It started with the socks. His socks, one of many pairs that occupy a dresser drawer that was once used solely as a resting place for my collection of black lace bralettes.
He has a habit of putting a pair on before climbing into bed. At some point during the night, he wakes up flushed, furiously tossing the duvet aside and strategically using one foot, then another, to wiggle off each sock before dozing back off.
Come morning, four steps into my disoriented stagger to the Keurig, I am inevitably greeted by a pair of J.Crew microstripes laying sweaty and defeated on the hardwood. I pick them up, drop them in the laundry basket, and start my day.
Everyone has their own version of the sock thing, little quirky tendencies that you often don’t even realize. Until, perhaps, you awake from a deep sleep to find your significant other standing over you, breathing heavily, clutching a pair of your cotton socks between white knuckles. But I digress.
These habits often begin as cute. During the first weeks of my relationship, I moseyed around like a refugee from Coachella, chatting up strangers with a lopsided grin, happy simply because this other human existed. We could have been sleeping in a tent in the woods behind a 7-11 and I would have found it to be an adorable, exciting adventure.
Allow me to insert a quick disclaimer here. As far as boyfriends go, mine is particularly favorable. He is capable of making me giggle — an action I thought impossible for a Wednesday Addams–esque soul like myself. Also, his jawline rivals Henry Cavill’s. His multitude of redeeming qualities are not lost on me.
In May, we signed our names along a dotted line, popped some Veuve, and put our toothbrushes side by side. Spoiler alert: Though his jawline remains dangerously sharp, domesticity is not all pinot and pillow talk. At some point you remember that — unless you’re an upscale escort — there are responsibilities beyond sex and Dexter. There’s a sink full of dishes and beard clippings dotting the quartz countertop. There’s the socks.
There is a certain predisposition that single women sometimes have toward women in a relationship, and vice versa. This concept is nothing new. It was not one I really noticed, though, until my boyfriend and I moved in together. When the reoccurring trail of socks began leaving me nostalgic for my once-solo days, I did what any mature 24-year-old would do and complained about it to my friends.
In response, I felt a hint of weariness I wasn’t familiar with, which I couldn’t help but align with my new domestic partnership. I saw the eyes rolling before I even opened my mouth. I felt compelled to uphold some facade of what life together is supposed to be like, so as not to shatter any daydreams.
A revelation ensued: I suddenly bared the markings of an outsider. I had joined the ranks of nesting 20-somethings; a “we” instead of an “I.” In the eyes of my single girlfriends, I was one click away from Instagraming a picture of monogrammed towels. It seemed, because I now had a hand to undo my zippers, that I better embrace those damn socks. That unless the guy I live with is slaying kittens in his spare time, complaints are null and void. How dare I feel wistful for my days of excess closet space when lonely souls are still out there swiping right or left?
As mid-January brought on shelves of Whitman’s Samplers and life-sized teddy bears, I noticed something else. A themed version of the shade thrown between nesters and non-nesters, in the form of ambiguous comments or social media tidbits.
They were all along the same vein, sepia-toned snaps of Ben & Jerry’s, captioned: “my only Valentine’s Day date, lololololol.” This form of self-pity is oddly celebrated, shared like lipgloss in the bar bathroom. Reverse venting, though? Frowned upon. According to social media analytics, if you have someone to share a subpar tasting menu with on February 14, you are #blessed. To some, it seemed perplexing that I would want to recall the horrors of any semblance of a life I thought I was living before.
I cannot speak for the slew of nesters I see posing together in front of their latest DIY projects, smiling contentedly, as if to say, “Look, I’m okay, I have someone.” Their lives could very well be perpetually Pinterest-worthy, void of reservation. I would be lying if I said I don’t have frequent moments where I am overwhelmed by my love for the person I share a bed with, so much so that I want every last follower to know. I would also be lying if I said I don’t miss sprawling out freely in said bed without being jabbed by a rogue limb.
When we moved in together, I became wistful over things some single women tend to market as pathetic. Having a “dinner” of Doritos alone in bed during Vanderpump Rules did not make me feel as if I were borderline spinster status. For me, coming home to an empty apartment after a torturous day was never a sad reminder that something was missing. I reveled in that silence, in the freedom of not having to find words.
There seems to be shame in these confessions, kindred to admitting defeat. As if by failing to maintain illusory romantic ideals, the union is tarnished. A lapse in properly documented evidence of coupled activities, and your significant other may as well be up for grabs.
At the risk of becoming some sort of Voldemort, burning the relationship scars of single millennials with my ungrateful words, I’ll be candid. I liked the stretches of solitude separated by nights of shared sheets, the thrill of beginnings and endings. I liked the power of being the sole key holder, coming and going without second thought. I often miss the delicious selfishness of my old life.
If I awoke tomorrow to a bare floor, uncluttered by his various trimmings, my first steps would feel unfamiliar. The morning would be uninhabited in a way that may no longer be suited to me. If there is a time after him, I doubt that I will want to know it — but I won’t pretend there wasn’t a time before.