10 Things I Wish I Knew Before We Moved In TogetherHow to prepare for living with a significant other—emotionally, materially, and financially.Published: December 13, 2019
Moving in with my boyfriend was one of the easiest decisions I’ve ever made. After a year and a half of dating, we’d gotten to the point where so much of our lives were already merged that the natural, seemingly inevitable next step was living together.
Actually doing it, however, was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. As much as we’re attuned to each other’s needs, communicate honestly and frequently, and give each other the benefit of the doubt, the experience tested the limits of our patience, empathy, and capacity for teamwork. In hindsight, I underestimated the significance of moving in together and overestimated my ability to compromise and collaborate.
That’s not to say it was a disaster. It was challenging, but it was also fun, gratifying, and incredibly worthwhile. In learning to live with him (which is still very much a work in progress), I’m learning to live better with myself—to listen to my needs, address what needs to change, and embrace the imperfections I can’t change. Read on for what I’ve learned, in no particular order.
Pick your battles.
I received this advice from a coworker, and I dismissed it at first. (I had the naive vision that my boyfriend and I would see eye-to-eye on everything… Ha.) I’m slowly coming to accept that no matter how many times I force him to watch black-and-white Cary Grant films, he’s not going to enjoy himself. And that just because I jump up to clean my plate the second I’m finished eating doesn’t mean he will—or should—do the same. Deciphering between what warrants a compromise and what doesn’t is tricky, but avoiding the exercise altogether is a recipe for resentment.
Rome wasn’t built in a day, and your apartment shouldn’t be, either.
As a to-do list maniac, I have a hard time taking a breath until all tasks in front of me are complete. This propensity is great for short-term projects: writing an article, planning a birthday party, getting through errands on a Sunday afternoon. What it is not ideal for is putting together an apartment, especially with a partner. My boyfriend is much more methodical than I am, which I mostly find awe-inspiring, but sometimes find infuriating. In the interest of working together, I have had to slow down and breathe much more frequently than I would normally. And you know what? I think it’s yielded much better results than every other time I’ve gone on an Amazon tear in a fit of impatience. Apparently, spending more than five minutes picking cutlery means you end up with—wait for it—perfect cutlery.
Speak up when you’re frustrated.
Your partner is not inside your head. You know that little thing they do that sort of irritates you but seems too small to bring up? They’re going to keep doing it, and it’s going to keep annoying you. Fast-forward six months and a silly disagreement over where to go for dinner has morphed into a big fight. Do your relationship a favor and say something now (nicely!).
When it comes to cleaning, a strict 50/50 divide isn’t always feasible.
It was relatively easy to delegate housekeeping duties when I lived with roommates and there was minimal shared space to clean. We had a system and a schedule for the common areas, and then we handled our private rooms however we pleased. Now that I live with a partner, the delineation between individual responsibilities is much less obvious. Since we cook and eat most dinners together, should we always do the dishes together? I would have said “yes” before moving in with him, but now that we’ve lived together for a few months, I’m going to say, “it depends.” Some nights, one of us does more of the cooking, so the other one takes on the brunt of the dishes. When there’s not that many dishes, sometimes we leave them until the next meal. And then there are times when one of us has had a bad day, or is especially tired, or just needs a break. On those days, the other one steps up. It’s constantly shifting based on the day and the meal and our moods and our needs, and because of that, a stringent chain of command would be more obstructive than helpful. The trick is to regularly check in and make sure nobody is feeling overextended.
Honor each other’s strengths and weaknesses.
One of the great perks of living together is the combination of two unique skill sets. One of you is likely better at fixing the drain, while the other is probably better at remembering to buy toilet paper. Don’t do what I did and waste time worrying whether your specific competencies are “enough” or “as important” as theirs. Be proud of what you bring to the table and grateful for what they bring that you can’t.
It’s cliché, I know, but it really is true that the flirting, flowers, and date nights take a hit when you move in together. A little waning romance is inevitable in the first few months of craziness, when you’re spending outsize amounts of time and money setting up your place. Once you’re settled in, however, it’s important to establish a habit of reminding each other why you moved in together in the first place. In my experience, the simpler the action, the better—like cooking a special weekend meal together or mailing a love letter to their office, just because.
Learn to be alone together.
When I lived with roommates, I had no trouble closing my bedroom door when I needed quiet. But now my bedroom isn’t only my bedroom—it’s his, too. One of the hardest things I had to learn after we moved in together was to accept that we don’t always need to be actively hanging out, and sometimes it’s best if we don’t. If you live in a one-bedroom like we do, don’t be afraid to hang out in there while your partner is out in the living room. If you’re in a studio, consider splitting up the room with curtains, bookshelves, or other divisional furniture to allow for time and space apart.
Make plans separately.
When you move in together, you go from having to plan to see each other to having to plan to not see each other. It took me a while to realize that I was lacking time to myself and with my own friends, and even longer to figure out that those things don’t miraculously materialize; you have to plan them. To do so, I’ve started booking me-time and friend-time in my Google Calendar (a little over the top, but it works!).
Have (frequent) money talks.
Money is awkward—and potentially triggering—to talk about, but you’ve got to do it, especially once you’re living together. Regular face-to-face conversations are crucial for establishing ground rules and setting goals in broad strokes; to handle recurring expenses and IOUs, consider using an app that tracks shared bills like Splitwise or something more comprehensive like Honeydue. When in doubt, good ol’ Venmo works, too.
Confide in your single friends.
For whatever reason, neither me nor my partner have any close friends who live with significant others. Being “the first ones” is scary—it feels like we’re the guinea pigs in an adulting experiment. For a while, I assumed that since I’m the only one of my friends going through this, I shouldn’t ask them for advice. Well, that was wrong. I discovered this on a recent Friday night when I was having margaritas with a couple of my single friends. Maybe it was the tequila or maybe it was a full moon, but for whatever reason I let loose some frustrations and questions about living with my S.O. Turns out, my single friends have a wealth of wisdom regarding what it takes to collaborate with a live-in partner, and their relative distance from my exact situation meant they could offer a degree of rational objectivity that was eluding me.
Got any other tips that I missed? Feel free to shoot me a line: [email protected].