Wednesday, February 13, 2013

What I've Learned: Cohabitation

There was a blog entry today on Apartment Therapy asking for advice about moving in with a boyfriend. It got me thinking on what has been the most important set of lessons-learned in our short time here. The Boy and I are coming up on 6 months in our place and, while I'm nowhere near an expert, I think I can offer up a few tips to those of you who might be considering a similar move. So, without further ado, here's what (nearly) 6 months of cohabitated bliss (mostly) has taught me:

The beginnings of our "art wall" - the pictures are straight,
it's me who's crooked.
1) Our house didn't feel like a home until we had art on the walls. It was seriously the one single thing that made us love our place and made it feel like "ours". Since most of the furniture was mine, it was nice to have something we shared equally. The Boy (who hadn't hung most of his art before we got the house) was so excited to see the things he had loved all laid out on the walls and I saw my art in a new way as it intersected with his. 

2) Make a big deal out of a first meal. Our first meal was Indian takeout because the idea of cooking after moving was near impossible. However, one of our favourite meals those first few weeks was a combination of sorts. We each made one thing we're good at - coleslaw (me), cherry pie (him), and each made one thing we'd never made before meatloaf (him) macaroni and cheese from scratch (me). The meatloaf was my mom's recipe and the macaroni and cheese was his mom's. It was kind of corny, but we loved the idea of bringing together our strengths, our mothers' strengths and making new traditions, all in one meal. Plus, if we totally screwed up, at least we had coleslaw and pie to rely on. Which, y'know, is not a bad way to pass an evening.

3) Give each other space. We have a very small second bedroom that I wanted to use as a guest room. In addition, I had a longish desk to put in that room. The bf has a gaming desktop and wanted a place to play his games where he could remain undisturbed and not disturb others. We ended up compromising and putting a double bed against one wall and his small, corner desk against another. Now the room looks kind of cramped but so what? It's clean, it's fairly tidy, and he's happy having a place to do his thing. My desk is currently in the basement, awaiting its new home in my sister's room. At first I was annoyed at having to give it up but you know what? I don't really use a desk. It was a bulky storage system for pens and old textbooks. Him having his own space when everything else is shared matters to him, so I was happy to do it. Me using every square inch of shelf space for cosmetics and samples matters to me, so I got that. It works out.

Similarly, for the first 2 months our socks, underwear, my tights, and my bras all lived in the same small 4-drawer dresser (and a few cardboard boxes to share the overflow). It made mornings incredibly aggravating and made me mutter some unkind words under my breath on more than one occasion. Once we found a wonderful old chest of drawers for him off kijiji, occupying the same bedroom became easy. It's funny how one simple piece of furniture killed almost all our morning bad moods.

4) Make your bedroom an oasis. Cheesy? Maybe. But who doesn't love cheese? Liars, that's who. Our bedroom is one of the rooms I'm the happiest with. It has sloped ceilings with exposed beams, which makes it feel like a quiet little cabin. Even though it's very tiny, it's cozy, and it's a perfect respite at the end of long day. It's where we chat and plan our day and laugh about stupid jokes - I really try to take any arguments we have out of that space because it's usually such a chill location. We bought the bed together, which was a good call, and splurge on good quality sheets (thank god for sneaky sisters who work at HomeSense). We tried to bring no boxes in there when we moved so that it could be a place of (somewhat) serenity when everything else looked like hell. And I'm proud to say it's fairly gender-neutral not some pink-splashed squint-fest (*cough* mom and dad *cough*)

5. Choose your battles. Yeah, sometimes I'll still get annoyed at water glasses left everywhere or 3 or 4 pairs of socks discarded all over the living room. But before I bellow for him to clean it up - I think: how much do I care about this? Often, the answer is close to nil, especially when I consider the stuff he does without me asking. I've accepted we just see mess differently. It doesn't mean he won't do something if I ask him to - he's good about putting stuff away when I can't reach it (shut up) and vacuuming etc. - but he won't necessarily think to do it himself. Yes, I clean the kitchen more than he does but he always packages up and takes out the garbage and recycling even in -40 degree weather. I go through the mail and pick up clothes off the floor, but he fills and empties the dishwasher more, and doesn't complain at the huge amount of hair i leave behind when I straighten it in the morning. Decide what's a dealbreaker and needs to be addressed, but don't harp on everything, and don't accept him doing the same. Separate the wheat from the chaff and you'll be happier for it.

6. Don't become tied to your house. One of the hardest things about having a built-in buddy as a roommate is that the urge to leave the house becomes smaller and smaller. Home now has food and movies and Rock Band (if it's any kind of house worth living in ) AND it has someone to hang out with! Who wouldn't want to stay home?? But fight that urge. Go out for dinner with separate friends, go to a movie together with your siblings, get those after-work drinks with coworkers. The best advice I ever heard about doing stuff when you're lazy is "never spend two weekends in a row at home". This gives you enough time to hang out and do house stuff and watch Modern Family but also to be social and engaged. After all, there's only so many times you can say "no" to someone's invitation before they just stop inviting you. And life gets really boring if every conversation you have involves the phrase "I know. I was there." Trust me.

7. Be kind to each other. I'm not saying you have a terrible relationship, really, I'm not, but kind acts are different when you live together. My heart melts quicker for a hot meal when I come home or an emptied dishwasher than it does for a box of chocolate. When it comes to gifts for your new roommate, it really is the thought that counts, not the cost.  Having someone make you a lunch or replace the toilet paper might seem mundane but trust me when I say they can be bone-jumping hot or rom-com sweet if you're just too tired to cook because you got out of work an hour late and you are just at the end of your rope with this fucking day...

.. *ahem*

So, yes. Be kind.


I know it's only been a short while but so far, things have been surprisingly good. One kind of weepy fight in the last 5 months but other than that, we've managed to face a broken stove, a busted furnace, neighbour garbage can shenanigans, a house party, two dogsittings, 3 trips to IKEA and a family dinner party with a fair amount of grace and aplomb. Here's to the next six months, and beyond. May there be more cherry pie and less trips to IKEA for all.

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