After being one-half of a couple in a long-distance relationship for two years, my better (at compromising on where to live) half finally moved to Boston. We had been taking trains, planes, busses and automobiles between New York and Boston for the past 1.5 years, so the prospect of being able to not only see each other regularly but move in together was glorious. As a seasoned roommate, I was optimistic: how different could it be? Since we had essentially lived together every few weekends as part of our long distance relationship, I was confident this would be a seamless transition.
I was not altogether wrong. There are some truly wonderful elements to living an “under the same roof” kind of life. But I was also not altogether right. It was an adjustment. In one evening, my mind would swing from the thought “watching Netflix with you on the couch is the absolute best thing in the world” to “having to look at cupboards you leave open in the kitchen is the absolute worst thing in the world”. It was, and still is, a work in progress. So I reflected on some lessons learned for those of you who are getting ready to make the jump, or who have already made the jump and wondering if you’re alone. You’re not.
Being right is the best, but it’s not always the best
I have spent much of my dating life believing that if there was an argument, the goal was ultimately to convince the boyfriend that I was right. My thoughts would flow something like this:
“We disagree, but you’re wrong, and these are all of the reasons why you are wrong, and this cold shoulder I’m giving you can go away if you agree that I’m right” (or if we both stalk away and eventually forget about it).
Shockingly, this approach did not always yield positive results, and it certainly does not in a 600 sq. foot apartment. I found that learning to identify what was bothering me and say it in a non-judgmental, feel-rather-than-fact kind of way, was much more productive.
For instance, one time when we got home my boyfriend and co-habitator turned on the television to a History Channel show as we started to unpack groceries. I would have preferred us to watch a re-run of Gilmore Girls. I said,”You have taken over the remote control in this apartment – you never even ask, you just turn the tv on!”
What I wanted him to say was, “OMG you’re so right, I always do that and it’s not fair, let’s watch Gilmore Girls.”
What I should have said, and ultimately did after a prolonged discussion/argument was, “Hey, can we watch something we both feel like watching?”
If this keeps happening, I want to be able to (and will) say, “Hey, sometimes I feel like you turn on the TV when we’re both in the same room without asking. Could you be a little more mindful of that?”
I may have not gotten the instant gratification of being told I’m right, but the long term reward is much better.
Adhere to the golden rule
You know that mantra that your 3rd grade teacher and mom would repeat, “Treat others how you would want to be treated”?
It’s easy to fall into the trap of wanting your better half to literally be better than you at being in a partnership. Ideally, it would be great if your partner was better at admitting their own faults and shortcomings, being more understanding, more flexible and more willing to change plans to accommodate your schedule.
Disney and Hollywood rom-coms have played a large part in promoting the notion that a perfect man is one who will agree and align with the girl on everything (whilst having great abs of course), but as we know (a la Frozen‘s Anna and Prince Hans), having someone agree with everything you say and do doesn’t always end up well.
I’ve learned that adopting the “golden rule” can be extremely useful. For instance, one of the things I love about my partner is that he never makes me feel bad or guilty about prioritizing passions in my own life. He’s always extremely supportive of “me doing me”.
Living together has created a new paradigm in which we are constantly schedule planning together. Oftentimes I will find myself irritated that he is not just fitting into my schedule. Recently, I had a play reading coming up, which was on his calendar, as all of my performances are. About a week before, he got offered the opportunity to emcee an event that was going to open a lot of doors for him in a career he is passionate about building. I found myself feeling irritated, but ultimately thought: if this were the reverse situation, would I want him to say, of course take the opportunity to do a reading instead of joining my show? Would I want him to be kind and understanding about it? Would he be?
All three answers to that question were yes, so even though it was tough for me not to say: “I wish I just had a boyfriend who was fun and interesting but didn’t have a life of his own,” I replied with the same support and understanding that I would want him to have for me.
Don’t let expectations control you
During the many, many years of my single 20-something life, I led a very happy, me-centric life in which I very rarely thought “I wish I had a boyfriend now”. What I did think was how my boyfriend-turned-fiancé-turned husband of the future would be wonderful and perfect, with exact pictures in my head of what he would be like: what type of job he would have, how we’d spend our weekends, what our evenings at home would be like, how he’d laugh at all my jokes and understand, no, even enjoy, my flair for the dramatics.
When I met my person, I was surprised by so many things about him that I loved, but never had known I wanted. I was also surprised that this same person, who made partnership seem so natural for me, also didn’t check off a lot of the boxes I had dreamed about.
While we worked through these, and I found out what really mattered and what didn’t, and we both got more comfortable with the concept “I love you and being with you, even though you don’t/aren’t...”
What I learned was that modifying expectations and compromising without interfering with your own self-care is part of creating a happy partnership.
Don’t let other people define what makes a good relationship
Ahh, comparison is the thief of happiness, just like the thief of blissful co-habitation is other people telling you your co-habitation rituals suck. Right?
This one is tricky for me to even take my own advice, because as someone who is an over-sharer and who heavily relies upon friendship for mental health and general happiness, it is hard for me not to want to have full approval and agreement of friends (and sometimes the use of “friends” is stretched to somebody’s grandmother that I talk to once at a baby shower).
The thing is, people love giving their opinions, and while opinions can be helpful, they also are just that. Opinions. Not facts. So when someone starts to say something like, “Oh wow, you guys don’t eat dinner together every night?” it can be challenging to not immediately question the very foundation of your relationship. The thing ismaybe for them, not having dinner together every night sounds absolutely awful. But I’m willing to bet that the person saying this has partner rituals that would seem pretty awful to you, even if they’re not awful to that person. So as long as you’ve found something that works for you, it is okay if it wouldn’t work for your great Aunt Elsa, or even, for that matter, your very best friend in the world.
As a side note, I would also like to say that while we’ve all most likely been on the receiving end of these comments, we’ve probably been on the giving end too. (We’ve all said or thought something like, “Wow, I can’t believe that they don’t even know how much money each other makes” or “Eehh, I don’t think I could date someone that traveled that much”.) I would venture to say, the more we try to abstain from giving that “feedback” the less vulnerable we will be when we receive it. Am I 100% sure this is the case? No. Do I think it’s worth a try? I do.
So sit back, (try to) relax and repeat: “live and let live”.
Be kind to yourself
Allow yourself the space to learn and grow into the new life you are creating together. One piece of advice I remember hearing is to treat “the relationship” like it is the third person in your relationship, so really it is you, your partner and the relationship. This means to nurture and love the relationship and think about how maybe some things might not be most convenient or easy for you, but they serve the relationship well.
In that same light, remember that this is something new you are creating together and there will be bumps, rough patches and confusion along the way. There will be “hmphs” and tears and thoughts like, “Am I destined to forever live in a house where we always have a “soaking” but never actually clean frying pan in the kitchen sink?” But trust that, as you water, feed and care for the relationship as it grows, you will notice some of the rough patches and bumps smooth out. Because, like anything in life, the more work you put into building something strong and beautiful, the sweeter it will be when it blooms.