Carrying the love and resilience of my grandparents

Since I’ve been back on Guam these past few years, I’ve been thinking a lot about my grandparents.

I lived with my Grandma Shannon in Santa Rita, where she has a lush garden full of tropical flowers. Whenever I walked around the garden, I was always drawn to the red and pink ginger flowers, for their interesting shape and vibrant hues.

My grandpa Jose Babauta painted the pink gingers into a collage of tropical leaves and flowers that wrap me up in childhood memories growing up surrounded by the jungle. When my cousin and I visited one of the earliest exhibitions at the new Guam Museum, we found another small sketch that looked similar to these flowers in the corner of his art on display.

When my Grandpa Larry (my mom’s dad) was sick in the hospital before he passed away earlier this year, my grandma gave me a bouquet with these gingers to bring to him. When he was at his weakest, these flowers brought him joy. I’ll never forget how these flowers and the thoughtful gesture gave him the biggest smile.

The red gingers remind me of the lipstick my Apong (Grandma Rolita) used to wear. Flowers remind me of her softness. One of my favorite memories of Apong when I was little: I bumped my head crawling around under a table, and she got down under there with me and rubbed my head softly where it hurt. But these gingers are also tough, like her.

These flowers aren’t indigenous to Guam, but they grow everywhere around the world (including here and the Philippines, where my maternal grandparents are from). Just like my four grandparents, these flowers thrived in new places, even if it wasn’t their original home. They give me hope that when I go to new places and take on new challenges, I can be just as resilient and grow like they did.

My two grandparents, Grandma Shannon and Grandpa Larry, took care of me and taught me so much while I was on Guam away from my parents. Every day, I text my grandma asking for her help with my job (reporting in the same newsroom where she used to work). I look at the photo of my grandpa I keep on my desk, whenever I’m stressed and need encouragement. When I drive by Pigo Cemetery, or a bingo hall, I think about my other grandparents, whom I wish I’d gotten to know better while they were still alive.

I keep them all close, near my left hand — with one leaf to represent each of them carrying and protecting me, wherever I go.

My journey with depression

Early this year, I sobbed alone in my apartment as if someone had died.

I had just dropped my boyfriend off at the airport, so he could go back to California and visit his family for a month while studying for the Guam bar exam.

This was the first time I truly felt alone in months, since we’d moved in together last September.

It was embarrassing, crying so hard over something so small — I mean, we’d been apart for a whole year before we moved in together, so this was cake. It wasn’t like anything bad was going to happen to me, or to our relationship, and it wasn’t like I couldn’t take care of myself on my own.

It was scary, because I knew that him going away wasn’t the real reason I was crying — but I wouldn’t find out why until I started therapy months later.

My breakdown was my wake-up call to realize something was definitely wrong with my emotional and mental well-being. It was one of the moments that pushed me into finally getting professional help.

I can’t remember the last time I truly wasn’t depressed.

I think back, and it may have started in high school. I remember I was for sure depressed when I moved to California with my family at the beginning of my senior year of high school, when I had to start all over at a new school with zero friends.

I get scared when I think back even farther, because I remember crying hard to my mom at night in elementary school, stressed out about whatever little Chloe found troubling at the time. It’s scary thinking I might not remember a time when I wasn’t depressed.

This year has been a rough one for me.

In January, Nate and I had to spend about a month apart while he was in California (though I did see him for a couple days when I also was in California to see my family). I realized how much I started relying on him for emotional stability since we’d moved in together, and how much anxiety I got about being apart since we’d just gotten over a three-year long distance period.

I relied a lot on our relationship to make me happy, and when I wasn’t happy, I thought things weren’t good with us either.

After working through my own issues and seeing a therapist, I realized it wasn’t about him or us — my depression was something separate from my relationship. But I started taking out my frustrations at home without thinking, which definitely wasn’t fair to him.

Transitioning into living with a romantic partner can be tricky, and I guess it doesn’t help much either when you’re depressed (go figure) and don’t have your families around.

In February, my uncle and I had to take my 92-year-old grandpa to the hospital, where he stayed for days (more than a week, even? It felt like this period went on forever). My mom flew here that same day from the states, and we made arrangements to care for him while he was in worse shape than ever.

I had already booked my flight to visit my parents and siblings in California, so reluctantly I went on my trip, worried it might be the last time I’d see my grandpa.

It was.

We buried him on a Saturday in early March, then celebrated my birthday the following day.

Of course, I know I still have many things to be grateful for — I write them down in a “daily gratitudes” journal my mom gave to me. I used it to remind myself of all the wonderful parts of my life (big and small) when I felt empty inside.

August 12, 2017: I’m grateful for the beauty of Litekyan, a fun day at the beach with my cousins, my beautiful island, healthy food, my sweet Grandma, cats and dogs, funny coworkers, the healing power of the ocean, my Grandpa still around in his old age, freedom to travel, beautiful shells, freedom to rest, friends who love me.

So if I have so much to be grateful for, why do I feel so empty?

After aching inside too much, crying nearly every day and not knowing why, and talking with Nate and my family, I decided I needed to finally see a therapist.

When you’re depressed and don’t have motivation to even feed yourself or take a shower, it’s hard to take the steps to get help when you don’t know where to go.

I started small, giving myself the task of just looking in my insurance provider directory for therapists in my area (I knew if I had to drive farther, I’d probably come up with excuses not to go). I narrowed the list down to just female therapists, knowing I’d feel more comfortable talking to a woman.

Weeks passed, and eventually I called the different numbers until I could find someone who would see me. Even just talking to my therapist over the phone for a few minutes, I knew I could trust her. I felt better already, after taking small actions to make this big step for myself.

I thought a lot about what we would talk about, during the days leading up to my first session. I’d seen counselors at my university years ago, and found it useful. I didn’t even know what issues I might have to talk about, or what was making me feel so sad and empty.

Everything in my life was great on paper: I have a lot of reasons to love my job (and I do it well), I have a life partner who loves me, I have a network of supportive family and friends, I have a comfortable life, I live in paradise.

I just couldn’t understand what made me so unhappy when I had so much to live for.

Since I started seeing a therapist this year, I’ve allowed myself to be vulnerable — which is the scariest part of all.

During the first few sessions, I told her my life story: from childhood, to my parents’ divorce, to my high school relationships, to the toxic ones, to my move back home, to now. She asked more questions about my parents and my childhood, and I tried to smooth over them, not wanting to dig deeper and unearth unresolved feelings I’d worked hard to move past.

I really can’t complain, because on most accounts I’d say I had an enjoyable childhood (and still have the friends I made in elementary school). My parents worked hard to give me a better life than theirs, and pushed me to do better.

I won’t get too far into it right now, but being the eldest child (and the product of what was nearly a teen pregnancy) put a lot of pressure on me to succeed. My parents pushed me in ways they didn’t with my younger brothers and sisters, which was rough on me sometimes.

If I could change my upbringing though, or trade for another spot in the birth order, I wouldn’t. And I’ve also learned through talking to my therapist and parents that working through issues festering from my past doesn’t mean I don’t love my parents or that I blame them for anything.

I’m happy with the life I have now for the most part, and I am the person I am because I’ve always been pushed to do my best. At some point, it went from them pushing me to do my best, to me pushing myself.

But always pushing to be the best means I often feel like a failure, or like I could at least do better. It means my college essays aren’t good enough to me, my news stories aren’t good enough, my social media presence isn’t good enough, my effort to make a positive change on the world isn’t good enough, my body is definitely not good enough.

It means I eat less to look the way I think I should, it means I lie awake in bed at night thinking of all the things I could have done better, it means if I don’t get enough likes on my picture I’m ugly and unpopular, it means I am a terrible person not worthy of love.

I say these hateful things to myself daily, and I’ve written about how it manifests in my life in different ways, like my eating disorder.

Over the past months, I’ve been trying to stop this negative cycle more actively (though it’s  just second nature to me at this point).

I’m working on developing a healthier relationship with myself, which is turning out to be more a lot more difficult than three years of a long distance relationship with someone outside of myself.

I’m not writing all this so people can send me concerned messages or to get attention. I’m not writing this because I have any answers. I’m writing this because sometimes it’s okay to be sad, to not have a solution yet, or to not even know what the problem is.

The point is, I’m working every day to get better. Even if I don’t feel completely better yet (and though I worry most days that I never will), I have to hope. I have to trust myself to work through the issues that hold me down, and try different methods to see what works.

This isn’t my whole story (I promise I’m okay for the most part, and I’m not always this serious), but I wanted to at least scratch the surface of writing through this complicated path of self healing.

In future blog posts, I want to write about other mental health issues I’m learning to deal with, like overcoming the fear of starting medication, how to talk to loved ones about my mental health issues (and knowing not everyone is going to completely understand), and my journey with getting diagnosed. This whole issue is so heavy, and I’m glad I’m finally writing things down and opening up to more people. I’m not sure how useful this will be, but I hope if anyone reads this and is going through something similar, they’ll feel less alone and know that there’s still hope.

Traveling solo in Bali

About a year ago, I took my first solo trip (ever) to Bali!

At the time, I was going through a new self-love phase, after a difficult breakup and living away from my family. I finally had a job where I made enough to pay for my own travels, and after hearing my aunt talk about how much she loved going to Bali alone (for yoga training), I decided I was going to go there myself.

It was scary thinking about going to a new country alone for the first time, but my aunt assured me the area she went to was really safe, with many other travelers and friendly people.

She stayed in Ubud, which is considered the cultural heart of Bali. Ubud is up in the mountains, with so many cool little shops, and it basically feels like you’re in some magical jungle village. Even coming from my tropical paradise on Guam, being in Ubud felt like a dream. The trees are amazingly tall, and everywhere you turn just walking the streets there are different statues and hidden gardens.

My parents had just visited Ubud and other parts of Bali months before my trip, and my dad recommended I stay away from popular tourist areas like Kuta. I read reviews online about the beaches being trashed and just full of western tourists partying, and felt bad thinking about the impact of outsiders on a beautiful country — especially because we experience similar things on Guam with trying to take care of our island. I decided I wanted to avoid that area and stay in Ubud, to try to have a more authentic cultural experience in Bali.

Although my experience in Ubud was amazing in many ways, I think it’s just getting way too popular among western travelers so I felt like a lot of places were too touristy to cater to that demographic (myself included, ironically). There were shops selling yoga clothes and tank tops that read cheesy things like “namaslay” or other puns on “namaste.”

At some points, I felt kind of disillusioned seeing everyone taking photos and thinking about them posting like Bali is some mystical place when really it felt like a westerner fantasy and not authentic due to the mass amount of tourists coming through.

I feel like remote places in the world like Bali and Guam get their authenticity sucked out by catering to tourists and watering down culture in some ways, but a lot of our economy depends on tourism. It’s just a complicated experience traveling as a westerner and also being part of an indigenous population struggling to keep its culture despite outside influences.

Anyway, if you choose to venture to Bali, I highly recommend going to Ubud. Just know that even though some parts of it are definitely beautiful, you should still expect it to be pretty touristy (probably even more so over the past year since it’s becoming an increasingly popular destination lately).

Here are some tips I learned through planning my own trip:

Traveling

First, I recommend using Google Flights to search for the best prices for your trip. It’s simple: you just put in the dates you’d like to travel and it’ll show you the most inexpensive options.

Flying from Guam, I used Philippine Airlines to book my trip. I went from Guam to Manila, and had a long layover (more than six hours, I think) so I went to the SM Mall of Asia. It’s not far from the airport (just take a Grab, or taxi if you haven’t downloaded the Grab app). Shopping options aren’t so great on Guam (besides buying from local makers, which I try to do as much as I can), so I had fun browsing the shops like Uniqlo and Zara. They also have a ton of food options (from fast food to dine-in/sit-down restaurants), so I had an inexpensive meal at a small Japanese restaurant at the mall.

It’s best if you have cash exchanged before you get out of the airport — maybe exchange cash for Philippine pesos at your local airport. I ended up not having cash with me so the taxi driver brought me to a stall in the city where people exchange money, but it was sketchy as hell and I was scared I was going to get robbed, especially as a woman alone. Luckily it was fine, but I wouldn’t recommend exchanging money unless it’s at a credible place. Also be sure to download an exchange rate app so you can check if prices sound reasonable to you and don’t end up over spending.

I made sure to book a hotel room near the airport when I first arrived in Bali, then headed to Ubud with a driver from the hotel the next morning. It was great to have a room waiting for me nearby, because I was so tired from traveling the day before, and it takes like an hour or so to get to Ubud from the airport (that’s an extra two hours of traveling you don’t want to do at the end of the night).

On the way back to Guam, I had like a 12 hour layover between Manila and Guam which was ridiculous. I was exhausted from traveling on a redeye flight, so all I wanted to do when I got to Manila was take a shower and rest. As per a recommendation from one of my coworkers who travels a lot, I booked a cheap hotel room in Manila just for the day so I’d have somewhere to relax. It wasn’t in a very safe area, but I just tried to stay in the hotel most of the time and went to the mall nearby to grab food. If you do something similar, I would recommend booking a hotel closer to the airport so you don’t have to worry about getting stuck in traffic on the way back. Rush hour in Manila is no joke!

My Airbnb right by the Monkey Forest.

Packing

My dad taught us to travel light, with just a backpack (even on a month-long trip to Europe). It’s faster and easier than bringing luggage, because you don’t have to check anything in and can skip the super long wait at the luggage carousel.

I only went on my trip for about four to five days, so it wasn’t too difficult for me to pack light. I made sure only to bring comfortable shoes and clothing (especially stuff I didn’t mind getting dirty, just in case). I packed a white t-shirt, sports bras, a couple tank tops, a light maxi dress and jean shorts (plus undergarments and socks). For the flight and travel days, I wore Adidas track pants, a t-shirt and a hoodie to stay comfortable.

I also bought clothes at the mall in Manila which I ended up wearing during the trip, but I made sure everything could still fit in my backpack.

Instead of bringing my laptop for the flight, I bought an iPad the day before the trip (which I realize isn’t an option for everyone, and was probably a rash decision on my part). If you have a small portable device to bring on your flight, I’d recommend leaving laptops at home in case they get damaged (plus they’re heavy).

Here’s my packing list I kept on my trip planning Google Doc:

  • Passport
  • Global Entry card
  • Yoga clothes
  • Basic clothes
  • Small toiletries: face wash, moisturizer, shampoo, conditioner
  • Basic makeup: mascara, brow pencil, lash curler
  • Portable charger for phone
  • iPad, charger
  • Journal, pen
  • Book/Kindle, charger
  • Medicine, melatonin, birth control
  • Eye mask, ear plugs
  • Earbuds

For lodging, spas and activities, you can check out a story I wrote for work with all my recommendations: Chloe Babauta explores Ubud, the heart of Bali.

I would’ve just written out all my recommendations in this post, but I think I already wrote it best in that article (and I can’t copy/paste it here because it belongs to my work company lol).

Breakfast in Ubud, Bali.

Also a few more tips I wrote down after my trip:

  • If staying in Ubud, best to book a room/Airbnb closer to the center of the town. I was on the edge next to the Monkey Forest, which was nice because it was close to that attraction and a bit away from the noise, but it was a far walk to get anywhere and made me want to go out less. Pro: it made me walk more.
  • Make sure to pull a lot of cash before getting there, exchange rates are expensive at ATMs (I think) and I had to pull a lot of cash. Also best to use cash because not everywhere accepts cards.
  • Greenbike cycling tour was hands down the best experience of my trip! So beautiful cycling/touring through parts of Bali I would’ve otherwise never seen on my own. It’s worth the price — includes food and tour guides are great.
  • Get a massage every. damn. day. They’re cheap as hell and if you find one you like, the masseuse will know how to take care of your body better if you want to come back. Tip big: a little money goes a long way there. Book ahead for a full spa day, which is so worth it (like $60 for a 5-hour spa package). I booked mine with Nur Salon Ubud.
  • It’s fun to be spontaneous, but plan ahead. If you want to do classes or tours, they’ll probably already be booked. I wanted to do a silver-making jewelry class, yoga at the Yoga Barn, etc. but didn’t have enough time and couldn’t work within their time slots because they were booked.
  • Get a DRIVER. This was the best decision I made on my trip. It’s like $40 for them to drive you around and show you around for a day and you get to hit all the spots in comfortable transportation. Also mine ended up being my photographer since I was traveling solo!
  • It’s a bit obnoxious, but bring a selfie stick just in case if you’re traveling alone. Going to Bali is a once in a lifetime experience, so take as many pictures as you can (but stay in the present as much as you can too). I only used the selfie stick when I was alone in my room or at the pool at my Airbnb, so I wasn’t disturbing anyone or being outwardly annoying (as some tourists can be whipping out their selfie sticks in public places).

How my low self-esteem is ruining my life

I’ve been going through a really low point in my self-esteem over the past week.

About a week ago, I popped a pimple on my chin and kept picking at it until it turned into a dark scar (I’ve watched too many Dr. Pimple Popper videos and tried to be a hero with my comedone extractor tool). I also have a big cold sore on my lip, which turned into a gross scab.

Every time I have a patch of acne or cold sores, I get really self-conscious and think that’s all people can see when they’re talking to me. Even worse, I have to record videos of myself for work almost every day — which means potentially thousands of people will see me at my worst.

On top of that, I’ve steadily gained weight over the past year. As a result, I feel terrible about my body almost every day. I’ve suffered from body dysmorphia for at least six years, so I’m still learning to be happy with how I look at a healthy weight. But even though I know my body is supposed to be beautiful the way it is, I can’t help but hate what I see almost every time I look in the mirror.

More: Taking control over my eating disorder

More: How to deal with Instagram-related insecurities

I had an emotional breakdown at the gym today because of all this. I haven’t gone to the gym in like more than six months, since I mostly just work out at home now — but I’ve been exercising inconsistently because my family was visiting last month.

So when I was lifting weights today and looking in the mirror, all I could see were flaws. When I look at my arms, all I see is fat. My stomach: fat. My legs: jiggling fat when I move. My face: dirty pores, small pimples everywhere, acne scars. I even hate small things about myself, like how my feet have such low arches and I have weird bumps all over my arms.

Most of the time, it feels like there’s a mean voice in my head constantly berating me. I wrote about this in another blog post about dealing with an eating disorder, when I finally became aware that there was a voice, and was working on standing up to that voice in my own head.

It feels like I’m being bullied by someone constantly, who knows all the worst things to say about me to make me feel terrible. I end up hunching over, cowering from this bully, but I feel helpless because I don’t know how to make it stop. There’s nowhere to hide because it’s inside me. Is it me? I don’t know what made me become this mean. Today, I literally said “please stop” aloud to myself in the mirror, with tears rolling down my face.

Having this voice constantly criticize me feels like there’s a weight on me most of the time. My shoulders sink, my eyes look wistful, I don’t smile. This heavy feeling seeps into me, into all my other thoughts and the words I say to others. I tweet passive-aggressive things because I am not happy with who I am. When my boyfriend doesn’t compliment me, the voice takes that as an offense and it tells me he doesn’t love me. It tells me that everything it’s been saying to me is true: that if your boyfriend doesn’t constantly tell you you’re beautiful, then you must be ugly. Even though he doesn’t deserve it, I project this onto my boyfriend and read his actions as a confirmation of my biggest insecurities and worst fears.

More: What I learned from living with my boyfriend for six months

The voice doesn’t just make me feel terrible — it makes me miserable and mean myself, and I pass on that negativity to everyone around me. The voice makes it harder for me to eat or enjoy food, because it makes me feel guilty, fat, and weak for not being able to resist unhealthy treats that taste good. It makes me eat smaller portions because it tells me I’m fat.

I don’t know where the voice came from or why it thinks these things of me. There are so many women who aren’t stick-skinny, whom I find so incredibly beautiful. I would never even think of criticizing them or pointing out any flaws they might see in themselves — so why don’t I extend the same kindness to myself? Why am I okay with picking apart the tiniest details of Chloe and telling her she’s unworthy of love?

This voice makes me feel worthless.

I honestly don’t know what to do about it, because I can’t even remember what it was like to live without it. It doesn’t matter if anyone tells me they think I’m beautiful, because the voice will still be there no matter what. It’s louder than anyone else, louder than my parents, my boyfriend, my friends, and much louder than the kind voice in my head that chimes in when I have brief periods of feeling good about myself.

One of my new goals for the month is to start therapy. I used to see on-campus psychologists for free weekly sessions while I was going to college, but I only took advantage of this service for two different periods (maybe 6-8 weeks in my second and fourth years of college). I think after a quarter of school or so, you’ll have to be referred to an off-campus doctor and pay for services.

More: How Passion Planner helped me get my life together

More: My goals for 2018

Therapy was really useful to me when I first learned I had an eating disorder, and when I was dealing with some anxiety and emotional issues. Now that I’m working and busy with other things, it feels like therapy is just another chore I have to do eventually but never get around to it.

My goal for this week is to call therapist offices and schedule an appointment, and hopefully have my first session sometime this month. I definitely recommend therapy to anyone I can, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with getting help. Even if your friends or family want to help you, you might get to a point where there’s nothing they can do for you. Seeking professional help is completely normal, and is just as important as any physical health issue.

In the meantime, I want to work on quieting that voice and making room for another one. I know there’s a good voice inside, but she’s not as strong as the mean voice. Or maybe she is strong, but we’re just not close enough so that we don’t talk often. Hopefully I still sound sane to you, whoever is reading this. I know it’s not going to be an easy thing, but I desperately want to get to know her better, and have a friend on my side when the mean voice gangs up on me in my head.

I need to work on letting that voice be my life coach, my guiding guardian angel who will encourage me, or be compassionate towards me when I fall short of my own expectations. I need her to tell me it’s going to be okay, and that even if I feel terrible in the moment, things won’t feel this bad forever. I need her to be there for me, because I know deep down (even when I can’t drown out the noise) that the bad voice is wrong, and that I deserve better. And eventually I will be better.

I remember when I was 19, I started going through my big self love phase. I taught myself to love being on my own, I started my own projects (and later, this blog), and I got a tattoo to commemorate this part of my life. For years, I thought this period of growth was the big lesson I had to learn. I thought, okay I know what self love is, I’m set for life! Nothing can ever bring me down again!

Looking back now, I can’t believe I thought that was it for me. That I figured out the secret to self love, and I would always feel good about myself. After going through painful periods of growth several more times since then, I know now that the work is never done. Learning to love yourself is a lifelong journey, and there will always be ways you practice self-destructive behavior or moments of low self-esteem.

For now, this is my new phase of growth with a big new challenge: learning to change my negative self-talk to a positive voice of encouragement, and how to be okay with my body. Someday when I gain or lose weight, or when I have kids, or when I’m aging, I’ll have to deal with those obstacles too. I’m sure it’ll feel like the worst I’ve ever gone through while I’m going through it.

But I hope the one thing that stays constant is my willingness to try, to learn, to heal. The work will never be done, but I’m excited to see where it takes me (and write about it along the way!).

What I learned from living with my boyfriend for six months

Every night when 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.

More: Why I moved to Guam to get out of my post-grad funk

More: The 10 Commandments of a healthy relationship

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:

Dividing chores

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).

Quality time

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.