In June of 2011, Aiden (my then-boyfriend) and I signed our first lease together.
“It’s now or never,” we thought, rushing into cohabitation after less than a year of dating. If only I had considered his cracked clear plastic chalice drinkware or realized his attachment to his wardrobe (that consisted mainly of very, very ugly Hawaiian shirts), I might have reconsidered moving in with him so soon. But we were in love with each other and the townhouse we found in the suburbs of Washington, D.C.: three bedrooms, two-and-a-half baths, three levels, end unit with attached garage, patio, pretty dark wood floors, and and and…
So we did what anybody desperate to have a more spacious home would do; we signed a lease and moved in. We had it all, a happy, adorable life, complete with a wood-burning fireplace. From the start, it looked like it would be a good year in our first place together.
But the decline of our happiness didn’t take long. He would hog the TV; I would break things when I got mad at him. He would block the driveway and I would keep him up at night. He would say mean things to me; I would lock myself into the bedroom and tell him to shut up. This went on for months, a testimony to the fact that, put simply, we weren’t ready to be living together.
By February, we had had enough of this and decided to call it quits on each other. Yeah, happy Valentine's Day to you, too.
We were tired of arguing, tired of having to apologize for being ourselves, the selves we didn’t see when we each had our own separate apartments. With four months to go until June, it was official: our relationship had expired before our lease did.
Naturally, one of the first things we discussed was who was going to keep the house. He wanted to stay. I didn’t want to go. It was an ugly situation. We both thought that the “right thing” to do would be to finish our lease together.
A number of factors weighed into that decision: finances, convenience -- plus, who wants to have to move twice within the same year? It was a big enough place, after all.
“Just don’t get mad at me and take off one day,” he said. “That would totally screw me over. And don’t bring any new people over here, okay?” I said yes and he agreed to those same terms.
With that, Aiden moved into the guest bedroom and gained control of our office, and I stayed in the master with the en suite. How hard could it be?
Answer: pretty flippin’ hard.
You see, there were times that we sort of simply forgot that we were no longer dating. Once, I was alarmed when a cabinet door was moving all on its own, and called him in to observe it. (I’m convinced that ghosts are real, OK?) He wrapped his arms around me like he might have done when he was my boyfriend, then, remembering our situation, awkwardly walked away.
And when my cat, Nollie (beloved by all humans), ran away on my birthday, Aiden was right there with me on the search, posting flyers around the neighborhood and opening up the dishwasher and oven just to make sure Nollie hadn’t somehow crawled in there.
More than once, he slipped up and called me “sweetheart” or “cupcake” before remembering that we were no longer coupled up. I guess it felt easy and natural to default into the way we once were when we were together. It was second nature sometimes.
And then there were times that we were painfully aware that we weren’t together anymore, like when I’d get dressed up to go out with friends or the new guy I’d been seeing. I’d come down the stairs in a new dress with my makeup done and he’d see how good I looked, get jealous, and say something like, “Why wouldn’t you ever try to look that nice when we were together?” And he didn’t mean it to be a compliment.
Living with someone you used to love (and still kind of do) is difficult. After I started seeing someone new, I tried to hide it from Aiden, even though I had every God-given right to see whomever I wanted. But I respected him and I didn’t want to hurt his feelings.
In order to spare his ego, I took to making up excuses for why I was traipsing in at 11 the morning after being out with my new guy, though I’m sure my messy hair and day-old outfit kept him from being fooled. I would put my phone on silent when he was home so he wouldn’t have to hear the sounds of the new guy texting me at all hours. It was like I was walking around on eggshells in my own house.
The absolute worst thing about continuing to live with someone after the relationship is finished is that you rob yourself of the time that’s needed to really get over it. You delay that “focus-on-yourself time” during which healing and reflection are supposed to take place, where you develop or get back into a hobby and learn to stand on your own two feet again.
I hate clichés, like when people say, “Hindsight is 20/20.” Same goes for what they say about moving in with someone too soon (and how you’re not supposed to do it). But it’s true. Looking back, I’ve figured out where I went wrong. We didn’t know each other’s takes on such stupid things as how loud is too loud to walk around in the house when not wearing shoes. These things seem completely irrelevant, until you have to live with someone, have to share a house with them, have to have their presence around you 100% of the time.
So word to the wise: Just make sure you’re okay with all of it (literally all of it) being in your face 24/7 before you agree to live with someone for a year. Because you could end up stuck with the foot-clomper after the love is gone.