Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Cohappy Cohabitation

Today, in an uncharacteristic moment of seriousness (oh, wait, we probably were only there for the animated GIFs), my boyfriend and I were discussing this article on Buzzfeed about things you should consider before moving in together.

Now, you should probably know that my boyfriend and I never really, officially, moved in together. We've been a couple for 3 and a half years. Sometime near the beginning of that era, my boyfriend invited himself over to my house and never left. Slowly, his collection of clothing and sporting equipment migrated from his former homes (he is the legal owner of his parents' house and had a lot of stuff there, but was living at his sister's house next door when I met him) to mine. I cleared off a space on my bookshelf for his clothes...then I cleared off a shelf in the linen closet...then I bought a wicker hamper for the clothes that were ending up all over the floor...then I bought him a wardrobe from Ikea.... Now, in the third home we've lived in together, he has his very own man-cave (his clothes are still strewn all over the room that he tells me is mine). But after all this time, his official address is still his parents' house in another city.

The aforementioned little tidbit is only tangentially related to the real subject of this post, which is things that couples should do/expect before they officially move in. We went through the list and concluded we're actually pretty good at living together, despite never having actively made a decision to do it. We fell into most of the habits listed in the article naturally. There were only a few things that really stuck out as something we have done differently or could still do differently.

4. You may fight more at first and that is TOTALLY normal.

Though we are very, very different, Al I, oddly, hardly ever fight. Of course, I whine and complain and occasionally get quite snippy when I've asked him to do something 5 times and his answer is always "I was going to do it." (When? 30 years from now?) But getting to the point where either of us is raising our voice, crying, or so frustrated we feel the need to run away, hardly ever happens. I can think of maybe only 3 times we've ever had a real argument. Does this mean we are just burying our problems? Does it mean that we don't take our relationship seriously? Or does it mean we're just responsible adults who know how to deal with our conflicts in a mature way? I think it mostly comes down to Al's being exceptionally easy-going...but I'm happy to take at least some of the credit if I can.

7. Consider opening a joint bank account and splitting the bills evenly.

Three years into our coexistence, we are still 100% financially independent. We have settled (mostly tacitly) into a system of sharing the expenses that seems to work for us. Sometimes we pay more and sometimes we pay less, but we always pay for the things that matter to us the most. I pay for our housing; Al pays for the utilities. I used to pay all the utilities as well, but when he started turning our home into an electronic wonderland and constantly wanted to fiddle with the thermostat, I asked him to pick up the utility bills (now I just pay for water). When we travel, one of us gets the airfare; the other gets the lodging. Al pays for almost all our food (since he loves to splurge on gustatory experiences), and I pick up the tab when we shop at Rugged Wearhouse and the thrift store (since I'm the holder of the loyalty cards). 
Keeping our finances separate keeps us from arguing. If Al wants to blow his whole paycheck on a slightly larger (already too-large) television...well, it's his money. And if I want to blow my whole paycheck on — well, nothing, because I would never do that! — but if I did, Al wouldn't try to interfere.

14. Get all your pet peeves out on the table ahead of time.

I'll admit it, I'm a peever. Everything annoys me. Everything.* If I had bothered to list out all my pet peeves to my boyfriend before we started dating, we'd probably still be having that conversation today. But today, when I asked him, "Do you have any pet peeves?" he was like, "Yeah! ... I just can't think of any right now." I reiterate, one of Al's best qualities is that he's so easy-going, which makes him a perfect match for someone as high-strung as me. So when I find something is annoying the dickens out of me, I try to remain calm, ask Al to do things differently, and usually he does. Or at least he tries.

17. Talk about your standards for what “clean” is, and figure out a plan for how things around the house will get done.

Cleaning is probably the number-two cause of conflict in our relationship (number one is our differing definitions of punctuality). I like everything neat and tidy and orderly, and Al just doesn't care. He throws his dirty clothes everywhere. He never grooms his dogs or cleans up their fur. I usually pick up after him silently, until the point where I feel like I'm working all the time while he's sitting like a lump playing video games, and then I have a minor fit. This doesn't count as an argument, because he doesn't try to justify his slovenly behavior, and he always makes an effort to clean up after that...but it always happens again. 
I have come to a sort of understanding about this situation—he will mow the lawn** and I'd better just expect to do pretty much everything else (or prepare to do a lot of nagging***). This is not an equal division of labor by far, but he devotes lots of energy and money to finding us fun things to do in our free time, so I have gradually come to the conclusion that in our relationship, I'm the one who keeps the home fires burning, and he's the one who keeps the party going. In fact, that was Advice Point #18: "And while it may be frustrating, don’t expect things to always be 50-50."

35. Last but not least, make sure to hide the Oreos.

This is a funny, trivial little point that was thrown into the article mostly for humor's sake, but oddly enough, it touches on one of the things that has changed in my life significantly since living with my significant other. To understand it, you must understand that I'm a very introverted introvert who's been living in group houses for much of my life. This means that I was fully immersed in a situation that made me uncomfortable pretty much every day. My only retreat from the constant communing was whatever little room I had to call my own. But sometimes an introvert gets hungry. And doesn't want to brave the social gauntlet that can be the trek from the bedroom to the kitchen and back again for some much-needed solitary snacks. So I got in the habit of keeping a stash of food in my bedroom, so I could eat whenever I wanted to without having to worry about seeing other people. When my boyfriend started living with me, he took the place of my housemates, and I very slowly got used to the idea of living with someone I actually felt comfortable with. It felt like kind of a victory when I recently realized I was keeping almost all my food in the kitchen instead of squirreling it away in the "snack drawer" that I still keep next to my desk. I am pleased to have ended up in a relationship where I have no need to hide the Oreos. It helps that my boyfriend seems to have no interest in Oreos.

* Originally this was going to be a post about my peeves, and somehow it has morphed into a dissertation about how my boyfriend and I live.
** On mowing the lawn: I've always held disdain for the way work around the house is divided into "men's" and "women's" jobs. E.g. women do the cleaning, men do the "handy" stuff like changing light bulbs and fixing dripping do the mowing and women do the gardening. I always prided myself on being self-sufficient, and when I shared a home with a male housemate for 3 years, I did most of the mowing and almost all the repairs. Yet my boyfriend has taken quite an interest in the lawn (I'm pretty sure it has a lot to do with the shiny green Ego mower that cost me an arm and a leg). So I let him have his macho chore, because if he's willing to take the initiative to do anything without prompting (I still have to remind him, because he's a procrastinator), I'm all for it! But I still end up doing most of the repairs.
*** On nagging: Once upon a time, in my young idealistic years, I thought I would be the perfect girlfriend/wife—understanding, not demanding, and never the kind of person who gets referred to as a "ball and chain." When I saw women in movies griping things like, "the furnace has been broken for three weeks; when are you going to do something about it?" I cringed inside. If I wanted my furnace fixed, I wouldn't pester my husband to fix it; I'd figure out how to do it myself! Well, as it turns out, even if you can figure out how to fix your furnace yourself, that just means one more task that's been laid on your shoulders. Some task that you're going to do while your lazy other half does absolutely nothing. Some people (cough! Al!), I have learned, are not self-motivated. Some people need a fire lit under them. Unless you want to be doing everything on your own, you might have to be that fire, and learn to practice the fine art of nagging. Believe me, it's not easy. It requires a thick skin and lots of patience, but with a little effort, you can succeed in getting your sometimes-too-easygoing partner to be helpful.