Every night I went to sleep over the past several years, I’ve pictured variations of the same fantasy in my head.
It’s embarrassingly domestic and boring of me, because I wish I had more interesting fantasies than this, and because it’s embarrassing to admit how cheesy and in love I am — but I’d imagine what my life would look like when I finally lived with my boyfriend.
Some nights, we were in our 30s living in a gorgeous apartment in Los Angeles. Others, we were in our bedroom reading Harry Potter to our kids (who don’t yet exist). In every fantasy, the most important part was that we were together and that we didn’t have to say good night over texts.
Before we moved in together last year, my partner Nate and I had spent the last three years doing long distance (from Santa Barbara to Orange County, to Southern to Northern California, to California to Guam). It was rough.
But the one thing that got me through was dreaming about the life we’d have together when we finally got through this temporary period — even though it felt like it would never end.
Right before we moved in together, Nate and I had gone an entire year without seeing each other, while I had moved to Guam to start a new job and he finished up law school in California, and then while we looked for a job for him and an apartment for us on Guam.
When we finally were ready to move in together, I was ecstatic but also really anxious.
Every time long distance got hard or I felt disconnected from him, I told myself that once we finally lived together, all our problems would melt away. But I didn’t know that for sure: we’d only dated living in the same area for four months before we had to do long distance, so who knew what our dynamic would be like once we actually lived together?
Of course, the first weeks together after being separated for 12 months felt like a dream. I took Nate around to my favorite restaurants, brought him to meet my friends and family — even just picking out a water filter together at Kmart felt romantic to me.
When I woke up every morning, I couldn’t believe we were really there: the person I loved most and had waited so long for was asleep next to me in bed, and we’d never have to be apart again. My dreams literally came true!
But just like with dreams, we had to wake up eventually and face the harsh truth of reality: living together isn’t easy. Pretty soon, I was stressing out having to drive both of us to work, home, or anywhere we went (Nate didn’t have his Guam driver’s license or car insurance here for weeks when he first moved here).
We had to plan our meals, buy groceries, cook, pay bills, get extra things we forgot to buy when we first moved in, and all the stressful things that come with moving. About a month into living together, we finally got to relax a bit after all our moving in errands and new job things (drug test, court clearance, etc.) were done.
There are so many smaller issues with living together that we’ve learned to deal with over the past six months, so I’ll break them down here:
Living with your partner can be romantic, but you have to remember that you’re also roommates and need to be fair about the work you each put into taking care of your living space.
In college, I lived with my best friend Angelica for two years and it was easy for us: we split the room down the middle, and kept most of our chores separate. We took care of our own groceries and meals, did our own dishes, and washed our own laundry and sheets.
When I lived with my siblings, we usually all had to do chores at the same time or our parents told us what to do — so we didn’t have to worry about one person doing all the work by their own initiative (although I still think some of us were lazier than others or took easier tasks while we all cleaned the house).
But when you’re living with your romantic partner, all the boundaries are hazy and you share almost everything. You don’t have any parents or outside parties to divide the household responsibilities evenly, so it’s important to set your duties early on (or as you go along and figure out who’s better at what, or who enjoys what tasks more).
Since I was doing most of the driving and running errands for us in the first few months, Nate volunteered to do more of the cooking and washed the dishes for us most of the time. I get really grossed out touching raw meat, so he cut, marinated, and cooked chicken for us. I took care of grocery shopping, and made the rice and vegetable sides for meals.
After Nate got his driver’s license and we took turns driving each other, he started getting tired of still doing the dishes for us. We’re both kind of gross and lazy in our own ways, so I don’t mind leaving the dishes in the sink longer but he can’t stand it. So he’ll end up doing all the dishes and I don’t pitch in (I know, I’m a terrible roommate). One day he suggested I do the dishes Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays while he would do them Tuesdays, Thursdays, and weekends — so that’s how we do it now. Another great thing is that we’re both pretty reasonable people and try to make divide most of our labor and responsibilities fairly.
After a few months, I decided I wanted to get more into cooking healthy meals (and using less meat, since I eventually want to transition into vegetarianism). I ended up looking up recipes on my own, doing the grocery shopping (not to be mean but Nate doesn’t really know how to choose proper sized vegetables, and one time he bought like five Brussels sprouts for what was supposed to last us more than five meals each), and cooking new meals. To make up for me doing most of the dinner cooking, he does the dishes after I cook (or I do the dishes when he cooks now).
There are also lots of other chores necessary to keep your household running: laundry, keeping clothes hung/folded and organized, tidying the bathroom (cleaning the sink, toilet, shower, floor), sweeping and mopping, dusting, cleaning the kitchen, throwing out the trash and recycling, and so on.
Honestly, I do most of these other chores because Nate doesn’t really care if they’re done or not (the way I don’t care as much about dishes). I think it’s half because he’s kind of gross and half because his mom is an amazing superwoman and does all the housekeeping and cooking for their family (on top of working full time). I’m the oldest in a family of six kids, so I’m used to doing a lot of these chores. Both my mom and stepmom are clean freaks, so every now and then I go into cleaning frenzies for hours and scrub the whole apartment down.
Sometimes I get really annoyed and overwhelmed doing all these chores for us, since I know if I don’t do them we’re going to live in squalor.
Just a few weeks ago I spent half of my Saturday cleaning our apartment and got passive aggressive and mad at him for not helping me while he played online poker. It wasn’t really fair to him for me to get mad since I didn’t ask him to help, but he started cleaning the kitchen and threw out the trash once I snapped at him (which I regretted soon after).
But I know that even if I feel compelled to do lots of housework and get irritated with Nate for not taking initiative to split the work, I should remember to ask him for his help, because he will help if I ask. Communication is also a big part of splitting the work evenly, and we’ve learned that it can help a lot (and avoid some spats too).
Having your own space
Living together is kind of weird. Before we reached this stage in our relationship, I don’t think I’d ever farted around him. But when you spend almost all your time together, you can’t really hide anything — so now it’s just a joke between the two of us to see who can fart louder and surprise the other person. Now we’re at a point where we even brush our teeth in the bathroom while the other person is taking a poop.
While it’s nice being so close (both physically and emotionally), it’s also important to make space for alone time.
I definitely can be a needy person. When we go home after work, I ask Nate if he missed me, even though we spend the whole day texting and have lunch together. But even a needy person like me needs some time to herself.
It was hard for me to be okay with being apart for even a few hours when we first moved in (since we hadn’t seen each other for a whole year before that), but we pretty much hang out all the time so now I’m fine with us doing our own things. After work, we’ll eat dinner together and then he’ll go play basketball or watch anime in the room while I chill in the living room and watch my shows or write. Or on weekends, he’ll play poker in the living room and I’ll write across the table from him (or I’ll go in the room to focus, which I’m doing as I write this).
Every couple is different, so you’ll need to find a happy and fair balance between your time together and alone (even if alone time means doing your own things right next to each other).
While it’s important to make time for yourselves, you should also make time dedicated solely to each other.
Nate and I spend more time with each other than I’ve ever spent with anyone else in my life (besides my immediate family). I mentioned our daily routines earlier, but we basically spend 16 hours a day together. That’s a lot of time to spend with one person.
Understandably, when you spend practically all your free time with one person, it’s easy to be distracted while they’re talking to you or browse on your phone while you’re together. You can’t be 100% present every moment you’re together, no matter how romantic you think that might be. It’s just impossible.
Even if we do spend most of our time together, sometimes I end up feeling like I miss him when we haven’t set time specifically just to be present together. Although you’re technically spending time together when you’re getting ready for work or in the same room on your own laptops, it’s still important to set aside time just for each other.
The quality time I enjoy the most is when we talk about the future or other deep/personal things before bed, or when we watch TV shows/movies and hold hands and make comments on what’s going on. Our favorite thing to do together is stay home (and save money), but when we do go out to eat, we don’t really check our phones. We try to go to the beach at least once a month (and have been going much more often since my family is visiting), and we’ll bring books to read.
I know this is completely nerdy, but one of my favorite things we do is talk about hypotheticals or analyze things together. We have this ongoing game where we listed a bunch of positive personality traits (charisma, intelligence, humor, etc.) then debate each other’s merits under that trait until we can give each other a rating from 1 to 10. When there’s a power outage (Guam things) or some down time, we take out a notebook and continue the game. The best part is that we’re fully immersed and making arguments, but having fun with it at the same time. And one of the best parts of living together is that we both can be our nerdy selves and have fun debating in a way we couldn’t with anyone else.
This blog post is an excerpt from a longer chapter that will be featured in my upcoming ebook! The chapter goes into detail about finances, splitting time between friends and your partner and friends, being comfortable in my own body living with someone, and the dynamics of living together. If you liked this post, you’ll love the ebook coming out soon!