You might do it to save money. Or to claim, "it just makes more sense" because you sleep together every night anyway. Well, nearly. The nights you’re apart happen because you’re both lazy, and no one wants to make the trip to the others bed. At the beginning of things, though, this doesn’t happen. At the beginning, no one is lazy or speaks of taking things for granted. You co-habitate for a while, usually more at one place than the other because of a pet, its proximity to work, or a better television. And if it’s your place, when he leaves, because he can leave and find solace at his own place, you feel a bit abandoned. You can’t escape him in your cohabited space. Everything is "ours" now, even what’s "yours." It’s worse when you move in together.
I slept together every night with my first college boyfriend. Mostly at his apartment off campus. We made it a home; I had my own closet. We slept on a real bed, not a futon. We took turns cooking and watched Emeril before people were watching Emeril. When we fought, I could duck out into my own life again, back to campus, in a dorm with a desk and bedding from home. The collage of photos proving I had friends. Camp friends, boyfriends, pretty friends I thought made me look as if I were popular back home. I wasn’t. The space was still mine; I had somewhere to go.
The next serious relationship took place at my place every night, when I moved off campus. He’d take the subway down each night to sleep with me, then up early to catch the bus across town to personal train Debbie Gibson or the editor of the now defunct Gourmet. When we ourselves became defunct, he ended things while he was standing in my apartment, his clothing still mingled with mine, folded on my shelves, hanging and clinging to mine on hangers.
I needed to get out of there. I phoned my mother, crying into the phone. "I’ll be there in forty minutes," she said. She was there in a half hour. I’d packed a bag; it was a long weekend. She took me to some Mexican restaurant because she was starving, because "you have to eat something, Stephanie." I insisted we eat at the bar; a table seemed like too much of a commitment. I recounted the details of the breakup to my mother over a basket of corn chips. "He said he just doesn’t love me anymore." Then I began to sob. The bartender passed me napkins. "You’re making me so depressed," my mother said with disgust, "that I just ate that entire basket!" She would have eaten all those chips anyway. My mother eats like a truck driver.
That night, I crawled into bed beside her. "What’s wrong?" she whispered in a half-sleep.
"I just don’t know how to get through this." I’d just thrown up.
"I know," she said as she pulled her hand along my arm, rubbing it. "I know, but you will. It will get easier with time." And space, she should have added. Space, my own–not the mine I gave and shared with him.
The next day, I phoned my roommate Smelly and asked her to pack up his shit for me. "I can’t look at it or I’ll just cry." I said it as if crying were the worst thing in the world. And Smelly did as she was told. "In a garbage bag," I said. "It’s the only thing big enough." She didn’t know, in the packing, if she should fold his things or just toss them in there with anger. Smelly doesn’t know how to do impolite.
I lost eleven pounds from it all. Break-ups get you thin, but you’re too miserable to enjoy or appreciate it. It’s just one less thing to feel sad about. "At least I’m not as fat anymore." I think it’s my body’s way of giving me at least something about which to be positive. Then I rearranged the furniture in my bedroom. I needed to do something to forget he’d ever been there. The wall behind my bed (sorry this is gross) was splattered with his dried come. I tried wiping it all off, but the white walls were stained with it. You couldn’t see it unless the light hit it a certain way, and then, then you couldn’t miss our wall of bliss. I covered it with a drawing I made in high-school. An abstract, with bright colors, of a boy in fetal position. It was only depressing once you realized what it was. It was all I had. The boyfriend came back days later, begging. He’d made a mistake, he said. "I didn’t mean it," he promised. But it was too late. I’d already redecorated, and my heart couldn’t take believing him again. He left with his garbage bags. I imagined him riding the subway with them, then walking back into his fraternity house with them. It didn’t make me happy. I could finally eat again, though. Only because he came back and withdrew all the sting and rejection by begging to have me back. The space became mine again.
I swore after that not to move in with anyone until I was engaged. Not to co-habitate at my place. I kept that promise, sort of. The next relationship, the next really big relationship, began with co-habitation at my place because his was too small. He only had a twin-sized bed in dormitory housing. So we slept each night together in my full-sized bed across town. When my lease was up, he asked me to marry him. I was ready to renew and keep the roommate I had. "I’m an old-fashioned girl," I said, "and I don’t believe in living together before getting married." And in a way, I still don’t. I think you know enough these days while co-habitating. Then we lived together, engaged, for over two years before getting married. I know people who do it for a lot longer than that. I don’t think I knew more about him because we lived together first. I swore, after all of that, never to live with anyone again until I was married, not engaged. Married.
Now, I’m engaged and living with him. I moved in with him because I was pregnant, because I knew we were locked into each other forever. That the engagement wouldn’t be called off. I wouldn’t have moved in if I weren’t pregnant, trying to save us money. I would have waited until we were married, so our marriage would feel more official. New bedding. A married "ours."
See, when you have your own place, it’s easier to run. When we fought, I could pout there. "Nah, I think I’m going to stay at my place tonight." It was passive aggressive apartment war. Having my own apartment gave me one foot out. It afforded me–not the ability to cheat (it wasn’t about that)–the ability to change my mind. It was easier to un-do all that had been promised. A break up is easier without a moving truck and real-estate brokers. It’s easier without having to pay a broker fee or scour craigslist. When I am miserable, my instinct is to flee. I want to evacuate and start over with someone else, even if that someone is me for a while. It’s not about relationship-hopping as much as it is having the ability to leave something that doesn’t feel right. And sometimes I don’t know if things really shouldn’t be the way they are, or if it would be this hard with anyone. I don’t think it’s a function of fighting because I’ve had several exes with whom I didn’t really fight, and we still weren’t right together. So I don’t see fighting as an indication of "wrong," as long as I’m happy more than I’m unhappy. Which I definitely am. Definitely. Though you’d never know it from reading my blog, because mostly, I only write about something when it’s bothering me. When things are wonderful, I work on a book, writing my memories of camp. I do not blog, not really. I know people wish I did. Too bad.
My happy moments are spent in book stores with burnt coffee, at wine tastings with friends, beside him on the sofa listening to him play his guitar. They’re quieter, my happiest times. And they usually involve snowfall and a bar. Something warm with Scrabble. Or a drive outside the city looking for a cider mill, holding hands. They involve pasta. They don’t involve watching television. When I lived alone, I never really watched TV, and I miss that. Now that I live with someone who enjoys it, I feel like my life is lazier. I miss being to busy to ever have time for TV. I miss drawing in quiet, not being alone, but being out. Dinners out. I miss how when you’re single, you’re rarely home. You meet this one for coffee, that one for a glass of wine. Except now I want that one to be him. He’d rather watch King Of Queens in his boxers. I miss having a busy life, beyond all the work I have to do. When you settle in with someone, I think they call it settling down because people literally sit more. In front of a television or rental movie. There’s more down time. I miss being out and about every night. I don’t want to always do it with friends or by myself. Sometimes I like to "run." Even if it means a night at Borders reading magazines with a cup of tea, together. I miss being out.
When you’re living together, you no longer have the ability to run. I don’t mean out; I mean "away" when it gets hard. It becomes a three-legged man race, where your shoes are tied together. You feel tangled and unsure of your footing, but really, getting out of the commitment only takes a simple slip of string… around some cardboard. It takes a van. It’s not the end of the world. It’s harder when it’s divorce, when papers need to be filed, when things need to be divided, when you get smacked with another stigma. "Divorced, again."
What I have realized, though, is as bad as an argument gets, he’s still coming home at the end of the day. And without words, once the fight has been tabled for a while, we tangle in a hug with exhales. Our bodies forgive for us; and, our minds and mouths follow suit. I know everything will be okay. Living together has made me grow up. I might try to plan my great escape, but I never get beyond the front door, because really it’s not about pina coladas and making love at midnight by the dunes on the cape. Beach sex is good on a very big blanket, but out in the open, not by the dunes, and certainly not at midnight. How cliche.