I cannot believe how fast this summer is going. August is just around the corner which means in two more months Matt and I will have been living in our current apartment for over a year. It will mark 20 months of living together in total. Finally getting to move to the big city has been something that has really positively impacted both of our lives, and it’s also been quite the learning process. As an only child, I have had my own space most of my life, and I’ve had a lot of alone time. I even lived completely on my own for the last three years I went to university and while I missed out on a lot of the social aspects of living with friends, living alone was a great experience for me. I have always been comfortable alone so I wasn’t really nervous about that experience; I can’t say the same about moving in together.
Matt and I had been together for about four and a half years when it came time to start looking at apartments. The process of finding a place and packing up all of our things was stressful enough but it wasn’t nearly as nerve-racking as the idea of actually living together and sharing a space all the time. We had spent a few days together here and there both at home and on vacation but actually having a space that was just ours was something new.
After four and a half years you would think I would have been pretty confident in our ability to figure it out but of course there are a lot of things that you don’t even think about until you’re in the heat of it all, things you’ve done for years that are just part of your nature. For example, I always make my bed in the morning. It’s something I’ve done since I was a kid and it’s a very important part of my routine (a Navy SEAL commander even agrees that it’s a good habit to have). But for Matt it was not something he felt like he had to do and so it was just one of those little things we had to talk about.
Over the last twenty months we’ve had lots of talks about chores, habits, which way the toilet paper roll should face, and a whole bunch of other mundane little things. Navigating a mine field of different routines and opinions has not always been easy, and I will openly admit I’ve started many fights over laundry and the shower head not getting turned off fully. But even with all these fights I feel like I have learned a lot from living together and that’s what I’d like to share with you all today. Whether you’re just moving in with someone (it doesn’t even have to be a partner; it could be a new roommate or a friend) or you’ve been living together for a while, here’s some lessons that have helped us make our little corner of the universe into a happy home. At least, most of the time.
1. Meet in the middle
I’m starting with a big one; this was one of the more challenging things for me because I’m very particular about a lot of stuff. I like the bed to be made, the kitchen to be clean, and for stuff to get done in a timely manner. Matt is much more relaxed and probably couldn’t give a damn whether the bed was made or not. Despite this, if he’s the last one out of the bed in the morning he still takes the time to make it because he knows it’s something I care about. On the other hand, I used to be very particular about dishes not being left in the sink for more than a day but it really wasn’t reasonable on weeks where he wasn’t getting home from work until two or three in the morning. While I wasn’t okay with just stockpiling dirty dishes, I found a way to change my expectations in the fact that we could run the dish washer a lot more often and it would be worth the extra money for the time saved.
I’ve phrased this lesson as ‘meet in the middle’ rather than the usual idea of compromising because I don’t feel like I’m lessening my standards or asking him to completely change his. We’ve talked about our preferences and what we expect in our home and we’ve found a way to bridge any gaps that exist between them. If you have areas that you disagree about it can be useful to find a middle ground rather than just shouting at the other person to change. Be willing to be flexible with your expectations but don’t feel that you ever have to fully rid yourself of them. Be honest about what you want from your home and find ways to make sure you both achieve that.
2. Have your own time
Moving in together means seeing a whole lot more of each other, and while that is nice sometimes it can also be a little bit exhausting. For me, I don’t think there’s anyone I’m truly comfortable being around all the time. It’s perfectly healthy to need your own space and to do your own things. This summer Matt has taken in a lot of Blue Jays games and since I’m not at all interested in baseball it’s been a great way for him to get out and have his own thing with friends and family. I myself have a plethora of things I take off to do on my own or with other people, including day trips with my mom or just daily wanderings around the city.
Even though you’re now living together and you’re likely going to see each other every day, your time does not have to be completely dominated by your partner. It’s important to continue to have your own life outside of them where you can enjoy things separately. Yes, you’re going to do more things together now by the very nature of you being together more often but you can still make plans with other people or even just with yourself. In fact it’s probably pretty important that you continue to do so. Having a break from each other can resolve a lot of conflict and it can make for a happier home.
3. Find ways to be alone together
There will be days when you’re both home with nothing to do. Sometimes it can feel like you then have to find something to do together, whether it’s watching a movie, making dinner, or something else entirely. While it’s nice to have these home date nights, you don’t have to feel the pressure to make that every night. It can be a weird shift from dating someone to living with them because of the fact that time together before might have often been something you always planned something for. But you can’t do that every single day so the shift while living together can be a little different. Some nights you’re both going to be home but that does not mean you have to do something together.
What I’ve found is a real comfort is being able to do your own things while you’re around each other, even if you’re stuck in approximately six hundred square feet with not much room to go your separate ways. Being able to sit beside someone without needing their attention is a skill that makes living together even more enjoyable and relaxing. Some nights you just want to chill and do your own thing, and if your partner can understand that they can do that too then you’ll be much better off. Sometimes you just need alone time but that alone time can come in the form of one of you watching television while the other reads or something along those lines. Sometimes it’s nice just to sit beside each other for a few hours and not even have to say a word.
4. Make the ordinary extraordinary sometimes
On the opposite end of things from the last lesson is the fact that living together means more nights in than ever before. Since Matt and I started dating when I was in University, a lot of our weekends together were actually spent in my apartment because I had to continue to study while he was visiting. Because of this we became pretty used to just having time inside an apartment where we’d do our own thing and then sit down to have dinner together or to watch a movie. It was good preparation for not feeling the pressure of making every single night special but that does not mean only nights out should be the special ones. There are plenty of ways to make evenings at home together something special.
It can be anything from surprising your partner with dessert one evening or just making time to do something fun together. As mentioned in my previous post about Pandemic, board games have become our go to thing. We have a handful of games now that the two of us really enjoy and if we’re looking to spend a few hours actually having a fun time together at home then we’ll set one up.
Whatever you do doesn’t have to be out of this world, the smallest thing can be a nice mix up that allows for a good break in the week. Sometimes it could just be the extra effort of a home cooked meal, or even just how you present that meal. Light a candle, throw on some background music, and just enjoy each other’s company. The little things can become quite special if you allow them to be.
5. Understand that life is rarely 50/50 all the time
I think this is one of the biggest wake-up calls I got. As someone who has always considered themselves quite independent and fiercely feminist it can be a bit discouraging that there is a typical bread winner in our household. It was even more frustrating when I was unemployed and contributing less than a third of what Matt was to expenses. In the beginning I was tracking everything in budget charts, right down to little purchases from the dollar store, and in the end all it did was upset me.
I have come to accept the fact that moving in together did not mean we would be going fifty fifty on everything. And I’m not just talking about money: household chores, the responsibility of planning dates or evenings with friends, the monitoring of bills and finances, and all those other little things that come into play when sharing a home, it just doesn’t split even nicely. At least, it doesn’t for us.
There are weeks where things aren’t so bad, where Matt has the time to take care of the laundry and I manage to do the cooking but other weeks he’s working overtime and I have a few days off where I can pick up the slack. Some weeks I’m pulling sixteen hour days and he’s left to pick my clothes up off the floor because I just couldn’t do it before collapsing into bed. It really varies. Some weeks I carry the house, some weeks he does, and every now and then we’re both there together, keeping things from falling apart. It fluctuates and there’s nothing wrong with that. I’m not a bad feminist because I take the lead on meal planning, and Matt’s not any less of a good partner for not paying for dinner when we go out. We’ve found our own way to balance things and while the scales shift and change all the time, they still work for us. You don’t need to feel bad if you can’t pay exactly half of everything, and you don’t need to create a perfectly even chore list either. As long as you find balances that shift and fluctuate in a way that works for you, it’s fine.
6. Keep dating your partner
In the beginning of moving in together it was very easy to just stay home and do nothing, to allow the weeks to pass us by with work and weariness. Matt stopped asking me out to dinner and I stopped planning adventures for us. We were around each other all the time, why would we need to do more together?
Of course, I realize now that that’s a silly question.
After some time it started to bother me that we weren’t trying anymore. Life had become routine in the worst way. Wake up, go to work, have dinner, go to bed. Some weeks we wouldn’t even see each other because we were working opposite shifts. But despite this we lagged behind on making that special time for each other, or even trying to surprise the other with small gifts or just a hot home cooked meal. We fought about it and it was one of the harder things to get over because it really is easy to just fall into the trap of not trying anymore. But we should have been and it’s something I do my best to remember every day. It’s important to keep trying to put that smile on their face, to surprise them after a long day. Just keep trying.
It can be something as simple as going out for lunch before the other person has to work or something more elaborate like a whole day out with dinner and a show. Whatever it is, don’t stop trying to make those special moments for your partner just because you see them all the time. Try to think back to the beginning of your relationship and how you would do things to impress the other. Those things are still just as important now that you’re living together. Never stop dating the person you love, it’s likely how you started to fall in love with them in the first place.
Even with all this, we still have our disagreements. Old habits can be hard to break and some days the desire to just sit down and do nothing overpowers the desire to help out. Things aren’t perfect and they never will be but things are good and the happy days far exceed the unhappy ones. To me that’s a pretty good start.
As we hopefully renew our lease and get another year here, I’m sure there’ll be a whole new handful of lessons to learn from our own experiences and from others. Do you have any tips of your own of how to manage living together? Is there anything you do in your home to make sure it’s a positive space? As always, please feel free to share in the comments below. I love hearing your feedback and finding out more from people with different experiences. Sometimes that’s the best way to learn.