared. I've never lived with someone before! I was hoping you guys could give me some advice on the matter. So my question is; If you could go back in time to before you first lived with someone, what advice would you give yourself?
Thanks x 10000000,
Emily sent the above letter from a reader to the xoJane crew and I was all over it because a) I'm coming up on my one year living together anniversary with the mostly greatest boyfriend on earth and b) Oh, how I wish I'd had the foresight to ask for advice waaay back in the day when I first moved in with the worst boyfriend of all time.
So first, Dear Reader, I commend you on being smart enough to realize what a BIG move moving in really is. As the New York Times recently emphasized in the op-ed "The Downside of Cohabitating Before Marriage" many American couples simply "slide" into cohabitating, effectively making a non-decision about a very, very important decision:
Moving from dating to sleeping over to sleeping over a lot to cohabitation can be a gradual slope, one not marked by rings or ceremonies or sometimes even a conversation. Couples bypass talking about why they want to live together and what it will mean.
Touche, touche. It took me three months to figure out who to room with freshman year but all of three minutes to say "Um, yeah sure okay" when my college boyfriend suggested we just share his one-bedroom in Harlem. To make a long story short, the whole thing ended epically bad. Turned out homeboy was a nut. And for my part? I was naive.
I was 19 years old and just sort of testing the waters of seriousness whereas he, at a very old-seeming 22, was ready to put a ring on it right after I rustled up my degree. We never discussed this massive imbalance in expectations until it was too late to talk any lower than a scream. Supposedly one of the hardest things to do after moving in, is moving out.
When I walked out of our former love nest one last time with a box of pictures of my friends -- pictures he'd doused with "water" -- I tried to be civil. But before I could turn to say a final goodbye, he pushed me down the stairs and then slammed the door on my flying back.
"Just get the fuck out then," he shouted in an octave that can only be described as hurt. I landed on my feet -- literally -- stunned and relieved. Mostly relieved. Yeah, this isn't a happy story.
But there is hope, promise!
An artistic rendering of me staring longingly at my main squeeze
After 10 years of "never again" responses when asked about the likelihood of me sharing my sacred space with anyone other than Miles the Magnificent Pug Psychiatrist, I met my main squeeze. A man who I can honestly say turned my self-centered world view on its head.
That is to say, now it's the two of us (three counting Miles) and I've had to dig deep past my only-child tendencies to embrace the chaos of other people's shit. It's fantastic, frightening and mostly very fun.
But none of that is to say living together is easy just because I'm a) older b) have more sense and c) know how to ask someone to do dishes. Living together is hard work. In fact, in my opinion it should be just as hard as being married to someone.
To quote the Times pieces once again: "The best time to work on someone’s marriage is before he or she has one." Or to put it in 21 century "not everyone wants to get married" terms, the best time to work on your serious "we live together" relationship is before your cohabitator invades.
So here's my totally makeshift, experience-driven and absolutely unscientific Moving In Checklist. This is also me assuming you've plowed through the important stuff like who's paying for what (halfsies or some other fraction), who's handling the bills (i.e., actually pressing submit or smacking on a stamp) and who's doing stuff like dinner, the dishes, the laundry, etc.
Put your name on the lease
Moving into someone else's space is tricky both emotionally and legally. Never let anyone, no matter how cute they are in the morning, hold your housing in their hands. I've known too many smart women with jobs who ended up effectively homeless when a relationship ended. And on a brighter note ,when the two of you are both on the lease then you both feel equally empowered to make decisions about the mansion/apartment/shack/house (remember MASH?).
Get a storage unit
Remember the "stupid, wagon wheel, Roy Rogers, garage sale coffee table" Jess wanted to keep when he moved in with Marie in "When Harry Met Sally"? Just avoid the fight and store all of his (or your) hideous crap out of sight. Plus, you don't need redundant furniture. If someone's life-sized Darth Vader wax figure is too sentimental for Craigslist but also too ugly to exist, then swath that bad boy in bubble wrap and ship it off to the 10 x 10 that time forgot.
You do this a lot sans rooming but convos not of the "who needs to do x, y and z" variety can fall by the wayside once folks have sides of the bed. And yes, talking always makes things better. Despite being a writer on most days, I hate talking about things like my feelings directly to the person I have them for. I can never find the words and I feel awkward and dorky -- like how if your favorite singer sang you a love song. The whole time I'm thinking, Where do I look? What to do with my hands?
Thankfully my love life is not a live action episode of "Glee." When there's a problem, it only makes sense to sit down and talk it out with the person you see the most, the person you care enough about to live with. But "We need to talk" is the worst. I usually open with "Can you listen to me right now?" It's weird, but it works.
Go on dates.
I don't know how or when people with spawn highjacked the term "date night," but it's for everybody. Date Night for all!!! When you move in together, the trajectory usually follows a clear line from high "Holy shit you're still here" type glances in the steamy bathroom mirror and then quickly devolves into, "Yep, still here" sighs from the front door. Remedy this by getting out of the damn house on a regular basis. There's a reason your mom demanded you "go out and play" for a while after school -- stir crazy is a thing. And it can kill the sex. Also, have sex (if that's your thing).
Manage your expectations
This check is two-fold. Firstly, don't think living together will transform your couch into a magical island of psychedelic fun. It's still a couch. What makes the mundane stuff of your single life even better in your doubled-up life is the act of being in a fun, committed "thing."
Also manage your expectaions by checking in with yourself. Ask if you're still on the same page with your partner? If you're still enjoying the relationship? Are you smiling 7 times out of 10 when your main squeeze turns his key or is that sound more akin to nails on a chalkboard?
Living together is a leap. Whether you land on your feet, in his lap or on your BFF's couch three months later is entirely up to the two of you. But waking up in the morning to your favorite face (aside from your own, of course) is seriously the gift that keeps on giving.
And I know I'm not the only one in the xoJane peanut gallery with strong opinions on the whole cohab confab. Add your dealbreakers and makers to the list folks, I wanna make sure I'm doing this thing right, too.