Expectations vs. Reality: Living in Sin

“Ooooh, I guess things are gettin’ pretty serious, huh?”

If you are preparing to move in with your sig-o, get ready to hear that every day of your life for the foreseeable future.

But what the heck does that even mean… “Things are gettin’ pretty serious”? In the year 2013, what qualifies as a “serious enough relaysh” that you’d consider moving in together? Only you and your guy/gal can accurately answer that question. It’s different for everybody, so this won’t be a discussion about how to know if it’s the right move. But whether you’re gearing yourself up to put a ring on it or cruising along at a gentler pace, one thing remains constant: living together changes (almost) everything. You might not expect it to, especially if you’ve practically been living together the entire time you’ve been dating. But, as one half of a couple that just took a jaunty stroll down this road, here are a few realities of the situation that might differ a smidge from your expectations.

The actual physical moving of apartments was rather eye-opening for me. I think I’ll start with that. Moving day is about as relaxing as that moment when your best friend just became a zombie, and you must decide whether or not to blow his head off because in about five seconds he’s going to eat your face. Moving is a dangerous dance! It’s likely you’ve never seen your sig-o handle stress of this kind before. Our move went a little something like this: we decided to do it ourselves, with friends and a U-Haul. Except, in the end, only one super-dedicated friend actually stuck with us the whole day, the U-Haul rental place was far away and threw off our whole schedule, and we were not as well-packed as we thought we were. A mattress was thrown off a balcony. Things of a somewhat vile variety were uttered. So… my advice for the big day? Fork over the cash, and hire a moving company. Really. U-Haul often tacks on all kinds of extra fees anyway, so in the end it’s not that much cheaper. If you hire movers, you can focus on the excitement of your first awesome apartment together instead of: “Hey, Liz, please don’t hold that chair like you have 6-inch T-Rex arms, the legs are going to—!”“Uhh, do we have a hot glue gun? The legs of this chair all fell off.”

But if you do decide to DIY, take comfort in this: if your relationship comes out of moving day intact, it can probably survive anything!

Something else I wasn’t quite expecting was the fact that just because we liked each other, it would not necessarily mean we liked each other’s stuff. Once we got through the move and started putting things in their proper places, there were several instances of, “Oh… wait, we’re hanging that? On an actual wall in our actual home?” When we lived in our respective apartments with roommates, we always had our own rooms—spaces that were completely our own. But now, for the first time ever, the entire space was shared space. The solution in this case is simple, but it requires patience. Over time, invest in nice, new things that you both like. If you’re not lucky enough to have your tastes perfectly align, I recommend having a joint “cool new shit” fund. It doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg, either. Go to the flea market together and get an antique desk or a funky painting (then do as I do, and go home and watch Flea Market Flip for 3 hours and proclaim, with bloated self-confidence, “We could totally make that table, why aren’t we on this show?!”).

Which obviously leads me to this addendum: Definitely try to make some of this stuff if you’re crafty types! In the end, you might have to make a few concessions. But focus on getting new stuff together, instead of stewing over how much you know he/she loathes your antelope-shaped candelabra (yeah, that’s mine).

Also, speaking of joint purchasing ventures: maybe you were expecting the money questions to kind of answer themselves, or that you’d both be impeccable about splitting all household expenses evenly. But you need to chat about it. My philosophy is 50/50, all the way—on everything from the cable bill to groceries, no matter which person the food “belongs” to (so this means, yes, I spend just as much on his ground beef as he does on my veggie burgers and tofu). But definitely have an honest conversation about your finances before you move. If one of you is a little more solvent than the other, that’s okay. Maybe you agree on 70/30 or 60/40. But whatever you decide, have a mathematical layout and stick to it. It’s easy to get sloppy with that kind of thing, but it’s also the thing most couples wind up fighting about!

Another notable change is the sharing of people. Two-Buck-Chuck-Ladies-Night-In will take on a different form. As will five-hour Xbox/Chipotle-scarfing marathons. Your single-social behavior is going to change, which is weird, right? It’s not like either of you were “single” before this. But now, when you have friends over, even if you have the space for each person to operate independently, you may feel it’s necessary to try to include one another. And that’s great! I love when the important people in my life get to know one another better. My heart is easily warmed by everybody getting on like peanut butter and jelly. But I definitely wasn’t expecting this change in the social atmosphere. Now every friend visitation is pre-examined, case-by-case. If my best girlfriend needs to drink half a bottle of wine and give me a very graphic play-by-play of her latest sexcapade, I will suggest a trip to the bar instead of inviting her over, as was our usual M.O. when I was living alone.

This accomplishes two things: firstly, it stops you from inadvertently making your sig-o feel like they’re intruding just because they’re there. Sloppy secondly, it gets you the hell out of the apartment, which leads me to another unexpected possible side effect of co-habitation. “Co-Hermitation,” I like to call it. It happens to pretty much everybody. It’s totally normal. You’re together, so you’re being social even if you’re staying in. It’s a scientific fact. But if you can break the cycle now and then, have at it!

Now, here’s the thing that I think is the biggest expectation-buster of them all. And, a lot of the time, it could be an expectation that other people have imposed upon you because you made this decision. But here’s the thing: moving in together is an enormous sign of commitment. Yes. But there’s a reason you signed a lease instead of a marriage certificate. Living together might be a step in that direction, but if you ask me (which you sort of did because you continued to read up until this point!), moving in with someone you love should be treated as the ultimate personal experiment. You did it because you wanted to be 30000% sure that this is the right person for you, and there are certain things you’ll only understand about your relationship and the “rightness” of it if you’ve lived with this person. That’s what you needed, so that’s what you decided to do. Not everybody needs this “experiment.” Your parents may not have needed it (as they might endlessly point out to you). But this is the 21st century and, more often than not, this is how we roll as adult people who love each other.

However, let it be known that if this experiment does not meet your expectations, if something changes and this relationship no longer makes you happy, living together does not have to mean that you’re in-it-to-win-it for life. Try to make it work. Try and try again, dammit. Not every day is going to be a rollicking honeymoon. But in the end, if it’s just not meant to be, don’t let anyone guilt you into treating it like a divorce. You moved in with this person so you’d know what they’re really all about. And that’s exactly what you came out of it understanding. I SALUTE YOU if this is you presently or if it ever has been you.

Now, I don’t want to leave anyone feeling sad, because who would I be if I did that? Sheesh. So before I sign off, here are a few more hints, practical or otherwise, that you may or may not find useful in your newfound co-habitative bliss:

  • If you have pets, then guess what: your girlfriend/boyfriend also inherited said pets. You may have said things like, “I promise, the dog is mine, you don’t have to clean up after him or feed him or anything, he’s just gonna exist in the house.” But if you all exist in this household together, man and beast, it’s highly likely that that animal will become a greater shared entity than you expected, for better or worse. So, like… definitely make sure the dog isn’t keen on pooping in his/her shoes.
  • If the fact that she throws wet towels on the bed after a shower makes you rage, for the love of God, just tell her! She probably doesn’t even know she’s doing it, okay? Old habits die hard. It’s a hard knock life, living alone. Nobody tells you not to do this kind of stuff!
  • Same goes for cleaning in general. If you have a different definition of the word “clean,” you should probably come to grips with it and find a harmonious happy medium. People like slobs just about as much as they like that OCD 6 am vacuumer.
  • Two TVs or no TV. I’m so serious. One in the bedroom and one in the living room or none at all! I think everybody appreciates what I mean by this!
  • And one more thing, coming at you from the bed where I currently sit, battling a sore throat that I’m convinced is morphing into flu symptoms minute-by-minute: get familiar with each other’s sick day behavior. People usually treat sick people how they want to be treated when they’re ill, whether that’s with 24/7 doting or with a suck-it-up-hands-off approach. As I sit here contemplating whether or not I want to get up and make some honey-lemon tea, I wonder whether or not he knows that I might want somebody to make it for me. Hmmmm.

Stay tuned for next month’s article on how to maximize your sickness sympathy potential (a beginner’s guide).

Photo by Sara Slattery

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